Thursday, July 23, 2009

Back Breaker Break-Up

This is a follow up to "My Frickin' Knee" story. As part of my intensive and dedicated rehabilitation therapy, I have been pursuing help from a variety of medical disciplines - my internist, an orthopedic doctor, an acupuncturist, and a really hot, curvaceous chiropractor who may or may not know what she is doing.

Now while the acupuncturist is just poking some needles in my knee to stimulate some nerve activity to maybe, possibly offer some healing, there really does not seem to be any bodily harm occurring.

The chiropractor, though, is actually hurting me. And I knew I had to end this.

First, it was these torture techniques that involved metal bars being rubbed rapidly across my muscle tissue. The result - black and blue marks that took weeks to heal.

Then, there was the Extracorporeal Activation Pulse Therapy (EPAT). I'll quote the actual description, because I couldn't even think of such an inhumane thing:

EPAT is a shock wave that is generated through a powerful compressor that causes a projectile to be propelled down the barrel of the applicator. It then strikes an end plate producing a shock wave similar to an earthquake or a sonic boom from a jet. This wave then passes into the body and helps to: reduce pain, increase circulation, breakup calcium deposits and encourage new blood vessel growth.

Bullshit! Earthquakes and sonic booms don't make people feel better. And, to date, that application has done nothing to help my knee pain. In fact, the applicator (which is highly phallic-looking) acts like a million tiny hammers against my kneecap, and I know if I ever decide to get an X-Ray, I'm sure I'll find a couple hundred fissures across the bone.

But I stuck with it over the weeks because I didn't have the heart (balls) to tell the chesty chiropractor it wasn't working. Was it the way she deftly held the applicator in her hands as she worked it around my knee while leaning over in her tank top? Was it her seductive stories she told me about her short skirts on the mechanical bull or how she likes to rub the metal bar along her body when she's sore?

Of course, not. I'm a mature male. And that's why I started to lie.

"You know, my knee IS starting to feel better," I told her.

"Really, that's so cool," she responded in a manner that conveyed her surprise that any of this actually worked, too.

"Yeah, I'm feeling like it's loosening up a lot. And the extra stretching exercises you gave me to follow are helping, too." (I never did them.)

"Oh, goody. Now, on a scale from 1-10, 1 being not at all, how much have you improved since you first started sessions with me?"

"Oh, well, I'd say I'm a solid 9. Probably a 9.5." I had to let her down easily.

"Ooooh! That's great."

"Yeah so, do you think I still need to come here?"

"If you're good, I'm good."

"Great. I'm good, then, too."

I should've just stopped there, but my guilt was getting the best of me and I just wanted to make sure I was being as polite as possible. "So, I guess we could just do one more session since I'm here."

She agreed and I got on the table. She applied some gel to my knee and started massaging it in. She's great at this. Big, slow circles around my knee and then she finishes with a giggle as she towels off the excess gel dripping off her two fingers.

Then the phallic applicator comes out. She grabs the shaft with one hand and then screws on the metal-tipped head with the other - again turning slowly and giggling.

The machine fires up and she points the pulsating stick at my knee. As she maneuvers back and forth, she doesn't watch my knee but looks at my face. What she sees is a middle-aged man wincing in pain.

"Does that hurt?," she asks.

"Uh, a little. I'm okay." I had to remember that I was healing so the pain wasn't supposed to be there. "Not too much."

That's when she amps the machine to a higher rate. "Wow, you're at 4.0. Most of my patients can only take 2.8 or 2.9."

"Really? Yeah, I guess I'm better." Now, those million hammers on my kneecap felt like the entire Mandarin-speaking country of China tapping dancing with spiked shoes. I had to hold tight and change the conversation.

"So, whaddya do this weekend?," I said smiling - and sweating.

"Oh, this weekend was great. I hung out with a bunch of my girlfriends. One of them had this crazy idea of making an adult-sized slip n' slide. Since it was really hot out, we did it. We just put on our bathing suits and slid across these wet plastic mats. I think I got some bruises on my hip, though." She lifted her blouse slightly, bent the waistband of her pants and exposed a tiny mark on her skin.

That did it. I was convinced this was all a set up for some British reality show that was being secretly filmed. How long will it take for the stupid American to maul this beautiful young woman?

I'm sitting there with a penis-like instrument being jackhammered into my knee while she's prompting visions of bikini-clad women frolicking wet in a backyard. If I had any strength left in my knee that would've allowed me to jump up and onto her, I could've been fodder for YouTube watchers around the world.

But, of course, I sat there smiling politely. "That's nice. I read a book this weekend."

Well, the session ended and I happily bid her goodbye. The break up was complete.

"Thanks for everything. I'm sure if my knee acts up again, I'll be calling you."

"Okay, good luck," she said and giggled. "I hope I never have to see you again." I suppose that was some type of well-meaning send off?

"Ok, me, too." And I hobbled out of that relationship as fast as I could.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Art of Giving -- and Taking

I'll admit it. I live in an upscale town. When I first moved in, I was a bit embarrassed to give out my address. I was the poor guy with the rich neighbors, and I thought people would think I was pretentious trying to live in this area. But over the years I found my happy space, and I really began to enjoy the amenities of the town - beautiful tree-lined streets, excellent schools, convenient transportation, and access to top-notch shopping. And over the years, I even became friends with some of those uber-wealthy people.

So when I got the email a few months ago from one of those upper stratospheric income earning families soliciting "support" for a board of education candidate they were endorsing, I knew I would have to put up or be put out.

I'll admit something else. I felt pretty good being part of that email list. I looked at the other names on this small and exclusive distribution. It consisted of families that were quite well off, and, in fact, somewhat influential on the Wall Street circuit, and me. I thought, wow, they consider me part of their circle. Someone they could come to for help. Despite my comparably piddly income, they were able to look beyond that and see me for whom I really was.

Actually, I had no idea what they thought of me at that time. I came to realize they wanted my property.

The solicitation was quite simple on the surface - could they post a campaign sign on our lawn showing our support for the candidate? Just a small sign, how harmless could that be? After all, I lived on a well-trafficked street so the eyeball stickiness would be high.

Well, if there's one thing my wife and I detest, it's the proliferation of campaign signs in front of people's homes. We have refused them over the years because of the clutter and because we never really felt it was anyone's business to know who we support and who we vote for.

But now, I was in a pickle. After being accepted into the circle of trust, I would have to decline my new found in-crowd with what they probably would deem some weak, lame excuse.

"So, make a donation to the campaign," my wife said.

In the email, there was a link to the candidate's website and on the website there was a link for donations. I was just an automated PayPal button away from saving face.

"How much should I give?" I asked.

"It's a local campaign, give'em fifty bucks."

So while I was at the office the next day half-listening to a conference call, I wrote an email to the original sender telling them we prefer not to post signs but would gladly support this candidate with a cash donation. It was a win-win. I can't offer the property but I'll give you something better - money. I then went onto the candidate's site, hit the donate button and quickly entered in the amount.

It was easy, it was done and I could still be on the holiday card mailing list.

Well, about ten minutes later an email popped up on my screen: "That was soooo nice! Thank you soooo much! We all appreciate your generous support. It is wonderful to see how dedicated you are to our town's education issues."

Okay, it was only fifty bucks. A simple thank you would have worked. What's with the excessive, gooey praise?

Then the PayPal receipt came in across the email. In my haste to punch in some numbers and get back to my conference call, I gave a little more than fifty. I gave five hundred!

I broke out in a cold sweat. What kind of idiot makes that type of donation?

"Honey, you won't believe what happened," I said to my wife on the phone. "I accidentally typed in an extra zero, and, well, uh ..."

"Uh, what?"

"Uh, I gave five hundred dollars instead of fifty."

Long, dramatic pause. And then, quite calmly and quietly, like a mafia hit man about to finish off his victim, she said: "Get it back."

"Get it back? You mean ask the campaign for the money back?"

"Yes. Get it back."

"I can't ask rich people for my money back."

More silence.

"You are not donating five hundred dollars. You are getting four hundred and fifty dollars back at the very least."

Just then, another email popped up from the really rich family: "Please make sure you come to our house next Wednesday. The candidate will be there to discuss her campaign with a few invited guests, and she would like to personally thank you in front of everyone for your amazing generosity. Ok, see you then."

"Hey, honey, they want to honor me next week because of the donation. That could be fun, right?"

"What kind of idiot donates that much money to a school board campaign?", she said.

I wasn't sure if that was rhetorical or not but I didn't have a chance to answer because the phone went dead on the other end.

At home that evening, my wife asked me if I got the money back.

"Not yet. I was busy today."

"I'm calling over and telling them to refund it," she said. I broke out in another cold sweat. Cold sweats are not enjoyable. You really feel like everything's falling apart. Besides, what's worse than asking for the money back? Having your wife do it in your place. I'm still shaking.

"Okay, I'll get it. I'll get it."


I got in my second-hand Honda sedan with the dented passenger door and cracked windshield and drove through my beautiful tree-lined streets, past our excellent school and into the estate section of town.

I never really saw this wealthy person's house up close. It was set so far back from the street and covered in a lush forest of trees and shrubs, I could only make out a window now and then and that was usually in the winter time when the foliage was less dense.

I drove up the winding 200-yard driveway, around a circle that had a spouting fountain in the middle and parked right by the front door. I debated leaving the motor running in case I needed a quick escape.

I knocked on the huge, wooden front door. I could almost hear the knock echo throughout the massive cavern on the other side.

The intercom against the wall crackled: "Please step back from the door."

I took a step back.

"Please turn to the right."

I turned and looked into a hidden camera.

"Oh, it's you," I heard cheerfully through the intercom. "I'll be right down."

I was thinking how that happiness was going to change in a few seconds. I was thinking I could just run now, but since they already saw my face they might find that odd. Well, they were certainly going to find my request odd, so what did it matter. Maybe they'll find the whole thing funny, a silly mistake. We'll have a little laugh. They'll invite me in for a drink. We would sit in the library and talk about the problems of the world, and then they would ask me to visit them this summer on the Vineyard.

The door creaked open.

"Well, hello. What brings you here, you big campaign donor, you?"

I chuckled a little, shuffled my feet a bit. "Uh, well you see. There was a little, uh, mistake."

"Uh, mistake?"

"Do you think I could get four hundred fifty back?"

The u-shaped lips became a straight line. The eyes drew to a slit. The forehead furrowed. I was asking a rich person for money.

"Excuse me?"

I told them about the mistake I made and how I didn't really want to give that much although I really cared about the cause and how my wife thought it was stupid to give that much and that fifty bucks is more than enough and the more I talked the more I realized I sounded like an idiot who just dug a grave.

There was some silent staring, some head shaking. I thought now would be a good time to faint to get some sympathy. I could blame my abhorent behavior on a brain tumor that was causing me to act irratically. But there really wasn't any place to fall without getting hurt. Too many steps to roll down, and getting blood on their property probably wouldn't make them happy.

"Why don't you just take the whole thing back. We'll send a cancellation to PayPal. Does that work for you?"

There was a quick, uncaring smile and a short goodnight. As the door was slamming closed, I quickly offered: "I can take one of those signs."

The door opened. I got a "what did you say?" look.

"I can put the sign on my car, if you want. Happy to do that."

We both glanced at the sad, poor, overused vehicle parked on the cobblestone. I was sure a big fat oil splotch was building up below.

"Yeah, thanks but that's not going to work." And the front door was closed.

I got in the car, trying not to feel bad for myself. At least I got IT back.

I started the engine and drove out of that circle - for good.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kotex Candy

My daughter, who is at summer camp now, can make two phone calls home during her session. This communication is in addition to the photographs posted daily on the camp website and the letters she can send us, which seem fewer and fewer as the weeks go on.

The calls are pre-scheduled so we know exactly what day and hour to hear from her. This a tense time because we'll know immediately from her voice whether or not she's really having a good time.

When our eldest son was at a camp, we used to dread this call. We could already tell from the letters, he was miserable. We didn't think the phone call would be any better.

And it wasn't.

He begged and begged us to bring him home claiming there were five deadly bugs around the camp site. He said the counselors were beating up the kids at night and the only reason he smiled in the photographs we saw on the website was because they said they wouldn't give them dinner that night unless they all looked happy.

As he spoke, his voice got more quiet, there were a few sobs. We asked him to speak louder, but he told us the lines were tapped and he didn't want to say too much for fear of reprisal. We were stuck talking to this idiot for 10 minutes, just telling him over and over that he should try and stick it out and have a good time. We reminded him there wasn't anything happening at home and all his friends were away anyway. He just repeated that he wanted to come home. I couldn't take it anymore. Finally, I told him that if the camp wasn't giving refunds, he wasn't coming home.

Fortunately, his younger brother was at the same camp. When he cheerfully got on the line, he told us his brother was full of crap. He said camp was great and he barely had anytime to speak to us because he didn't want to be late to the next event. "Bye, love ya. See ya later."

Now, that's a conversation.

So when my daughter got on the phone this year and told us how much fun she was having and all the boys she wanted to kiss, we were so happy. And considering the alternative, the kissing part wasn't so bad for a father to hear.

My daughter did have one request, though - send candy. We cringed, not because of the sugar factor, but because it was strictly against camp rules to have candy in the bunks. They were afraid of bugs and other sucrose scenting animals that could invade, along with the general health issues posed by candy overload.

My daughter begged and told us other kids had been smuggling in the contraband through gift packages, but now they were running low and it was up to us to come through for her.

"Pleeeeeeeease, daddy. I love you so much."

"But don't they check the packages before giving them to you?"

"Stuff it in a teddy bear. Or better yet, one mom hid it in a tampon box."

"Tampon? You're only 12. Don't you think they'll know?"

"Tori's mom got it through."

I've seen Tori before. She may have been 12 but her body said 16. My daughter looks 8 and only weighs 74 pounds. She's got many years before tampons will be anywhere near her vicinity.

However, images of the Mexican drug cartel, Los Zetas, came to mind. And the thought of aiding and abetting cross-border illegal activities seemed exciting.

"Ok, honey. We'll try."

As soon as we hung up, the strategy began. Tampons or Pads? Pads. We have to find the biggest box on the market, I told my wife. And we have to figure out what kind of candy would survive the journey. No chocolates, they'll melt. M&M's are okay, though. Swedish Fish are good, maybe even some gum. "She's got a retainer, she can't have any of that stuff," my wife said.

I didn't want to hear it. I wasn't going to let a minor kill-joy detail like that stop this operation. I was already committed to the challenge of getting this trojan horse through. "Hey, we already promised her. We have to send something," I responded. My wife rolled her eyes.

"This one's all yours," she said.

The next day, I prepared the package. I deftly opened the Kotex box top, careful not to rip the cardboard. I removed a handful of wrapped pads and looked for a place to put them. My wife doesn't use that product. I thought about flushing them away but figured that the large quantity would probably stop up the pipes. I remember in college we used to borrow some from the girls to clean our fish tank. I was always amazed how much those things expanded when they got wet.
I stuffed them into a bathroom drawer, to be dealt with later. I then poured the loose candy into the box. This was pure genius. The remaining pads would act as a buffer during shipment. With enough candy in there packed by the white soakers, there should be no rustling at all if done right.

I dabbed some glue onto the flap and gently pressed down, sealing it like new. The "package" was placed in a larger brown box along with some comic books, batteries for her flashlight and a couple of sno-globes. She loves sno-globes and collects them from all around the world. I figured these were all natural, inconspicuous things that every parent would send to their kid at camp.

A few days later, the second call from camp came. I saw the name pop up on our caller ID and excitedly picked up the receiver.

"Hi, honey," I answered. "Did you get it?"

"This is Ralph, the camp director." His tone didn't give me a good feeling. "The package you sent your daughter was confiscated."



"What happened?"

"I think you know that our bylaws prohibit the import of non-sanctioned items of which candy is a major infraction."

My head was already spinning. Import. Infraction. Oh, my god, we were caught.

"But , but, how did ..."

"We've been running this camp for 25 years. We've seen it all. The broken sno-globes gave you away," he chuckled.


"The water from the globes saturated the box, which in turn expanded the pads, which burst open the carton. The candy was all over the place. What were you thinking?"

"I, uh, I"

"We'll see you on Visiting Day." Click.

I knew the wrath I would face on Visiting Day. I could only hope they would show my daughter mercy in the meantime.

Every year on Visiting Day, all the parents are first greeted by the camp director out in the parking lot. He tells us how wonderful our kids have been and how lucky the camp is to have them. Then, he lists the violations that occurred during the session. It becomes a kind of perp walk.

Mr. and Mrs. so and so sent little Timmy a cell phone hidden in a pair of socks (another camp infraction); The Wolenski's tried to send Katrina her laptop. Throughout all of this, the good parents glare at the bad ones. My wife would shake her head along with the others. I'm convinced if there were rocks on the ground people would start throwing them.

Perhaps, I'll sit in the car this year while my wife figures out what happened.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

That's Paul Mazursky in the beret with a bunch of other Hollywood writers sitting around a table at the L.A. Farmer's market. They've been meeting there once a week for the past 25 years to have breakfast, chat, ogle the women and gossip. Kind of funny that these movie men find the time to hang out and act like kids.

NPR ran a story on the people in the Farmer's Market, a nostalgic flea market with eclectic food vendors and homespun gift shops. It's not just Hollywood types who are regulars, but a wide and varied collection of L.A. residents.

Listening to the audio, I found it interesting to hear these older guys throwing out one-liners to zing their fellow diners, bring up a bunch of "remember when . . ." career stories that always ended in laughter, and then hear them hit on some of the pretty women walking by - "Hey, Jessica, Katherine, Charmaine?" They were just guessing at the names trying to get their attention. Usually they would get a scowl and occasionally a finger. All this caused these guys to break out in a titter. Really, a titter. They sounded like school kids, idiots.

And I loved hearing this. It reminded me of how I act when my friends from ages ago get together and reminisce, play cards or, if we're lucky, walk down a boardwalk in Atlantic City and argue over whether or not that was Jennifer Aniston or her double filming a recent movie (The Bounty).

I felt some affinity to Mazursky and his crew. I identified with the behavior which I've been told is quite immature. But it didn't stop these fogies and it didn't stop me from feeling a bit jealous. I wanted to be at the table with them, with the luxury of time they all seemed to have and an illustrious career in a business they seem to love.

I can't really picture myself sitting around a table with some past colleagues talking about credit lines that were yanked from customers, or risk weighted assests that had to be re-balanced, or who the latest person running the international business is. I can't even imagine ogling some of the women we used to work with. "Hey, isn't that Doris from Operations. She's looking mighty slim. Must've dropped 40-50 pounds. And I'm not talking British Sterling."

Nope. I'm definitely in the wrong place, all the time. But here's a little song to sum it all up: