Don’t Stick the Cotton Swab All the Way In Your Ear

There is one basic lesson in ear hygiene.  Do not stick the Q-tip completely in your ear!  The Q-tip isn’t a wax backhoe.  It’s designed for the less sensitive, easy to reach, exterior parts of the ear.  Despite this easy to remember maxim, we humans persist, do we not, jabbing our cotton swabs of death into battle against the brown foes of wax and gunk.

Q-tip rules are ones we learn at a very young age.  This is not the kind of thing society has deemed relevant for the syllabuses of 9th grade health classes. “Today we’ll be talking about how a man has a ‘you know what’ and a woman’s got a ‘thing a mabob’ and the proper method of cleaning your ears with a Q-tip.”  Ear cleaning with cotton swabs should be learned before we know anything about human reproduction, beer, flip-flops, constipation, colors, or osmosis.

On whatever day they taught Q-tip usage I was absent.  I blame my parents.  I was completely home schooled in cleanliness.  I was trying to get advance placement credit in toenail clipping and it wasn’t going well.  If memory serves, I might have skipped to prep for the “Big Toe Final”.  Honestly, I can’t be sure.   I did so much Tinactin in middle school.  How could someone who played no sports at all have athlete’s foot?

Why does it matter that I was absent from ear cleaning day at hygiene home school?  On Monday, I broke a cotton swab right off, plumb clean in my right ear.  I know what you’re thinking.  How did this happen?  Surely, someone with my good looks, bald head, and sock collection knows the one basic lesson of ear hygiene:  don’t stick the q-tip completely down your ear.  I got greedy and cheap.  I bought bootleg Chinese Q-tips on the black market.  Sure, I wanted to save a few bucks. But the narrow diameter of the swabs appealed to me.  They looked like they could bend further and go deeper than the usual, safety tested American models.  These babies could reach places where no cotton swab had ever swabbed before.

My right ear beckoned.  Before I knew it, I heard a snap.  I pulled the Q-tip out and the cotton was gone.  The plastic tubing was broken.  I was deaf as post.  Panic soon set in.

I called for my wife, using both a tone and term of endearment reserved for the direst emergencies.

“Baby, baby, get my Swiss Army knife army and pull out the tweezers!”

“Why?” she asked in a manner more casual than I thought the emergency deserved.

“I think I broke the Q-tip off in my ear and it’s headed to my brain, you got to get it out!”

“Don’t you know,” she said, “you’re not supposed to put it all the way down your ear?”

No, I was out that day.  Same thing happened when they gave out brains.  I thought they said trains and I feared locomotives.

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Game of Fishing Tournament Thrones

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Saramok, the Goddess of the West Sound Marshes was angry.  Spring had missed the last ferry from the Swan’s Quarter and no mosquito harvest was reaped.  How were the people to know she was bitter?  Her rage, so vital and yet undetectable in the ever changing winds, frightened the mice who came to play backgammon on the steps of the local food pantry.  Because they were small, people paid little notice to mice addicted to a Byzantine board game.  It was not until the eve of the eve of the last quarter moon that Saramok’s acrimony became clear to the entire village.  In the night, teams of local fisher-dwarfs were dispatched along the shore of eastern sea.   This annual festival, dating from ancient days, pitted humanity against the sea gods to see who might remove the most and mightiest creatures from our darkened waters. Through the nocturnal hours they waited and no fish were caught or creature came forth.  The ocean waters of the east were barren.  Saramok, Goddess of the Western Marshes, was angry.

What does one do when the sea offers nothing but a place in which to see your own reflection?  The elders of the village gathered in a hastily formed council with the conveners of the festival.  How does one fish with no fish and an angry goddess lurking the shores of the western sound?  Outragoth the Elder spoke for many in the community, “An offering to the Goddess needs to be made.”  Yes, this seemed obvious.  “Outragoth,” asked Tourisatha, “what kind of offering do you propose? The mosquito offering was sparse, we have no grain, and the mice left once the meeting began.”

“Well, whose turn is it to die?” asked Wellmeanthsuggestionth. Yes, Wellmeanhtsuggestionth was proposing the idea of human sacrifice.  Good ideas, had been sacrificed before on the altar of the God “Proggesor”.  No one had ever made a human sacrifice to Saramok, the Goddess of the West Sound Marshes.

In days before recorded history, the prophets on the north end of the island proscribed many rules for the villagers living on the southern tip.  Without the prophets of the northern kingdom, the southerners wouldn’t know where to live, how many ducks to rear in October, or what to sell the voyagers who journeyed to the island after the Summer Solstice.  Despite their dependency on the northern prophets and having established a functioning society based on these rules, no one had ever covered, “What happens if Saramok the Western Sound Marsh Goddess becomes angry and the fish of the Eastern Ocean stop biting during the festival?”  Now, some wanted to sacrifice a person to guarantee more fish.  Was anyone opposed to this idea?  Perhaps we could reason with Saramok?

“Does anyone know her tastes in food or if she even likes human flesh?” asked Youthor, one of younger members of the village.  “We can’t assume she like people if we’ve never sent her a menu, so to speak.  Isn’t a bit presumptuous to think that just because she’s a God she’ll be appeased by dead people?”

Youthor had a valid point.  We might alienate Saramok even further by seeming rude and arrogant and immediately jumping to human sacrifice as our default choice.  Surely, there had to be some other way to please a god than by killing something?  It was a novel idea but people were having trouble holding on to the concept.

Suggestions were flying in from all over the place.  “Has anyone thought of this,” asked Commonsensthia, “maybe the fish not biting on the Eastern Ocean side has nothing to do with what’s happening on the Western Marshes.  Could it be that the fish simply aren’t biting because of how cold it’s been in the air, the water, and the fish are swimming somewhere else in the sea?  Besides, I’m not sure there’s even a Goddess on the Western Marshes.  I was over there all day yesterday.  I caught plenty of fish.”

Outragoth raised his hand, “Well friends, I think we’ve volunteer.  Congratulations Commonsensthia, you’re our first human sacrifice.”

 

Food for Thought-Don’t Look A Free Batmobile In The Mouth

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What was the greatest gift you ever received? For me, it’s hard to pin down one specific thing. When I had hair, someone gave me a long, black comb. It was the kind preferred by barbers, the ones which usually rested in a jar of antiseptic. I took this gift for granted. I was unable to fully appreciate the ability to style, move, and adjust the hair on top of my head. Now that I am bald, I see it as one of the greatest treasures ever to be placed in my hands. At one point in my journey I received a free subscription to the jam of the month club. Someone thought to arrange for copious amounts of strawberry jam, grape jelly, raspberry preserves and flavors I didn’t know to be delivered to my house on a monthly basis.  I don’t care how you slice it, that’s love. In the midst of enjoying this love, I developed what the great actor Wilfred Brimley calls, “diabetes”. Sometimes gifts aren’t all they appear to be.

Maybe the greatest gift I received wasn’t any of those things. Maybe it was the batmobile. I remember the Christmas when mama and daddy got me a decent size replica of the Adam West-era Batmobile. I’m telling you this car was identical to the one Batman drove on the hit 1960’s television show, only considerably smaller. Batteries from Radio Shack and the Batcave were not included. With those small exceptions, it had everything else. There were seats for Batman and Robin, a phone to call Commissioner Gordon, and a big jet engine to blast out of my yet to be built Batcave.

I loved that car. I loved the idea of having that car. I loved that the Batmobile was now mine. I owned part of Batman. Batman belonged to me. On good days, we had gone into partnership together. On other days, I was in charge of the whole operation. We would be, at my discretion, fighting crime in the place where I lived. Before I received the Batmobile, we could only fight crime at certain times of day, usually in the late afternoon at my grandmother’s house when the show came on television. Between homework and snack, I would fight crime with Batman for about half an hour. Now, with the Batmobile, we weren’t bound by the limits of a television show. Batman lived with me in my homemade Wayne Manor. We were friends.

Every facet of Batman’s life, work, and car were mine to look at, recreate, and enjoy. If I wanted to make the car drive up the side of a tree, we drove vertically over bark, limbs, and moss. If the car, which had never flown in a single episode, wanted to fly; we would launch ourselves through the air. What I had watched the car do on television didn’t matter. The untapped crime fighting potential sitting in my hand, that’s what mattered most. I didn’t need to see under the plastic hood or kick the tiny tires to know the car would fly. I could simply tell. These unrealized and unseen powers were the most obvious and self-evident qualities of the Batmobile I received as a gift.

This is why, when I am offered the gift of a horse; I feel no need to look in the horse’s mouth. I can simply tell whether not I want it. Thanks to the Batmobile, I don’t need to look inside the horse’s mouth to know whether or not I need or want the horse, even if it is free. I don’t need to look in the mouth of anything human or animal. I don’t care who they are, that’s just gross.

Food for Thought-A Theory of Everything

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Between now and then, there and here, dawn and dusk, I remember little more than the remains of my most recent meal. It came on a plate. The plate was round, full of a complete wholeness unseen in the baked goods of my south Moscow youth. From the beautiful northwest of the plate’s painted circumference, I witnessed the watery mass of potatoes fall from the plate to the table. North of the fork and northeast of my dulled knife, they began a journey through the fibers of my dead grandmother’s sacred tablecloth. These Ukrainian potatoes, ignorant of the history born by this simple fabric, marched to the table’s fading varnish like Hitler’s armies to the gates of Moscow. By adding these facts together, an infinite progression of indisputable realities, I witnessed the unfolding nature of my day. Were I to quantify the beauty of a perfect sphere, a chaotic system of poorly farmed Ukrainian potatoes, and the incalculable speed at which they fell from the plate; I might derive an equation for the impending, now entirely predictable horrors which awaited me after breakfast.

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As the tablecloth was destroyed and grandmother’s legacy of smuggling people to safety while dodging Nazi bombs was ruined forever under the stain of watery Ukrainian potatoes, I had ample space to write and work. I did not want to leave the table and move to my desk. This, to my own supposition, would instigate the beginning of the entirely predictable horrors as noted in:

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Unwilling to accelerate the process of predictable horrors, I would use my knife as a pen, the leftover borscht as ink, and the remaining 12 meters of potato free tablecloth on which to write. My premise, while theoretical, was simple. The square root of overflowing, spilled potatoes was too consequential to ignore or avoid. If such a disturbing, cosmos shifting event occurred so early in the day, was it not the square root of something identical, guaranteed to occur later in the day. If your precious kitten scratches you at dawn, might you also be mauled by a Siberian tiger whilst visiting the Moscow Zoo only two hours later? Yes. This is what my equation supposed. It was a theory of calamity, of abhorrent, loathsome, evil things; all of which occurred if one thing went horribly wrong while you were eating breakfast. Burnt toast and spilled goat’s milk need no longer be variables. If bad things started your day, run the numbers to see how odious events will conclude your day.

When I had finished the first proof, mama appeared in the dining room. “What have you done with your grandmother’s table cloth? Have you bled all over it? I give you dull knife for a reason,” she said. I am not allowed to play with sharp knives, spears, or sharp anything. This is why I’m blind in one eye.

No, I carefully explained. I was not dying, bleeding to death, or intentionally destroying grandmother’s memory. Nor am I now blind in the other eye. With as much pride as I could muster, I said, “Dmitri, using only a dull knife, wrote in borscht ink, a new theory of why bad things happen all day long-especially after your mother spills potatoes when callously throwing the plate at her genius son.” It really seems to irritate her when I refer to myself in the third person and as a genius. For some reason, I do this often.

“Really,” mama says. “Bad things happen when potatoes spill and you write on table,” this is what you believe? “God has given me blind borscht writing idiot.”

I guess this may be half true.

Dmitri, the half blind genius, sometime idiot, shall now shovel snow.

Food for Thought-A Play About Nothing in Downtown Ouagadougo

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I’m not sure where I was. To be honest, I’m never quite sure where I am these days. So many of the places I inhabit tend to blend together in the darkness. Lit only by second hand lamps, I am led among frayed extension cords, one eyed orphans, and hastily arranged curtains. The villagers, I am told, are taking me to their local “théâtre”. According to an obscure local tradition, I am blindfolded and addressed only in the pluperfect tense. After the third bridge and fourth turn, this becomes confusing, as I am required to answer my driver in the conditional perfect tense. I distinctly remember telling the driver, “I would have baked a cake had I known I was being kidnapped and taken to see one of my plays.” No cake. He didn’t want cake.

The play we are about to see is something I authored over a decade ago. There were no actors, no plot, or scenery. Inspired by the work of Samuel Beckett and Jerome Seinfeld, I wrote a play where nothing happened. The curtain remained closed for two hours. Behind the curtain, the audience could hear the occasional sound, light, or gestational groan. Depending on my available resources, I might use a clashing symbol or a recorded explosion. But here is my point. Nothing happened.

One person (in the early days, it was usually me) sat behind the curtain making noise. Later on, once a few of the trendier theater journals reviewed my descent into nothingness, I was able to bring on a few stage hands to bang wooden spoons against my kitchen pots. Eventually they wanted to be called actors so I fired them and hired the one-eyed orphans. This was a play without a plot, actors, or any of the conventions of modern drama. I was going to ask my audience to stare at a closed curtain and listen to random sounds for two hours; all in the name of culture. What might a play about nothing say to a culture searching for something? This is the question I asked myself, printed on the programs, and hoped willing audiences would choose to answer.

While the New York critics were tough, we were huge in France. The French ate this up. The best negative review I ever received came from Le Figaro. “Could less have occurred on stage?” It was a good question. Could I do nothing at all and still call it drama? Would people pay good Euros to stare at a closed curtain with no sound or any physical interaction at all? Yes, I thought they would. I would go for all and nothing. Nihilism was still profitable in France. My nothing was as lucrative as any French nothing, wasn’t it? It was until I had nothing. Nothing goes fast in France. The only thing which runs out quicker than nothing is the beer, the bread, the meat, and the women. Nothing’s just another word for no beer in the cooler or meat on your table, not to mention the absence of actors on the stage.

Why the people of the capital city of Burkina Faso cobbled together enough central African francs to buy the rights to produce a 10 year old American play about nothing was beyond me. I had a theory. I once wrote a book on Dom Deluise as a recurring Christ figure in the Burt Reynolds’ Cannonball Run Story Saga. (I sold 12 copies, 4 of which were to Reynolds himself). In the text, there were a few un-translated French footnotes, referring both to my play and Dom Deluise’s inspiration in forming the core narrative of my drama about nothing. Deluise’s comedy was widely revered throughout French-speaking West Africa, with his work featured in film festivals in Guinea, Ivory Coast, Togo, and Burkina Faso in alternating years.

So let me clear things up. I didn’t know where I was beyond a dank basement and hastily assembled theater somewhere on the northeast side of Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou. And even when I’m in Ouagadougou, sober, and watching a play I wrote, I couldn’t find myself on a map with a GPS if I had to. As of now, that wasn’t in the cards but I wasn’t ruling it out for later.

One question still vexed me. Had they seen any of my work? Did they know what they were getting into? How would they respond to spending their hard earned money to get nothing in return? That’s all fine and dandy for first world theater goers with disposable incomes.

I can hear it now, “Où est le dialogue, homme blanc?” Were they expecting a DeLuise to be a character? “Quand le gros homme drôle arriver?” When does the funny fat man arrive? Oh, he’s here, sitting with his back to the wall waiting for a one-eyed orphan to bang rhythmically on a pot while the orphan missing the other eye (alternate) plays with a flashlight to a soundtrack to air blown over bottles. That’s the funny white man, sitting in the corner, a piece of paper in his hand, furiously writing a part for a man named Santa Claus in a play about nothing.

Food for Thought-I Could Not Help But Be Proud of What I Had Accomplished

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I was moved. I couldn’t help but be proud of what I had accomplished. In only one week, I learned the value of hard work and how to treat people like real human beings. What happened? How did this miracle occur? I learned to make guacamole among a few of the many employees who work for my multi-national southwestern food conglomerate. In order to master the art of mashing, squeezing, and stirring the heart of the avocado I changed my appearance. I went undercover. I grew facial hair and allowed artificial hair to be taped to my otherwise bald head. No one could recognize me. This was crucial to my plan. Neither the guacamole squeezers nor the burrito wrappers could know of my true identity. For me to truly learn how the world perceived the impact of my salsa, I needed to hear my employees unvarnished opinions of working in a restaurant chain widely seen to be somewhere between an Arby’s and a Chili’s.

Lonnie taught me much about making the “guacamole” and rolling tight, fat, burritos. “You can never go wrong by rolling a tight, fat, burrito,” Lonnie said. Why were tight, fat burritos important? Loose, skinny, burritos made a mess and fell apart very easily. Lonnie didn’t like messes. He lived in confined space, his car. If his car was messy his life was in an equal sense of disarray. Between shifts, he cared for his pet parrot Carl, who was dying of parrot related HIV. The rapid pace of the burrito assembly line gave him hope that he might one day be able to purchase the needed medication for Carl’s treatments. “Do it enough,” Lonnie said, “and Carl gonna fly again.” Yes. Carl was going to fly again. Lonnie was going to be mentored in a special guacamole squeezing leadership program. I was proud. I was moved. I think I might have cried a tear: one for me, one for Lonnie, and one for Carl.

I moved. It was then the channel changed. I could not help but be proud of what I had accomplished. In an ancient blacksmith shop, in a place called Minneapolis, I was making an ax. This me, the new me, was huge and had a pony tail far beyond my massive waistline. Though it was difficult to tell from the music, I looked very mean. I might have been to jail or killed someone with one of my own hand crafted axes. I don’t want to judge me by how I looked. I’m only saying that I frightened myself. With massive blows of my tattooed hands, I shaped seventy-five sheets of steel into one single ax head. I am awesome. I am strong. I will sit on a great throne one day and tell the assembled kingdoms, “Winter is coming.” I am moved.

I moved. It was then the channel changed. I could not help but be proud of what I had accomplished. In an unintelligible New England accent, with a mouth full of marbles, I directed a crew of men with a passionate fury toward catching a huge tuna. There was much doubt as I sat in a huge seat and captained my wittily named boat in a competition to catch this yet to be canned sea beast. Would I catch my white whale, or tuna, as was the case? Despite this uncertainty, I knew just what to say on the maritime radio. I’m not a big boat guy, really. I get sea sick. Yet, there I was on this tuna boat. I was talking sea dog trash to all the other boats, people I didn’t really know, all in pursuit of one very expensive fish; a fish the large man in the back of my boat eventually caught. If we didn’t catch this one fish, it seemed for a moment our entire lives would be ruined, our families might starve, and our prowess as men would be shattered.  The line moved.  The fish died.  I was alive for the first time in my life.   I was moved. I could not help but be proud of what I had accomplished.

I moved. The television turned off.