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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pepper Spray

It was salsa day. My wife and mother-in-law were making batches of homemade salsa. I walked in on the middle of the process and saw pots boiling on the stove and my wife in rubber gloves with a knife. If I didn’t know it was salsa day, I might of thought I had walked in on a meth cooking operation ala Breaking Bad. My knife-wielding wife was cutting jalapenos. She suddenly screamed when some jalapeno juice squirted her in the eye. Being the gallant guy that I am, I suggested protective eye-ware. She glared at me with one eye. I then offered to cut the peppers for her.

The salsa chefs warned me that I should wear the rubber gloves. “The peppers will burn your hands. The pepper juice will stay on your hands and you will get it in your eyes and face.” They explained. I had diced and cut many a spicy pepper in my life. I had lived in Asia and chopped many fresh peppers. I scoffed at their cautions. Do cooks and families in Mexico wear rubber gloves when working with jalapenos? Of course not, I thought. I quickly worked my through the jalapeno peppers without any problems. I gloated a little to myself. I also gloated a little to everyone else. I did have eye protection in the form of my glasses. I had been wearing my glasses instead of contacts for several days while I recovered from an eye infection.

The pungent smell of the jalapenos pierced the air. I decided to wash my hands thoroughly after the chopping. A tiny part of my brain mentioned that washing with water might not be effective since drinking water when eating jalapenos can make the burning worse. I scoffed at that tiny part of my brain. What was I going to do wash my hands with milk? The thought to research methods of removing jalapeno juice from your hands via Google or Pinterest quickly crossed my mind, but that seemed like too much trouble.

Two hours after the jalapeno preparation my wife and I were at home. I decided my eye was better enough for contacts. I put my left contact in. The pain only came as my eye began to water. My eye was not merely burning. It was melting. I screamed like an injured cartoon character and went down on my knees. I scrambled to get the contact out of my eye. I could barely manage to keep my eye open. The tears streaming from my eye were toxic. I somehow managed to contaminate my other eye. I began screaming some more. My wife had stopped laughing by the time I had mostly stripped down and was making my way to the shower with my eyes closed. My eighteen-month old daughter would scream every time I screamed and then laugh. The sarcasm is strong with that one.

I feel I must make clear that the pain was horrible. Burning is the common description of jalapeno in the eye. It was more than just burning. Think of a time when your eyes have been fully adjusted to pitch-blackness. Then remember how sudden exposure to light made it impossible to fully open your eyes. Next think of the worst sunburn pain you have ever had. Think of the pain and the simultaneous itching. Now think of your eyes suddenly adjusting to bright light, but your eyeballs are sunburned, and someone is poking your retina with a toothpick and your tears are actually acid. That is what self-inflicted jalapeno pepper-spray to the eyes feels like.

The water in the shower did not help. My wife gave me some dawn dish soap. She told me to wash my hands with it, but to keep it away from my eyes. I lathered myself in the dawn dish soap. The areas around my eyes felt like they were peeling away from my face. I slapped some of the dawn on them and it immediately soothed the irritated areas. After several minutes I was able to keep my eyes open. Upon exiting the shower my wife looked at my eyes laughed, and took a picture. I decided not to put contacts in that day.

The entire reason I was at home putting my contacts in was to prepare to go for a walk with my sweetheart. It was a gorgeous day. I managed to make it outside for a walk even in my condition. It turns out one of the side effects of accidental self inflicted jalapeno pepper spray to the eyes is lingering sunlight sensitivity. I felt like my eyes had been dilated.

It turns out cooks and families in Mexico do use gloves, and other protective measures, when working with jalapenos. I learned two valuable lessons from the pepper spray incident. Whenever you think you should probably Google something, do it. Never question cautions from your wife and mother-in-law. The results are painful.
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Monday, October 22, 2012

Notes on a College Football Game

North end zone at Oregon State University's Reser Stadium

My wife and were the lucky recipients of free tickets to Saturday’s Oregon State Beavers football game. The surprisingly undefeated Beavers played a Utah Ute team in the middle of a rebuilding year. We had fantastic seats in the north end zone of Reser Stadium. Neither my wife nor I had been to a college football game since we were in college. We are not attached to either school. We rooted for the Beavers since they were local and it was a home game. That seemed the safest course.

The crowd was electric. 45,000 people filled the stadium. Our section, as was the case with most of the stadium, was sold out. The game was a night game and was broadcast on ESPN2. Night games are wonderful because the drinking does not have to stop early in the afternoon, but can cruise along until early evening. The Beavers won and started a season 6-0 for the first time in since 1907. They are ranked as the 7th best team in the country in the latest BCS standings.[1]

The game was scheduled to be a “black out”. This means everyone was supposed to wear black in support of the team. In answer to the young lightly inebriated attendee in section 18 row 5 seat 5, we in fact did not get the “memo” about the black out. We were lucky we had Beaver gear around the house as it was. We now understand that gray is not the same as black. In the event we go again, we will do better. Our apologies.

I have made some notes for some of my other fellow game attendees. My hope is that these notes will prove useful in the future, not just at games, but also in life.

Section 18 row 5 seats 1-4

1.    All of the people wearing pink ribbons, carrying pink thunder sticks, and sporting pink gloves (including several players), were not trying to stand out during a black out, they were supporting the night’s breast cancer awareness theme.

2.    When a breast cancer survivor is introduced before the game, it is not only unseemly to boo and heckle her (I couldn’t make this up), but also likely to cause some horrible karmatic consequences. I am just saying you might want to get prostate exams soon.

3.    I share your dislike of candy corn and laffy-taffy. I feel some solidarity with you. I don’t know why you needed to loudly proclaim your hatred of these most awful of all Halloween candies, (okay I do know why, you smelled like a joint set to soak overnight in a Budweiser bottle), but throwing candy corns at lower sections is bad idea, especially when drunk or high. You might get thrown out, or beaten down by someone drunker or higher than you.

4.    The reason Mike Riley punts the ball on fourth down is because he is a good coach. Oregon State pays him $1.7 million to know when to punt and when to go for it on fourth down. I realize it almost always works on your Xbox, but I am guessing you do not get paid $1.7 million to play Xbox.  Lastly, Mike Riley is also the winningest coach in Oregon State history, (not that there is a ton of competition).

Section 17 row 2 seat 24

1.    You were sporting all the right gear for a football game on a pirate ship.

2.    You seemed familiar to me, but I couldn’t place you until Utah scored a touchdown and you stood up and began spewing epithets and profanities at the hapless Utah fans sitting ten rows above you, threatening them with halftime violence. I then realized I recognized you from Oakland Raider games.

3.    Seriously, I would get your blood pressure checked. Your team won, in fact they led the whole way.

4.    I am scared of you.

Young Couple in Section 18 row 4

1.    Please go to the bathroom and get your food before the game starts, at the quarter or at the half. Please. It’s not so much that your constant in and out forced most of the row to repeatedly stand up and miss parts of the game, it’s that I am too old to repeatedly get up and down on the metal bleachers. Seriously, it’s a lot of work for a fatty.

Qdoba Vendor

1.    You were awesome. The food was delicious, the service was quick, and the order was 100% correct. Please come manage every fast food joint in Oregon.

Section 18 cheering a late Beaver
touchdown to seal the game
The game was fun. The score was close most of the way. The game is not destined to become one of the all time classics. Both offenses played poorly. This being Oregon in October, it did rain for a portion of the game. It was awesome to see a stadium of people wait until the rain turned into a downpour before all simultaneously putting their raingear on. The excitement of 45,000 people all focused on the same thing is invigorating. The game may be easier to see on television. The food at home may be cheaper and better (although the Qdoba chips and queso are heavenly), but there is nothing like going to a live sporting event. There seems to be so little that pulls us together in our communities anymore. We have so few rituals, so little in common socially or politically. However, 45, 000 people, a good-sized town, can get together and cheer on their football team to another win, in unison. The minor dissent from the community, the handful of Ute fans, were even part of the pageantry. Their respectful cheering for their team’s few highlights was largely tolerated. Except for the Ute fans in section 17, you should just be quiet; seriously it’s a safety issue.

[1] The BCS stands for Bowl Championship Series. It is a money-seeking cartel, with little interest in determining which is the best college football team in the country is. They exist to make money for their member schools and conferences.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Missing Twenty-Five Minutes

My freshman year at college I suffered a mysterious loss. One bright winter day I lost twenty-five minutes of my life.

I was in school at Ricks College. The school has been swallowed up and is now Brigham Young University Idaho, or BYU-I. Ricks was the dominant feature of Rexburg, what was then a small town in southeastern Idaho. The fall there is a brief interlude between the splendor of summer and the withering of winter. The winters are typically harsh, cold and gray. The snow was late that year. My best friend, Chip, and I were from California. We were rooming together. We used some of our food money to buy plastic discs to go sledding on in eager anticipation of the snow. The first Saturday there was snow on the ground, we took our plastic discs up to a hill behind the science building and enjoyed the winter wonderland. It was early December. We had been sledding for over an hour. We decided to make one last run. I decided to go down on my stomach. We had made a great track by then, the snow was nice and compacted. Winter Olympic luge course creators would have been envious. I don’t remember if Chip went down first or second. I just remember my exhilaration at the wind rushing past suddenly ending when my face abruptly stopped on a rock.

I did not loose consciousness. I did have a monster headache. Chip came over to me asked if I was okay. “Yeah, except my face hit that rock.” I replied coolly.

“Dude, you’re bleeding a bit.” He noticed. “Crap, is that your tooth?” He bent over and picked up my tooth. “Man, you’re bleeding a lot. Let’s go somewhere.” He added.

We picked up our discs of death and walked to the nearby women’s dorms. We walked because my friend’s 1968 fire engine red Volkswagen Bus did not operate in below freezing temperatures. We went to the women’s dorms because I was conscious and why would we go to the men’s dorms? “I think Jen’s roommate is studying to be an EMT, let’s go there.” My friend suggested.

My head was starting to really hurt. I no longer cared where we were going. No one was at Jen’s place, but their neighbors and our friends, Sarah and Sarah, were home. Somebody gave me an ice pack and I reclined on their couch. Chip started going through the phone book looking for a dentist open on Saturday to fix my tooth. Jen’s roommate who was studying to be an EMT happened by. ‘Hit his head, huh? He should probably just go to sleep.” She said. I sat up, “I think that’s the last thing you are supposed to do with a severe head trauma.” Is what I thought I said, but through the ice pack, it was an unintelligible ramble. “Maybe he should go to the hospital.” The pre-EMT suggested.

That seemed like a great idea. Chip and I walked down the hill from the dorms to our apartment and borrowed a roommate’s friend’s car. Chip took me to the hospital. I received eleven stiches and some ibuprofen. I also received the important advice to keep my tooth on ice and get to a dentist as soon as possible; the tooth could still be saved. That was Saturday.

There were six of us living in the apartment. Parker and James were in one room.[1]Chip and I were in the second room. The last bedroom housed Drake and Raymond. Chip and I had also roomed with Raymond that summer. He was nice enough. He was the tallest guy in the apartment, and was the tallest guy most places he went. He was from a no stoplight town a couple of hours away. He played eight- man football in high school, and was a complete slob. You could follow Raymond’s trail around the apartment. His backpack would be open by the door with books on integrated circuits spilling out. A jacket would be by the arm of the couch. On the couch a section or two of the newspaper would be spread out. On the floor by the chair would be the sport’s section and a light blue pitcher sized cup with a little bit of milk still in the bottom. Raymond had not cleaned up anything all semester.

I wrapped my tooth in a wet paper towel, placed the bundle in a zip lock bag, and set the bag in the refrigerator upon getting home late Saturday afternoon. I entertained my roommates with the story of my manly stupidity and went to bed early. Sunday I called my parents to explain that I might need some money for dental work. It went better than I thought.

Monday I called and got an appointment for Wednesday of that week. By Tuesday, all of the snow had melted and several days of unseasonable sunshine followed. When Wednesday arrived I came home from class and opened the fridge to get my tooth out. It was gone. I became a little unhinged. I asked my roommates if they had seen my tooth. Most of them said “no” or isn’t it in the fridge”. Raymond simply asked what did it look like. I explained it was wrapped in a wet paper towel in a plastic bag in the fridge. He was quiet for a moment. “I didn’t know it was your tooth.” He admitted.

I was confused. “Whose tooth did you think it was? What happened to it, you didn’t eat it did you?” I demanded.

“No, I cleaned out the fridge. I didn’t know what it was so I threw it away.” Raymond said defensively.

I became completely unhinged. The one time the man cleans he throws away part of my body? I ran to the kitchen garbage only to hear Raymond yell, “I took the trash out too.”

Like a bad sitcom, I ran to the front door to run over to the parking lot dumpster only to watch in horror as the garbage truck poured its contents into the back of the truck.

I was out of time. I left to go to my appointment. The dentist said he could save my tooth if I still had it. I told him my roommate had thrown it away. He explained my options and gave me a price sheet. I would have to talk to my parents before I got any work done. I left the dentist’s office. I looked at my indiglo Timex watch with a green leather (okay pleather) wristband; it was 3:30 exactly. I looked down at my watch again and it was 3:55. I looked up and I was at a downtown street corner. I did not remember anything of the past twenty-five minutes. I had no idea how I got to where I was.

I found the missing time unsettling. I told my roommates about it. We came up with several theories. I was distracted. I was in shock. I was in mourning over my lost tooth. (I should mention I had not even had a cavity at that point in my life). I was making it up. I had a concussion. I had committed some heinous crime and had blocked out the entire incident. Another related theory, I had been witness to a heinous crime and blocked out the entire incident. Aliens had abducted me.

I rejected the shock and trauma theories out of hand. I checked the records and no heinous crimes were reported in Rexburg on or around my incident. I had no concussion symptoms. I couldn’t rule out the alien abduction theory completely.

My own research at the school library, the World Wide Web was still in it’s earliest stages of usefulness, gave one last theory. I had suffered a fugue episode. Fugues are a poorly understood psychological phenomenon where the identity part of the brain shuts off or goes to sleep while the rest remains conscious. It can produce an amnesia effect. Some people have had episodes of fugues lasting years, before they “woke up”. I may have been lucky that mine was only twenty-five minutes. I initially personally prescribed to the fugue theory.

Eventually, I started to disbelieve the fugue theory entirely. Fugues seem to be byproducts of brains coping with some type of physical or emotional trauma. I came to suspect I had been taken.

I was a victim of alien abduction. The fact that I was only gone twenty-five minutes leads to some inescapable conclusions. These beings were not masters of the time continuum; otherwise no time at all would have passed for me. My abductors were not malicious, as I suffered no physical effects. The most depressing conclusion of all is that I was not an interesting specimen. The advanced representatives of a far off world captured me and then tossed me back like a too tiny trout, or a salmon with a clipped fin. I was not fit for study. I guess I am lucky that I am so boring. Still, I have a feeling there will come a time when I could really use that twenty-five minutes back.

[1] I have changed the names to protect the privacy of my roommates.
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Matt and My Oakland A's

The Oakland Athletics secured a playoff spot for the first time since 2006 in their victory over the Texas Rangers last night. They still have a chance to win the division, but are guaranteed to make the playoffs as at least a wild card team. The A’s are unlikely winners. They are a team of rookies, unknown journeymen, and has-beens. They also have one Cuban defector and at least one doper.[1] When the roster took shape at the beginning of the year, I knew they had no hope of reaching the playoffs. I was confident of this, even though a rule change was allowing a second wild card team into the playoffs for the first time. I am excited to watch them in the post-season. I am also confident they will loose in dramatic heart breaking fashion. I also wish I could commiserate about our team’s eventual demise with Matt.

Matt died almost four years ago. He was my brother-in-law. It is customary to not only eulogize the deceased, but to lionize them as well. Matt was complicated. That’s a euphemism for he could be a jackass.  Matt would also drop anything to go help a friend. Matt died ignominiously. Matt was an alcoholic. Matt loved the Oakland A’s. He loved them more than I did, than I do.

Matt and I were never especially close. I thought he could be hilarious and charming. I also thought he could be rude and inappropriate. Matt was never boring. We lived relatively close and saw each other a lot. Matt made a real effort to try and make me feel uncomfortable. It didn’t bother me. When I married, one inroad I had with my new extended family was sports. We rooted for most of the same teams, Bay Area teams, but most of all the Oakland A’s.

 My wife had four brothers, three older, one younger. In a manner unique to males of our species, we could grow closer together in a room watching the A’s play and only speak ten words to each other the entire game. Matt and I both read Moneyball. We debated whether Brad Pitt, Billy Beane, was able to build a team that could win the World Series, or were destined to just be good enough to get to the playoffs. All of my brothers-in-law rooted for the A’s, but Matt was always the head cheerleader. His enthusiasm mixed with, but untempered by, cynical realism, was charismatic.

We were watching the A’s play the Yankees in the 2001 American League Division Series. The A’s had a good team. They were close to being a great team. The A’s had a commanding two games to none lead over the hated Yankees. That was the year Derek Jeter miraculously flipped the ball to Jorge Posada who tagged out Jeremy Giambi at the plate because Jeremy Giambi failed to slide. Some fans are convinced that Giambi was safe anyway. When Matt saw Jeremy Giambi run in, he was screaming obscenities at the television, at Giambi, and at Derek Jeter. He got up threw a throw pillow across the room is disgust and stormed out. He came back a few minutes later. He said, “The series is over” as he sat back down. He was right. The A’s never recovered, they lost that game and the next two, their season ended.

The A’s have not performed well in the playoffs in the past twenty years. Even when they have won a series, they have failed to look impressive. But the A’s are fun to root for because they should be even worse. They spend little on payroll comparatively, have a horrible baseball stadium, and compete for eyeballs in a part of the country that is decidedly not sports obsessed. The weather is too nice and there is too much to do to spend all of one’s time worrying about the 132nd pick in the amateur draft as sports fans in the northeast do.

2006 was the last year the A’s made the playoffs; Matt was in the middle of a downward spiral that would eventually lead to his death. None of his loved ones had any idea how the last two years of his life would play out. Matt thought the A’s had a punchers chance that year because they avoided the Yankees in the first round. The A’s swept the Twins and the Yankees lost to the Tigers. A World Series appearance seemed possible. The Tigers destroyed the A’s in four games in the American League Championship Series.

Matt died in October 2008, the end of the baseball season. We mourned. His life ended when it shouldn’t have even been half over. Before life could return to any type of normal, Kevin, Matt’s older brother died in early December. We mourned more. I was the last one at both burials, making sure that all was done orderly and respectfully. It was the least I could do for the living loved ones. That winter was interminable. The pain for the men’s parents, my mother and father-in-law never heals, how could it? They only become better able to bare it.

I am still not sure how I feel about their deaths, or the lives they led. I probably will never fully come to grips with any number of complicated family, religious, and emotional dynamics surrounding their deaths. Most days, most weeks, most months, I don’t think about Kevin or Matt.  My life is busy and I am complicated.

Last night I thought of Matt. I thought of how happy he would have been that the A’s made the playoffs. I found out the A’s had won from my phone, from a news app, but not from a semi-obscene text from Matt. I believe Matt’s soul still exists, and I hope that he has found some measure of peace that eluded him here. I also hope he gets to watch baseball. We both know the A’s are first round cannon fodder for sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to watch and yell at the television because our team is finally back in the playoffs.  Baseball doesn’t offer peace, but offers a nice distraction to the weary soul.

[1] Bartolo Colon at age 39 was enjoying resurgence. He was putting up numbers like he had earlier ten years earlier. He was given a 50 game suspension when his bloodstream was found to contain elevated levels of testosterone. 
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