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.”

There is a Light That Occasionally Goes Out

My wife and I went to a movie this last weekend. Since that event has about the same frequency of a total lunar eclipse, you can understand why I was very excited about it. I announced it to my friends and co-workers with the same cavalier enthusiasm as if I had plans to summit Lhotse. The movie was (500) Days of Summer starring the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun and the chick from Elf. I know their names, but you probably don’t.

It was a really good movie. I mean really good. My reason for going to see it though was only slightly based on the good reviews it had received. I read something a few issues back in my Entertainment Weekly: Bathroom Edition about how the group She & Him (composed of M. Ward and the sister of that chick from Bones) did a cover of a Smiths song for the soundtrack. This was enough to get me into a crowded theater on a Saturday night and squeal like a schoolgirl when the cover of Louder than Bombs was shown in the background in an opening scene.

I am a Smiths fan of the unhealthy variety. I freely admit that, which would be the first step in a recovery program if I wanted to be recovered from this affliction. The name of this very blog bears reference to a Morrissey song. I am fully aware that most of my readers will have a minimal understanding of who The Smiths are and I hope that through this link-laden article, you might gain an appreciation for the band that is undoubtedly the best to have ever existed in the history of man. I promise not to over-exaggerate anything.

First of all, let me give you a short musical history lesson. The Smiths were made up of the singularly named Morrissey on vocals and Johnny Marr on guitar and a few other blond-headed dudes. They broke onto the British pop music scene back when pop was indie, but before indie was alternative - unlike today where alternative is pop. If you think you have never heard a Smiths song, you have probably heard "How Soon is Now" from a few various soundtracks or VH1 specials. The Smiths broke up due to a fight between Morrissey and Marr over a cheese sandwich and Morrissey soon set out on a solo venture. He is still performing to this day and at the beginning of this year, released his most recent album, featuring the single "Something is Squeezing My Skull". For those of you who doubt his genius, I defy you to make legend out of the song titles "Girlfriend in a Coma", "Some Girls are Bigger than Others", "Hairdresser on Fire", or "Shoplifters of the World Unite".

My oldest sister had always been a trusted connoisseur of music, as evidenced by the Echo and the Bunnymen shirts she wore to school and the posters of Robert Smith in her room. When I entered junior high school, she could see my obvious need for her musical influences as I still listened to Disney Radio and the “oldies” station my father frequented. She made me a mixtape filled with a sampling of British melancholy and, for my birthday, purchased me a copy of the first album I would ever own, a cassette of The Smiths’ Hatful of Hollow. I listened to the tape so much that it became warped at one point near the end of one side and, by turn (thanks to the magic of audio tape) the beginning of the next. It set me on the musical pathway that in many ways would define who I am today.

Morrissey, the daisy-toting singer/songwriter, must have known the heart of a 12-year-old boy because his lyrics spoke directly to mine. I listened to one record after another of his group along with his solo performances. In my mind, I transformed from the nerdy kid who ate his sandwiches by the dumpster to the über-cool kid with his finger on the pulse of the college music scene. I was so über-cool in fact that no one else knew who the hell The Smiths were. I strutted through the hallways of school with my t-shirts featuring the cover of Strangeways, Here We Come or Beethoven Was Deaf and further incited the hatred of the school bullies against me.

"Is that a family reunion shirt?" Yeah, shut up.

However, even after a few stomach punches and mocking laughs from popular girls, I found refuge in the music I listened to when I came home. “So true, most people do keep their brains between their legs.” “Love is just a miserable lie.” “Yes, I also wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside!” I wrote songs and had every intention to run on stage during one of his performances and hand deliver what was to be his next single. I found myself frantically hitting redial to attempt contact with the local radio stations and put in my request for a Smiths or Morrissey song. Of course, the requests were always ignored. At one point, I felt like hijacking a radio station and forcing them to only play songs from The Smiths, but someone had actually already done that. After listening to the album Meat is Murder, I had a brief stint with vegetarianism, until I realized my love of animal flesh was slightly stronger than that of Morrissey.

I went to a few Morrissey concerts, events that I speak of with reverence as if I had met the Pope. I once came accessorized along with the rest of the crowd who donned one of several Morrissey-championed paraphernalia: a fist full of gladiola, a mock hearing-aid, fake scars, a mesh shirt with band-aids placed over the nipples. I won’t tell you which one I wore, but I will say that after losing the courage to dive past security to hand deliver my self-penned ballad to Moz himself, I found it as I had to remove something from a very sensitive part of my body.

I am still a fan, will forever be a fan, of Morrissey and The Smiths. They have taught me that listening to music can be a highly emotional experience, even if that emotion happens to be depression. I love that, on the rare occasion that I meet a Smiths fan, or pay to see a movie with a reference to them, my faith in humanity is restored. Now-a-days, the kids have other outlets to go to for their emotional music, outlets which tend to involve gobs of eye makeup or bleeding skull masks. Morrissey just turned 50 and I will soon turn 29. We are old, and it may nearly be time to hang up our mesh shirts and straw hats and make way for other music groups with punctuation marks in their band names. However, for my part, I have just composed a lullaby iTunes playlist for my children of songs from The Smiths and Morrissey. I feel it is my duty as a fan to pass on the music that once made me feel awkwardly unaccepted and compose dark poetry in the solitary corners of my room. But for now, I am perfectly content to slip into my now grossly undersized Kill Uncle t-shirt and sing along with "Vicar in a Tutu" as my child slowly falls asleep, with visions of Morrissey dancing in his head.

Stuck on band-aids