Friday, July 24, 2009

Cavity Search

I woke up with a toothache, the pain annexing my jaw and much of the right half of my face, like I'd been pistol-whipped in my sleep. In keeping with my strategy for handling most Medical Issues, I ignored it, save for occasionally prodding it with my finger. Still sore? Yes. Still sore? Yeah, we get it, right hand.

Somewhere between the pair of Mama's Family reruns that I'd penciled in for the afternoon, I noticed a knot near the source of the OW OW OW, one big enough to warrant a name. I called it Felix. The problem with Felix--one of the problems with Felix--is that once your body grows something big enough to be named, it's probably a good idea to get rid of it, the exceptions being massive boobs, swollen biceps, or a goiter huge enough to score an hour-long special on Discovery Health.

Because of my addiction to House, as I worked Felix's tender borders I had a flurry of increasingly irrational thoughts that involved jaw tumors or a nest of baby spiders beneath my skin and freaked out, wondering how I'd endure the rest of the summer what with the radiation burns and the hatchlings wriggling out of my face.

I called my most level-headed friend to get a second opinion that didn't require a co-pay. After giving a quick explanation of the situation and introducing Felix, I breathlessly asked "So do you think I should spray a can of Raid into my mouth just in case?"

"Go to a dentist," he said, sighing deeply.

"OK, but what are the symptoms of lupus?" I asked, hearing the click of his phone before I even reached the question mark. I gave one more shot at curing myself--a trio of Tylenol P.M. washed down with a mouthful of cranberry juice--but on the third day, Felix was still hanging out.

I admit it. I haven't been to the dentist in years, probably since before American Idol was on television, at least three relationships and twenty pairs of running shoes ago. Because I'm essentially Unemployment's conjoined twin, regular dental checkups are a luxury I can't afford, on the same list with oil changes, PBS pledges, and brand name soups.

After reluctantly axing the idea of keeping Felix and claiming him as a dependent, I played Yellow Pages roulette, flipping to the D-for-Dentists section and making a choice based on which doc had the happiest-looking cartoon tooth. I selected the beaming molar that--creepily--flashed a mouthful of perfect teeth while holding hands with a toothbrush that was either winking or had Bell's Palsy.

I dialed the number, casually deflecting the questions about the last time I'd been flossed and fluorided. After writing the appointment in my planner, I bolted to the sink to start doing all the shit I should've done for the past several years. I scrubbed and Scoped, wove a piece of waxed floss between my molars and dusted the back of my tongue, even though I knew it was way too late, like the kid who sits quietly in the back of the car for the ride home in the hopes his parents will forget that he threw a massive tantrum at the restaurant.

The truth is that other than my money situation--which can only be expressed by turning my pockets inside out and making a frowny face--I'm actually kind of terrified of dentists. I've never had a bad experience in any of their identical mint-scented and Highlights-filled offices, and even dated one of 'em for the better part of a baseball season. The reason we split had less to do with his job and more because of his unfortunate Stevie Nicks fixation; as much as I liked him, I'm never gonna pull off that fingerless lace gloves and witchcraft vibe. Also I hate white-winged doves.


A massive chunk of my DDS-related squirminess comes from a late night HBO airing of The Dentist, a post-LA Law Corbin Bernsen flick where he plays--no shit--a dentist who has some issues with his wife's infidelity and starts pulling his patients' incisors like unwanted weeds in a flower bed. Granted, I don't recall screwing around on Corbin Bernsen so I should be safe, but my brain keeps spewing out one of the final scenes of his wife crawling on all fours, toothless after he'd yoinked every bicuspid out of her face.
Cut To: Yesterday afternoon when I drove through an endless office park of identical squatty buildings before plopping onto an equally squatty piece of office furniture. The receptionist handed a prescription-logo clipboard through her plexiglass window, asking me to please complete a questionnaire that asked whether I'd ever had angina, tuberculosis, or a recent vasectomy.

I made one giant circle around the entire 'NO' column and flicked my tongue across my just-scoured teeth, kind of wishing I’d taken the opposite approach. Rather than trying to overcompensate for years of neglect and a case-a-day Diet Coke habit, I wished I’d made lunch out of Laffy Taffy, corn on the cob, and a number of well-seeded fruits. You know, so I got my money's worth.

My name was called quickly and--to their credit--correctly and I was led past the unmistakable sound of drilling to a chair covered with plastic, a decorating decision I recognized from my grandmother's living room. The hygienist clipped a bib around my neck and said "We're going to do some X-rays" before draping me with a lead blanket. With every "Bite down", I heard a cash register ching in my head and wondered if the gyno's office across the parking lot would let me pawn a handful of my eggs so I could pay for this.

She left me alone while she developed my scans, as the speaker above my head leaked a number of back-to-back-to-back musical tragedies. By the time she came back with a stack of transparencies, Brenda and Eddie had had it already, no doubt squabbling over which one of them got the Sears wall-art and who got the plush carpeting.

Without any warning other than "Open", she'd shoved a hooked tool in my mouth and started scraping, a menacing sound that reminded me of the pair of raptors in Jurassic Park scratching at the kitchen door. Much like the terrified kids on the other side, I had no choice but to smash my eyes shut and wait for it to be over. Unfortunately my choices were to listen to pieces of my enamel being etched off or to hear the worst radio station ever, one that made me want to exhume Nikola Tesla just so I could punch him in the face. "Do you hear that?" I'd shout, shoving his ear toward "Me & You & A Dog Named Boo". "THIS IS YOUR FUCKING FAULT."

The two noises tag-teamed to make the next several minutes industrial-strength misery. Scrape scrape scrape they called her Wi-i-i-i-ldfire scrape scrape scrape and he shall be Levon and he shall be a good man scrape scrape scrape I heard my mama pray the night Chicago died...

About the time a pocket-sized Paul Simon was strumming his tiny guitar about something so right the dentist came in. He was not Corbin Bernsen, thank God. He was, however, efficient, skipping the introductions and moving in a blur of crisp white sleeves and gleaming chrome instruments. He gently prodded my still-bleeding gums. “Do you floss?” he asked, pulling his paw out of my mouth so I could reply.

“Religiously,” I said, wiping at my lip with the bottom of the bib.

“Every day?”

“No, Christmas and Easter.”

He sighed deeply, which was disappointing. That was comedy gold, Tooth Man, GOLD.

“You’ve got a significant cavity in your number thirty molar, which is contributing to the inflammation and discomfort of your gingiva."

"My gingiva is inflamed?"

He nodded.

"I should've worn a longer skirt."


James Taylor duked it out with fire and rain above our heads, a battle less painful than this exchange. He pulled his gloves off, turning them inside out and dropping them into a smudged stainless wastecan. "We'll need to see you again next week to take care of this." He stood, replaced the stool underneath the desk and walked out without looking back.

I unclipped my bib and left it wadded on the Saran-wrapped exam chair. “I always thought that I’d see you one more time again,” Sweet Baby James said as I trudged down the hall.

I made my follow-up appointment and reluctantly agreed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Because I Sez So

The binder should’ve been a tipoff.

Shortly before the New York Dolls took the stage in Charlotte, NC, a black-clad stage hand propped a three-ring binder beside the microphone stand for lead singer David Johansen, a binder full of song lyrics. Considering that the Dolls have only released four official albums since 1973--for a total of 46 tracks--it seems like maybe he could’ve committed the words to memory by now, instead of doing a Kinko’s printed karaoke version of “Muddy Bones”.

You can clicky over to BitchBuzz to read the rest of my take on the New York Dolls appearance in Charlotte. I've been a Dolls fan forever--my neighbors on all sides can attest to how often I shout along with "Personality Crisis"--so it stung to file this concert under D-for-Disappointment.

My spirits were briefly lifted after the show when Original Recipe guitarist Sylvain Sylvain1 wandered out to chat with fans and graciously sign anything that was shoved into his hands. I choked down all of my nerves in an attempt to say something to him that wasn't completely stupid ("GOOD SHOW!") or lame ("GOOD SHOW!") or insane ("I AM THE KING OF THE FISH PEOPLE!") but he interrupted me before I could tell him that lemon was my favorite color. "Everyone should call Tremont Music Hall and tell 'em to book my band again." He smiled for a picture. "The Sylvain Sylvain Band".

Really, Syl, a promotional message? Really? I felt like Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he tears open his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring and realizes that the secret code says "Drink More Ovaltine."

From the reviews I've read of the Dolls other spring shows, Charlotte seems to be the oddball performance and the only one where their energy dropped below Amphetamine levels.2 Hopefully I'll catch them again down the road so they can change my mind. Until then, my neighbors are just going to have to suffer.

1 The Dolls lineup has dwindled to two founding members after the deaths of axeman Johnny Thunders, drummer Jerry Nolan and bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane. It's somewhat unsettling, though, to realize that the Dolls Version 2.0 have been together longer than the Originals.

2 In fairness to the rest of the band, the only lackluster performance came from pocket-sized frontman David Johansen. The rest of 'em spent the eighty minute show sneering and solo-ing hard enough to make their eyeliner run.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bloggage à Trois

1) We're a solid month into summer, which means here in the south we have balmy one thousand degree temperatures with stifling humidity levels rarely experienced outside of C.C. Sabathia's jock strap. Regardless, I still have to walk the Boxerbeast into submission every day which means my choice is to either drag him out the door before sunrise when I'm rocking a bleary-eyed expression and the imprint of my watchband across my forehead OR to wait till later and have to carry his fifty-five pound carcass back to the apartment when he inevitably overheats and gives up. This has happened before--most recently last Wednesday--and I was surprised to learn that no one will stop to offer a ride (or even a cup of Chick-Fil-A lemonade) to the scrawny girl staggering up a steep hill with a limp dog in her arms.

That's fine, I guess, considering that I wouldn't accept a ride (or a styrofoam cup of high fructose corn syrup) from a STRANGER, since a thousand Netflixxed Law & Order: SVU episodes have taught me that my afternoon would include a pistol whipping, leg shackles, and a damp basement with a scummy water dish to keep me company.

Anyway, this morning Pigpen and I were doing our pre-dawn trip through the neighborhood when a drifter on a child's bicycle teetered past us, doubling back to make looping circles around us on the sidewalk. I've seen this dude before and have also been responsible for him being escorted away from my building after watching him spend an hour bashing his broken arm against the wall, picking at his cast and screaming something about worms eating his hands.

So he's wobbling around on his pink Huffy, swatting at dogwood branches with his good arm, when we lock eyes. "GREAT ASS, BABY!" he shouts at a decibel level that hopefully roused the neighborhood watch advertised on the street signs. "How 'bout you run away with me?" he said, spitting on a Prudential Realty logo before launching himself off the sidewalk and onto the yellow center line.

He didn't wait for my answer. I didn't wait for him to come back. I mean, how would Pigpen have ridden on his bike?

2) Since the Boxerbeast and I are a no-income family, we don't have room for a lot of extras and non-essentials. I've already nibbled my life down to the cuticles, save for the occasional splurge on a Bojangles four-piece (with a side of Bo-tato rounds, obviously) and a monthly appointment to have my eyebrows waxed into two separate entities, choosing to drop $15 instead of looking like Jim Henson should have his hand up my back.

After axing my ESPN The Magazine subscription, my last unnecessary item was Sirius satellite radio, which I booted last month. I never had any issues with the service itself; there were enough channels for me to absentmindedly flick through as I drifted through traffic, swerving and weaving as I attempted to read the song titles from Jack White's latest side project. For the most part, I didn't listen to it. I always plug my iPod into the dash and--despite a total of 643 different albums to choose from--chances are I'm singing along with the same twelve R.E.M. tracks that have soundtracked my...everything since, like, eighth grade.

The problem? Sirius is harder to shake than Alex Forrest. They call at least four times a week, making promises they don't intend to keep, swearing that they could be better--that they WILL be better--if only I'd take them back into my arms, my dashboard, and the Stiletto portable receiver that I could purchase for $20 off the listed price.

Every other day a different rep calls to do a stiff line reading of the same script, but they never listen. "I won't be ignored, Dan!" is the subtext hidden beneath reminders of all the good times and Grateful Dead songs we shared in my car, in the house, or in the boat. Wait. My boat? "I don't have a boat," I told the hourly employee who identified himself as Anton. "That must be your other girlfriend."

Silence from the other end. "I'd been thinking about it and I was SO CLOSE to coming back, until you confused me with her. Didn't our two years together mean anything? All those Air Supply songs, all the original programming, all the hours of commercial free music? That's all I am to you is another subscriber?"

"Ma'am, I'm sorry you're upset, but today we can offer you--"

"What? A Stiletto portable radio? Too late, Anton. Take your Stiletto and park it in your Underground Garage, if you know what I'm saying."

I hung up.

He'll call back. They always do.

3) So I'm on Facebook, like pretty much everyone from my third grade teacher to the mole I just had removed. Friend requests land in my inbox almost every day, which is awesome because I enjoy reveling in the recent miseries and unfortunate hairstyles of everyone who hated me in high school. In the past couple of weeks, mixed in with the hellos from people I'd forgotten and the "Which Strain of Hepatitis Are You?" quizzes, I've been asked to become a fan of pretty much everything. If it's a noun, it has a fan page. Marie Curie? Yes. Beaver, West Virginia? Why not. Babybel cheese? Absolutely.

With the rare exception, I always politely click the ignore button, since I don't see the point of showing my undying loyalty to dairy products on my profile. In the time it's taken me to finish this post, someone has asked me to become a fan of a local jewelry store. How about instead of becoming a fan, we'll just agree that I won't actively sabotage your business, mkay? I won't put your name on my page but I also won't throw a canister of midgrade gasoline through your Tag Heuer display. Just click Confirm if that sounds cool.1

1 And oh yeah, I get the irony of railing against fan pages when this site actually has one (THAT YOU SHOULD JOIN), but c'mon, we're way cooler than a net bag full of wax wrapped cheeses, amirite? Right? Maybe?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Exit In An Orderly Fashion

"I guess you didn't get the email either," he said. We were in the parking garage and he was brandishing a walkie talkie in each hand, both of them burping out intermittent blasts of static. I was naked save for a beach towel, clinging to my dog's leash with one hand and clutching a record sleeve with the other. I’m not sure there could’ve been a better opening line.

I shook my head and flicked a trickle of water from my cheek.

He sighed and looked away, which is typically the reaction I get when I'm partially naked. "It's just a test. They were supposed to let everybody know but they're not the best about, you know, doing things in this building." He illustrated his point by gesturing toward the garage's roof leak which they--The Management--'fixed' by stacking a series of cones in the spaces directly below the problem. When people like me parked there anyway, the cones were replaced by increasingly larger ones until now I'm forced to get out of my car and kick the cone over before pulling forward, popping the key out of the ignition and ignoring the orange carcass mangled beneath the front tire.

I thanked him, tugged the Boxerbeast's leash and tried to step in my own wet footprints on the way back into the still-shrieking building, hoping I could scratch "Being incinerated while I'm loofah-ing my back" off my list of Things to Fear, which bumps "Going bald from malnutrition" back into the top slot.

It seems like maybe a planned test of the fire alarm would be something The Management would think to tell the residents about, especially since one of those residents might’ve been in the shower grooming her personal areas when the alarms went off, a resident who is now rocking a half-finished nether region that currently looks like an alien-carved crop circle.

Mashing the rewind button for a minute, I was--as you might have guessed from context clues--in the shower, fully lathered and quite possibly singing a number of Psychedelic Furs songs when the alarm in my apartment started screaming, the attached strobe light flashing wildly, giving my square footage the appearance of a residential dance club where there would be piles of laundry stacked beside the DJ booth.

I remember touring the building before I moved in and getting a detailed explanation about the emergency alert systems, the khaki-covered property manager speaking in fully-formed paragraphs about the differences between the alarms in the hall and the ones in each individual unit, a monotone monologue I completely ignored because I was too busy gorging myself on the complimentary Triscuits he’d neatly poured onto a paper plate in the kitchen.

Despite being unable to recall any details of that afternoon other than whole wheat goodness, when my version of "Love My Way" was interrupted by an alarm bleating above my bed--IN MY OWN APARTMENT-- I knew it was bad. I expected to race out of the bathroom, rounding the corner to find a Scooby Doo-caliber fire monster waving my tangle of interconnected extension cords or oily rag collection or some other scenario illustrated in the DON'T column of an instruction manual and cackling madly as he painted the upholstery with flames.

I put my razor on the shelf and grabbed the towel hanging over the shower door, one purchased at the kind of novelty beach shop that offers you a free hermit crab with every purchase and sells a variety of t-shirts with slogans like “I Shaved My Balls For This?" My particular terry cloth tragedy has a drawing of a pit bull on it, with the phrase Pit Bull! written in a spray paint-ish font on the wall above its square head.

Yes, I used to have actual bath towels, back when I also had a sofa that wasn't accessorized with deep scratches, before I had to purchase cleaning supplies labeled “dander control”. Pigpen has a tendency to disappear when he’s bored, which means that I’ll inevitably find him in the closet having a brief but ultimately violent relationship with whatever piece of cotton he could drag from the hamper. The casualties have included countless bath towels, two hand towels, a pillowcase, and a Killers t-shirt, proving he has lower standards than anything this side of last call.


I wrapped the pit bull around my torso and sprinted out of the shower. The living room was free of Fire Monsters and smoke, but holy shit was it loud and intolerable, like I’d invited Fran Drescher over for drinks. I shoved Pigpen’s head through his collar, clipped his leash on and--just in case it was a Towering Inferno deal--I doubled back to grab the 7” single framed and sitting on top of the fridge, the one autographed by Robyn Hitchcock and Peter Buck.1

We pushed through the fire doors and ran down the stairs. Halfway to the garage, I secretly hoped that if anything at this address was currently smoldering, it would be in the apartment of the chick on the top floor whose garish red curtains make it look like she’d skinned Clifford the Big Red Dog and hung his pelt from the window as a warning to other beloved children’s book characters. You know, just in case the Berenstain Bears had considered rummaging through the dumpsters.

I was panting and wiping a soap bubble off of the record sleeve when I saw the maintenance guy, who politely refrained from asking why I wasn’t wearing pants before sending me back upstairs. This type of shit isn’t supposed to happen to Real People. Until today, it only happened on sitcoms in the last century, back when the theme songs had lyrics and the mothers all had feathered hair. Unless you’re me. Then it seems perfectly acceptable. Normal, even.

The alarms continued for another hour, my already disjointed thoughts interrupted every eight minutes by more disco strobes, skull-shattering screeches, and Pigpen’s best attempts at a duet. Eventually I abandoned all efforts at Doing Things and parked myself on the balcony to thumb through US Weekly’s Best and Worst Beach Bodies. I examined my own scrawny form and imagined I’d rank somewhere between Richard Gere (Age 59) and the adjustable wooden chair visible in the same shot with that girl from The Hills who can’t figure out how to look at the camera.

I’d just finished making a list of things I’d lick off Hugh Jackman’s chest--getting as far in the alphabet as Scorpions and Stinging Nettles--when a different maintenance dude with, inexplicably, the same name stitched on his shirt rang the bell. “Everything’s done for the day,” he said. “Sorry for the inconvenience but if--god forbid it--you hear ‘nother alarm, it’s for real.”

“Great,” I told Pigpen as I locked the door, “Those curtains may not make it after all.”

1 My sister Runtie heard this story last night and she was gobsmacked by my critical thinking skills. “So, you’d just leave all the pictures of, like, OUR FAMILY to burn?”

“I’m sure Mom has copies. Or they’re on Flickr.”

“And that record or whatever is probably on eBay.”

“No way. It’s an original pressing, the one with the picture sleeve.”

“I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds like you’re never having sex again”.

“Probably not, no. But it’s signed by Robyn Hitchcock and Peter Buck and, even though Peter didn’t play on this single or even with the Egyptians until Globe of Frogs in ’88, it’s still Peter Fucking Buck, you know? Hello? Hello, Runtie? Are you still--shit.”

When I posed the same question to her--if you thought your building was ten seconds away from being a Pompeii-style ash pile--what would you rescue from your place, she immediately answered “Gabby (her miniature Daschund, aka The Cocktail Weiner) and Teddy.”

Teddy is the stuffed bear she’s had since her first Christmas, a tattered, threadbare lump that, at this point, has to be like nuzzling with a manila folder. With its shapeless form and eyeless face, it looks like something you see slithering out of an ocean trench in Discovery Channel documentaries. And there’s no way Peter Buck would sign it.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

No Whammies

My car is always a disaster. Between the Wendy's logo foil that lines the floorboards and the crumpled Krispy Kreme napkins that ride shotgun, there's enough evidence of my destructive personal habits to save the CSI team some paperwork when my aorta eventually explodes. This morning, for example, I fumbled my sunglasses across the car and they landed on a wadded McGriddle wrapper that was nestled beside an empty bottle of Muscle Milk, the unlikeliest pairing since Heidi Klum met Seal.

I don't live this way, I just drive like it. Here in my apartment, you can eat off the floor, provided that you're cool if each bite is covered with dog hair, fossilized shards of Pop Tart frosting, and an errant staple.


When I stopped at Exxon this morning, I shoved the nozzle in the gas tank, mashed the button for the cheapest grade, and was kick starting my memory, trying to recall when I last ordered McNuggets so I'd know whether to eat the one resting comfortably in the cup holder. The gas pump bleated that it was finished and--before spitting out a receipt--asked if I would like to save $2 on a car wash. Just like a Phish fan, my car hasn't been bathed since Bonnaroo. I looked at the insect bodies Jackson Pollacking the windshield and the dried mud icing the doors and enthusiastically pressed YES.

I replaced the gas cap and drove to the car wash half of the parking lot, the side of the building decorated with an unlicensed reproduction of Buzz Lightyear, one juuuust misshapen enough to avoid trademark infringement and also to make him look like his mother drank throughout her pregnancy. After spending seven minutes in the LASERWASH--approximately two Spooky Tooth songs worth--I drove out Bonnaroo free, glistening and pure like a newborn infant. A newborn infant that had also just been laserwashed to get all of the birth-nasty off.

It's fitting--poetic, even--that I de-Roo'ed my wheels the day after I learned that there's more live music in my future. I'll be part of the credentialed press for this October's Austin City Limits festival which promises to be all kinds of awesome. The lineup is top-to-bottom mindblowing, including Pearl Jam, Kings of Leon, Lily Allen, Levon Helm (late of The Band, the least Google-able band ever), Jack White's shiny new project The Dead Weather, and--a sleeper fave--Texas' own Daniel Johnston.

I sat in the car absentmindedly fumbling with the now-fraying Bonnaroo wristband that I'm still rocking on my right arm and thinking about that weekend. There were countless tiny moments that I'll try to remember, all of them tangled together like coat hangers int the back of the hall closet...and a much smaller bundle I'd prefer not to recall.

The former includes things like seeing Elvis Costello--1/3 of my Three Favorite Englishmen Ever--quietly singing along backstage as Jenny Lewis belted out "Handle With Care"; the latter is my hotel and everything affiliated with it, including the damp carpet, the convenient location between the exit ramp and the site of a recent gas explosion, and a whiff of menace that made me half expect Javier Bardem to kick the door in before calmly pressing a cattle prod to my forehead.

Most of the time when I travel, I'll do a workout in the hotel room, one probably close to what people in prison do to pass the time: a circuit of sit ups, push ups, and squats followed by five minutes of trying not to cry after inadvertently ramming my face into the corner of the dresser. Since this place would be filed below Typhoid Mary's kitchen on the sanitation scale, I went to the plexiglass panel that served as a lobby to ask about finding a gym.

I tapped quietly on the glass.

"Yeah," the attendant said, not looking away from a Game Show channel rerun where a man with wide lapels and a glistening--possibly wet--mustache was clapping, chanting "No whammies, no whammies."

"Yes, I was just curious if there was a fitness center nearby?"

"Nope," she said, popping a piece of Nicorette out of the plastic and lodging it in her jaw. Considering that all the contestants, the host and most of the audience members were quite possibly dead by now, I thought maybe she could take a break to look me in the eye.

"OK, well, what about running?" An animated Whammy snickered and ran a lawnmower over a bag of money as Wet 'Stache shook his head and dramatically snapped his fingers.

"What about it?"

This was going well. "Right, I wondered if there was a place to run around here?"

She stood up and turned the television off in one swift movement. "I wouldn't," she said, walking out of the room.

Everything I wrote that week was published at BitchBuzz, the organization who trusted me to be a serious journalist, albeit one who almost abandoned her career after her backpack brushed against the walls of the porta-john. I also learned that it's effing hard to be pretentious when your pen has the Family Dollar logo on both sides.

Those words are all here: Thursday | Friday | Saturday | Sunday

Speaking of BitchBuzz, last week I had the chance to interview Robyn Hitchcock for the site. No, really. Those of you nice enough to be longtime readers know that when it comes to a matter of personal importance, this is like if Paula Deen had the chance to talk with the dude who invented butter.

For the new kids, he's been soundtracking my life since I was a college freshman, when I scored a ride to the Record Exchange to trade a stack of one-hit-wonders for a different collection of bands you rarely hear unless you need a root canal. When Hitchcock's "Oceanside" blasted through the store's speakers, I almost smacked the Salem Light out of an employee's hand in my rush to find out who was singing. I dropped $8 on a used copy of Perspex Island and immediately transferred it from its cracked case into my stereo where it remained for the rest of the semester. That album twisted my brain around in a way I've never forgotten--or never recovered from--and ensured I'd spend unsettling amounts of time roaming the H aisle of countless music stores until I'd collected his entire catalog.

Since then, his subsequent releases have each provided a waypoint as I navigated the tangled mess of my twenties. I fell in love to A Star for Bram (1999) and managed to sustain a reasonably healthy relationship for the rest of his solo career. He’d formed a new band by the time my heart was incinerated to Ole! Tarantula (2006) and I scorched someone else’s after casually peeling the plastic from a vinyl copy of Goodnight Oslo (2009). I got fired to Robyn Sings (2002). And to Spooked (2004). And in time for the B-sides of the I Wanna Go Backwards box set (2007), completing my hat trick of insubordination.

You can (you should!) check out Part One here; Part Two will be posted on Monday can be found here.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Must Be This Tall To Ride

I was thirteen the last time I threw up. It was another eighth grade morning in my one elective, the euphemistically named Gifted Class, which was a polite way of categorizing the uncoordinated, unathletic students like me who would staple our eyelids together in wood shop or slice open our jugular in a failed attempt at jumping rope.

Instead of sanding the IV pole I’d carved while recuperating from kickball injuries, I was tethered to a desk. The teacher, a fit woman with Mary Lou Retton’s calves and MacGyver’s haircut, was reading passages from Pudd’nhead Wilson when I started feeling extra-strength awful. The potential for spewing had introduced itself on the school bus, which wasn’t a new occurrence since most of my rides on Bus #246 ended with my neighbor cutting a wad of half-chewed Bubble Tape out of my spiral perm. Scrawny kids dressed in an unending rainbow of sharply creased Duckhead shorts didn’t have it easy.

Anyway, whether it was the repeated mentions of Pudd’n or the fact that my desk was practically on top of the radiator, I felt my Golden Grahams making for the exit and I did what anyone who wanted to earn the unshakeable nickname Barf Vader would do: I calmly opened my copy of Mark Twain’s slim novel and blanketed the pages with my breakfast.

That was almost sixteen years ago, I realized yesterday, right before I spent six hours trying to make myself hurl.

Over the weekend I had an intense craving for roller coasters because between the unemployment, my less-than-zero bank balance and unending singlehood, my life just wasn’t making me feel nauseous enough. After realizing that Virginia’s Busch Gardens was only a four hour drive away, I decided that was the perfect place to potentially die in a freak accident beside a Dippin Dots stand.

The trip was meticulously researched, which meant I Mapquested a set of directions and Googled “Severed Limbs + Busch Gardens” because my brain dredged up the memory of an Inside Edition piece about a girl whose feet were lopped off on an east coast roller coaster. After several articles reassured me that the severing in question occurred in Ohio, I bought my day pass.

I hit the road at the crack of What-the-Fuck? yesterday, armed with Water Babies oil-free sunscreen and a twelver of Diet Coke. My pre-dawn departure was met with surprise by my friends and family who knew that even when I had a job I could rarely be troubled to arrive at work before ten. I pointed out that maybe if any of those offices had Skee Ball and a petting zoo, I wouldn’t have been escorted out of the building with my belongings hastily stacked in borrowed cardboard boxes.

After a McGriddle stop at the Virginia state line, it was 9:45 when I dropped my car in a lot marked GERMANY and boarded the tram into the park. Much like Disney’s Epcot Center, Busch Gardens is divided into countries but B-to-the-G doesn’t have a rotating cast of good-natured characters ambling through the park waving, a difference that was noted when I complimented someone in Scotland on their costume and was rewarded with a gesture I typically save for people who won't let me merge into traffic.

I took a few minutes to study the map and immediately had a problem with their geography, which shouldn’t be surprising since the entire place is named after a brewery. Three bottles of Michelob Ultra and I'm unsure why I’m naked on a mini-golf course, let alone capable of remembering whether Italy dead-ends into Turkey or not. What I learned yesterday is that France recently annexed Ireland, that England has the cleanest bathrooms, and that Canada smells like grilled meat.

I stopped for a pee break in Ireland (which doesn’t believe in paper towels), then turned my attention toward the ‘coasters. The park had five trademarked thrill rides, each scattered in a different country bordered by a number of shops inexplicably selling Billabong tees and Rainbow flip flops, proving that Douche is the universal language.

After deciding to get the biggest and newest coaster out of the way first, I headed toward Griffon, a floorless metal suicide machine. There were zero people line, since everyone was still constructing their Bugaboo strollers in the Germany lot, so I scored a seat in the front row. “Hope you’re ready for this,” a nametag wearing teenager told me, tugging at my shoulder harness as I tried to forget that my life was in the hands of someone wearing a puka shell necklace.

Unmoving amusement parks where the rides are all secured in concrete make me feel thismuch safer than state fairs, if only because I assume that the employees go through a screening process that doesn’t involve questions like “When’s the last time you booted black tar heroin?” or that they aren’t mashing buttons as part of a lenient prison’s work-release program.

The Griffon slowly inched skyward before reaching the top of what would be a two-hundred foot drop. We soundlessly moved toward the edge and it cruelly left us dangling in midair, faces pointing toward the earth. Much like the Bond villain who outlines his entire plan before hooking your face to a car battery, it gave everyone time to comprehend how they were going to die. It was the kind of ride that makes you hope you’ve mentioned what song you’d like to have play at your funeral. For what seemed like several days I stared at the fake French village twenty stories below, debating between Robyn Hitchcock’s “Airscape” and The Facts of Life theme song.

Then we dropped, as did a section of my colon. Until you’re hurtling toward an unforgiving strip of asphalt at seventy miles per hour, you never know what kind of primal noises you’re capable of making. Mine sounded like Björk songs. After what couldn’t have been more than two minutes, we were guided back into the station, the safety harnesses popped open and I stumbled toward the exit turnstile. The Griffon left me shaken, still clinching my inner thighs and checking to make sure I hadn’t bitten off my tongue. It also made me realize how long it’s been since I had sex.

So I rode it four more times.

From Griffon it was on to the Alpengeist, located in Virginia’s best imitation of Italy, which involved plastic snowbanks and another stand selling flip flops. “Alpengeist means 'Ghost of the Alps’,” the woman behind me told her son. “Alpen means Alps, and geist means Ghost. Alpengeist.”

“And poltergeist means Ghost of the Polters,” I said helpfully. Both of them ignored me, the woman turning around hard and fast enough to hip check me with an overstuffed fanny pack.

Alpengeist also means “Ghost of the Spinal Injury”. My fetus-sized skull didn’t fit securely in the headrest, so it smacked against the side of the car for a solid two minutes. I thought I tasted inner ear fluid as I staggered out to the pavement. Then I rode it again.

The park’s former signature roller coaster, The Big Bad Wolf, was decorated with a banner commemorating its 25th Birthday. The only other time I’d been to Busch Gardens was also in ‘84 and I threw a massive tantrum when I learned I couldn’t ride it. Since at the age of five I weighed less than an ironing board, I was stuck on slow moving rides shaped like hot air balloons and flying carpets and other impractical methods of transportation. “I’ve been waiting for you,” I said loudly enough for the family beside me to move their son to the side of the line farthest from my crazy.

“The Big Bad Wolf will propel you at the SPEED OF FRIGHT!” the recorded voiceover said as I waited for an empty car. That’s a phrase that’s open for interpretation, since anyone who ever rode with my great aunt knows that the speed of fright could be 10 to 15 miles per hour, depending on how crowded the sidewalk was.

Scotland’s representative in the roller coaster United Nations was the Loch Ness Monster, a ride that managed to look more entertaining on the map, although the harness did give me a complimentary mammogram. After considering whether Germany’s Der Marktplatz had a Pops-A-Dent that could un-invert my left breast, I took a break for lunch.

You wouldn’t expect France to be the purveyors of corn dogs. Or of churros. Or of an all-Asian waitstaff. But there the three of them were in a blue building hand-painted with the word patisserie, which is French for you paid $40 to get diarrhea. I took a deep fried mistake in each hand and sat in the shade behind the building. The Griffon whizzed by at regular shrieking intervals and I wondered what it would be like to work there, listening to people scream all day. At first, I imagine they would invade your dreams but eventually the shouts would seamlessly blend with the rest of the day’s soundtrack, proving no more invasive than someone in another cubicle who had a tendency to type too hard. And then you’d start smoking a lot of pot.

The last ‘coaster of the day was Apollo’s Chariot, a ride I’d hoped was named for Carl Weathers. Despite the late afternoon heat, the crowd had tripled in size and I shuffled through the line behind a woman who was tattooed from scalp to ankle, a look that says “I have a casual attitude toward hepatitis” and also “I enjoy working retail”.

There were a surprising number of inked people in the park and, as I gawked at their shoulder blades wondering why anyone would scar themselves with the Miami Dolphins logo, I was often met with angry stares. Look, if you don’t want me to eyeball you, then don’t decorate your back like a bridge overpass. I thought you’d be more offended if I didn’t look, considering that you spent more money on that full-color picture of your father than I did on my living room furniture. Oh, it’s your mother? I’m totally sorry. Are you going to finish that corn dog?

The line moved past several closed circuit TVs playing Busch Gardens proganda and after ten minutes it all started to blur together in my brain. Some distant piece of the park was described as a “high energy hands-on adventure zone” which is how I’ll be marketing my bedroom from now on. I’m pretty sure that both areas will offer the same high percentage of disappointment.

Finally I scored a seat on the Chariot and pulled the restraints into place. “All clear,” one of the kids in charge said before accidentally hitting the button that released the harnesses. “It’s OK, it’s OK,” he repeated, using the same tone I use when I tell the dog I’m getting ready to vacuum.

We were snapped back in, rechecked and--hopefully--spared from an undignified death in an artificially colored lake. The purple and yellow cars started climbing toward the sun, click-click-clicking toward the top of the hill. I looked down at the parking lots named for sovereign nations and the tiny dots scurrying in the direction of the log flume. The row ahead of me screamed as they tipped over the edge. “The Facts of Life theme song,” I said to myself before throwing my arms in the air. “I hope they’ll play The Facts of Life”.