I Warned You Not to Touch That

Tag: ramblings

Hard Time

by on Mar.12, 2010, under Essays

Security was tight. A stack of green dog food bowls awaited my wallet, cell phone and keys. Then they asked for my belt. Ordinarily, I find the prospect of a strip search liberating but, since the Tampa air temperature was 49 degrees, I balked. I believe they wanted to check my belt for nuclear explosives. Reluctantly, I complied. I asked the attendant how often people’s pants fall down. After evaluating me as a potential security threat, she replied, “Its happened.”

They ran my meager offering along the conveyor belt through the x-ray machine. I hoped they couldn’t detect how little money I had in my wallet. Poverty is not pretty. If only I’d stopped at the bank first. I walked through the magic rectangle that, I imagine, detects terrorist leanings. I passed without incident, with my pants still on.

Far from flying down to Rio, my destination was the Jury Auditorium at the District Courthouse. I took the escalator to the second floor and gave my summons to Sandra. She seemed happy to see me. I told her we have to stop meeting like this. I scanned the room looking for a comfortable chair, preferably next to someone impartial. These were my peers? They seemed mostly white, overweight, and unhappy. I settled on a fifty-something woman named Karen who was reading from her Kindle.She gave me the kind of welcoming look religious fanatics get when they knock on your door. Since moving to a home with a three mile long driveway, I’ve noticed this type of traffic has diminished. Occasionally, I’ll get a wholesome young couple who has survived the razor wired fence, booby trapped explosives and trained vultures to arrive at my door. Regardless of whether it’s freezing or scorching, the guy is always in a dark suit and tie. The woman contrasts his look with her long flowery dress. Sort of a good wardrobe bad wardrobe team.

I love when cute couples show up. Especially ones that, with one look at me, have decided I don’t have the intelligence to arrive at my own religious beliefs. I need guidance and, fortunately, they can provide it. To be honest, for these discourses, I’m a bit more receptive when strapped to a dentist chair with my mouth pried open and drugs rendering me barely conscious.

As you can imagine, our conversation was a bit one-sided.

“Can you hand me the mallet and chisel, Doris?”
“Yes, doctor.”
“Thank you. I was praying this last wisdom tooth wasn’t fused to his jaw but, unfortunately, it is. Sometimes, our prayers aren’t answered, are they Bill?”
Unable to speak or even shake my head, I stare groggily at the light.
“Of course that doesn’t mean prayer isn’t beneficial, does it?”
It’s hard to argue with that or with anything at this point.
“Can you attach the radiator tip to the vacuum and hand me the hose, please?”
“Yes, doctor.”
“Why, just the other day, I was seeing a patient with an acute case of lockjaw. Do you know what lockjaw is Bill?”
Much as I’d love to respond, words escape me.
“No? Well, lockjaw is when someone can’t open their mouth. Can you imagine that Bill? Not being able to open your mouth? Of course, it’s bad for the patient but think of how tough it makes things for the dentist. Can you jack his mouth open wider, Doris?”
“Yes, doctor.”
“Thanks, now hand me the prybar…I mean how in God’s green earth am I supposed to tackle a dental problem when I can’t get the mouth open?…Hand me the sledge hammer, will you?…So I prayed, Bill. I got down on my hands and knees beside the sink…Can you vacuum the blood and jawbone up so I can see what I’m doing?…and I asked for guidance from above. At first, nothing came to me…that’s better, Doris…so I prayed even harder. I must’ve knelt there for twenty minutes praying and asking for guidance until finally…electric carving knife please, Doris…I saw the light. It all became clear to me, Bill. I realized I didn’t need to do anything at all. Nothing. Nada. Zippo. Why worry about doing dental work on someone who’ll never use his teeth?…I’ll take the hacksaw now.”
“Yes, doctor.”
“It was the answer to my prayers, Bill. A huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And I’ll tell you something else. It’s changed the way I view my practice…Can you hand me the pickax?…and my everyday life. I realize I can’t help everyone…Do you think he’s bleeding too much, Doris? You do?…the only person I have to worry about…I thought so…is myself and living my life a certain way…Will you call an ambulance, please?…and so I pray while I’m doing the simple tasks that are before me just like…They’ll be here in ten minutes?…I’m praying now….Doris, come kneel with me and let’s pray for Bill.”

Just when my focus drifted back to Karen and my potential jury mates, a video started playing. It was part pep talk, part information, and part therapy. They told us that, in case the attorneys approached the bench and whispered among themselves, “nobody is trying to hide anything.” I learned not to take it personally if they excused me. I wondered how many went home bitterly disappointed at not having to spend the next three months of their lives sitting in a jury box with eleven others listening to testimony. If they excused me, I planned to celebrate by knocking over a convenience store.

Tons of well-read magazines weighed down the tables between the chairs. I considered American Baby, but settled on an Esquire magazine with the recipient’s address ripped off the cover. It had been years since I dared to venture through its pages. Billed as a men’s magazine, it had an appalling lack of nudity. The current iteration promised me fifty-one pages of fall fashions. Given that it was March, I was sure the styles were now passé.

I turned the glossy pages with a mixture of curiosity, amazement, and shame. I had no idea Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards peddled Louis Vuitton luggage. Condoms seemed like a better match for him. As I viewed the products and models in the ads, I felt embarrassed at my own lack of sophistication. The men were so pretty I thought the publisher should consider touting it as a woman’s magazine. I searched for the index hoping to find the piece on cover boy, Tom Brady. The index was on page thirty-five. Why bother with an index if you have to paw through half the magazine to find it? Just when I was about to learn about the Patriot quarterback’s glamorous lifestyle and fine threads, my name was called.

After three hours and three roll calls, forty of us went to the fifth floor to continue waiting. As I looked around at the granite benches, grey walls, and stainless water fountains I noticed something was missing. Entertainment. Courthouses could turn into profit centers by simply adding a few arcade games. Talk about a captive market. I’m sure, if you look up boredom in the dictionary, there’s a picture of a jury pool standing around waiting to be called. Had anyone considered the appeal of a petting zoo to ease the tedium? I was almost ready to give Esquire another stab when they lined us up and marched us into the courtroom. Finally, some action. Unfortunately, after explaining the judicial process and our important role in it, they returned us to the halls of boredom. I’m sure this is done to make whatever case they’re trying seem more interesting to the jury.

To pass the time, I wandered into an adjoining courtroom. I watched as the judge lifted restraining orders and gave defendants a choice between jail or anger management classes. I thought about the classes. Did they advise throwing paper plates instead of china? Was there a discussion of the strike zone when hitting your significant other with a bat? When throwing someone over the fifth floor balcony, should you make sure there’s a pool directly below? Worried that I’d miss my call to service, I returned to the halls to wait.

Later in the day, I slipped back into the same courtroom. This time, it was a completely different cast of characters. I discovered my seatmates were mostly criminals awaiting justice. My eyes lit on a group of seven dressed in bright orange county jumpsuits. Their arms and legs were shackled and they all wore the same beige sandals. I didn’t think the sandals went with the jumpsuits at all.

One of the defendants kept looking at me. He was a young, thin Hispanic guy with pencil line beard, short dark hair and olive complexion. He was mouthing something and used his handcuffed hands to add to the pantomime. I couldn’t decipher if he was speaking in Spanish or English, and the hand gestures only clouded the message. Perhaps he was asking if I brought the hacksaw. I wanted to signal something back, but thought I’d get busted for aiding and abetting. I turned away.

When I looked back, he was still trying to communicate with me. What could he possibly want? Perhaps, this was part of his insanity defense. As a juror, I’d have bought it. He really wanted me to know something. Was he unhappy about the sandals? Did jail food disagree with him? Were his cellmates snoring? I turned around to check the clock and discovered an older Hispanic woman, right behind me, mouthing and using hand signals too. Much as I was curious to be in on the conversation, I refrained from asking her for details. If they were planning to bust him out, things could get dicey. I returned to the waiting area outside the courtroom and thought about my new friend.

Another potential juror worked for Carnival cruise lines. It surprised me when he said business was booming. According to him, it’s cheaper to take the family on a cruise than to go to Disney World. Parents loved the way kids could be in a contained space while adults could slam back rum punches at the poolside bar. I asked if any of the kids ever fell overboard. He said no but that adults did. I thought it would take a good deal of effort to fall off an ocean liner. What could you possibly need to see leaning that far over the rail that was so compelling? The water looks the same against the ship’s hull as it does twenty yards away from it. One passenger fell in the water from eight floors up. After a pleasure boat ran over him, they rescued him as he clung to a buoy. Some people just refuse to die.

When we were finally back in the courtroom, the prosecution and defense did their best to agree on twelve of us. I worked on developing a facial tic. I’d forgotten to wear my, “Guilty until proven innocent” t-shirt. Many in the pool had novel excuses. “I’m a single parent and my child is scheduled for a brain transplant tomorrow.” Excused. “I’m supposed to appear in court on another matter tomorrow.” Two for two. They let me go after I mentioned my ride back to Mars would be leaving the following noon.

I left with a mixture of emotions. I’m sure release from prison feels similar. There’s elation at being, “on the outside” but regret at the loss of free room and board and friendships only found while sharing the same cell. At least felons are exempt from jury duty.

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Oh Canada

by on Feb.25, 2010, under Other

I’ve never had a problem with Canadians.  As a group, I find them nicer than many other nationalities I’ve run into.  Of course, there is the language barrier and I’m not sure television has made its way across the border, but they make up for it with their great cars.  I mean their beer.  I feel a certain kinship to our North American neighbors yet, I’m at a loss when it comes to one of their beloved pastimes, curling.  My cat, Zippie, and I recently watched the spectacle as it aired on the Olympics. 

In Canada, curling and hockey are viewed with the same passion many in the United States view baseball and football.  The problem with watching curling at the Olympics is the rules are a carefully guarded secret that NBC has contractually agreed not to disclose.  I love watching the sport.  It’s like trying to figure out cricket.  The playing pieces or “stones,” bear a striking resemblance to the kind of egg I’d expect to emanate from a granite dinosaur.  They slide and guide them down a small iced surface that looks like a cross between a shuffleboard court and hockey rink.

The main idea of the contest is to look cool as you launch the rock and then gaze at it lovingly while yelling HARD.  To look even cooler, it helps to scream REALLY HARD. Sometimes they do this by calling from the other end.  I think. They could throw a nine, which is their normal, or possibly make an intern drop.  It sickens me to encounter a rock that’s open by half to three quarters.  I wanted to see if the dropped intern would make a recovery or fall to her takeout weight.

The best part of the whole show is the sweepers and scrapers.  I’m sure that’s the wrong term for them but they are the action portion of this adventure.  Skittering down the ice looking at the stone they alternately lope along or scrape for all their worth. They have to keep an eye on their opponent’s stones and gingerly step around them.  Then, as if to counteract the play the offense just made, the other team jumps in at the end to do some sweeping and scraping of their own.  If they just joined forces, they’d have the ice cleared in no time.

The Canadian’s watching the event seemed wildly enthusiastic about it.  My cat, who knows a little about curling himself, took it all in and was unimpressed.     

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General Motors

by on Feb.13, 2010, under Essays

I judged a speaking contest last night.  Prior to the formal judging, the organizers served us a catered meal in the hospitality area.  As I scanned the full room for a place to sit, I spotted a chair next to an attractive 40ish woman.  She was blonde, perky, and had a pretty smile.  Sitting next to a stranger can be a wonderful opportunity to pin different personas on the line and see which one’s flap the most. Were it not for the better food and greater seat selection, I might have been on a plane.

Caris decided she was a Christian homemaker, originally from the Midwest, who regretted never pursuing a fashion design career in New York City.  I wondered if her parents were thinking of Paris when they named her.  Sort of a Midwestern twist on the City of Light.  She lived in Plant City.  I’ve never encountered anyone with that for a name.  I always thought it was an oxymoronic moniker for a city.  When I think of cities, I don’t think of plants.  I didn’t doubt that she lived there.  It just seemed like a long way from the Seventh Avenue fashion district in Manhattan.  Her excuse had something to do with her husband’s business.  He needed space for equipment.

The conversation drifted to what I did for a living.  I told her I ran General Motors.  I saw her eyebrows rise a fraction and a glint of increased interest wash over her face.  Perhaps I could help with a recalled vehicle or, better yet, get her a seat on the board.  She asked, “do you run it from here?”  “Here” I assumed meant the office I have in my home.  I explained that, thanks to modern technology, I didn’t need to be in Detroit that often.  Many Fortune 100 CEO’s run the companies from spare bedrooms in their homes.  I paused to let the gravity of my words sink in.  When they still seemed to be floating on the surface, I explained that I’m a pathological liar and didn’t even own a car.  I watched as her pretty smile careened off her face.  How I wished she’d told me she was the Queen of Sheba or even Sweden.  I’m sure I could’ve gotten her a deal on a Saab.

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Email Thread-Fan Mail (I think)

by on Feb.11, 2010, under Other

Don’t ever be afraid to say how you feel about my work.  These emails arrived before my blog was set up.  You, my close personal friend,  can leave thoughts right in the comment sections on these pages.  It’s a snap.  All replies are welcome and appreciated.

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Hire Education

by on Feb.07, 2010, under Essays

I noticed my educational opportunities had diminished in recent years and considered ways to correct the problem.  I thought about studying medical school billing but I hate paperwork.  Massage school had some appeal except I knew, eventually, I’d have to stop getting them and start rubbing my classmates. 

Medical school seemed like an excellent option except for two minor points.  Well, three.  I hate blood.  I don’t know what it is about the sight of someone’s brains splattered all over a gurney but I’ve always shied away from such things.  Two, I don’t fit the profile for medical school admissions.  I suppose I could lie about being close to retirement age.  Those convictions for racketeering and influence peddling?  They could be a plus if I got into hospital administration.  The big problem I have with a career in medicine is the paperwork.  I might as well be in medical billing. 

What other new and exciting possibilities were there?  Shepherding?  Yeah right.  Try getting in to one of their schools.  What area of learning would accept someone with my obvious deficiencies and allow me to gain some sense of purpose late in life?  After searching my soul and asking for inspiration from my letter carrier, it came to me.  Driving school.  What an opportunity to get back in the academic saddle.  I imagined firing up those atrophied brain cells and connecting with others like myself interested in advancing their educations. 

I hadn’t given driving schools much thought until I started hearing from them in the mail.  Much like my daughter’s many interested colleges, these schools were looking for students just like me.  Unlike the solicitations sent to my daughter, I’d never heard of the schools contacting me.  It had been a while since my student days and, perhaps this was academia’s new breed.  They had names like Iwannasavepointsonmyinsurance.com and safedriversrus.com.

I sensed the chance to build some lifelong friendships and wondered if financial aid was available.  Thirty dollars isn’t that much money but every penny counts.  I hoped I might qualify for either the aid or a scholarship.  I considered their online learning center but how would I get to know any of my classmates that way? 

I worried how much I’d learn about driving in four hours.  What kind of campus would there be?  I thought any selective school would have a wide assortment of arcade driving games where I could refine my skills.  Besides my fellow classmates, I wondered about my professors.  Would they be ivy-tower types or corporate bigwigs adding an impressive notch to their resume belt?  Is bringing an apple passé?  How competitive was their athletic program?  I always wanted to try fencing. 

After reviewing the many postcard options, it came down to what you’d expect.  The package.  Without grant money, it was difficult to justify the higher priced schools.  Eight or nine dollars, while not much monetarily, represents a significant percentage to save.  Location was important too.  Did I want to attend a school up north or closer to home?  What kind of meal plans did they offer?  What about used textbooks?

I called my first choice and, instead of reaching their admissions department, they prompted me to select from one of the following options:

          Press One for Basic Driver Improvement Class

          Press Two for Defensive Driving class to satisfy a ticket or court order

          Press Three for bail money

          Press Four to repeat these options or to hear them in Sanskrit

I merely wanted to verify the school’s address but the Sanskrit option spoke to me.  I pressed four.  Suddenly, I couldn’t understand a word they were saying and started randomly pressing other numbers, hoping to return to English.  I never dialed the right combination and, after twenty minutes, hung up.  I hoped I hadn’t made a bad first impression. 

To my amazement, someone from the school called me back.  Here was my chance to redeem myself.  I didn’t want to be forced to attend my fallback school.  A Peruvian woman confirmed the address and told me I’d been accepted.  No standardized test.  No costly application fee.  No essay or teacher recommendations.  I was in.  They didn’t offer financial aid but, since this was my first choice, I felt compelled to enroll. 

Think back to your first day of school.  New shoes, new clothes, and writing instruments.  Remember how scared you were climbing onto the bus for the first time?  Letting go of your mother’s hand and waving goodbye to those days of innocence.  What would my driving school professor be like?  Would I know any of the other students?  I was so excited, I lost track of the time.  I had to speed to get to campus for my six o’clock class.  What was more important, bending the traffic laws a little or getting to school on time for the first day of class? 

I looked for the campus.  Keiser University?  That’s not it.  Kiddie Country Achievement Center?  I wish.  There had to be an ivy-walled castle of learning just ahead.  Imagine my surprise when I missed the school completely as I drove by.  I circled around and took another stab at finding it.  I discovered it in the back of a small plaza with Betty’s Bail Bond, The Racer’s Edge Pub and Dominos in the front.  What a perfect location. 

Once in the main administration building Rick, the Dean of the school, greeted me.  He was also my professor.  I discreetly left him an apple.  Only one student preceded me in the registration line.  Barbara.  She worked as a hydrologist, had a boyfriend for three weeks but would consider trading up.  She seemed earnest about finding ways to keep her truck from rolling through stop signs. 

Rick was a smoker.  That was a good sign.  I knew there would be frequent breaks to help keep my mind sharp.  I gave him my license information and ticket number.  These tickets are hard to come by.  Mine was for doing sixty-nine in a forty-five zone.  Well, I was going downhill.  When I entered the classroom, I was disappointed to find only two other students besides Barbara.  Mike was an Egyptian management consultant nabbed for going fifteen over the limit.  He said this was his first offense and he was just helping a sick friend.  With lines like that, I could see how he’d do well as a consultant.  Ramon was a short Hispanic guy from Michigan via New Jersey.  He drove a semi and got caught going too fast.  That was my class.  Except for Barbara, I couldn’t imagine any of my classmates joining me for fencing.

Our professor was a regular guy.  Before he got into the driving school business, he was a retired air force pilot.  He liked going fast too.  He said he’d driven his ‘67 Shelby Mustang 165mph.  I felt honored to be learning from such a speed merchant.  The stories Rick told were the best part of class.  We might as easily have been sitting around a campfire as a dry erase board. 

To illustrate the dangers of unsecured items flying around in a crash, our professor told of one man whose ballpoint pen lodged in his carotid artery.  Rick said, “He bled out in three minutes.”  Perhaps he was a forger getting karmic payback.  You know your time is up when a ballpoint pen does you in.  Then there was the infant with her head severed by the “Baby on Board” sign.  Wow.  Sometimes, you just can’t win. 

I loved the story of the woman who refused to pay for tolls.  She’d rung up $115 worth and showed no sign of slowing down.  She told the judge she wouldn’t pay the tolls.  He gave her a week in jail.  She told him she didn’t care and still wouldn’t pay.  That’s the ticket.  You go girl.  Who is he to tell you what to do?  After hearing her refuse again, he gave her a month in the clink.  Apparently, jail didn’t agree with her because, after that, she seemed fine with the whole toll paying concept.

I learned a lot about Blood Alcohol Content.  It’s hard to believe police have been tipped off by drivers hugging one side of the lane or driving slowly with their brake lights on.  Reaction time amazed me too.  While DUI offenders react three times slower than normal drivers, cell phone users are much slower than the tipplers.  I hoped Florida would adopt California’s innovative approach to deterring drunk driving.  After the first offense, they crush your car and drop the metal cube in your driveway.  I think they let the driver hop out first.

Despite my disappointment with some aspects of school, like their athletic program, others more than exceeded my expectations.  By the end of the four hours, I felt a real connection with my professor and classmates.  We had a brief graduation ceremony, which made me swell with pride.  I did get two beautiful documents, on a high quality velum, commemorating my academic achievement.  Sadly, the original needed to be sent to the Clerk of Court.  Things went so well we all decided to knock back a few drinks at the bar next door before heading home.  I’m looking forward to future class reunions.

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