I often share overly personal information about my family on Mostly Teachable, but neglect to share some of the honest to goodness details of my happy life here in the wilds of Southern Michigan. This year I plan to post my photo collection from each Week That Was. To kick off 2013, I thought I’d go back into my vault and share some of what turned out be a really nice 2012. Here are some of the pictures from the last 12 months:
Hi. My name is Andy. Its been three years, one month and twenty-seven days since I had my last Coke. For much of the first year after quitting I dreamed at night about cola. Sweet, slightly bitter, ultra-acidic, always effervescent drinks that formed rivers I’d floated down for more than thirty-five years. Even though Coca-Cola, and it’s caramel colored wannabe beverage companions made me violently ill, I still craved them. With a ravenous thirst, I longed to rip off their tops and ravage the sugary goodness out of them. I only quit, because getting sick on soda and pouring out waves of black, syrupy acid nightly was no way to live. Sometimes, I pass those slender hipped Coke bottles and think “I could have my way with you…” only to remember that they’d just make me barf. Too torrid a relationship to continue, and my teeth hurt just thinking about it.
I like those advertisements for Coke in which pontificating morons stand atop a hill proclaiming the virtues of world peace through the gift of Coca-Cola. The sentiment of those commercials is beautiful. “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” What a truly inspiring, unselfish thought. In the original ad, the singers tagged the end of the commercial with “Coca-Cola: It’s The Real Thing.” I sure hope it is. If you give people The Fake Thing, they’re likely to smash the daylights out of each other with pop bottles. Imagine if the Coke Singers had offered the world an RC Cola. Riots would have broken out. Sometimes, I hum the old, beautiful sentiment of “I’d like to teach the world to sing…” to myself and dream about the old days when I’d guzzle two liter bottles of that garbage and go run around (and around and around) the block. Then I make sure to and read the truth, such as this letter to the UK Guardian:
Oh naive you! Commercial caramel has only a distant connection with the traditional bitter-sweet tasting stuff made from burnt sugar. Caramel constitutes about 80% of all food colouring, and there are four different types of commercial caramel,depending on use e.g. beer, soft drinks, soy sauce, gravy, pet foods etc. The type in fizzy drinks is type 4, which has to be acid resistant. It is also known as sulphite ammonia or soft drink caramel, acid proof caramel, SAC caramel or SD caramel. It is made with ammonium and sulphite compounds, and is a product of the chemical industry, not grandma’s kitchen.It is made basically from various carbohydrates (which can be types of sugar like fructose etc), heat-treated with the addition of ammonium compounds namely hydroxide, carbonate, bicarbonate, phosphate, sulphate, sulphfite and bisulphite. The sulphite compounds are sulphurous acid, and potassium, sodium and ammonium sulphites and bisulphites. The compounds that can be used for all four types of caramel color are sulphuric and citric acid, and sodium, potassium and calcium hydroxide. Dr A Eames-Jones, Stotfold, Hitchin UK
I’d like to buy the world some type 4 sulphite ammonia and keep it company. It’s the real thing. At least until the soft drink companies invent a low caloric, non-headache inducing soda that doesn’t contain the same ingredients as a North Korean missile.
Each day I write my blog, but sometimes I forget about it. There are times when I need to be reminded that the writing is fun and can be taken away as easily it was started. Last night was an old school migraine night. One of those nights when I couldn’t possibly write a blog post. I couldn’t write a check to the Grim Reaper so that he’d take me away. At one point during the evening I got off of my face and out of the bed long enough to say something to my wife. She was watching American Idol, which apparently is a program about Nikki Minaj. The Minaj Mahol was telling some hapless singer about her waffle eating habits. Nikki wasn’t just drunk, she was f-unk. The migraine, along with AI, pierced my eyeballs and sent me back between tossing my own waffles and the bed.
Somewhere in the early hours of morning, long about two o’clock in the morning, I woke up with slightly less of a headache. The headache was momentarily kicking my butt rather than my head (although, they’re eerily similar). The first thing I thought about was writing this weird little blog. Then I fell back asleep. When I got up for the day, the thought of putting some electronic ink down was still with me, though. I kind of missed putting the blog together on a day when I couldn’t do it. Making up Mostly Teachable as I go along is cathartic. Writing the blog is a way of scribbling out the good and bad events of each day and making sense out of them. Sometimes the blog works, many times it doesn’t. Quality and quantity are beside the point. Writing is fun for me, because it’s a way of sorting out life. Nasty migraines, obnoxious reality singing show judges and the rest of life.
I take medication. Pretty, palish pink capsules full of peace and harmony. Combined with the tan pills that keep the headaches away, I am the picture of dullness. A real boy filled with artificial joy. Not that these things are bad. Taking medications that defend my body and mind against the puking from blinding migraines and the behavior caused by torrid emotional states is beneficial. There are limits, however, to the miracles of pharmaceutical science. For instance, these same magic beans of sanity cause me to be remarkably slow. Remarkably slow is demonstratively slower than plain, old slow. I find myself staring at random objects and people in a dull-witted, ponderous way. I’m happy, though. Happy and slow. Slow and happy.
Each new morning is a race against slowness. I awake and find myself not really bounding out of bed and over the laundry pile anymore. I wander the house in search of something. Maybe it’s the brown no-mo-headache pill, maybe it’s coffee. I feel like I’m living in the David Byrne school of dissonant reality.
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
At work, the whole dullness aspect of my personality is paying off. The more I stare at my computer blankly, the more it looks like I’m controlling it with my mind. Co-workers wonder how I got the IT department to give me one of Dell’s new hands-free, mind controlled p.c.’s. This arrangement works out until I topple over onto the keyboard or just get out of my chair and wander off. At church, the slowness is equally mystifying, because it looks like I’m deep in trance-like prayer. Every once in a while, I’ll come to my senses and yell “Abawootchie”* or a hearty “Be healed!” and everybody will just nod. That’s what mid-western church folks do. They behave politely and nod at everything they don’t understand. So, if you ever meet me, just nod. That way, I’ll realize that I’m acting slow, or dull, and try to speed up my body and mind.
*I saw this in a TV movie once. Apparently, Elvis was cheating on Priscilla Presley with this groupie and he’d shout “Abawootchie!” every once in a while, because that’s what they did in his church growing up. Now if your messing around on your wife and still talking about church, you must either be Elvis, or just taking a combination of pink and brown medications.*
I’ve never been a drug user. The strongest thing I imbibed regularly was Pepsi. Last year my neurologist (what a weird thing to be able to refer to a neurologist as one’s own. “Oh, yeah. That’s my brain guy. We’re tight”) prescribed a migraine preventative drug that took me on a wicked trip. The medication really didn’t impact the frequency or severity of headaches I experienced, but I was too tripped out to notice. I started to have dreams. The dreams started out in a good place. Walmart, actually. For two months I spent each night in a series of dreams I named “Celebrity Walmart Trip.” Each night, I’d stroll the isles of our local super-store with a famous person. Night one was Walmart with Kenny Rogers (the former Tiger’s pitcher, not The Gambler). I asked about what was on his hand during the ’06 World Series. The next night featured quality shopping with William Shatner. He didn’t appreciate being called “Shat” or the fact that I giggled every time I said the word “Shat.” After a month or so, the dreams became markedly weirder. The former Captain Kirk’s head burst into flames on a subsequent somnambulist Walmart visit and the fire consumed me. Fire became a recurring theme in these medication side effect night terrors. I’d be lulled into a conversation with some woman in a bar that could only exist in my dreams (because I like Pepsi) only to be consumed by her hell fire. At least I wouldn’t have to call those women back. Dragons, murderous chickens and devil women gave way after a few months to a sort of garbled terror montage. I stopped the medication eventually and went back to the safety of just living with headaches until another doctor prescribed me some well-behaved, sleep-flame retardant drugs.
A year later, I am having calm dreams of great beauty. I’ve tried to look up their meaning on popular internet dream databases only to find that every dream somehow means that I have a fear of sexual relationships with clowns. The thing that I like about my calm, reassuring dreams is that everyone I’ve ever known comes by for a visit at some point. A nightly talk show of the mind. Sometimes pianos mysteriously fall on friends, but I’d hate to look up the meaning of that on the internet for fear that it goes back to clowns. My dreams have evolved since I was a teenager when all they ever contained was Phoebe Cates or a Camaro. If those dreams ever return, I’ll invite her to the nightly talk show and keep an eye on the sky for pianos.
Wednesday was a toothpaste pilgrimage day. Several times a year I drive south to a hippie cult health food barn to stock up on dental care products. This has been a ritual brought on by ever-present migraines and the fact that I’m slightly fascinated by the sandal wearing socialists and their sundries. As an uptight, wound up, darkness dweller, it’s often fun to enjoy the sunshine and laid back atmosphere at the health food village. There’s that, and the fun of playing “name the unusual smell” every time I visit.
The two lane highway running between the sleepy hamlet where I purchase my toothpaste and home was unusually jammed with bumper to bumper traffic on this particular trip and my ancient Honda sputtered along in a sort of overheated Conga. At first I thought maybe there was a sale on Boone’s Farm wine at the food barn. As I drove just up to other motorists bumpers and then slammed on the brakes (repeatedly), I noticed the reason for the slow pace. Yard sales. On both sides of the road along the entire fifteen mile stretch was the world’s longest folding table sale. There were O.P.T.’s as far as the eye could see. Other People’s Treasures. Yard sales are an amazing sub-economy all their own. We take the stuff out of our houses that is too ugly or unworthy to keep around and sell it to strangers. These strangers then put their own ugly wares out on the lawn and sell it to the same folks who bought their treasures. Baby clothes with spit-up stains are not really that much of a marketable item. Spit-up onesies that have a masking tape sticker announcing they can be had for .10¢? Now, they’re an awesome deal. Some of the yard sales I went by were literally just yard sales. The savvy seller doesn’t need a house. Just an unmowed patch along a country road and a place to set the goodies out. One of the yard-less yard sales was actually my favorite. Had I not spent my money on eight months worth of hippie toothpaste, I’d have bought the toaster that makes toast in the shape of toast. Would the toaster work? Even if it didn’t, that’s .10¢ worth of awesome chrome paperweight.
A few months ago I was lamely explaining my reasons for abandoning the daily running program that had become a cornerstone of my life. The whole argument came down to barfing. Professionals turn their noses up at the term barf, seeming to prefer the more tasteful notes in the word puke, or that classic of the ancient world vomit. I, however, was spending all my free time (and many of my scheduled moments) barfing. The doctor was trying to establish how much I was “really” running. The answer was not at all, real, or otherwise. Barfing had me on a fitness program of its own, and that was about as real as things got.
I got off the barfy train a month ago thanks to medications that may kill me (but will keep my stomach contents in place) and began the task of rebuilding the runner’s body. This is not an easy gig. The inverse of living as Andrew and His Technicolor Dinner Re-runs, was that I had to eat to make up the lost energy. My body began to take on the look of Jabba jr. The way back to the solid, strong (and mercifully silent when outdoors) runner I used to be meant becoming a walker. Jabba the Shuffler is slowly being replaced by something better than the old upchuck marathoner of a year ago. To coin the cliché, whatever doesn’t make a person sick any longer, should make them mad enough to go and fight. My once full race schedule is down to one event, the aptly named Old Farts Marathon, in Lowell, Michigan at the end of summer. I have no notions of suddenly getting back into good form. The truth is that this will be a season of dirt, scrapes, hills, too-early mornings, and way-too hot afternoons. A very good trade for barfing, if I do say so myself.
Migraines are misunderstood. This is one of those “duh” statements found in every pamphlet and web explanation of severe headaches. One website went so far as to reassure readers that their migraines weren’t brain tumors (“We’re not sure what causes your blinding headaches, but rest assured that the culprit isn’t some giant thingy growing in your head.”). WebMD, God love ’em, tells visitors that every symptom is in fact related to brain tumors. Darn that Athlete’s Foot, it’s got to be a brain tumor. Annnnyway, this was a long way of saying that my doctor (ActualMD) threw another preventative at my headaches. This one is fun, because it’s turned off my speech filters. Now I just say things. Not funny things, per se. Just streams of words. Here’s something I learned. When the filters get turned off and speech isn’t strained of impurity, it’s probably not a good day to visit Wal-Mart.
All three readers of my old blog know how I feel about Wal-Mart, that seventh level of hell. A store where produce discounts wouldn’t make sense, because Hamburger Helper qualifies as a vegetable dish and we don’t talk about our vegans unless we’re shopping in the personal hygiene isle. The right front tire on my venerable Honda CR-V went flat and the spare had a two-inch screw stuck in it, so I threw the wheels in the trunk of our other car and rolled off to Wal-Mart. The service clerk, a venerable woman with a two-inch screw stuck through her, told me that I could buy tires, but no service person had time to put them on. Filter gone, I began to ask “Really?” She got mad, because despite the fact that I knew exactly which size tires were required, she needed the three-digit prefix. “3-6-9-The Monkey Drank Wine.” Not amused she started rattling off numbers. I knew it was 205, but let her dully recite digits anyway. By the end I had her phone number. Woman of Service then quoted me a price of $180.00 for two tires. I stopped myself from going full rant, reminded that in Wal-Mart’s world it’s perfectly reasonable to expect to pay $200 for a set of Big Wheel tires that I then have to install myself. The tires, sadly, would be worth more than the car. I wandered off. The clerk urged me to come back, but I reminded her that I could take the tires, I just wouldn’t have time to pay for them.
After all of last weekend’s running into walls and doors, I decided it was time to see an eye doctor. A professional one, at that. At this point in life, it feels right to go to actual physicians and care providers. No longer do I have to patronize the guy behind the dollar store who claims to be an eye-doctor. Sure, the inside of his van is nice, but his service is too hands on. Going to the optometrist is also one more stop on my headache tour. In the of name of getting rid of headaches, I’ve seen too many doctors, taken too many prescriptions. Sure, there may have been a few dollar store doctors along the way. When you’ve had a migraine since 1978, this starts to sound reasonable.
The optometrist explained all of the ways in which my eyes are over-working and the need at my age for reading glasses. At almost 40 years of age, he explained, I’m fortunate to have the remaining vision left in me. The almost 40 speech is one of my favorites. Doctors started reminding me I was almost 40 in 1994. The optometrist prescribed me reading glasses, with the idea in mind that I’d actually read something. Great. There are tons of you’re almost 40 and incontinent pamphlets I’ve been dying to check out. Later I was escorted to the wall of frames. This was the best part. I picked out some super stylish Sally Jessie Raphael frames. The key with reading glasses is to look as startled as possible all the time, as if wearing removable Botox. I purchased the optional chain to hang the readers on. Now I just walk around greeting people like Abe Vigoda on Red Bull (7 to 8 words per minute) and trying to be cool with my new “serious” specs. It’s going to take more than glasses and advanced age to make me be serious. The glasses are a start, though.
I whine about migraines a lot on this particular blog. At some point in the last year headaches became a lifestyle rather than an occurrence. After going a few weeks without much beyond the whimper of a migraine, the specialist signed off for six months and wished me luck. I spent much of my free time in the weeks that followed upside down, waiting for the inevitable rainbow express to spew forth from me. Running got put on hold, as did every fun thing in life (like staring at my computer, waiting for a blog to come out). At work, I’m like Milton Waddams, and can hide a migraine. I work in a basement office, and am pretty much in
the dark, anyway. I’ve got my Swingline stapler and as long as nobody moves my desk, can type quietly. After a while, losing weekends to headaches became unacceptable. In the most non-Milton way, I set out down the path of enlightenment.
Seeking out witch doctors, shamans and Canadians, I went about finding remedies on my own. One day I found myself all turned around looking for a little medicine shop and wandered down a back alley. The mean streets of Saint Joseph, Michigan can get rough at 3:00 in the afternoon. Shady types will try to sell you Crocs or get you hooked on homemade fudge. After a week of reading, searching and living on crackers, I found myself armed with an arsenal of knowledge and old school remedies. Some of them have unwanted side effects, but within weeks are supposed to alleviate migraines. Sure, I have glowing, fluorescent green skin and you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry, but it’s a good trade for being headache free. The supplements are clearing my system of unwanted toxins,
along with those pesky organs I never used. Oh, well. Where there’s hope there’s (hopefully) no headache.
My New Year’s resolution is to stop writing this blog…and it’s broken. Promising to modify behavioral malfunctions with the change of calendar year’s is always tough to make real. I resolve, however, to live the sane and moderate life I enjoyed until the first week of November. It was then that I saw the specialist for my chronic headaches. Like going to the old junk shop and buying a Mogwai, I was given modern miracles of chemistry along with specific instructions on how to use them. The specialist warned that no amount of pharmaceuticals would make me less of a jackass and that some might even enhance that facet of my personality. I went home, took the pills and watched the results in wonder. If my life has been an ongoing war between strict dietary restrictions and migraines, then the pills were like Jimmy Carter being dropped into the middle of peace talks and bringing both sides to the table. Eventually, both parties came to the border and shook hands. One- Term Jimmy found a bag of peanuts and watched peace break out. So I ate. Ate some more. Ate some more.
The old specialist was right. Even good pharmaceuticals are no match for stupidity. The first sign was when my Levi’s 501’s needed to be traded for a loose gunny sack. The 501’s are my last stand of rebellion against age, indifference and looking like the smiling doofus in a Sears ad. Then there was the epic, Technicolor esophageal explosion in my driveway on Christmas night, following a migraine that made my head feel like a kettle ball. In the quiet that follows misery and minor humiliation, I prayed and pondered. By week’s end, I’d gotten right with body, although mind lags behind. Carefully, I resolve to take the meds and eat right, watching the borders between food and headaches for skirmishes all the while.