Category ArchiveFamily life
Sometimes I’m amazed that I survived my childhood.
I didn’t grow up in the golden age of home remedies, but just slightly thereafter, perhaps in the slow sunset of that era. It was long before this current age, certainly, when running to the doctor for every hangnail and cough is the default setting for most parents. I bet I survived any number of horrible diseases — diphtheria, whooping cough and dengue fever among them — without anybody making formal diagnoses. This is probably true for anybody over the age of 35.
Back in the dark ages when Jimmy Carter was president and Elvis had morphed from a pelvis-rattling rebel into a fat, sad man in a sequined jumper, parents didn’t have access to WebMD, 24-hour hotlines and fancy phone apps to pinpoint a child’s illness the way smart bombs hone in on Middle Eastern targets today. Instead, they had to work with the tools at hand.
For my mother, these tools consisted of McNess Mentholated Ointment, an old sock and sticks of butter. Any sore throat or respiratory problem could be cured with a combination of these elements, and often with all three.
I don’t know if you can still buy McNess. My guess is that the government banned it around the same time as DDT, but Mom squirreled away a lifetime supply in the basement, next to the strychnine-laced rat traps. McNess came in circular, red-and-gold tins, one of which could last for approximately seven years, no matter how often it was used. The ointment was a thick, viscous yellow, like phlegm in an old man’s handkerchief.
As kids, my sister and I would go to ridiculous lengths to disguise a sore throat. I can remember practically turning blue at the dinner table to avoid coughing, for fear that the dry hack would be occasion for Mom to break open a tin of torture the way a boxer opens a can of whoopass on his weaker rival.
Sometimes, I’d pretend to whisper to hide impending laryngitis, or practice flexing my throat muscles to tamp down the urge to sneeze, or quickly dart my tongue up into my nostrils to wipe away the telltale drainage, lest sickness be discerned there.
Despite my best efforts, though, illness was always found out, in which case came the trifecta of terror. First, Mom would rub McNess all over my chest and throat, massaging it in with broad, firm strokes. Next, she would wrap an old sock around my neck, secured with a safety pin, the better to seal the salve, which announced itself through a pungent odor that sent the dog scurrying from the vicinity.
Then it was off to bed, even if it were 7 p.m., with the door closed, copious covers piled atop me and a vaporizer — Mom’s only concession to 20th century medicine — running at full blast. If I survived until morning, that meant school.
But school could only be faced with the help of the third item on the list, the aforementioned butter stick, melted into liquid on the stove and fed one spoonful at a time to the complaining victim. The objective, she said, was to coat the throat — a piece of rhyming doggerel that she no doubt learned from a voodoo medicine man who practiced near her childhood farm in Maximo — and prevent future coughing.
If I was lucky, I’d be given a few Smith Brothers cough drops to carry in my pocket to class, in case the all-night McNess treatment, respiratory-choking sock and butter didn’t do the trick. The goal was always to keep me healthy enough to face another day of elementary drudgery.
Smith Brothers, you may note, is not even considered medicine today. Instead, it is shelved with the candy. In other words, my entire war against pneumonia, strep throat, raging sinus infections and any number of other medical woes was fought with a variation of motor oil, a tube sock, a dairy product and some sugar-laced placebos.
Amazingly, I lived. More amazingly, I tried some of these remedies on my own child. But the first time I melted a stick of butter in the microwave and tried to feed it to my daughter, my wife threatened to call Child Protective Services.
Instead, we went to the doctor.
I suppose that was for the best. My childhood toughened me considerably, but it’s an entirely different century and millennium these days. Although part of me wishes I could enter “sore throat” and “hacking cough” into Google and see the words “McNess” and “white sock” pop up as treatments.
For one thing, it would be a heck of a lot cheaper.
Chris Schillig, who can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at cschillig, actually had a very good
childhood, as long as he stayed healthy.
Originally published March 13, 2014, in The Alliance Review.
I saw a picture in the newspaper recently of a man wearing a bear suit, dancing with some folks at an area business.
It wasn’t a Yogi Bear or Baloo the Bear or Berenstain Bear suit, either. Just some generic bear with really big bear eyes and head. It was a little grisly, I have to tell you.
As a kid, I hated when people dressed in big, fuzzy costumes. Mickey and Donald might be all cuteness and light when animated, but make them into papier mâché heads here in the real, three-dimensional world and they are trés creepy.
I think my costumed fear factor stems from an episode of the television show “Emergency,” where rescue workers responded to a distress call at an amusement park and found a costumed employee suffering from heat stroke. He was passed out on the sidewalk with his white, clammy head protruding like an albino balloon from inside a furry costume. It might even have been a bear costume.
(Apropos of nothing, I had an “Emergency” lunchbox in grade school. It was one of those weighty metal kinds that you could smash other kids’ faces with on the bus, not the wimpy plastic garbage they mass-produce these days. My mom still has the lunchbox. She keeps Christmas cookie cutters in it and probably has no idea how many blunt force head traumas it inflicted. Ho ho ho.)
Anyway, my suit squeamishness doesn’t mean that I can’t see the possibilities inherent in owning my own bear costume. You might think a grown man would have little use for such a suit, but you’d be wrong.
For one thing, you could wear it when answering the door. Imagine the look on the faces of unsuspecting Jehovah’s Witnesses when they go to hand a pamphlet to a 6-foot-tall Ursus americanus, especially if said bear handed them a pamphlet in return. Maybe one that said, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
Then there are the endless possibilities around the neighborhood. I’d mow the lawn in my bear costume, just waiting to see if neighbors would poke their heads out of windows or doors for a better look. Then I could shake my bear tookus in their general direction or do an exit stage left, a la Snagglepuss. Even though he was a mountain lion and not a bear.
I don’t think it violates any ordinances to wash a car or paint a fence while wearing a bear costume, so I expect the police would have little to say. Probably the most they could pin on me would be “inciting panic,” but I bet I could fight that in court. Get myself a good mountain-man attorney, like Grizzly Adams, to plead my case.
Yes, a bear costume would be just the thing to spruce up humdrum daily living. I could show up for work in my bear costume, go out to eat in my bear costume, and even sleep in my bear costume. Some poor thief would be scared straight if he broke into the house and found himself attacked by a bear. All those gun nuts enthusiasts could forget their Castle Doctrines and just invest in animal suits. Save a ton of lives. And because we live in the capitalist capital of the world, if all those other activities get stale, I could always rent myself out to parties and bar mitzvahs as Chris the Dancing Bear, sashaying and prancing around rooms with little shame because a) I’m making money and b) I’m completely disguised.
Of course, too much sashaying and prancing could cause overheating, and that may require a visit from paramedics.
If I’m not careful, my picture could end up on some kid’s lunchbox, smashing the snot out of unwashed ruffians on the schoolbus.
There are worse legacies, I guess.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published on Feb. 27, 2014, in The Alliance Review.
All language is metaphorical, and the language of love is no exception.
Red and pink, especially in February, make most of us think of love. Those two colors dominate Valentine’s Day cards, candy boxes and other items designed to separate us from our money. But why?
Red is the color of the heart, I suppose, and the heart is the organ most closely associated with love. Well, it’s the organ most closely associated with love that can be named in a family newspaper, anyway.
But red is also the color of blood, and blood isn’t all that romantic unless you have a vampire fetish. Which is far more common than you might think, if the Internet is to believed. (And who doesn’t believe the Internet?)
But, Chris, you say, red is also the color of roses, and what is more romantic — or expensive — than a dozen of those crimson beauties, their petals open like an inviting pair of ruby lips?
This brings me to my point. Well, to one of my points, anyway. What is so inherently romantic about a rose? Who was it who decided that this particular flower was joined so intimately with our belief in love?
Scottish poet Robert Burns — “Bobby” to his friends — famously wrote, “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose/That’s newly sprung in June,” but the rose/love connection goes back much farther than the 18th century. It stretches all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who equated the flower with the goddess of love.
But roses have thorns, and thorns cut and scratch and poke. Roses also die. Now, depending on your significant other, maybe your love cuts and scratches and pokes, too. And if your relationships aren’t all that stable (or if they cut and scratch and poke too much), some of them likely die. Not literally, of course, unless you’re a graduate of the Hannibal Lecter School of Lovemaking.
Still, a beautiful, sharp object with a limited shelf life doesn’t sound all that romantic to me, so I’m introducing a new metaphor for love.
From now on, my love is like a mossy rock.
Think about it. A rock is strong and stable. Rocks are found in all climates and cultures; so, like love, they’re universal.
Moss is a living thing, far more hardy than a rose, so it better represents a stable relationship. It is green, representing life. Moss also grows on a rock, the way two partners grow on one another. After all, the nail biting or nose picking that seems so weird in the early days of a relationship becomes rather endearing in later years.
So this year, I’m bypassing the expensive roses and candies and cards to give my wife a gift straight from the heart — a new metaphor for love created especially for her. That’s right, she’s getting a mossy rock.
If you want to beat my time and give a similar gift, borrowing my explanation the way Christian stole the words of Cyrano de Bergerac to woo the beautiful Roxane, go ahead. You’d be smart to do it this year, though. By next Valentine’s Day, I expect the cost of rocks and moss to triple because of the demand. I’m nothing if not a believer in capitalism.
However, in these early days of the rose/rock transition, don’t be surprised if your special someone is less than thrilled to receive a stone in lieu of flowers. It took millennia for the rose to win its place in our hearts, so I expect it might take, oh, two or three years for my more-fitting metaphor to replace it.
In the meantime, though, expect that your love might take your gift of a rock for granite … er, granted.
Ouch. Love hurts.
cschillig on Twitter
My in-laws had a tech-heavy Christmas, which spells D-O-O-M for me in the new year.
My mother-in-law got a laptop, my father-in-law got an iPhone, and I got a migraine. A standard policy in the family is the one who bought it services it, but like Obamacare, implementation of the policy has been somewhat suspect.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m on the hook for every installation, software and hardware question, like the Geek Squad minus the black-and-white Volkswagen bug.
Now anybody who knows me will testify that I am a sad excuse for tech support. I like my little toys, but I’m also very happy to let others work out the kinks and then show me how to use them.
Any tech savvy I have comes from Googling every question, no matter how inane. “How do you take a photo of your desktop?” Google it. “What’s the best way to merge two email accounts?” Google it. “I dropped my phone in the toilet. What do I do now?” Google it. If the Web is the world’s instruction manual, Google is the index, and I thumb through it often.
But back to my in-laws. To make their new laptop worthwhile, they needed wireless Internet, and that calls for a router.
Despite the fact that I’ve been leasing the same router from my cable company since George W. was in office and have therefore paid more than $1,000 for a device that costs $40 at the corner Radio Shack (something my wife never fails to remind me each time she opens the cable bill), I was assigned to buy the hardware.
This was surprisingly easy, as was the installation. (I might do it at my own home in the next decade or two.) I plugged the router into my in-laws’ modem and voila! instant wireless service.
Just as I was thinking this whole task would take less than five minutes and that I would soon be lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling and thinking deep thoughts, I hit a significant snag with my mother-in-law. Our conversation went like this:
Me: What’s the password to your new laptop?
Mo-in-Law: I don’t know. Is it the same as my email password?
Me: I don’t know. What’s your email password?
Mo-in-Law: I don’t know. It comes up automatically when I log onto my old computer.
Me: Did you write it down anywhere?
Mo-in-Law: Hold on.
She produces a notebook filled with approximately 3,000 words and numbers, some underlined and others circled.
Me: Great. Which one?
Mo-in-Law: I don’t know. Try this one.
Me: (typing) Doesn’t work.
Mo-in-Law: Then try that one.
Reread previous two sentences approximately 3,000 times.
Me: None of these work.
Mo-in-Law: Oh, then try this.
She launches into a recitation of numbers and letters involving her birthday, mother’s maiden name, cups of flour in her favorite cake recipe and approximate hectares of land owned by British royalty. I type each into the box on her computer screen. Meanwhile, in the real world, more than 200 animals go extinct, 6.73 million passengers ride the Moscow Metro and Hershey’s makes another 60 million Kisses. No success.
Ultimately, I resort to Google, giving away my ancient Chinese secret for tech gurudom right in front of her.
The answer is ugly: Restore the entire system, which wipes out all files the user has amassed over the life of the machine.
In my mother-in-law’s case, this is approximately two hours’ worth of Facebook postings of teddy bears and kittens. Not exactly a Shakespearean tragedy, but the reboot takes over an hour, during which time I am not lying on the couch, staring at the ceiling and thinking deep thoughts.
From here on, all passwords are stored in a secret location on my phone, accessible at any hour of day or night whenever The Call comes.
It is then I realize a key difference between the Geek Squad and me: Geek Squad support has a finite lifespan, but my contract is indefinite, entered into with “I do” and terminating only when “death do us part.”
I ask Google for advice. The top response: “Marry an orphan.”
Thanks for nothing, Google.
cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Jan. 9, 2014, in The Alliance Review.
Friends who know I am not religious will sometimes ask if I’m offended by the term “Merry Christmas.”
That’s ridiculous. It’s not ridiculous that they ask, mind you, but that anybody would take offense to an expression — any expression — that wishes happiness to another.
This War Against Christmas that certain segments of the media (Fox News, I’m talking to you) accuse liberals of waging is really just a political version of the TV weather scam.
You know what I’m talking about: Television executives have realized that talking up the weather is great for ratings, which means that every flurry and icy patch merits its own scrolling alert along the bottom of our screens, accompanied by an announcement to stay tuned for school closings.
In the old days, when we determined weather by sticking our heads out the window and looking up, we didn’t need constant warnings to be cautious and that road conditions could change at any time. We just figured it out.
The same thing with “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays.” Somewhere, some broadcasters and politicians recognized that talking about taking Christ out of Christmas — and secular society’s decision to wish “Season’s Greetings” to honor the diversity of beliefs among constituents — was good for ratings, and that people would stay tuned for long, circuitous arguments and/or rants about the topic. Some of us will even vote for particular candidates if they espouse a strong enough view of America as a Christian nation around the holidays, despite whatever shenanigans they are up to the rest of the year.
But in the old days, we could hear “Merry Christmas,” “Season’s Greetings,” “Happy Holidays,” “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa” and recognize it was merely a speaker’s way of sharing his or her own joy, not a personal attack. We didn’t need any conservatives or liberals to translate for us, and we didn’t need to bristle and announce ourselves as Christians or Jews or atheists or space aliens or whatever. We just smiled and said, “Thanks, same to you.”
There, isn’t that easy?
On a related note, people sometimes ask me why I bother to celebrate Christmas at all, as I am not a believer in the “reason for the season.” This is also a fair question.
The bottom line is that much of what passes for Christmas these days is not, in point of fact, religious. Even fixing Jesus’ birthday as Dec. 25 has more to do with early Christianity’s attempts to attach itself to a pagan celebration of the sun than to any historical record. Our modern mythology of Santa, Rudolph, elves, talking snowmen and the like demonstrates that religious and non-religious elements of the holiday have made an uneasy peace, mixing and mingling over the years like ingredients in a pot of stew. (The most repulsive example of this cross-pollination are those painted images of Santa kneeling before the manger.)
I wonder how so many people square their bloated consumer Christmas (complete with running over their fellow men with shopping carts to get to a big deal) with recent comments from Pope Francis warning against excessive capitalism. Shopping until we drop doesn’t seem particularly spiritual to me, but what does an old pagan know?
Our reasons to celebrate are multi-faceted then. Some see Christmas as a monument to the birth of a person who came to redeem humanity, some as a gift-grab, others as an excuse to hum “Frosty the Snowman” under their breath, and still others as a season to brighten an otherwise dark and dreary time of year. That last is my “reason for the season,” along with being happy for my friends and family who find a deeper reason. While some may decry my choices as sad and superficial, they suffice for me.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I don’t take offense to Merry Christmas or Season’s Greetings or even Happy Festivus (for the rest of us). Anytime somebody reaches beyond themselves to extend sincere wishes, that’s cause for happiness in my book.
So whatever you celebrate, enjoy.
cschillig at Twitter
Originally published Dec. 19, 2013, in The Alliance Review.
Family life 21 Nov 2013 10:16 pm
Tilt head up. Tilt head down. Repeat for the rest of your natural life.
These aren’t the directions that came with my new glasses, but they should. For the first time, I am wearing progressive lenses, which is the nice way of saying “bifocals” for those who are sensitive to such things.
It’s not like I haven’t seen it coming. (Of course, if I’d seen it coming, I wouldn’t need glasses.) A few years back my eye doctor told me that bifocals progressive lenses were a distinct possibility, but his workaround (likely in response to my look of abject horror) was to have me wear a disposable contact in my right eye and none in my left.
This cyclopean solution would have worked well enough if the lens stayed in my eye. Instead, it popped out at the most inopportune moments, including once when I was zipping up at the urinal. I chalked that one up to experience.
More often, I would look down just in time to spot a lens parachuting onto my desk or my arm, where it proceeded to shrivel up like a vampire in the sun or a Republican in a soup kitchen.
After a few months of this, I just gave up on contact lenses — and glasses, too, for that matter. Instead, I just walked around squinting, fancying myself a modern age Popeye the Sailor. Eventually, though, every seaman has to come into port, where his landlubbing optometrist awaits.
The plus side of bifocals progressive lenses is that I can now actually see students in the back of the room. Prior to this, they were just animated lumps in hoodies and T-shirts whose features I could make out only when I squinted, which happened only when boredom overtook them and their heads collapsed with audible thumps upon their desks. (This happens more often than you might imagine.)
The negative side is that when I wear the glasses to read or work on the computer, I must restrict my vision to the lower third of the lenses in order for letters to appear sharply in focus. Otherwise, everything looks like somebody has smeared Vaseline on the lenses. (This happens, again, more often than you might imagine.)
Hence, the constant tilting of my head up and down, until my forehead is almost parallel with the ceiling and my wife asks me if I am performing some type of transcendental meditation while I read. Sometimes, I will fool her by intoning “Ohm! Ohm!” over and over until she tiptoes away.
They tell me — they being the first 100 people in the phone book — that after a while the dizziness and disorientation from the bifocals progressive lenses will disappear, that wearing them will become as natural as riding a bike.
A couple things about that analogy bothers me. One is that it took me a ridiculous amount of time to learn to ride a bike. Long after my friends were pedaling happily down the street, I was still clutching the handlebars in a death grip and ricocheting off trees and fence posts. (My parents didn’t trust me to learn on the road, so I smashed into objects in the backyard instead.)
Secondly, I don’t sit on a bike every waking second of every day, but I should wear my new glasses with that frequency. If I follow the learning-to-ride analogy, I’ll park my glasses in the garage for months at a time and return to them only when I’m truly desperate.
Which is kind of what I’m doing, anyway. (Minus the parking in the garage.) I’m not wearing my new bifocals progressive lenses as I type these words; they’ve been in their case since last night, when I last drove. I might wear them again a little bit tomorrow, as I’ve grown accustomed to seeing some of the students in the back row. (They’re actually pretty nice.)
But I need to progress slowly to all-day, everyday status. All this up, down, up, down stuff is literally a pain in the neck.
cschillig on Twitter
Halloween is one holiday where my traditions aren’t firmly established.
For previous Beggars’ Nights, I’ve decorated the house with pumpkins and with abandon, but not this year. The spirits are willing, but the flesh is weak. Or lazy, to be more exact.
Nor will I be hiding beneath a pile of leaves in the front yard, waiting to scare the bejesus out of passing princesses or cowboys. The last time I seriously contemplated this was the same year I herniated a disc in my neck, putting a literal crimp in my plans.
Since then, I’ve erred on the side of caution and left the scares to younger folks, like a family in the neighborhood who erected a mock graveyard, complete with a seated figure of Death that gave me a good jolt one dark morning when I saw it from the corner of my eye.
On Halloweens past, I’ve run marathons of classic Universal Studios horror movies (”Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “The Bride of Frankenstein” and their ilk). Sadly, the monsters have to stay in cold storage this season, brought low by my poor time management.
The best I’ve done this year is a collection of “scary snippets,” excerpts from classic fright films that I show to my Advanced Placement class. They then analyze, in writing, the elements that make each clip effective. (Yeah, I know, an English teacher can drain fun from an assignment quicker than a vampire drains blood.)
Most years, my wife and I hand out candy on Halloween. But sometimes, like this year, our schedules won’t permit it.
When that’s happened in the past, I’ve put a bowl of candy on the front porch under the watchful gaze of a life-sized Creature from the Black Lagoon cardboard cutout, along with a sign that reads, “Honor System: Take One Piece.”
Like Montresor, the mad narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado,” I know enough about human nature to realize that a handful of hungry ghouls gets the biggest portion of the Schillig loot.
Montresor needs an empty house to commit murder, so he orders his servants not to leave the premises while he’s gone on business. It is an edict sufficient, he knows, “to insure their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as (his) back was turned.”
My motives haven’t been as sinister, but the results are likely similar: People doing the exact opposite of what they’re asked.
This year, though, my wife is absconding with the candy for a kids’ party elsewhere, so the Creature will stay in the attic and no porch light will blaze. I guess I’ve become the Halloween grinch.
One tradition, however, is immutable: my annual reading of “The Hallo-Wiener” by Dav — no “e” — Pilkey, creator of the Captain Underpants series.
The story of Oscar, a wiener dog whose mom dresses him as a frankfurter for Halloween, eliciting howls of laughter from his canine pals, was a perpetual hit with my daughter when she was younger, so much so that we kept reading it together long after we’d both memorized all the words and long after most dads stop reading to their kids.
A few years ago, I recorded myself narrating it and mailed a CD and a copy of the book to her at college. Now that she’s in grad school and just as busy as her old man — cue “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin — we often enjoy the book asynchronously. This is a fancy word thrown around online education circles that means “not at the same time.”
This year, though, maybe I’ll surprise her by phone, and we can enjoy Oscar’s travails simultaneously, through the magic of Ma Bell. Or Ma iPhone.
Because any book that features lines like “Farewell, my little Vienna sausage!” and “Help! We’re being attacked by a giant frankfurter!” is too good to be left on the shelf.
Happy Halloween. May all your frights be pleasant ones.
What is the secret of a successful marriage?
If you said whiskey and a bullet to bite down on, go to the back of the line. You’ll soon be joined by weepy-eyed men who answered “man cave,” “separate houses” and “dead mothers-in-law.”
Stephen King had a character in one of his books say that silence is the secret. The idea of talking about problems — advocated by folks like Dr. Phil, who deals with dueling partners in one-hour increments before sending them back home with a copy of his latest self-help book with which to strike each other over the head — usually leads to one or both parties saying the wrong thing, which risks further aggravation and estrangement. “Estrangement,” as defined by Merriam-Webster’s, is “the state or condition of sleeping on the couch or in garage for two or more nights simultaneously.”
If you keep quiet, you’ll never say the wrong thing, except in those situations where silence is exactly the wrong thing to say. (If you don’t understand that last line, you’ve never been married.)
I’ve found that compromise — defined by some cynics as a situation where both parties lose — is the best state of affairs for matrimonial bliss. My wife agrees, as long as she always wins the compromise.
We compromise a lot, especially when it comes to movie selection. In the past, we’ve had an agreement where she picks movies on any day of the week that ends with “y.” This is because on our second date — back in the time before surround sound and stadium seating, when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth — I took her to see “Texas Chainsaw Massacre III,” which I find as life-affirming and beautiful as some people find “The Sound of Music.” She’s never let me forget it.
Because of this decades-old lapse in taste, I usually must wait until the movies I want to see come out on home video, where she sleeps or texts through them on the couch.
Lately, however, in a rare admission of compromise on her part, we’ve been taking turns, which is how I saw “Man of Steel,” “Pacific Rim” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness” in theaters over the summer.
Her recent choices include “The Heat,” “We’re the Millers” and “The Internship,” all of which were fairly good, except for “The Internship,” which was so bad I barely remember seeing it. This rare admission of enjoyment is how these things go in our marriage. If I say I liked one of her choices, it suddenly becomes one of my choices, meaning she gets to pick the next one. I apply the same reasoning to the few selections of mine that she admits are bearable, which aren’t many.
(For a brief time, I refused to see any of her selections after she tricked me into watching “Magic Mike,” a movie about male strippers. I detailed that little imbroglio in a column last year. Email me if you’d like a refresher copy — of the column, not “Magic Mike.”)
Oddly enough, just as some longtime couples start to resemble one another, our tastes in movies are starting to merge. How else to explain that “Mud,” a movie starring Matthew McConaughey, one of my wife’s favorite actors (especially when he appears without a shirt, which seems to be a contractual requirement), was my choice, while “White House Down,” a big, dumb action flick starring Channing Tatum about terrorists blowing up the White House and the Capitol building, was hers. (And yes, both McConaughey and Tatum were in “Magic Mike,” which is just rank coincidence.)
Could we be heading toward a time when she selects titles like “Nightmare on Elm Street Part XXVII” and I’m agitating for “Matilda” or “Confessions of a Shopaholic”?
Doubtful. She drew a line in the sand and said no to “The Lone Ranger” this summer, and she’s already said that I’ll be watching “Thor: The Dark World” by my lonesome. The only compromise in these cases will be whether going to the movies solo counts as my “turn,” meaning she gets to pick the next one.
I think I know the answer, and while I’d like to argue the case, in this situation, again, Stephen King is right and Dr. Phil is wrong.
In the past, I’ve written this column on legal pads, iPads, and once on a smartphone, tapping out my deathless — my wife says “deathly” — prose with both thumbs.
I don’t share this information with readers because, really, what’s more boring than going behind the scenes with a writer? It’s not like the “making of” features on Blu-rays and DVDs where viewers learn cool secrets about special effects and costume malfunctions.
No, in the words of Gene Fowler, “Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” My technique is pretty much the same, except I don’t use paper and I try to finish before blood appears. I just sit down and do it.
But that’s what makes this week’s method so unique: I’m not sitting down, I’m standing up! (And there goes the one exclamation point I allow myself every six months. If the world ends before Feb. 1, I will have to type “World Ends.” with a period. Watch me.)
Anyway, I’m standing up while writing because of an article in the August issue of Runner’s World called “Is Sitting the New Smoking?,” a title that pretty well sums up what it’s about.
I like when an article’s title tells you everything you need to know because it means I can talk intelligently about the piece without having to read it.
Like the guy who wrote “Love in the Time of Cholera.” That title’s a godsend. When people ask what the book is about, you can just look at them real seriously and say, “It’s about this couple that falls in love, you know, in a time of cholera.”
If you’re talking to some smarty-pants, they might want to know what cholera is or what time it was that cholera was around for people to fall in love to. In which case you can tell them that you don’t want to ruin their enjoyment of the book, which again saves you from reading it.
I wish I were smart enough to take my own advice. By the time I realized that “Love in the Time of Cholera” was about exactly that, I had already read the book. All 348 pages of it. In teeny, tiny print, like the publisher knew that the market would support only such-and-such a price point for romantic novels about cholera, and that price point was exceeded at 349 pages.
In the book, a doctor dies when he falls off a ladder while trying to catch his parrot. That’s in the first chapter. I should have stopped there because of how stupid that is. Everybody knows you stand on ottomans to catch stray parrots.
But I soldiered on. This dead doctor’s wife has a former boyfriend who has been pining away for her for, like, 50 years. Actually, it’s 51 years, nine months and four days. He counts. While he’s counting, though, he also has lots of affairs, kind of like Anthony Weiner, except this is before the invention of sexting so he has to do it the old-fashioned way. (Note to guys: Women don’t want steamy photos of your junk. Really.)
He — the character, not Weiner, although come to think of it, maybe Weiner, too — has hundreds of liaisons in dozens of places with women of every conceivable age, size and shape, all to forget about this former girlfriend who’s now married to a doctor who dies chasing a bird.
By this time, you’re probably asking, “Where the heck is the cholera?” and my answer is, “I don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of the book.”
But back to the Runner’s World article. Apparently, sitting increases our chances of disease and death. Research says that if you factor out regularly scheduled exercise sessions, active people and couch potatoes sit about the same amount of time — 64 hours a week.
That’s a bummer to people like me, who like to run or at least like to pretend they like to run. When I come home from a long run and collapse on the couch and don’t move for 51 hours, nine minutes and four seconds, I’m not really doing myself any favors, am I?
So now I’m experimenting with eating standing up, but only at breakfast because I’m the only person in my family who eats that meal. When I tried to eat dinner standing up, I ended up with spaghetti all down my shirt because I forgot that I had to hold the plate and not leave it all the way down there on the table. Plus, everybody else who was sitting around the table was at eye level with my crotch. Just like Anthony Weiner’s lady friends.
You’re probably waiting for some eloquent statement that will tie together cholera, Weiner and the dangers of premature death from sitting.
If you are, forget it, because I’ve been typing for what feels like 51 years, nine months and four days and my feet are killing me and that’s not sweat on my forehead, it’s blood.
cschillig on Twitter
Originally published on Aug. 1, 2013 in The Alliance Review.
We had bad news from our veterinarian last month.
Crossing his arms and rubbing his chin, he did his best Marcus Welby as he groped for a way to deliver the message sensitively.
He nodded toward our 2-year-old golden retriever. Cooper, he said, his voice assuming the gravity of Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments,” was “tending toward the point of obesity.”
“It’s OK, Doc,” I replied. “We can take it. Just tell us he’s fat.”
He said Cooper wasn’t fat — not yet — but could stand to lose 15 to 20 pounds.
When 15 to 20 pounds represents between 13 to 18 percent of an animal’s weight, that’s fat, at least to my layperson’s way of thinking. Maybe not morbidly obese, but definitely in the I’m-no-longer-a-supermodel category.
The vet rattled off a litany of health problems that can plague fat (excuse me, tending-toward-the-point-of-obesity) dogs: joint pain, hip dysplasia, heart problems and diabetes.
(Diabetes, by the way, must be pronounced the way Wilford Brimley does in those commercials for free testing supplies: die-uh-BEAT-us.)
My wife, always the loving mother, rationalized faster than a chocoholic at a Weight Watchers meeting. “He’s just big-boned,” she said. Yeah, and denial is just a river in Egypt.
“And he likes his treats,” she continued, referring to the economy-sized box of dog bones that we refill every week or two. “When he’s a good boy, he gets a bone.”
My wife’s definition of “good boy” was synonymous with “breathing boy.” Whatever the dog did, he got a bone — go outside, bark at cats, look at her adorably, jump on furniture after we told him to get down. He received a bone when she left for work in the morning (to quell separation anxiety, she said) and another when she came home (to celebrate a joyous reunion).
In retrospect, his weight gain should have been obvious. Just a week before, we’d ordered a custom-made harness when his no longer fit. “Custom-made” reminds me of the pair of Levi’s with a size 76 waist that hung in a downtown clothing store for so many years.
Poor Cooper, it seems, has joined the ranks of the 36.7 million dogs in this country — a fur-bristling 52.5 percent — who are overweight, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. (And just the existence of such an organization might say all that needs to be said about America.)
APOP believes the causes of pet obesity are the same as the causes of human obesity: More calories coming in than going out. We eat too much junk (or maybe too much, period) and don’t exercise enough. Our animals do the same.
But fixing a dog’s obesity is much easier than fixing a person’s, especially since a dog doesn’t have opposable thumbs to open a cookie jar, can’t make a late night run to Taco Bell for Fourth Meal and can’t break the padlock off a refrigerator door.
It’s a simple prescription: If your dog’s fat, stop feeding him so much and take him around the block a few times a day.
In the weeks since we learned Cooper was “tending toward the point of obesity,” we’ve virtually eliminated treats (my wife still has to give him a bone when she leaves for work — it’s practically a tradition). We’ve also cut out the little ice cream cones from Dairy Queen, pizza crusts and any other “people” food.
Now that the weather’s nicer, we’re walking him farther than just the stop sign on the corner, going instead to the park and putting some miles on those pork-chop legs. He comes home exhausted, but guess what? He’s losing weight faster than Obama’s losing credibility.
Maybe Cooper’s not quite ready for an American Kennel Club photo shoot, but at least he’s stopped waddling and jiggling like a Walmart shopper in pajama pants.
“It’s been rough,” he says over the fence to the neighbor dog, a rail-thin Great Dane. “But at least I’m not a statistic anymore. Did you know that 62.7 percent of golden retrievers surveyed were overweight? It’s an epidemic.”
Like most empty nesters, my wife and I expend far too much time and energy creating a rich fantasy world where our dog watches TV, checks email, makes phone calls and talks like a baby.
Pathetic, isn’t it?
Almost as sad as a world where a dog’s weight has to be spoken of in euphemisms, for fear we’ll offend.
“Tending toward the point of obesity,” indeed.
@cschillig on Twitter