This is an offshoot of the original Liam & Janet blog. That blog has become overrun by Liam's inability to keep his mouth shut when something annoys him. The serious rants there seemed incongruous with the humor columns. The plan for the humor columns continues to be to post a new one every Friday, plus occasional extras when the mood strikes.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Diagnosis: Over 40

[As regular readers of this column will recall, in the past, I've written about my residual water skiing injury to my back, and about Emergency Room visits, and about dizziness, and so really, there's nothing about yesterday that's new, so I'm tempted to ask you to all go reread those several essays and extrapolate and hope I can get away with calling that a new essay.

Unfortunately, the ethical part of me (defined as "that part that realizes that it takes column inches to fill up a second book, since the first one was so fabulously successful as measured in money lost publishing it") insists that if I'm going to use that topic, I write a whole NEW batch of stale, unfunny jokes about it, and so here we go. – Liam]

Yesterday started off as a day much like any other, in the sense that I woke up tired, achy and leaning slightly toward the left. It was different in the sense that it wasn’t so much a socio-political-philosophical leaning as an actual, physical, "the human body isn’t supposed to be quite that shape" sort of lean. Yes, my old nemesis the sacral vertebrae had mounted yet another attack on me in the night, so that when I stood up, I looked like a poor photo-shopping of myself, as when someone attempts to put their head on the body of a bodybuilder, but with a whole lot more sag. It was as though someone had replaced my lower spine with a boomerang to my left.

That's all well and good, I've dealt with that before. It generally means that I'm going to move slower than the lines at the bathroom stalls(*) at a cheese eating convention but with more ambient grunting and straining. A few Advil to completely fail to dull the pain and a predominantly seated day in the office, and I'm good to go, and that's pretty much how I proceeded with the day.

When I'd been at work for an hour or more, I decided to make the long, arduous walk to the water cooler, and that was when I discovered that I'd also developed some serious dizziness, and combined with my center of gravity being currently located somewhere in the air just outside of my left hip, this meant that every other step I would nearly stumble into the wall, something I've not experienced since my wild days in college, when I'd spring for that second beer (I was a cheap date in college).

So I made it carefully back to my office and had pretty well had decided that I was going to sit in my office and not move from my chair again, and that I’d deal with the dangerous prospect of driving home when the time came, when my lovely wife Janet called. She had taken one of the children to a dental appointment which was now over, and as she sometimes does, had decided to stop by and give me a hug before heading back home. And since she doesn't have a security badge, that meant I had to go let her in.

I opened the door and promptly fell into the door jamb. I must have looked drunk, because clearly in the time she's known me, she's familiar with my habit of the three-martini lunch starting at 9:30 in the morning, but after three steps back into the office, she said "We need to get you to the emergency room." Apparently I looked less "drunk" and more "stroke victim, but less dexterous". I argued. I lost. We went.

And so we spent the day at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center chapter of the Marquis de Sade Appreciation Society (DHMC-MSAS), and we carefully divided up the tasks as follows:

Janet: Walking back and forth between my room and the waiting room, where our daughter Darby was playing, occasionally running out of the building to where there was cell coverage in order to update one person or another on my status, and also occasionally running here or there to buy lunch or fetch a magazine.

Me: Lying down, moaning, dressed in a piece of cloth about the size of Malibu Barbie's bikini, with an IV in the back of my hand, an oxygen sensor on my finger, a blood pressure cuff on my arm and about seven different medications in my system. Oh, and let me say, by the way, if you've never had a shot in your stomach, you're missing a rare treat.

I’m not sure I trust the medical establishment, because I was examined by several nurses and at least two different doctors, all of whom did exactly the same tests. I'm not kidding. They all looked in my eyes. They all listened to my heart. They all did the standard neurological tests (reflex tests and left/right sensory and strength tests). And (and this was, I think, completely unnecessary) they all did a DRE(**). What a pain in th… nah, that's just too easy.

In the end, in one of those "no sh** Sherlock" moments which seem surprisingly common in modern medical treatment, I was diagnosed with "vertigo". Really. What was their first clue? I never would have guessed that I had "vertigo" from the fact that when we first walked into the ER, my wife told the admitting nurse that I was experiencing (among other things) vertigo. Vertigo is a symptom, not a diagnosis. It would be as if I took my car in for service and the mechanic returned the car and charged me $1500 to tell me "you have a funny noise that goes 'wrrrrrrrZING' " and didn't even fix it.

And so eventually I was discharged and sent upon my merry way with a prescription for an anti-nausea medication that they said "should help the dizziness if it gets too bad" and a beet red, painfully hot flush I hadn't had when I went in caused by one of the medications, but this leads me to the only part of the experience that actually made me laugh while I was going through it:

On the discharge instructions is the following quote, verbatim:

Take prescription as directed. Follow up with PCP.

I had considered following up my medication with a pint of beer or perhaps a shot of whiskey, but damn, the PCP really does help me forget about the pain, and the bend at the waist is hardly troubling at all, what with my fingers stretching out like rubber bands and my head being made of play-doh.

I wonder why PCP has never been prescribed for me by my primary care physician.

(* Speaking of bathroom stalls and WAY too much information, let me just delicately say that if you’re right handed and bent painfully to the left, it makes for some… trouble in this department.)
(** For those unfamiliar with this test, I'll simply say that the "R" stands for "Rectal" and it involves Vaseline and a finger. Unfortunately, I'm not kidding. Fortunately, I AM kidding about anyone having performed that particular test on me.)

Copyright © June 26, 2007 by Liam Johnson.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

We'll Leave The Light On For Ya... It Makes The Roaches Scatter

I have stayed in some truly crappy hotels in my day, so in order to make it onto my list of worst ever, you really have to be something special.

Tonight, we are staying in one such hotel, owned by (but not branded by) a relatively new national chain whose web-site I now must conclude stands for "Lacking Quality" dot com.

What does it take to be on my worst ever list?

  1. Start out with a building of just the right age, old but not too old. Too old and you gain character. Character is one of those indefinite qualities that you have to simply recognize when you see it. Something that allows you to say "Wow, this has some history to it. Why, some ancestors of the bed bugs for whom I was the buffet last night may have once munched upon the restless legs of George Washington." No, the age I'm talking about is the "World War II surplus temporary housing" era building, the sort which was built poorly because it was never intended for use beyond a decade or so, and yet out of so much concrete and rebar that in the end it was simply too expensive a task to demolish, and so was sold off at fire sale prices to people who figured if you priced the rooms low enough, you didn’t really have to worry about pesky little things like repeat customers or minimal human dignity.

  2. Choose a décor scheme which can best be described as "we found a sale on surplus 'stucco', and it was just too good a bargain to pass up!" Stucco everything. Walls. Ceilings. The sink. Fill plastic bottles with stucco and sell them in the vending machine. For that special flare that will really get you talked about, stucco the bill so the customer lacerates his hand when signing out. And have a "no cancellations within 48 hours" policy, so that once the customer actually sees what he or she has purchased, they are truly "stucco".

  3. Now it's time to add the amenities. Indoor plumbing dating from the days before the fall of Rome is a nice touch. Make sure the paint, décor and construction scream "1940s" while the "hot" water replies "Marquis de Sade" and the mattress says "perhaps I should have thought twice about turning down that manger". Make sure that the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, should they ever get the chance to set foot within the walls, come to realize that it isn’t personal, that we treat our own citizens this way as well. Put in the kind of cheap “pressed fiber” furniture which can today be done with some moderate success, but from the days when "pressed fiber" meant "about as sturdy as cardboard, but somehow less classy". But put in a brand, spanking new television, just to throw the whole thing into stark relief. Then wire the building so horribly that all you can see or hear is static. Crystal clear digital high definition static. In stereo.

  4. Next, let the whole thing age and ripen like a fine wine or cheese. Ripen in much the same way raw sewage does in the holding tanks prior to treatment at the plant. Spend the majority of the 60s and 70s, before most people have learned the words "lung cancer" or "second hand carcinogen", renting every room in the place to an unending stream of Tom Snyders, men and women who chain smoke so much they eventually have to have their tracheotomy holes fitted with a special adapter to accommodate a filter tip. Allow decades of customers to bring their non-house-broken pets. Perhaps occasionally find a wino with a weak constitution and really poor aim. Allow the whole thing to marinate until you couldn't scrub out the resulting smell with anything less than a full haz-mat team and enough Lysol brand disinfectant to literally fill the building up and slowly let it drain out over a decade or so.

  5. Never use bleach. It's bad for the environment, right? And it shortens the life span of your sheets (which, incidentally, you should pick up from "Bob's House of Burlap"). Hope that over time customers believe you chose an off-white motif, because it’s just too horrible to contemplate that you could never buy that particular mottled pattern of yellows new. Choose bed spreads that would have been fashionable… ok, let's face it, these things would never have been fashionable. Siberian exiles might well have turned up their noses at these. Homeless people sleeping on subway grates for the occasional warmth of the subway trains passing beneath might say "no thanks, I'm good".

  6. Staffing. As a tip, you can get a good bargain on staffing by calling the National Borderline Personality Disorder hotline and pretending to be a psychologist. Or better yet, go to the nearest office of the Division of Motor Vehicles and ask for the names of applicants who were rejected for insufficient interpersonal skills. Hire staff whose native language is the Neanderthal monosyllabic grunt language and with the same basic personality of spackling compound. Hire one cheerful, bubbly, mildly flirtatious woman and put her in charge of answering the telephone. Give her no instruction what so ever as to what services the hotel does and does not offer, so that when a customer calls and requests a crib for an infant, she happily promises one will be in the room, but then when the customer arrives, the surly desk staff can insist that there isn’t a crib to be had anywhere closer than Tijuana while looking at you as if you’d just requested that they have someone come to your room and floss your teeth. Make sure the desk staff does not understand English well, so that when they give you adjoining rooms, you get two rooms which each adjoin to OTHER rooms, but not to each other. And remember, barely veiled animosity is the key, or your staff will spend far too much of their time listening to complaints and trying to help people, taking away from their vital work of chlorinating the stucco compound in the swimming pool.

  7. Finally, advertise things you barely deliver on, such as "free high speed internet" and "free continental breakfast". Hire a low-cost internet provider who saves money by attaching IP packets to the backs of squirrels and sets them running down the wires to the local Internet backbone, knowing that three out of four of them will touch raw current and spontaneously burst into flame without ever having delivered their message and the ones that do make it will take about as long with their round trip journey as the recent Mars mission, though a lot less likely to return anything interesting. In the morning, put out a toaster and three slices of stale bread and call that a "continental breakfast". Have an orange juice dispensing machine, but have a large "out of order" sign on it and no alternate sources of juice.(*)

Welcome to my world. This should help explain to you why, with 5 hours of driving under my belt today and the prospect of 5 more tomorrow and my eyelids drooping worse than the pressed fiber furniture, I am standing here at this late hour, attempting to minimize my contact with the furniture or even the floor, lest this terminal shabbiness somehow infect me, watching vigilantly as my two year old son sleeps and ready at a moment's notice to do battle with any sort of crawling beastie which might emerge from one of the many cracks and glance hungrily in his direction.

I’d also like to make sure no one comes in and stuccos him in his sleep.

(*In fairness, as I write this I have not yet had the opportunity to sample the bounties of the breakfast, so my description in this case extrapolates from another hotel we stayed at on Thursday night, which was palatial by comparison but pretty bad in raw terms. Maybe I’ll be surprised. Maybe breakfast is where they really make up for the rest of it. And maybe if I took a black-light to these bed coverings, they’d turn out to be absolutely clean and sanitary. In either case, I only wish I was joking about the squirrels.)

Copyright © June 15, 2007 by Liam Johnson.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Follow Up

I just wanted to throw out this follow up to last week's essay. This isn't really funny, I just wanted to give a quick plug to the people that helped us.

The Mechanic we worked with is a gentleman named "Danny" at "Dee's Service Center" in Bloomfield, NJ, in a gas station just a spit in a good wind off of the exit of the Garden State Parkway.

We were absolutely stuck, and I think I've made it clear that they could have told me the "frambulator" was "discombobulated" and that it was going to cost $2500 to fix and I would have bought it, and yet Danny and Dee's charged us a reasonable and fair price, did good work, and generally were kind and helpful.

The thing that made me decide to post this was when we got back, there was a flat tire in addition to everything else. Danny took a break from his work and found the hole and plugged it and didn't add anything to our charge.

When you're driving in a place like NJ (trust me, I grew up there) and you have an auto emergency and go to the kind of little garage we ended up at, you sort of expect to be taken advantage of. It's so very pleasant that we weren't.

So if you ever happen to have a car problem near the "Brookdale South" rest area on the Garden State Parkway, go to Dee's. They're good people.



Really? So That’s What a “Tranny” Is?

[There's been a grammatical error in this essay since I posted it that I have really wanted to update, but I was afraid if I did, the mailing list software would send it out again, so I figured I'd do it at the same time as I posted a new essay, so at least if it does repeat, it doesn't give people the false hope of new humor. However, there's little different here from the one you presumably read when it came out almost a month ago, so if you are receiving this in your e-mail again, you may safely ignore it as substantively the same.

For true purists, there's also one new paragraph. Well, three, if you, like my oldest son Andrew, feel the need to be a wiseass and therefore insist on pointing out that this paragraph you're reading right now is also, technically new, but I mean one in the actual body of the essay, containing a joke I made at the time which came back into my head a day or two ago, and never one to let a joke go to waste, no matter how bad, I had to come back and include it. --Liam]

There are mornings when you wake up and think to yourself “I have just too much money. I should find some poor, hard-working mechanic and give some of it to him.”

Starting yesterday morning, my family has been on the long awaited extended weekend trip to Washington, D.C. to pick up our oldest two children for the summer and show all of the kids around the nation’s capital. Yesterday morning we began our drive, packing Dagny, Darby, Liam and ourselves into the minivan and setting off. A bit over half of the way there, in Bloomfield, NJ, there was a sudden “whoosh” and the van which had until moments before been happily bearing us southward at a rate of speed I will only describe as "vast" (in case any employees of the state of NJ who wear blue uniforms and might happen to notice us passing back through on Monday should happen to read this) was suddenly refusing to provide us much in the way of "oomph", while doing a lot of whining like I’ve not heard since my Dad taught me to drive a “stick” and I took it out on the highway and forgot to shift out of second until well over the legal speed limit. That is to say, a lot of loud whining (come to think of it, his car made a similar sound as well).

Fortunately, this happened literally yards from the entrance to the “South Brookdale” rest area on the Garden State Parkway, and so we were able to pull into the parking lot, pop the hood and stare forlornly at the cloud of slightly-sweet smelling smoke which emerged and the very wet looking surface of the engine that looked as though it had recently undergone a full oil change by a monkey having an epileptic seizure.

I was pretty sure it was the transmission. It will turn out later in the story that I was right, but the truth is I was pretty sure it was the transmission because that’s about the only part of a car engine I could think of at that moment, other than “manifold” and I’ve never been quite sure what a “manifold” does. Therefore, it had to be the transmission, and as I said, it turned out that “whoosh” had been what we would later learn to be that life-blood of the automatic automobile, the transmission fluid, spraying hither and perhaps yon, but no longer spraying at all into the places necessary to allow the car to shift gears or even travel under its own power.

We found a local police officer (the specific one I hope to avoid running into after he takes a guess at what “vast” meant, above) who called us a tow truck, and while we waited, a nice gentleman came up and poked around under the hood for a bit. By “nice gentleman”, I mean “man dressed in leather biker duds with something that looked like used motor-oil in his hair and various and sundry tattoos, including on his knuckles”, but he was very nice about all of it, even if his only real talent was to look under the hood and make a lot more informed sounding guesses about just how screwed we were.

Finally, he said “I don’t think there’s anything I can do for you” and made the sign of a cross in front of the car, saying it was all he could do to bless the car and hope it made for a simpler and cheaper fix. This would not be the sole confluence of religion and mechanical repair the car would experience this day.

Some short while later (in the sense that it was still, technically, the same day) the tow truck driver arrived. He announced to me that he was going to tow us to a nearby garage, and that this was going to cost me $68. This sounded very reasonable to me until he got the van up on his truck and pulled out, driving about 1000 feet down the Parkway to an exit and another 500 feet into the Shell station at the base of the exit ramp. So essentially this works out to a rate of approximately $272/mile, which is still a bargain when I think of how much gas we would later burn in the rental vehicle, but I am getting ahead of myself.

At the garage, they spent several hours looking over the car. There is nothing particularly humorous about this, although I did learn that if it turns out my car is possessed by demonic forces, it is in good hands, because Dan, the friendly mechanic who worked on my car confided in me that on the weekends he’s a pastor at a local church. This being the second instance of Christianity and the art of Van Maintenance, I began to wonder if that had been Holy Smoke issuing from the back of my car, or perhaps whether that puff of white as I opened my hood had signaled the ascension of a new Pope.

I should also say, Dan has quite the sense of humor. When he first looked at the car, he asked what was wrong with it. I described what I’d observed and said “So I’d guess the transmission, but that’s why I brought it to you, because I don’t really understand these things.” “You and me both,” he replied. What a kidder… I hope.

While Dan was performing his maintenance on or baptism of my car, Janet took the kids for a walk a quarter of a mile down the road to a local park, which turned out to be (no, I’m not kidding) the same Brookdale Park my maternal grandfather used to take me to regularly when we’d visit them when I was wee, and in fact the park he used to take my mother to when SHE was. A park I’d not been to since I was in my teens and my grandparents moved away from this neighborhood.

And, for anyone who doubts the power of karma, or Murphy, or just keeping your damn thoughts to yourself, I swear this is true, not two minutes before this all started, I’d seen the sign for the upcoming “Brookdale South Rest Area” and thought to myself “Brookdale Park was fun, it’s too bad I’ll probably never have a chance to show it to Janet or the kids”. No, I’m really not kidding.

Dan was quite chatty while working, at one point telling me we were really lucky that this had happened today (a definition of "lucky" with which I was not previously familiar), because several days earlier there had been record storms which they were still cleaning up from and an extended power outage which had only recently been restored. He also said that a lightning strike near the garage had set the pavement on fire, which had caused quite a problem for the local fire department. Now, having spent many a year in New Jersey, I remember it as being very crowded, vaguely odorous and having a local accent which could not exactly be described as "pleasing to the ear". But I do wonder at what point they added "flammable" to that list of attributes.

Finally, Dan determined that the leak seemed to be coming from something called a “solenoid” and that he was going to have to replace it, which would take a couple of days. Actually, he gave us several options. First, he said it seemed to have been a slow leak, and we might be able to make it to D.C. safely and have it fixed there. As though there were magical transmissions faeries in D.C. that were going to fix it more cheaply and better, to say nothing of the fact that Murphy was already kicking himself that he’d been tricked into making something go wrong in just about the most convenient place it could have, I really didn’t want to give him the chance to blow us out in the middle of the Jersey Pine Barrens or on the middle of the bridge over the Delaware Water Gap.

Dan actually suggested that maybe if we took a couple of quarts of transmission fluid with us, we could “top it off” if we needed to. This turned out to be some kind of practical joke on Dan’s part, when it turned out that the way to fill the transmission fluid normally was through a port you can only open with a special tool and the magical mechanical incantation of the day, which would cause Dan to lose his license if it ever got out that we’d learned it from him. But not to worry, you can also fill the fluid through the dip-stick slot, a hole so small that, in order to accomplish this feat, you essentially have to hollow out a tooth pick and pour a fluid with the same approximate viscosity as paving tar through it and down the slot with the same care and determination as a proper Irish barkeep lovingly pouring a pint o’ Guinness, but with a slightly better taste. (In my opinion there’s nothing like a good beer, but also in my opinion, real British Guinness is exactly that: nothing like a good beer).

In the end, after spending 5 hours in lovely New Jersey (“lovely” said with a level of scorn reserved for those who actually spent 12 or more of their formative years there before realizing that they were actually free to leave any time they chose) and the prospect of several hundred or more dollars in repairs, we decided to spend hundreds of additional dollars to rent a car. This was at 4:45pm on a Thursday afternoon, and our major requirement was that this vehicle had to be capable of hauling all seven members of our family, and the rental car company had just the ticket, something called the “S.S. Land Yacht”.

Actually, it was a Chevrolet Suburban, a vehicle that has the same approximate size, power and gross tonnage as a charging herd of rhinoceri, but with less fuel efficiency. This car seems to be personally responsible for at least 12% of the national daily gasoline consumption. I don’t mean this model of car, I mean this specific individual car that we are now driving around in tourist mode, getting a good 100 or 150 miles per tank load, said tank being about the size of a municipal water supply tower, but without the fun graffiti telling us which long-forgotten high school student loved which other long-forgotten high school student enough to risk life and limb and permanent ostracization by getting seriously drunk and rappelling down the side of the tower to misspell the name of the object of his desire and his undying affection for her.

In the end, we’re probably personally responsible for at least a half a degree of average global temperature rise and the purchase for an oil Sheik of a new small yacht for his servants to use driving around his large main yacht while scrubbing off the barnacles.

But at least we should have the most blessed van this side of the pope-mobile.

Copyright © June 13, 2007 by Liam Johnson.


[ Previous 5 Sites | Skip Previous | Previous | Next ]
Visit HumorLinks!

This HumorLinks Ring site
owned by
Liam\'s Weekly Humor Column

[ Skip Next | Next 5 Sites | Random Site | List Sites ]
Website Counter