Little Bummer Boy

It is the third week of December, and the ground is covered by dirty, trampled snow, the chorus of hacking, infectious coughs reverberates through the office, and new credit cards are opened and then used without care in hopes that St. Nicholas’ cash donations soon will be there. While most people busy themselves happily decorating the home with artificial fichus branches, singing Christmas standards by Dean Martin and Larry the Cable Guy, and purchasing hot sauce/cologne gift sets at The Walmart, I do those same exact things with an overarching sense of malaise.

“Why do you have to be such a scrooge?” my wife inquired of me after I opined about the real necessity of buying something for my 1-year-old to give to my 3-year-old and vice-versa. The real difference between me and Scrooge, however, is that Scrooge eventually reformed while my disillusionment with Christmas grows year after year. That and I do not yet have any employees that I can withhold a Christmas bonus from. Not yet. But, because I love my wife and want to make her happy, I go through the motions of turning our house into Santa’s crap factory every year.

One of my first tasks was to climb up on our roof before Thanksgiving to hang up our Christmas lights. The only time that I found to actually do this Everestian feat was after the pitch black of the cold chill of late November. I dragged a few strands of light with me on to the roof, along with a spotlight so that I could sort of see what I was getting myself into. I teetered on the edge of my roof, one rain-gutter fastener away from becoming a stain on my own front porch. I plugged in the first strand of lights to discover that the built-in mechanism to disable the light strand after one year of use was working quite well. Nothing lit up and I threw the strand into the dark and ever-swirling grass below. I then tried the second strand of lights which miraculously did light up just until the point where I finished clicking in the end of the strand. At that point, half of the lights extinguished themselves. After testing and attempting to replace several lightbulbs and fuses, work which should either be done with either the aide of a microscope or nanobot technology, I still was unable to get the strand to light up. I left it half-lit and went on to lighting another section of my roof only to achieve the same disheartening results. When the gimpy half of the strand went out, I lay my head on the shingles and muttered an unspeakable word to myself. Thanks to the acoustics of being high up on the roof, it was most likely not heard by only myself.

My second attempt to hang the lights came a week later when snow and ice had covered our house, making any attempt to mount the roof impossible. So, I had to use a rickety aluminium ladder. I always thought that I lived in a modestly sized house, but at 25 feet, swaying at the top of a frozen metal ladder whose feet are planted on shakingly frozen ground, it was as if I was mounting a bedazzle on top of a Tibetan obelisk. I could hear the siren call of death wanting to take me into its pepperminty sweet embrace. I had to consider what my priorities were- staying alive to love and support my young family, or playing chicken with death in order to make our home nominally more festive. Some slips, tumbles, electrocutions, prayers, and curses later, our house is now decorated and our electric bill is now exorbitant.

Next Year's Plan

Just last week, I prepared myself to join once again in a tradition that my wife and her family have. Every Christmas season, the family piles in a van and ventures out to see the lights that other, apparently more qualified men, men who do not fear death or the power company shutting them down, were able to display. In my mind, driving across the valley in treacherous winter conditions to get the same effect that we could all have if we sat staring at a single glowing light bulb in a dark room, seemed illogical. But, as is so often the case around Christmastime, Logic and Reason take a back seat to the impaired driving of Festive Pandemonium, so we went.

The traditional stops used to involve a string of about 6 or 7 houses. Some had animatronic Santas. Some relayed the Christmas story from yard to yard like the Stages of the Cross. Some had timed the lights on their house to flash to the beat of “Don’t Stop Believin’” This was of course when we could all fit into one van. Four grandchildren and several pounds later, we now squeeze ourselves into two separate vans for the excursion. It has now been reduced to one long trek to see the spectacle at a site about an hour away from our homes.

Thanksgiving Point, standing at the bridge between Utah County and Salt Lake County, was conceived and constructed about ten years ago with the sole purpose of stealing money from well-intentioned Mormon families. Its current scheme is a “drive-thru lite sho” where the light display involves literally an entire day’s worth of set-up from some day-laborers picked up down at the Home Depot. And yet, the minivans poured into this lighted shrine as if it were built by Kevin Costner. Once we finally got through and paid an unholy amount for the visit, bypassing the optional 3-D glasses (techincally, the lights are already in the third dimension, making this upsale ludicrous to say the least) our van crawled along the infrequently lit pathway. There were reindeers that flew across our car in three choppy stages. The eerie sound of children singing carols emanated from a cassette player somewhere in the distant field. And, after 20 minutes at what was technically a negative MPH, we thrust our car through the open and waiting lighted crotch of jolly old Saint Nick.

The ride home was made all the more pleasant by the screaming of both of my children who apparently had visions of sugarplums doing unspeakable acts dancing in their heads. We got home, enjoyed scones and cocoa, and then put the screaming children upstairs to nestle all snug, and still screaming, in their beds. As the throbbing in my head subsided along with the family in my home, I began to look forward in excitement to the beautiful day of December 26th. “Why are you such a grinch?” my wife implored on her way to bed, changing up the fictional villain to keep me on my toes.

Sitting in the tanning-bed glow of the Christmas tree, I first remembered the scars, mostly emotional, that putting up the gigantic artificial tree caused and the shed needles from it that we find in the most peculiar of orifices. Then I remembered how much joy it brings to my family seeing that tree as they make their way downstairs every morning of the month. I began to calm down and remember just what Christmas means. Though this would make for a good baby Jesus metaphor, my thoughts weren’t quite about that. They were about my own toddler who had just recently calmed down to a mostly-asleep wimpering. He just got so excited about seeing Christmas lights and Santa’s reindeer and all of the miserable affair, that he really just couldn’t control his emotions anymore. I thought about my even smaller child who could only sense how something special was happening with the new decorations and activities without really knowing what was going to come next. For them, as it was once for me, Christmas is the best time of the year and worth all of the waiting and anticipation throughout the rest of the year. Because of that, I realized that it was really worth it to me to put up with the extra work and worry that the season provides. I love my children so much and Christmas, above all, is a time to celebrate the love that we give and the love we receive.

In the interest of full disclosure, I got that last phrase from a poster hanging from the ceiling at the Walmart, just above the Snuggies.

Three sizes too small is a serious medical condition.

Coming Back

Alright, new blogs are finally in the works. I have decided to forego my college experiences for the time being, to be revisited at a later date when I run out of other things to talk about. So, even though it is a busy time, what with wrapping presents and drinking non-or-extra alcohol egg nog, please check back later today and often for some new articles. Bag Stranded wants to take this opportunity to thank its fans for their support and wish you all, even you, dude from Bangalore that stumbled here looking for nude Nicole Kidman movie stills, a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukah, and any other holiday you may be celebrating, or a great day if you so choose to not celebrate any holiday. Boy, this appeasement stuff is more difficult than it looks.

Colledge: Part Two

And now, the saga continues...

The College of Non-Liberal Arts

On our most recent Sunday trip to my parents’ house, my mother seized upon an opportunity to have a serious discussion with me about the things that I write on this blog. “Cameron, I don’t believe that the term ‘douchebag’ should ever be used in proper conversation.” Though I tried to explain that what I put on my blog was never meant to be either proper or conversation, her disgust at the perceived foul mouth that she raised and was alone responsible for came brooding to the surface. “What if your kids ever read your blog?” she questioned and then added the ultimate retort, “What if Jesus read your blog? And he is reading it!”

This line of questioning proves that Mormon mothers are just as capable of wielding guilt over the heads of their children as mothers of Jewish and Catholic persuasions. I would hope that anything that I write to fill up the vast void of the internet, otherwise full of rather puritan idealism, would not delve into blasphemy. I find that my selective choice of dirty and curse words, when compared with my malaise and disdain for most things around me, are a mark of my significant restraint. My mother’s comments, however, brought me back once again to the life I lived in a college that seemed to be run by a vast committee of Mormon mothers who accepted tuition checks as payment for administering guilt.

Brigham Young University is a private educational institution which means that they are perfectly able to enforce their dogma on anyone who enters their massive Provo compound. Its students are either of the Mormon faith or are non-Mormons who are capable of playing football. Now, lest ye think me overly critical, I will have you know that I was at this time, as I am today, a devout believer in my faith. But, one thing you must understand is that when several of these devout believers, let’s say 25,000 or so, gather together, spiritual reasoning gives way to the gospel of the masses. If these masses want to make Christina Aguilera a member of their faith, it shall be truth. If they want to make attendance at Monday night prayer meetings a saving ordinance, so let it be written. And more often than not, these masses would dictate and enforce the policies and procedures put in place by the university.

As a Freshman who had recently doled out the whole of his life savings for a semester’s tuition, room, and board, I had no other real option available to me other than going to the dorm cafeteria for my three squares, which often ended up being more parabolic in shape. One groggy-eyed Saturday morning when I made the rare decision to stay on campus instead of taking the long bus ride home for the weekend, I stumbled into the cafeteria with my dining card. The student-worker at the door, decked in her blue and white t-shirt and premature mom jeans, took my card and held it up so it was in the same line of sight as my face. She looked back and forth between the two and I half expected that I was being carded since they finally had given up and put beer in the soda fountains.

“Um, I’m going to have to ask you to go back up to your room and shave before you come down for breakfast, m-kay?” Though I am admittedly a hairy individual, Wolfman I am not. I had shaved the previous morning and was sporting something much less impressive than a 5 o’clock shadow. But, you see, Brigham Young University has a strict “clean-shave” policy despite the fact that its namesake had facial hair that could house small animals during the winter months. To have facial hair of any kind or for any reason requires you to carry a “beard” card which is given out after an interview performed by a specialized “beard committee". The card must be shown as proof of the legitimacy of your beard if a school officer or fellow student should question your loyalties. The card could also conveniently be worn in a white band around the left arm. I ended up going hungry out of defiance until I made it back to my parents’ house, blasphemously unshaven.

Currently suffering eternal damnation.

Though I value the education that I have received, both emotionally and somewhere around $40,000, I can’t help but think that it is a little bit skewed, like when one suspiciously looks at a diploma on a wall from the University of Success or Jindřichův Hradec Community College. Because the University was a religious institution, all of the curriculum needed to be drawn back to some part of the gospel. This wasn’t too difficult in some courses, like the required religion courses, or even some literature and history lessons. Far be it for me to discount the spiritual truths found in Beowulf or Candide or Louis Lamour. When it got slightly awkward was in classes like molecular biology, film studies, or bowling where teachers did their absolute best to keep their jobs which hinged on the development of their students’ testimonies of God. In my film class, the Professor showed us a clip from the movie Dead Man Walking. In the clip, Sean Penn’s character mumbles a lot of words, the only one of which was understood by the mass of students being a casual F-word. A collective gasp spread out over the audience, which caused the professor to stop the clip, apologize for missing the foul word when editing the clips, and plead with us to tell no one so that he could keep his job. I am not sure what happened for the rest of the semester, but the T.A. that taught the remainder of the class was pretty cute, but only showed us filmstrips about paying tithing.

Nowhere can the Orwellian magnitude of the institution’s grip on its students be better felt than in the infamous testing center. The building rested on the edge of campus and looked like where the Count of Monte Cristo spent time plotting his vengeance. You pick up your test and, after having your backpack searched for some type of contraband, you are corralled into a room the length of 8 desks and the width of 8,000. Along the walls of the massive room hung two alternating pictures of an equal intimidation factor. First was the standard picture of Jesus Christ that the Church uses, only with the pupils cut out to make way for rotating spy cameras. The second was a picture of the on-campus statue of Karl G. Maeser, one of the early founders of the University. Next to that regal statue is listed a bold quote that he is famous for issuing and which was requisite to have branded into our brains. To paraphrase, it said, “If you cheat, you will burn in hell next to rapists!” Along with seniors who got paid $4 an hour to pace the narrow aisles and scan your frantic efforts to finish the test in time, and the rumored snipers hidden in the crossbeams, the Honor Code was effectively enforced.

In retrospect, I am honestly grateful for many of the strict policies that were enforced by my chosen facility of higher education. If I had lived through many of the same experiences in a different college, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have been the guy at the bottom of the beer bong, upside-down sucking Pabst through a garden hose. Instead, I had a case of Dr. Pepper taken away from me by a dorm mother which lead me to recreationally use Excedrin tablets not exactly as indicated on the label. Now that restrictions to my mischievous deeds are dictated only by my own conscience, I occasionally let a word not befitting a BYU graduate slip from my lips or my typing fingers. Brigham Young himself was known for his sharp, and sometimes irreverent tongue. But, he also said “I take liberties in speaking which I do not allow when I commit my sentiments to writing.” So maybe I should take this lesson from a great spiritual leader and start to clean up my act. To Billy, as well as to the sea of thousands of other douchebags that I attended college with, I hope that you no longer are complete douches and have instead improved yourselves to simple dirtbags, motards, or fetchers.

So, Karl. G Maeser, that is quite a beard you are sporting there.

I know another "Karl M." who also had a distinguished beard.


Colledge: Part One

I drove up the steadily increasing incline of the freeway with the sound of “My Grandfather’s Clock” coming through my car speakers and teaching my children about the inevitability of mortality. My wife’s sleeping head slowly bounced off of the front of her neck while she enjoyed a much needed rest from the weekly perils of motherhood. I pulled up over the summit of the road as it wound around the corner of the Wasatch Mountains affectionately known as the “Point of the Mountain”. This geographic landmark serves to separate the suburban sprawl of the valley I was exiting and the eerie dystopia of the valley I was entering. A flood of memories lapped up onto the shores of my brain along with the sickening feeling in my gut whenever I looked out over this place they ironically call “Happy Valley.” So many horrible, horrible events took place in this land that I can’t help but let my emotions overcome me. Cue haunting drumbeat and slow-pan zoom of my aged, watery eyes.

Part One: Vegas Billy

I had previously crossed into that valley with my sparse earthly possessions in tow in my father’s truck as a much younger and exuberent teenager looking to make his way into the world. I was on my way to attend my freshman year at Brigham Young University, the jewel of Happy Valley, located in Provo, Utah. I had accepted the offer extended to me by the University for many reasons, not the least of which involved the sense of honor and tradition that I felt was due to my family who were all Cougar alumni. Far be it for me to be the black sheep of the family. It also helped that I would have required roughly 150 times more from my hourly wage as a grocery store dairy boy to afford a credit hour from NYU and the average on-campus temperature at Arizona State was in the upper 130s. So, I wrote an acceptance letter full of flowery prose to the good people at admissions who have large recycling receptacles next to their desks for letters like mine, and made my way to the dorms under the ominous shadow of the Y.

I arrived to my closet-sized dorm room only to find my assigned roommate eating shrimp ramen and listening to Usher at an exceptionally high volume. I had to have an assigned roommate because all of my friends had decided to go to other learning institutions, leaving me alone in this strange new world. I had to be assigned Billy because of some vendetta that fate has against me. Billy was a tall, tan, well-built, square-jawed douchebag from Las Vegas, Nevada. Luckily, I had been forewarned of his massive personality when he called me prior to our summer sojourn together.

He said that he got my number by “asking around” once he found my name on the orientation information that he was mailed. He then spoke to me over the phone about what his intentions were in coming to BYU. “I hear that the whole place is crawling with smokin’ hot chicks just waiting for a man to marry, you know what I’m saying bra?” He divulged to me that he was excited about the opportunity to meet new people since he had literally dated every single girl in Las Vegas. “Literally, dude. Seriously. Well, not like the old ones, but every Mormon chick and most other chicks in Vegas, I’ve dated ‘em. I need somethin’ new, you know. I’m so stoked.”

Seeing him with his hairy sandaled feet on my desk, empty save for his massive stereo speaker and previously downed Cup O’Noodles, made me anything but stoked. He came up to me as I stood in the doorway, hunched over with the burden of my scholastic needs, and gave me a bro hug that squished the side of my face between his pectorals and which ended after a couple of full-fist punches to my back similar to what an angry chiropractor might employ. The sight of my parents did not dissuade him from continuing to dance to the music as the ramen slid down his throat. “This is going to be awesome man! I already got us hooked up with dates tonight. Sweet, dude. Sweet.”

Food staple of the common North American Billy

We got my things set up in the room while Billy watched. When I asked him to turn down the music for a minute while I talked with my parents, he responded “No problem, bra. Imma just go take a quick shower.” My parents left me alone, so very alone, in the room while I waited for Billy, whom I discovered soon after had quite the proclivity for lounging around either fully or mostly nude. I asked him to please put on some underwear and immediately afterwards added the plea that the underwear not be of a mesh fabric. “What’s a-matter, you gay or something’?“ “Well…no…it’s just…“ “I’m just messing with you bra, yeah, I’ll go throw on my workout shorts.” I tried to explain to him that I had a girlfriend and so I could not attend the little soirée that he had planned for the both of us, but he acted as if I was speaking another language. “Is your girlfriend here?” “Well, no,” I responded. “Then dude, it’s party time!” he shouted as he slapped me with unnecessary force on the kneecap and, shoving a tootsie roll pop into his mouth, made his dancing exit out of the room.

It seemed to always be an uncomfortable party when Billy was around. I spent all hours not necessary for sleep huddled in the most remote section of the library. When I would come staggering home after long days of study, my room would be filled with either a bunch of dudes trying to figure out how to pull pranks on the floor below us or a hefty amount of guys and girls dancing to loud music like something out of a Lil’ Wayne music video. This was BYU, mind you. I will further expound on its conservative idealism later on, but this is the place where having a girl inside of your dorm room outside of the prescribed 15 minutes of “mingle” time a day is grounds for expulsion, excommunication, and (it is rumored) execution. Billy always seemed to pull it off though.

After all, he wasn’t really even a student at BYU. He was accepted in a special program that introduced graduating Mormon youth who were not able to get into the private, church-owned University a chance to get a taste of what it is like. I had no idea what the purpose was for this program other than to make those students, like myself, who were actually admitted to the University, develop an increased level of pomposity and an attitude of entitlement. A quick study of many BYU graduates should quickly prove these results.

Billy’s true character shone through one day when he used me to help him ditch a date that he had planned. The previous night, he flopped off of the ladder and onto his stilted bed as he told me that he met a girl at the Food Court. “She was pretty hot, well kind of hot, but guess what Cammie (my blood still curdles at the mere typing of that moniker) you’ll never believe it. She’s handicapped, like in a wheelchair, like crippled! So, I tried to act like it was all just totally cool, ya know. So I told her that we would spend the day together doing stuff, but I already am going to see a girl for lunch and a different one for dinner. So, man, I need you to do a solid for me and tell her I got sick or something or that I am at my Uncle’s house in Alpine. I know you got my back dude. G’night!”

I wasn’t able to speak a single word, mostly from the shock of it all. I went out running the next morning to think about just what exactly to do. When I got back to the apartment, Billy was already gone. Soon afterwards, our dorm phone rang and I went downstairs to face what felt like the plot of a bad Woody Allen movie. She was hot and, yes, she was in a wheelchair. I lied and told her that Billy had to go to his Uncle’s house. We sat down, well, I should say that I sat down as well, and we talked for a bit. I decided to spend whatever part of the day I could with her before I had to leave for work. We had lunch at the Cougareat, wandered our way through campus, and shared stories about how much we hated being at BYU. We played a little wheelchair basketball in the afternoon before affectionately parting ways. Though it was under the worst of circumstances and I actually had a girlfriend at the time, it was still an incredibly satisfying date and I couldn’t help but pity Billy for what he was truly missing out on.

After the summer semester ended, he would return to a community college in Las Vegas, one college credit richer for the experience. Though I can’t substantiate any of it, I heard some incredible rumors about his life after our term together. He went on an LDS mission where he was promptly expelled after being arrested for shoplifting. He was flown home, but quickly drove back to his mission area where he continued to pretend that he was a missionary. In this role, he happened to seduce a young woman (or “flirt to convert” as we called it) so that she was baptized and then confirmed with an unexpected pregnancy, both performed by Elder Billy. Today, he remains on the lam from the police and the townsfolk alike. Though I can’t confirm that any of this is true, it sounds about right.

If God ever, just for the sake of having a good story to tell, created two people of the same age who were exact opposites of each other, it would be me and Billy. He was good-looking, outgoing, conceited, and blissfully idiotic. He liked to talk about cars and chicks and he smelled like skinny jeans at Ambercrombie and Fitch. He craved social situations as much as I craved the need to be alone. However, I never met someone who so readily took me in and treated me like I was one of his dudes that he had always known. I was made his instant wingman, albeit a reluctant one. He never seemed to judge me despite the judgments I poured out on him. In truth, he taught me a lot of things about life and I guess I am kind of indebted to him.

Still, he was the douchiest of douchebags.

I found this picture of Billy from Las Vegas in my old school notes. He was always blinking in these candid photos.

Welcome to the New Bag Stranded

Hi there. If you are a regular around these parts, you may have noticed a couple of changes to the ol'Bag Stranded.

First of all, because of the comments I received from several readers and their optometrists, you are now no longer going to be subjected to reading gray text on a black background. I, personally, was a fan of the occasional seizures that it induced, but I have to keep your best interests in mind.

You'll notice that the header is no longer the tired old picture of my dusty living room blinds. This, now, is the official Bag Stranded logo, and by official, I mean that I actually spent money on it. Hard earned money. And it ain't like this little blog thing is paying the mortgage. I just want to let you know the level of commitment that I have to embarrassing myself for your amusement.

This logo will be featured on some new products coming out soon including t-shirts, mugs, and stationary. Of course, I might need to sell a kidney to get those products available, but I'll see what I can do.

I will most likely still be tinkering around with the look of the website for a little bit, so bear with me. As far as new articles, those should be forthcoming too. Of course, you could always send me your own humorous tales at And again, if the recollections involve me in anyway, you get extra consideration. Even if I don't know you, perhaps you could write a recollection of what Bag Stranded has done to change your life. Or imagine meeting me in person and how much I would make you laugh. Perhaps a candlelit seafood dinner would be involved. Perhaps some slow-dancing to jazz standards. Whatever. Go for broke.

So thanks again for reading. Let me know what you think by either writing a comment down below or sending me an e-mail (via And remember, wherever you are in the world, Bag Stranded loves you. No matter what you've done.

A League of My Own

At the end of last week, I found myself sitting at the computer, anxiously awaiting the outcome of certain events that will take place this week that are of the utmost importance to me. These events will either enshrine my name in the annals of history or it will doom my name to be laughed at, mocked, ridiculed, soiled, and violated behind a Denny’s. I take a deep breath and before I can exhale, Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox has given up seven runs in two innings before being pegged in the kneecap by a ground ball.

I can not say the words that came to my lips at that time as my mother informed me that she is monitoring my level of cursing on this blog, but I will reveal that it had something to do with either animal waste material or copulation. Both, actually. The reason that I was so upset did not necessarily stem from the fact that I am an ardent Red Sox fan, which I am. It stemmed from the fact that Lester represented the flickering hope that I had left to move my fantasy baseball team, the Mantooth Saints, from a dismal third place to a respectable, modest second place. And there he was, writhing on the pitchers mound, not even caring what he was doing to me, his rightful owner.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the world of fantasy sports, I am equal parts disappointed and envious. If there are two things that men love more than anything in the universe, they would be their fantasies and their sports. Fantasy sports are a way to take the convoluted, illogical, debauched, and often illegal in several counties fantasies of men and channel them into a healthy computerized sports statistics forum. Managers in these leagues pick the players that they think will perform the best during the season and then earn points for the feats that these athletes perform. At the end of the season, those points could equate to a large sum of cash or a hastily made sculpture of prophylactics tied to a 5th grade soccer “participation” trophy. The best part of fantasy sports is that they allow you to take part in the thrill of athletic competition without ever having to use a treadmill or restrain from hollowing out a Twinkie to use as a bun for your bratwurst.

At the beginning of the baseball season in April, I was asked to join a fantasy baseball league. I had never participated in anything like this before, but I thought that it could liven up my days at work and become a welcome change of pace to compulsively taking personality tests on Facebook. When I participated in the draft, I was slightly disappointed to not find my top picks of Jose Canseco and Bo Jackson anywhere on the list of available players. I quickly learned the ins and outs of the game and I now have a widget on my homepage that sends me real-time updates on the status of Chipper Jones’ ankle.

Current Status: mildly fractured

When I was younger, I participated in an entirely different kind of fantasy sport. You see, much like today, I didn’t have many friends. Because of my rampant antisocialism (and that has nothing to do with Health Care reform) I intentionally alienated myself from the friends that I did have. So, I was forced to entertain myself. Using nothing but a pad of a paper and a five dollar Nerf basketball hoop, I created an intricate league of basketball players, drafted from the full set of Topps basketball cards I had collected. I formed them into rosters and then had full seasons where they would play against each other. I would play the role of every single player in the league. I would pass the ball off of the walls of my bedroom, scoot my toe back from the 3-point line represented by my She-Ra figurine, perform a slow-motion slam dunk for the highlight reel, and play out an entire game. After each score, I pulled the pencil out from behind my ear and tabulated all of the statistical results of the previous play. I had mock interviews with sports broadcasters where I claimed that the other team was full of “real fighters” and praised the efforts of my fellow teammates Muggsy Bogues and Christian Laettner.

My parents were admissive of this activity, which at its most innocent involved a child exercising enthusiasm for sports and at its most damaging was a child with a severe obsessive compulsion crying out for help. I went through several Nerf hoops during a season and so I eventually just used some masking tape to show where the imaginary hoop would be. When the NFL season started, I created another fantasy league which proved even more difficult and involved even more copious notation. This meant that I loved it even more. Eventually puberty hit and I abandoned my imaginary pursuits in favor of the much more practical and realistic pursuits of playing Mist on the computer and writing poetry to girls who were stuck being my Biology lab partners. The archives of these imagined sporting events were recently exhumed from the closet of my old bedroom. As I rifled through the loose sheets with hundreds of hash marks, I was transplanted back to the glory days. Oh the 1991 Timberwolves, you will always be legend to me.

And today the fantasizing still continues, only in an arguably more adult setting. Now that the baseball season is days from completion and I am languishing in third place, my efforts have been refocused towards the new NFL season. On Monday night, I found myself simultaneously praying for the Cowboys offense to fail miserably and for the Cowboys defense to intercept every single pass. Usually, the only attention I pay to the Dallas franchise is how Jerry Jones maintains the waxy quality of his skin folds. I cheered at home, by myself (still, no friends and a wife who is very unsupportive of my fantasy pursuits) when the running back for the Cowboys tweaked his knee and left the game. This ensured the victory of my team, the Rich Mahoganies, over my opponent and slightly made up for the very similar injury dealt to a certain Red Sox player a few days previous.

Now I sit comfortably at the top of my football league’s standings, proud of the accomplishments that my team has made in the past few weeks. Actually, I am glad that I have accomplished anything in these past few weeks. I am reliving the days of my childhood where my only worries were imagining blocking a shot from myself in my old bedroom with the dents in the walls and the now creaky floorboards. This is my world of sports, and I am vicariously living out all of my dreams of becoming a multi-sport athlete through this data-compiling game on the internet. I rule. And just wait until week seven when I bring Bo Jackson into my line up.

Bo knows. And can sympathize.

Torrid Spelling

I read an article on yesterday’s Yahoo! homepage that discussed the antics of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. A good portion of that article, written by a snobbish intern for sure, focused on the amount of hits that the Colonel’s name had garnered from internet users. “Eight different spellings of al-Gaddafi’s name appeared in the top ten searches of the past three hours.” Apparently Al Kadafi owns a car dealership in Dayton and "Moo-maral Cut Taffy" is a new Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor in the works. Sounds delicious.

I found it interesting that the attention of the story was taken off the world leader’s hissy-fit, which made his comedic mentor Hugo Chavez blush with pride, and refocused on how most people in America can’t even spell an Arabic name, let alone find the country of Arabic on the map. This is because there are a few people out there in the world who consider themselves the official enforcers of the English language, sworn to protect its spelling integrity to their dying breaths. You may know them as spelling Nazis, which I feel is slightly inaccurate as there are no umlauts in any English words.

As a writer, (professionally, recreationally, and secretly) many people suspect that I have this overarching drive to punish people for their misspellings, especially if they misspell “especially” or “misspell”. However, I think that you would find me somewhat admissive of others. True, I do have three different dictionaries on my desk that I occasionally use for light beach reading. However, my own history with spelling and my shortcomings in that domain are well documented. Or, at least they are now.

In sixth grade, I was selected from my class to participate in the school-wide spelling bee. One student, selected from each classroom, would participate in a massive assembly of students, teachers, and parents to vie for the title and the possibility of being sent to the regional competition. At first, I had no interest in taking part in this, but the idiocy of my fellow sixth graders, who thought “truck” began with a “C-H” and “hanger” had the number five in it, boosted me into the competition. As I met my competitors, I quickly realized that, as there were no Indian or Chinese kids in the bunch, my chances were pretty good.

I began my training by poring over volumes of dictionaries, encyclopedias (Brittanica and otherwise), and my mother’s romance novels. I then had my parents and siblings grill me on the most archaic of words. “Obsequious,” they shouted as I did sit-ups in the living room. “Could you please use it in a sentence,” I muttered through quick breaths. “The multitude of sycophantic adherents were obsequious in their placation. Now spell the whole sentence! Go!”

What I hoped to become

After several grueling weeks of study, I sat on a cold hard chair in the school’s gymnasium, confident that I would bring my family fame and fortune through my career in spelling. My name was called, the first to compete. I walked up to the microphone and received my first-round word. “Poised. The first word is ‘Poised’,” said the kindly moderator who was nearing retirement. With all the hubris of a sixth-grade Icarus, under those weak red and blue gym spotlights that would soon be the bright, burning glow of camera flashes and television lighting, I spoke into the microphone. “Poised. P-O-S-E-D. Poised.” Then with a smirk, I headed back to my seat thinking that the gasp that echoed from the audience behind me was from their own intuition about my celebrity future. “No, I’m sorry. That is incorrect.” My beeline for my chair made a sharp right turn and I walked off of the stage and into the hall where my dreams would have enough room to come collapsing down on my head.

Thirteen years later, I found myself at a secluded desk in a tall, glass-windowed office building in downtown Salt Lake where I encountered another test of my spelling credentials. I was applying for a job as an editor for the LDS church’s publications department. In order to vet their potential editors, along with an ecclesiastical inquiry into all of your past transgressions, they also needed to make sure you could correctly spell words like smorgasbord and hootenanny. I took the test on two separate occasions (as the first hired employee for the position was found to have a past addiction to Mountain Dew) and both times I can only assume that I failed miserably. You have to wonder about a job like that where the word “shew” is still entirely acceptable.

Being frustrated with the lack of editing jobs, I partnered with my friend to form our own editing business. Our ingenious idea was to create an online editing forum where students would pay us their parents’ hard earned money for a job that the spellchecker on their computer was perfectly able to perform. As part of this operation, we gave potential employees who responded to our Craigslist ad a document to test their editing prowess. I took a monumental essay that I had written for a college course and added several mistakes and misspellings for the candidates to find and correct. As I reviewed the test results against a key of the original document that I wrote, I found myself humbled by the fact that, though I had only spliced in five mistakes in one paragraph, one interviewee happened to find 32. One filled the paper with red corrections and included a commentary paragraph at the end questioning the entire thesis and scope of the paper. Someone drew a frowny face. I soon realized that there were many people out there who were much more talented and capable of editing mistakes than I would ever be. There were also more people capable of being just plain mean about it.

Now, I write magazine articles and am shocked with the simple spelling mistakes that my editor finds in my work. I also write for this blog where I am sure you have found several mistakes as one rather fervent friend did in the last post. I would like to blame it on technology. Not only does spellchecker eliminate the need for me to crack the spine of one of my three dictionaries, but it also prevents me from reading any books by making Zoo Tycoon so damn addicting. In an age of e-mails and texting, our society has become increasingly admissive of spelling that suits practicality over traditional convention. If I can abbreviate the preamble to the Constitution to fit in my 140 character Twitter status update, who is to say that I am not the master of my language? And so, rather than being a spelling Nazi, I am something much softer. I’d say more like a spelling Gaddafi. Not really willing to kill millions for their perceived wrong-doing, but still capable of throwing a tantrum in front of an international crowd. But through all the typos and slip-ups and vulgarization in our language today, as a writer and editor, I just have to remember to always stayed posed and balanced with the world I live in.

Poise counts!

Of Mice and So-Called Men: Part Two

In case the "Part Two" was not adequate warning, this is the second part to this story. Scroll on down and read the first part first if you haven't yet. While you are down there, say hi to the Bag Stranded banners on the sidebar that no one ever sees. I haven't fed them for a while.

The late days of spring and early summer in the year 2006 were difficult to say the least. We had to deal with the stress of moving into a new home, bringing a new baby into the world, keeping Miranda in this world after suffering some serious complications after giving birth, and paying for the car accident caused by me falling asleep at the wheel on my way to work at 1:00 in the morning. Simultaneous with all of these things, we had a mouse epidemic in our home that forced my wife to nurse our child in high perches and that turned me into something akin to the zombie hunters from 28 Days Later.

That loud “snap” we heard in the middle of the night was produced from one of several differently functioning traps that we used to combat the beasts. Like any good hunter, I became fanatically aware of the weapons that I used to stalk my prey and often hung them on racks to show to my houseguests. There was the baited snap trap, which proved very effective whether baited with cheese, peanut butter, or Snickers. There was the “Tomcat” brand snap traps which proved far too effective as, instead of cleaning up one limp mouse, I had to pick up the two pieces of said mouse, divided by the guillotine of mouse traps. There was the glue trap which we already were prejudiced against as they still allowed trapped mice the same mobility as a street beggar in India. For a humane alternative, there was the “No-see, no touch” traps where the mouse would crawl in to the contraption, but never crawl out, their presence indicated by a discreet dot on the outside of the trap. In retrospect, since it still killed the mouse, I suppose it was only humane for us. There were sonic emitters meant to drive the mice crazy. There were polarized crystals, used to speak to the mice in their own mousy language. We got pretty desperate by the end.

The dots and snaps became more and more present as the epidemic continued. Each day, at least three times a day, I would walk through my home armed with a flashlight, some rubber gloves, and a plastic bag checking each of the traps. This was quite a project as we had roughly forty traps set in the most elusive parts of our home. After the tenth mouse met his fate in our newly fortified homestead, we decided that we had better solve the root of the problem. We cleaned the house within an inch of its life, exposing stockpiles of dog kibble that the mice had apparently stolen from the previous owners’ canine companion. We set poison traps outside and scoured the outside of the home searching for an entry point. I sealed off every potential crevice and swore in my wrath that I would rid the home from these creatures. The problem was that I really did swear in my wrath, which Miranda did not appreciate in front of our young and impressionable newborn.

Cambo the Mouse Hunter (photo courtesy of vissago @ Flickr, not me)

After weeks of struggling with the pestilent enemy, the mice made their appearance into the gauntlet of death (formerly known as our home) less and less frequently. We went two weeks without catching any mice and eventually lowered the population of mouse traps around the floorboards. We celebrated our grueling battle as the victors and waved the flag bearing the outline of 36 mice, the total number that lost their lives at my hand. The mouse resistance had been eliminated and we were free to enjoy our home as rulers once more. However, in their wake, they left us with one last despicable act.

Coming home from work one day, I went into the basement to do some laundry when I noticed half-way down the stairs that there was a fly buzzing about my head. This was nothing too unusual, until I noticed that it flew back into the main room of the basement where it was greeted by a swarm of its winged compatriots. I saw this as some sort of divine sign and I wondered if I had neglected to let any Israelites go at some point. Eventually, the horror of what I had done donned on me. Since the basement laundry room proved to be fertile ground for trapping and killing mice, I had previously set several traps. One of those was placed on the top of the exposed framed wall to trap any mice who might be coming in through the laundry vent. Since it took a ladder to reach that specific point, it was the one trap out of the forty that I did not check thrice daily. In it, I could only imagine, lay the remains of a mouse that must have served as a warning to any other mice entering through the vent that, “Enter not, for here lie the mangled corpses of your fallen brethren.”

I fashioned a crude facemask out of several old t-shirts, triple-layered my rubber gloves, snapped on my safety goggles, grabbed a bucket and a ladder, and ventured into the laundry room. As I made my way up the ladder, my imagination drew up wild scenarios of what I would find on the top of that wall. Worse yet, because the ledge was so close to the ceiling, I wouldn’t even be able to look at the thing to know what I was grabbing. The flies encircling my ascending head provided the crescendo violin music as my heart beat faster and faster. After trying to summon the courage, I counted to three and then, with a deeply-voiced scream to conjure up my manliness, I thrust my hand onto the ledge until I felt something large and squishy attached to a wooden board. I grabbed what was left of the foul creature and flung him into the bucket on the other side of the ladder, my momentum nearly carrying me off with the decomposed rodent. And with that lumpy grayish mass that nearly doubled the size of the instrument that sealed its fate some three weeks prior, the ordeal was over.

Miranda and I like to think of ourselves as clean people, though an unexpected tour through our house might reveal dirty diapers in closet corners, Pop Tart wrappers buried between couch cushions, and scores of spiders left to die beneath overturned cups. We are happy to report to you all that the mouse problem is no longer a problem, they’re being successfully eradicated by my keen and previously unknown trapping abilities. Inside my soul brews an unhealthy contempt for mice, as evidenced by my previous experiences at Disneyland and Chuck E. Cheese’s. As terrible as those few weeks were, I reflect on them with a bit of longing. After all, hunting the mice did give me a challenge and kept me active. They allowed me to prove to my wife that I am able to protect her. Now, all I do is eat Pop Tarts on the couch and languish in my simmering bloodlust. Every so often, though, I think that I hear some scratching, ever so slightly, within the walls of our home. I grab my rubber gloves and flashlight and smile as I lean over to my polarized crystals where I whisper, “Game on Mickey. Game on.”

Sleep tight little one, for tomorrow you die.

Of Mice and So-Called Men: Part One

If you are as faithful of a reader as I would hope that you are, you will already know that this column constitutes my 50th fully composed article that I have created here at Bag Stranded. Though it may seem arbitrary, it means a lot to me that so many of you have encouraged me to continue wasting my time and yours with this blog. In honor of that, I wanted to share one of my favorite, never-told-before stories with you. It is a two-parter, so just to let you know, there will be a cliffhanger. Thanks for sticking with me for the first 50. Here's to hoping I become authentically published and paid for my writing so I will never have to do 50 more!

Three and a half years ago, Miranda and I moved into our first home that we somehow managed a pre-economy-crash mortgage company to loan us the money for, though it was clear that we would have to live to be 400 before we could pay it off. We were euphoric about our home and thrilled to begin filling it with our frivolous crap. When we first got married, we lived for a few years in a small apartment that was at one point very nice and comfortable and eventually evolved into something out of a Spike Lee film. Despite my misgivings, we moved in with Miranda’s sister and her husband while we looked for a home and some semblance of dignity. After a few months, we moved in to our own house a
nd enjoyed the wonderful, elated feeling that comes to the young homeowner.

After three weeks, my nine-month, bulgingly pregnant wife, stooped on the top of the kitchen counter in her stretched-out maternity nightgown, grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and, with fear and anger emanating from her eyeballs, brought me close to her face and shrilled out the words, “We are going to have to move!” How she managed to get on top of the counter when I had to physically push her out of bed just that morning was mystery to me. Only three things in this world would give Miranda the adrenaline to perform these Xena-like maneuvers: spiders, stray dogs, and mice. I was hoping that there was a stray dog in our bathroom.

We were the second family to live in our house on Wormwood Drive. Aside from being the name of a demon in a C.S. Lewis novel, “Wormwood” is also the name of the star that, according to the wackiest of books in the bible Revelation, will take part in plaguing the earth and its people before the Second Coming. Admittedly, we should have heeded the warning. But, we looked past the unfortunate street name and the lingering scent of brimstone that wafts through our neighborhood and signed the contract anyway. As is the case with many people, if you are not the original tenant of a certain residence, you end up inheriting some of the items that the previous tenants, intentionally or not, left behind. Well, along with a doormat and some cans of paint, we inherited something much more exciting: vermin.

It all began one evening as we came home from a night out at the movies, completely unaware that days away from the birth of our first child those excursions out of the house would become a distant memory. We were happy and proud that we had nearly everything completely unboxed and that the house was beginning to feel more like a home. We took our shoes off and began walking up the stairs to our kitchen area when Miranda saw a conspicuous black square on the middle of one of the steps. She casually asked me what it was and made her way closer to it in order to inspect it. She leaned in closer and just as she reached out her hand to pick up the object (cue crescendo violins) the square shimmied, ever so slightly.

As Miranda made her way screaming past the object and into the furthest corner of the house, cupping her hands over her mouth as her only defense, I took a closer look at the object. It had responded to my wife’s shrill screams with even greater movement and some shrills of its own. I flipped it over and discovered that it was a glue trap that had in its deathly grasp a small gray mouse and the lower two-thirds of its tiny anatomy. After disposing of it the garbage can, an unfitting end for such a brave little journey, we discovered that the trap came from underneath the stove. We had suspiciously noted the traps when moving in, but figured that they could only be a means of security in the event of a possible mouse, and not a temporary solution to a widespread problem. In our absence, this mouse had trapped himself underneath the stove and crawled across the tile and carpet with his two little feet, dragging his limp body behind him as if in a poorly-made teen mouse horror film, and toppled over the stairs, helplessly awaiting our return.

Had this tiny mouse been an isolated incident, we would have laughed it off as a sort of rite-of-passage for homeowners like us. However, after a quick late night trip to the local hardware store and a deafening “snap” heard later that night, we knew that this mouse was more than just a single event but a portent of the horror that was about to enter our lives.

"Portent means 'something that foreshadows a coming event', in case you were wondering. Now, can someone get me some damn cheese over here?"

Allergy Wiz

A while back, I wrote an article here on Bag Stranded about just how much I despised a few aspects of summer. I received requests from a few readers to expound upon my list of pet peeves of the hellish season. In a way, I would like to do that now. One of the things that I really hate about Summer is it ending. Not that I wax nostalgic for feeling akin to a pot roast in my oven of a home. But like a bounced party guest who swipes as many hors d’oeuvres as possible and eats them in spite as he leaves the house, the summer always finds a way to get one last jab at me before it makes its exit. It does this by infecting me with the dreaded late-summer allergies.

For many of you, I am sure that the approach of fall calls to mind all of the beauty of nature that fills up your senses like some sort of John Denver séance. If you are anything like me, and I pray to whatever pagan god you worship that you are not, the onslaught of autumn fills up your senses in quite a different way. The pollen grates at my eyes like buckshot into Uma Thurman’s chest. My ears are dulled by the throbbing, distant feeling resonating through my skull. My nose attempts in vain to contain the floodwaters of copious amounts of mucus. Food loses its taste. I feel nothing but remorse.

I have had to deal with allergies for most of my life. As a young boy growing up over by the railroad tracks in Ragtown, Utah, I was quite different from what you know me as today. I maintained a general sense of well being and satisfaction with the world around me, for one. I also loved to play outside during the summertime with no regard for the many dangers that would threaten me then or later in life. I would come inside after hours of intensive work on the Slip n’Slide and within hours would contract giant pustulous blisters on my shoulders the size and texture of over-ripened cantaloupe. These things were able to maintain their own pulse. The application of aloe vera simply made them angrier and prone to pulsating more rapidly. At times, I would have to feed them crickets to keep them happy.

Along with the impending prognosis of skin cancer, mother nature also decided to punish me for the damage I had done to her through such acts as putting two praying mantises in a glass jar together and awaiting the cannibalistic finale. I was to live out my days (or at least the early-spring, late-summer days) in writhing agony as my sinuses battled the tiniest of seedlings. Far from being welcoming and spacious, the Great Outdoors became more like a great harbinger of doom for me. Now, there is nothing that is scarier to me than a sprouted dandelion just ready to spread its noxious seed into my nasal cavity. I fear these things so much primarily because of two anomalies, among many others, that my body claims.

Two praying mantises, one jar.

The first is that when I sneeze, I can not stop the biological process. After the first sneeze comes the second. Then the third. With no more than 10 seconds between them, I rattle the sneezes off like incantations. It may seem trite, but I remember several instances where I filled up the bathroom garbage can with blood-soaked Kleenexes and convinced myself that I was in fact emptying all the fluid from my brain and would soon die. The only thing that willed me back to life was my refusal to have “Sneezed to death at age 14” immortalize me in an obituary. I have developed many methods for calming these spastic expulsions. The only one that has really worked, and which I still use to this day, involves plugging my nose at the bridge with just a little less force than it would take to break the bone, laying down flat on the floor, and breathing calmly through my mouth. Needless to say, this makes for kind of an odd first impression on a date or a job interview or a bank robbery hostage crisis.

The second anomaly that I bear is that (for those of you who are squeamish, you may skip to the next paragraph) when I sneeze, I always produce ample material of the mucus variety. Most people are able to give off their little sneezes as if they are blowing out a single candle on a birthday muffin, and with a petite “excuse me” they are off to their normal business. For me, if I sense that a sneeze is coming on, I not only begin to prostrate myself on the floor to stop the onslaught of a repetitive nasal attack, but I also have to quickly find a tissue, a spare t-shirt, or a fire bucket and prepare for the weaponized payload that it will surely deliver. And because my sinuses are roughly the size of barn silos, there is always quite a bit of the stuff to deal with. However, since I do not want to be too graphic (and I have saved this material for a movie script I have written aimed at Disney tweens called “Shamus McLamus and the Snot Sneezers) it will suffice me to say this: I have lost weight by sneezing. True story.

My condition was not helped by the fact that, as it is currently, while growing up one of my primary household chores was mowing the lawn. I enjoy mowing lawns, but in the same way that the albino in The Da Vinci Code kind of enjoys lashing himself with a whip. When I was younger especially, I imagined myself hosting my own show that would air on PBS Saturday mornings where I would expound all the mysteries of the artistry of lawn care; “The Lawn and Short Of It with Uncle Cameron”. I could get about half-way through my parents yard when the fits would happen and I found myself wondering how we would fill this dead time on-air. When I was older, I was commissioned to mow my aging grandfather’s pristine lawn which covered the same square footage as some counties in Texas. He watched me like I was sowing his plantation, and in the several intermissions that I had to take to return my body to stasis, he would only complain that the grass under where I had so hastily left the lawnmower was not getting enough sunlight. I’ve tried mowing the lawn with a mask, like a hired Asian landscaper who was afraid of catching a virus, but found that breathing was not a sacrifice I was willing to make in order to avoid a sneezing fit. And so, I mow and I sneeze to this day.

As I write these words, I have a tissue lodged up my nose to prevent any drainage on the newly acquired sores on the outside of my nostrils. I am also nursing a steady cough, chapped lips, and I am collecting the pollen in my eyes to create my own rakeable zen garden. My children, who are often the benefactors of my massively flawed genes, are sniffling their way through September as well. But, my situation could always be worse. I could have allergies and be a complete idiot like the man suffering in this amazingly well written story I came across. Or I could be flippant with allergies like the kid in this video who treats what I consider a serious condition as a mere challenge. Or I could be doomed like my friend who suffers from allergies so severely that he has to go to the hospital to receive weekly injections of poison into his bloodstream to counteract his allergic reactions. Even better, he once passed out while driving home from the hospital and trying to inject himself with the antidote to an overdose of the medical dose of poison. He must have killed a lot of praying mantises when he was younger. I guess I should consider myself lucky that my affliction is only seasonal and I can reserve my contempt exclusively for summer. You know, for an intangible period of time lasting roughly 4 months out of the year, Summer is a real dick. Good riddance Summer. I’ll see you next year.

At once my dream and my nightmare.

Pants on Fire

You as a Bag Stranded reader might have asked yourself at some point during your adventures here whether the things that I write about really have happened. It’s alright. You can admit your doubt. Several have done so to my face, not the least of whom is my mother who calls into question nearly every facet of my life that I include in my stories. Sometimes it is difficult for me to believe that she reared me for so many years without realizing the bizarre, embarrassing, or crushingly sad situations I endured which would later become comedy fodder for casual virtual acquaintances.

The short answer is that, yes, I have actually experienced all of the situations that I detail in my little recollections here. I did once wash my hand’s in the zoo urinal. I did once place religious reverence on the name of Nicole Kidman (pbuh). I did once receive a flirtatious glare at Chuck E. Cheese from a mother with dolphins tattooed on her breasts. In many occasions, I only wish that I had made this stuff up.

I am a man who is cursed with being relatively honest in everything he does. I am sure that some of it has to do with my Mormon upbringing, where the fires of hell were constantly lapping towards me with every embellishment I spoke. But, more than just that, I think that when you get down to the bottom of my soul, and work your way through the charcoally bits and the parts that look like something out of a bad Andy Warhol movie, you would see the one very dimly shining character trait of my being an habitually honest man. That is not to say that I have not lied before. I have several times and been caught in the act. It is most likely because of the subtle “tell” that I have every time that I lie - my face flushes with red, my eyes, water, I giggle uncontrollably, and typically admit under my breath that I am lying. Very subtle. I have, however, gotten away with a few lies in my time. Right now, I can only think of two of those times, probably because I have managed to trick myself into believing the others.

The first occurred at the tender age of six while I attended Lake Ridge Elementary School, home of the Fighting Cougars and 47 days since the last syringe was found in the playground. My class was undergoing training on how to take care of our oral hygiene. I am sure that you remember these from one of the several desperate attempts that our teachers would make during our academic careers to ensure that if the United States could not surpass Great Britain, the Philippines, or Myanmar in testing performance, we would at least be able to surpass them in tooth count. These presentations featured demonstrations on the correct direction to aim your bristles while brushing. Occasionally, there was an educational video where the Super-Hero “Fluoride Man” would beat up green, squiggly-drawn tooth decay monsters. All of this was really just a ruse which eventually led to what every kid knew was coming. Plaque candy.

The presenter gave out small swag bags with Crest advertisements plastered all over them. Down at the bottom of the sack, each child would find small pre-packaged pink pills. These were of course meant for the children to chew so that the pink dye would color their teeth until they properly brushed it away. For me, as well as several other kids, these things were like Kindergartner catnip. During recess, they were traded like currency. I was a recreational plaque candy user, not like others who were found by their parents after school, passed out behind the bushes, eyes rolled in the back of their heads, and teeth stained a permanent pinkish hue. “Plaque heads” we called them.

After one such presentation, we were issued a challenge by our teacher. Each student would take home a chart where, by placing a small sticker in a spot on the graph representing a month’s worth of mornings, afternoons, and nights, we could keep track of how often we brushed our teeth. As we were promised a prize at the end of the month for keeping up with our brushing, a prize which I could only hope was more plaque candy, I was determined to do it. However, after several days, the busy demands of the typical work-from-home kindergartener caught up to me and I stopped brushing regularly. The night before the challenge ended, I saw the empty graph hanging in my room and worried about what my teacher would think of me if I showed her my shameful progress. I took out the sticker sheet and systematically placed one sticker on all three spots each day. “For the greater good,” I told myself. “For the greater good.”

My teacher was very proud of my alleged wonderful oral hygiene. At the end of the school year, the parents were invited to an award ceremony where children were rewarded for the various crap that they had done throughout the year. Near the end of the ceremony, my name was called up as the premier example of tooth-brushing commitment. I received a certificate as my mother and father shared a surprised glance at each other. I accepted the award and, smiling my yellow-toothed smile, I looked down at the award I had just been given. It looked very official, almost diploma-esque, except for the playful sticker which had been placed in the top right corner. The starburst shape featured a bug-eyed, smiling animated tooth holding a toothbrush with its anatomically improbable arms and a banner of text on the border of the sticker that read, “For telling the TOOTH.” Never had a such a clever pun been such a curse to me so as to cut me to the very soul. Yet, I was determined not to admit my lie as I did not want to loose face, though I was quite alright with loosing several teeth of that face.

Total plaque head. Sad, really.

More than ten years later, I had another experience with a lie that has guilted me enough to offer up a confessional to the collared priest which is you, my reading audience. Interesting analogy I just used there as this next story deals with me lying repeatedly and uncontrollably to servants of God. I was 17 years old and full of the spunky mischief of the teenage years. Being a 17 year-old, I was able to go on what is commonly referred to as “splits” with the Mormon missionaries that were in my area. Splits consist of two regular church members each working with one missionary for an evening, with the intention of both increasing the capabilities of those missionaries and foreshadowing many of the horrific experiences I would endure upon serving my own mission a few years later.

I had planned an evening to go with the missionaries but I had forgotten that I had also planned a very important event with friends on the same evening, something that I did not realize until that very day. The event happened to be the premiere of a movie that I and a few friends had created with a VHS camera and amateurish sketch comedy. Needless to say, it was a very important event. I talked with my friends and said that I would be able to figure out a way to leave the missionary splits (which started at 6:00) and make it to the movie premiere (which started at 7:00). I sat in the basement apartment with the Elders as they planned out their activities for me and the other member. I informed them, with all the regret that my years at Juilliard had prepared me for, that I would not be able to make it through the entire evening. Though I was not particularly asked for a reason why, I offered up a made-up excuse that my brain had conceived of only moments before, “My best friend’s aunt passed away and I was going to drive him to the funeral.” In hindsight, feigning illness would have been the best option, but that little plastic bird pendulum that dips it’s beak into water that lives inside my head and fuels my creative thought gets me into situations like this occasionally.

After reflecting on the problem, one Elder came to the conclusion that we would go about the normal business that we had planned for the first hour and then he would just come with me and my friend to the funeral. We then left the apartment and the little bird pendulum in my head dipped and swung at warp speed as I desperately tried to devise a way to get myself out of the lie I had created. We knocked on doors and taught the gospel, all while in my head I offered vain prayers to God mixed with attempted vows with Satan to help me create an even more elaborate lie. 7:00 rolled around and I began the short drive to a friend’s house. I knew that this friend would not be home as he was awaiting my arrival at the movie premiere. Before I pulled into the driveway, I carefully used the automatic lock to make sure that the missionary would remain in the passenger seat. “I’ll just run up and get him,” I casually informed him. His mother answered the door and I had a conversation with her that did not at all match the expressions that I was emoting for the sake of the watching missionary. I got back in the car and wiped the sweat from my head. “I guess his uncle came and picked him up.” And then, realizing the potential problem with this, I quickly added, “His other uncle, not the one who…you know…is now…a widower.”

I arrived an hour and a half late to the movie premiere, which many people had left without any real promise of my arrival being seen. Those who did stay heartily laughed at the comedy shorts that we had created, all while I sat in a fetal position in a chair knowing that I had better get used to the warmth of fire and the smell of brimstone for the hell that God was sure to send me to after this whopper of a transgression.

Flash forward to present day - yesterday actually. My dear sweet wife had prepared a moral lesson to teach to our three-year-old child. The subject was honesty and it was taught by me reading off several examples of honest and dishonest behavior for my son to differentiate between. “When I say that I will brush my teeth before bed, but then I never do, I am being ______.” This, along with other high-concept, pointed questions were hilarious for my son who answered each by intentionally giving the wrong answer. This has, as of recent, become his favorite pastime, offering a statement that is entirely contradictory to anything that we tell him. Even when scientific evidence is presented to him (“You see, even though you told me several times ‘no’, you actually did go poo-poo in your Buzz Lightyear underwear. I have the poo right here as a matter of fact!”) he still refuses to acknowledge his dishonesty. With time and, hopefully by following the example of his father, he will be able to exercise honesty, which is, arguably, the best policy. Or, if he does tell a lie, perhaps he can make a confession to a handful of people on whatever matrix-like thing the internet becomes once he is a father of his own, pushing middle-age, and suffering from poor dental hygiene and an aching need for some plaque candy.

By the way, I never did go to Juilliard. Just want to keep the slate clean.

"I know you pooed on me, Zachary. Why must you lie?"

Lutropublicaphobia – The Fear of Public Restrooms

It all started with the urinal at the zoo.

I remember my father leading me by the hand so he could unload the used-up portion of a 64 ounce mug of Dr. Pepper he had consumed in preparation for taking his three children to the zoo on a hot summer’s day. I dutifully went with him, though I realized that I did not really need to use the facilities, except to maybe wash my hands. I wasn’t obsessive about keeping my hands clean, but I was a very astute little boy who understood how bacteria was bred from animal poop and sickly children, both of which were prevalent at the zoo at any given time. So I felt the need to wash my hands while my father told me to stay put as he shut the door to the toilet. Looking around the restroom, I saw an unusual sink that was spread across the back wall with several faucets that let water cascade along the ivory interior and down into one of a few drain holes in the bottom basin. Though it did not seem quite practical, I was open-minded. After all, it was the 80s and who was I to judge this new wave of architectural interior design. I pulled the lever and began scrubbing my hands with a small pink wafer of soap and whatever water I could pool into my hands at the time. Two men stood at opposite ends of the long sink and stared at me as I performed my cleansing. Apparently, they were newcomers to this device as well. Just as I was set to splash some cooling water on my face to cool off from the warm summer air, my father grabbed me by the hand and carried me suspended in the air to the spider monkey cage before he finally bent down and informed me of my indiscreet folly. “Son, you were washing you hands in the urinal,” and, after receiving a blank, confused stare, “...the place where other people pee.”

Since that fateful day, I have developed a serious, but wholly understandable fear of public restrooms. I doubt that there is anybody out there who really enjoys the mysteriously sticky floors of the public restroom. Few people live for the opportunity to discuss the weather next to their office superior whilst having their genitals protruding from an otherwise normal ensemble. The underlying concept of a public restroom should be repulsive to most people, and yet it is a fact of life that we deal with on a daily basis. We scoff when we read about the ancient Turkish baths, where citizens bore their all to their neighbors for the sake of cleansing. All that I know is that when it comes to being in a steamy bathtub with the shortstop on my company’s softball team or sitting mere inches away from him as he loudly expels the remains of a digested breakfast burrito into the toilet next to mine, I think I would opt for nudity.

In elementary school, bathroom situations were disturbing to say the least. In kindergarten, there were those bathrooms built into the back of the classrooms with the half doors. In many ways, they were like the typical adult restroom stall, except for the fact that they were not in an enclosed bathroom, but shared the same air as an entire classroom full of children just learning in the worst possible way what their senses were. Graduating to the upper grades of elementary school, the miniature versions of the adult restrooms were all but non-functional, and not just for the revolving, damp, blue cloth paper towel that every sick little child was meant to wipe his grubby hands on for the whole of the school year. I cannot remember a time visiting these facilities when there was not a firm pile of excrement, fresh or otherwise, in the middle of the tiled floor, as if it were ready to offer me a hot towel and a mint in exchange for a nominal tip.

Junior high and high school introduced unspeakable and often illegal acts to the lavatory scene. Luckily, since my ill-fated experience at the zoo, I had spent years training my body and my bodily functions so that I could last an exorbitant period of time without visiting a public restroom. I could hold my pee for an entire day, if need be. I could lock my bowels for a period of three occasionally excruciating days. I liked to think of myself like a camel, the majestic creature of the Sahara, who can hold water in his hump for months. The only problem was that hump would never get a urinary tract infection or die from impacted fecal matter in its intestines. These were among the horror stories that my mother would tell me on my Gandhi-esque abstentions from the toilet. “John Wayne died because he had 40 lbs of crap in his stomach.” “Beethoven died because his bladder exploded from not going to the bathroom.” (Neither of which are true, but both of which are effectively frightening.) I was convinced that, with the proper training, I could avoid uncomfortable public restroom situations for the rest of my life.

Looks uncomfortable.

My travel to foreign countries has put this training to the test. Though I should remember them for their differing cuisines or historical monuments, I instead remember them for the experience I had with their style of public restrooms. Flying was never an option for relieving myself. Even though airplane lavatories are somewhat discreet, my phobia of public restrooms combined with my claustrophobia from being in a room the size of an amputee’s coffin made these strictly verboten. In Paris, they have public restrooms on the streets which function as space-age port-a-potties. For the cost of five francs, you could enter this plastic cubicle and go about your business. Upon your exit, the entire pod; walls floor, toilet, mini sink; is subjected to a rush of anti-bacterial water, meant to cleanse the “jean valjean” for the next attendant. As I had just experienced 10 hours of flight and a few hours of tourism without any kind of restroom break, it seemed like a great idea and a perfect way for me to get rid of the Wayne and Beethoven I had been storing for so long. But, as I closed the door and sat on the damp seat, I was overcome with a feeling that at any moment, the French toilet would sense that I was American and reverse the flushing process, forcing me to swim through the sewage to the top of the plastic structure as my only escape.

In China, the diet of fresh fish and steamed rice had me like a rockstar throughout my sojourn. Even though I had to deal with sloshing as we slowly made our way through the streets of Hong Kong, I never felt better. My wife, on the other hand, who’s bladder is roughly the size of a Triaminic cup, was often looking for a restroom in any public place we were traveled. In Tiananmen Square, Miranda found a restroom that was outside of the main entryway under the dominating glare of Chairman Mao. The line that formed eventually turned into a crowd and one angry shriveled Chinese woman after another began to violently scramble for an available position in the bathroom. By position, I mean a hole in the ground; A literal hole in the ground, with small wood slats that jutted out of the walls as the only means of privacy. The feisty half-Chinese American girl fought her way to a hole and squatted as hundreds of women anxiously watched her stream of urine, ready to throw her and her capitalist ideals out as soon as it had ended. This to me is the very hell that I am sure is reserved for murderers, rapists, and those who strike up a conversation about sports to those discreetly trying to pee in the urinal beside theirs.

As is the case with most things, the Netherlands really has got public restrooms figured out. They tolerate the use of marijuana, leaving their populace in a consistent state of mellow. They ride bikes everywhere which leaves their air clean and fresh and their bodies thin. And they have public restrooms which should qualify their designer as a saint in whatever church it is the Dutch frequent. The restrooms are actually rooms, with a door that closes the room off from sharing any air with the outside world. In the ceiling is a high-powered fan which not only cools the perspiration from my naturally nervous head, but actually sucks up all the stink that its patrons can produce. The room is carpeted and wallpapered as if by Vermeer himself. As I relieved myself in this utopian bathroom, I seriously considered how long it would take me to learn Dutch and eventually call Holland my home. I liked tulips and I could live in wooden shoes, and my deeply-rooted fear would eventually be excreted from me, or wiped clean if you will.

I never did move to the Netherlands, but have held on to that singular dream ever since. When I walk through my local IKEA and see the euro-chic design of the bathrooms, I long for the restroom experience I once enjoyed. This last week, as we made our entrance into the den of all things Swedish, I led my three-year-old son into one of the family restrooms. The spaciousness was incredible and they had thought of all of the conveniences from free diapers to an automatic hand dryer. We rolled the stroller and the rest of us into this room and encouraged my son to go pee-pee. He did so, to great adulation from his parents, and we then proceeded to flush the toilet which made the sound of a shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral. My son is easily frightened by many things, but this set him over the edge. Now he refuses to use the restroom in any public place that we attend, being convinced that the rush of water will suck him in and curse him to a subterranean life with the mole people. This includes a recent outburst at the local zoo which was only calmed with me kneeling down by him, right next to the spider monkey cage, and giving him a big fatherly hug. “I know Zach, I know,” I said, sympathetically consoling him. “One day you’ll learn to avoid public restrooms all together, and I will teach you how. You might want to start learning Dutch.”