Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Roman Candle Prankster

I remember clearly that Independence Day when my brother, Clark, got shot in the stomach by a misfiring Roman Candle. Blast after blast, the fireworks were shooting into the sky, dazzling everyone who looked on. Suddenly, unexpected to everyone, it backfired, shooting a white-hot fireball into Clark’s stomach. Dad freaked out, like any father would.  Clark freaked out too, like any five year old would.
That’s how my practical jokes go sometimes. Boom! Right back at me! Burned!
Like the time, just a couple of months ago, when  I hid the little laughter box under the sheets. My little girl, Hazel, had this baby doll that laughed when it was squeezed. One day she figured out how to remove the little plastic box inside that made it laugh, and she realized that when she squeezed the little white box, it laughed for fifteen seconds. She got all the laughs she always enjoyed, but now with something that fit conveniently in the palm of her hand- walking around the house, squeezing the little box and laughing along with it.
Naturally, being who I am and having a complete inability to help myself, when I stepped on the little white box she had left on the floor, a brilliant plan came immediately to mind. I would put it under our bed sheets, on my wife’s side of the bed, so that when she climbed into bed it would go off. It would be hilarity in its purest form, right?
The problem with my plan, though, was that I forgot about it by the time we went down for the night. And since she somehow didn’t lay on the little laughter box, it didn’t go off… until about three in the morning. It starts laughing, and our half-asleep consciousness thought it was Hazel in the next room laughing in the night. But she kept laughing and laughing and laughing until Jammie jumped out of bed to see what was going on in the kids’ bedroom. Making her way to the door, however, Jammie realized the baby laughter was coming from behind her… from our own bed. It wasn’t until about that time that I finally remembered my joke. We both got a good laugh about it, but the joke was on me because once I’m fully awakened, it takes me a long time to go back to sleep.
The ultimate backfire, or “epic fail” as teenagers say today, was back when I was eleven. I’d gotten out of bed on a typical morning, went to the bathroom, and before getting started on my day I noticed how my oldest brother, Bryan, was sleeping. He was on his left side, with his left arm sticking out, hanging over the bed. I had recently heard of a practical joke where, if you put someone’s hand in warm water while they’re sleeping, they’ll pee the bed. So, being who I am and having a complete inability to help myself, when I saw his arm outstretched like it was, as if he were begging me to try out this infamous joke, I hurried to the kitchen to fill a bowl with warm water.  It would be hilarity in its purest form, right?
The problem with my plan, though, was that the joke simply doesn’t work. I knelt there beside his bed, resisting the urge to laugh, holding the bowl steady, but nothing happened. The bad news was that there was no urinating taking place. The good news was that he didn’t wake up. So, being who I am and having a complete inability to help myself, plan B immediately came to mind. I had already punched my ticked on the prank train, and trains take a long time to stop, so even if I wanted to stop trying to prank him, the momentum in my mind pushed me forward. It just made sense that, since I was hoping to make him wet the bed, the next best thing would be to make him think he wet the bed. I would take the warm water in the bowl and pour it on him. It would be hilarity in its purest form, right?
The problem with my plan, though, was that I assumed the water wouldn’t wake him up and I’d be able to slip out of the room undetected. After all, the warm water on his hand didn’t wake him.
Oh man, the look on Bryan’s face! The millisecond I started to pour the water on his crotch he jumped up.
This is the point of the story where I have to nominate my big brother for the “Nicest Big Brother Ever” award because any, and I mean ANY, other big brother on planet earth would have pounded me into pulp at that point.
“What are you doing?”
I’m not sure if he was more confused or more angry.
I froze. I just stood there… and stood there… and stood there.
“Seriously, what are you doing?”
And that was all I said, “uh.” How was I supposed to explain something like that? How do you explain to someone twice your size why you’re pouring water on his crotch while he sleeps? And that was the end of the story. I just turned and walked out the door. Nicest big brother ever. True Story.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Art of War (Between Roommates)

“Hey Bryan,” I said, pointing at the dry erase board by the phone. “There’s a message for Art to call Rosie. You don’t think there’s a chance that Rosie is our Rosie, do ya?”
“Better check.” Bryan pulled out his cell phone and searched the number he had for Rosie. “Uh, oh. It is Rosie’s number.”
“Now what?”
“Well, I can tell you one person I don’t want calling her.” Bryan walked over to the message board and erased the message.
Rosie was someone important to us, and we didn’t know she was fraternizing with our roommate.
We were roommates back in the day when using the internet meant that you plugged your computer into the phone line, cutting everyone else off from being able to use the telephone. And since Art was busy in his chat rooms whenever he was home, he was always clogging up the line.
“You’re not seventeen years old,” I said, looking over Art’s shoulder at the computer screen. “Why did you tell her you’re seventeen? Aren’t you, like, thirty five?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s just a chat room. Nobody cares.”
I didn’t get it. What fun are chat rooms if you can’t trust the messages? Then again, this was coming from a guy who slept on the floor because mattresses were too hard; a guy who mixed up pancake batter, threw it into a cake pan, and baked it because “that’s why they’re called pan-cakes.”
Yup, that was Art. He lived an interesting lifestyle; a fish out of water living in a busy American college town, having illegally jumped the border a few years back after having left his native Peru. What do ya do? Our country is full of undocumented, illegal, ignore them because they’re not really causing any problems, people. Or are they? My Artistic views changed when he came home early one afternoon…
“What are you doing home? Aren’t you usually at work this time of day?” I asked, lifting my eyes from my textbook.
“Oh, I quit that job. My friend told me about how I can file for disability and live off the government. So I’m gonna do that from now on.”
“You’re gonna live on disability? You’re not hurt.”
“Yeah. Cool, eh?”
“You realize that you’re telling me you’re gonna quit your job to live off of the rest of us.”
“Not off you… off the government.”
“And where does the government get their money? From us.”
“You just don’t get it.” Art held a hand up as if to say this conversation is too real for me. I’m gonna go back to my bedroom and jump on a chat room.
None of the roommates were very happy to hear about Art’s plans, but Bryan was the most angry. “Oh no he’s not!” and Bryan commenced with his own messaging campaign. He left messages on the answering machines of the disability office, social security, immigration— anyone he could think of. All his messages were treated like dry erase board messages for Rosie, though, and fell on deaf ears.
“Why are you trying to make my life difficult?” Art yelled.
“You’re not going to live off of all of us,” Bryan said. “I won’t let it happen. You’re perfectly capable of working.”
“What’s that got to do with it? It’s the government, not  you.”
“We’ve been through this. I won’t  let it happen.”
That argument took place every single day for the rest of the time Art lived with us. Worse than that, each argument brought more fire, heating up every single time, rather than ever bringing us closer to resolving the issue.
Then one day the arguments stopped; not because one of the sides caved on the issue, but because Art disappeared.
The biggest message on the dry erase board read “Art, call officer Stevenson” and left a number. Right under that, “Art, officer Stevenson called again” and again and again. Along the right side of the board was “Art, Kmart called and said you’re not welcome in their store anymore.”
“What’s that all about?” Like a middle aged woman watching afternoon soaps, desperate for a dose of melodrama, I couldn’t help but rub my hands and encourage the situation on. I shamelessly liked where this story seemed to be going.
“So Kmart called like five times today asking for Art,” Dylan said, “and they finally left a message that he can’t come back. Sounds like he was harassing the girls who work there.”
“And he obviously left one of them his phone number. Genius.”
We waited in the living room for the time when Art would come home to see all his messages. What would he do? How would he react?
He did finally come home, but he had no reaction to the message board and didn’t check the answering machine. He’d obviously gotten the message before, because as soon as he walked through the apartment door he didn’t stop to talk or even look at us. He walked straight to his room and emerged ten seconds later with an armful of clothes. He walked to his car, came back for another armful, and repeated the same act until he finally packed up his most prized possession, his computer.
“Dylan, go ask him where he’s going,” I said.
“Why me?”
“Because you’re the only one of us he doesn’t hate.”
“He said he’s gotta live out of his car for a little while,” Dylan said after returning from the parking lot. “That’s all he said.”
That was the last moment Art was our roommate, but it wasn’t the last time I saw him. About a year later, hanging out at my girlfriend’s apartment, in walked his familiar Peruvian face. As if I were a long lost best friend, he came up to and made a big deal out of my presence. I sat dumbstruck, mouth half open, wondering if he actually remembered who I was. And when he asked me if he could borrow ten dollars, that was the very last thing I expected to come out of his mouth. I lent it to him, out of curiosity, not out of friendship. I did not, by any means, expect to ever see that money again. A few days later, though, I came home to find a message on the board, left by Mr. Arturo himself, with a crisp ten dollar bill taped next to it. True story.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Kissing In A New Millenium

We stood just where we always stood at midnight New Years- at the bottom of Tim’s stairwell. Tim was holding his new stereo above his head, the one he’d gotten for Christmas a week earlier, blasting the sounds of Skid Row’s song Youth Gone Wild. Yeah, we were wild ones when we were twelve and thirteen years old- livin’ on the edge, banging pots and pans, blasting a stereo for what amounted to about four minutes of riotous living.
It was the year we stayed up all night watching Weekend At Bernies, and the same year Tim took a bath to keep himself awake, but fell asleep while it was filling and flooded the downstairs neighbors.
“Promise me something,” Tim said.
“What’s that?”
“When the year 2000 comes around, we’re gonna really live it up that night.”
“Yeah, that’ll be the New Years of all New Years parties. We’ll be in our twenties by then.”
And so the plan began. Every year the same conversation, “You just wait until the year 2000. That New Years will be better than this one.”
We both grew older, both grew taller, and I grew balder.
“So, why St. George?” I asked as we drove through the mountains of southern Utah.
“Because Cedar City doesn’t have anything good on New Years. The year 2000 is comin’, man. We gotta make it the best New Years ever.”
“So we’re going to St. George, Utah, for the best party ever.”
“Yeah, I know, but it’s better than anywhere else around.”
“Vegas is only a few more hours.”
“Do you want to make the drive?” Tim’s eyebrow raised, unsure how I was going to answer.
“Not really.”
“Well, I hear the girls in St. George are… how do ya say… easier?”
I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. We’re not the kind of guys to pick up a stranger and take her home. “Easier?”
“I don’t mean like that. They’re just not as goodie goodie as the girls in Cedar City.”
“So, what’s that mean, then?”
“Well, what would you do if some girl tapped you on the shoulder at midnight and said she wanted to make out with you?”
I turned and looked at him as he drove, squinting just slightly to see if he was serious. “No thanks.”
“Really? I’d do it.”
I had a girlfriend. Sure, she wasn’t with me and our relationship was hanging on by a thread at that time. For all I knew, she could have been kissing some other guy that night, being that she was back home in Oregon at the time. “Making out with a stranger isn’t my thing. Besides, people don’t just tap you on the shoulder and say ‘hey, come make out with me.’”
“They might. It’s New Years.”
“You’re living in a fantasy, man.”
“Well, something’s gotta make this New Years great. Something’s gotta happen to make it memorable.”
The party was bland, lackluster, and boring. Tim and I wandered around from one place to another, listening to the live music and seeing the displays. Not much was going on, so we made our way to city center early to get a good spot in the crowd.
“Shoulda brought your boom box so we could at least blast old glam rock music like the old days,” I said.
“Yeah. Maybe we shoulda gone to Vegas.”
“Eh, Vegas is a little too… Vegas for me. Been there a million times.”
“Never on New Years.”
“Still, it’s not on my bucket list.”
Just then the crowd started to countdown. There was a minute left, the last moments of a year, a decade, a century, and a millennia. This was it. And right on cue, just before the crowd yelled “ten”, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Kiss me at midnight,” she said, pointing to her lips.
“Are you serious?” I laughed. I couldn’t help it, and it probably came off as me laughing at her, not at the situation.
She pointed to her lips again as the crowd chanted “seven, six, five…”
I smiled and shook my head, still laughing. She pointed to her lips with more insistency, “three, two...”
As the crowd yelled “one” and the center streets of St. George erupted in cheers, I turned my back to this girl. It was the only way to get her to back off. I jumped and shouted with everyone else.
“Did you see me?” Tim asked in the car.
“See what?”
“I totally made out with that chick.”
“Which one? The one who was trying to kiss me?”
“Yeah. That one. We kissed for like a minute straight.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did.”
“That’s impossible. I was there the whole time.”
“Well, you’re not very observant, then, because I did.”
“For a minute?”
“Give or take. I wasn’t exactly counting.”
Ahhh, you shoulda seen the grin on Tim’s face that night and I laughed and laughed and laughed all the way back to his college apartment in Cedar City. I then laughed myself to sleep in a sleeping bag on his floor.
It was over. We’d partied like it was 1999- well, as hard as a good kids like us partied, that is. The big day of New Years 2000 was gone, which meant that we had to have a different conversation every New Years Eve. No longer could we say, “just wait until 2000.” From then on it was, “hey, remember that time in 2000 when you made out with that ugly girl?” Of course, Tim substitutes the word “hot” for “ugly” when he tells this story, but I think it’s more fun to tell it my way. True Story.

Friday, May 18, 2012

We moved we moved we moved this site
Whether you're looking in day or at night
It's not gone, so please stay calm
It's just now at
So come check it out, it's all still there
See? I told you. Everything is fair
There's no need to worry, no need to fret
You'll like it even a little better I bet


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tristan's Torturous Tooth part 3

“Oh no,” Doc said. “We’re going to have to keep a good eye on him.”

“Did you get to see whether that little crown even fit before Tristan swallowed it?” I asked “I can always make another one.”

“I’m not so much worried about the crown,” he said. “We need to keep an eye on if that thing comes out the other end and pay attention to his breathing. If it doesn’t come out or he shows any trouble breathing, he’ll need to be taken in for a chest x-ray to make sure it’s not lodged someone important.”

“Oh, I didn’t think of that,” I said.

Meanwhile, while we awaited news from Tristan’s south side, I got busy making a new one. I had a new crown halfway made before my phone rang.

“Russ, this is Tessa,” she said. “Guess what? I found it. It took two days but I found it.”

“Whoa!” I laughed. “I didn’t think for a second we’d ever see that thing again.”

“The worst part was that we’ve been feeding him this new bread lately,” she said. “It has all these different kinds of seeds in it and he’s not really digesting them, so he has all these things in his diaper that look like they would be tiny teeth.”

“Ha, I suppose they would be about the same size,” I laughed. “I’m not sure I really wanna know how you actually found it.”

“You don’t,” she laughed. “We have an appointment to seat it tomorrow if you want to come for that appointment. Dr. Grant said they have things to clean it and sterilize it real good.”

Of course I’d be there. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I was ready to see this project all the way through.

Round two went a lot smoother than round one did and after another torture session on poor Tristan, that tiny little white tooth was in place. It was roughly the shape a natural tooth would be. I say roughly because the thickness and shape of it, on top of the fact that it wasn’t a whole lot more than a painted metal sleeve on his tooth, made it so nobody would ever mistake it for a natural tooth. Still it wasn’t a bad little chomper. Doc seemed impressed that we successfully got something in there and I was surprised I was able to guess so closely on the size and shape of it.

“How do ya think it will do?” I asked once Tristan and his parents left the office.

“Honestly?” Dr. Grant answered. “I’m kind of surprised we made it this far. If it’s still there in a month I will consider this a huge success.”

It not only made it a month, but Tristan is still walking around with that little thing in his mouth after nearly a year and a half. Someday it will fall out with the rest of his baby chompers, but until then, Tristan has all his teeth and I’ll be proud of my little work of art every time I see my little boy playing with Tristan. Plus, I’m back to being his buddy’s dad instead of Mr. Torture. True story.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tristan's Torturous Tooth part 2

“How did Tristan’s impression come out?” I asked, eyeballing the tiny mouth impression in Dr. Grant’s hands.
“Well….” He pondered as he studied it, then looked up with a grin, “Good luck with this thing.”
He was right. Luck was what I would need. Reason #3 that people don’t do crowns for toddlers is because they don’t hold still for an impression.
“Just do your best, I suppose,” Doc said. “We’ll see how it turns out.”
Of course I would do my best. This was a new doctor and I wanted something great to come out of my dental lab. I wanted to impress him so he’d start sending some business my way. I did my best to make it look sort of like a natural tooth, but I had to make it very thin. Usually, with adult teeth, the doctor grinds down the natural tooth so I have space to make a porcelain tooth. That wasn’t an option with Tristan. Not only would he have an even harder time holding still for something like that than even taking the impression, but those little chompers were so small that there would have been almost nothing left if he did grind on his natural teeth. Grinding on them was not an option, which would be reason #4 why people don’t do crowns for toddlers. And because what was left of his natural tooth was already the normal thickness of the tooth, I wasn’t able to do much more than make a paper thin metal cap to cover his tooth, paint it tooth color, and put a very very very thin layer of porcelain on top of that to try to make it look sort of natural.
“Hey AJ,” I called him on the phone. “I got Tristan’s crown made. Can I come over and try it in his mouth?”
“You bet,” AJ said. “I’m not home right now, but Tessa is. Feel free to stop by. “
Darn shoot darn. It didn’t fit. It went on the tooth, but since the impression only picked up half of his tooth, the crown I made fit only halfway onto his tooth. Not only that, but poor Tristan knew me now. Of course, he knew me before, but he knew me as his friend’s dad before then. My son is right about the same age and he’d seen me thousands of times before. Now, though, I had a new title. I was the guy who kept having people hold him down while things got shoved into his mouth. I wasn’t a guy he wanted to see very often.
 “I ended up making two crowns,” I told Dr. Grant when the day came to actually glue in Tristan’s crown.
“How did it turn out?” he asked, picking up the tiny tooth.
“Well, the impression wasn’t great,” I answered. “The first crown I made fit the model I made from the impression, but it didn’t fit in his mouth very well. So I made a second one and basically guessed on the whole thing. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m not holding my breath.”
“I guess there’s only one way to find out,” Doc said.
We all assumed our positions. I was back holding Tristan’s feet. Different people were assigned to different areas of his body. Tristan was well aware of the type of situation he was in before he was even pinned down, though. He’d seen the torture chair he had to sit in before. He’d seen Dr. Grant and all his many workers come into the room again. And, of course, he’d seen me- the bringer of bad times.
The first step was just to try it in- see if it would fit. That was supposed to be the first step, but right as soon as Doc’s fingers made it into Tristan’s mouth, he proved us all wrong when we thought he was helplessly being held down. He did have one last line of defense- CHOMP! He bit right down, and with that sharp broken tooth leading the way, left an impression of his teeth in Doc’s finger. Worst of all, though, was it forced the tiny tiny crown to shoot right out of his grip and… you guessed it, right down Tristan’s throat.
to be concluded...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tristan's Torturous Tooth

“So Tristan broke half of his tooth in the tub, right?” AJ said.
“Yeah, I saw that,” I said. “What dentist do you guys go to? He should be able to fix that.”
“Dr. Grant,” AJ replied. “He did fix it. He’s fixed it twice, but building it up with the filling stuff didn’t seem to work. Both times it’s broken off again.”
“I’m not an expert about that kind of thing, so I can’t really say one way or another what he should do,” I said.
“Well, that’s sort of the thing,” AJ said. “I told Dr. Grant that I had a friend who owned his own dental lab and told him I would ask you if you’d be willing to make a crown for Tristan.”
“Oh, wow,” I said. “I’ve never made a crown for a baby tooth before, and I’ve never even heard of someone making one for a one year old kid.”
“So you can’t do it?” AJ sounded a bit disappointed.
“I didn’t say that,” I said. “If he’s willing to give it a shot, I’ll give it a shot. It’s not going to be too easy, though.”
In attempting to build my dental lab business, it’s important yet hard to get to meet new doctors. They’re so busy. Chances are Dr. Grant already had a lab he liked and had been using for some time. Even harder than getting to meet him would be getting to spend some time around him so he gets to know me. Even if making a crown for a one year old’s front tooth proved to be impossible, hey, at least it would get me some face time with a new doctor and maybe something good for my business would come out of it. Of course I was willing to do it.
I have always kind of wondered if Dr. Grant said he was willing to do the crown only because he didn’t actually think I would be willing to make it. Ha ha. That’ll teach him. I was willing. Of course, I quickly learned the reasons why people don’t do crowns for one year olds, other than reason #1, which is the fact that the tooth would fall out in a few years.
“How ya doin’? I’m Dr. Grant,” he said. “You ready for this?”
“Well, I’d be lying if I said I’ve done it before,” I answered. “But I’m ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose.”
“The hardest part might be to get an impression taken of Tristan’s mouth for you to work on,” Doc told me. “Kids this age don’t like to hold still very well for anything, let alone someone trying to stick something in their mouth.”
“How long does it take for the impression material to sit?” I asked.
“This stuff I’m gonna use will need 3 minutes,” he said. “Hopefully we can do this in one try because it would probably get more difficult with each one.”
Doc pulled out the little custom impression tray he and his assistant had made. Since one year olds don’t usually get crowns made, the trays used to take impressions are not made so small for his size mouth. There’s reason #2 people don’t make crowns for toddlers. His assistant filled it with impression material and it was time for business.
“Okay, Tristan,” Doc said. “We just need you to let us hold this in your mouth for three minutes and then you’ll be all done for the day.”
We all knew it was going to be a battle. It was the first time in my professional dental lab technician career that I’d ever had to hold someone’s feet while they took the impression. For all poor Tristan knew, we were all out to get him. What other explanation could there be for someone holding your feet, someone holding your left arm, someone else holding your right arm, Mom holding your torso, someone holding your head back, and one last person sticking gooey substance in your mouth. It sounds more like something out of a horrible science fiction movie than out of a dentist office. Horrible horrible horrible was what Tristan thought of those 3 minutes of torture, trying to kick and trying to thrash, but being held immobile by half a dozen large people. What terror. What horror. What a relief for all of us once it was done, especially for little Tristan.
To be continued...