Friday, January 5, 2018

The Flu



The flu 
            I’ve had two flu shots in my life. Both were forced on me by continuous nagging. People who don’t even like me begged me to get a shot. When given the choice between an argument and a lie, I prefer the lie. -- “Yes, I got a flu shot back in March, two in November, and I’m going for another one as soon as you back away.

            When asked how effective this year’s flu shot is, a doctor being interviewed on a health segment of the news, replied, “There’s a 10 percent chance that this year’s vaccine will target the most active virus.” Ten percent? If there’s a ten percent chance that a shot will prevent a nuclear exchange, I’ll take the shot. But, to stave off some remote sickness, I prefer not to get a shot, or orifice probing, or testicular salve. That’s why I didn’t get a flu shot this year, nor any other year since the Soviet Union disbanded. In that time I only got the flu twice. At least I thought I did.

            Come to find out, I never had the flu… not until I started writing this year’s Christmas short story. I had just gotten home from the dentist, who pulled Tooth 19. It’s a molar on the bottom left-hand side. The only thing that might have saved the tooth was surgery, requiring the dentist to enter through my left ear. (I have trouble listening to doctors.)

            So, I got home feeling numb from my chin to my nose. My jaw was throbbing, my nose started running and I developed a headache. So, how to begin this year’s Christmas story? Why not have one of the characters be sick? Shortly after I started I began to get the chills. I longed for a grizzly bear blanket. (It’s part of the stupid Christmas story. Scroll down an article or two.)

            Part I of the story was supposed to be really short. Unfortunately, it grew because I was out of my mind and didn’t know where I was going. As I continued the story, my character started feeling somewhat better, while I kept getting sicker. Eventually, I mentioned a Part II for the story to be published the following week, and then quit..

            A week later, I began Part II. I felt no better. I had no idea the flu lasted that long. I was completely incapacitated. At one point, I remember Freeman calling to tell us that an ambulance had just carried Virginia to the emergency room because of chest pain. The doctor said there were so many flu cases, that there was only one bed left in the hospital. By the way, Virginia is fine. I don’t know what she had, but I don’t care, ‘cause she’s fine. If I let her describe what she had, I’d probably get it. I am suggestively vulnerable to any illness. Once I was even talked into a kidney stone.

            Fortunately. I apparently did not have a really bad case of the flu. Bad flu carriers are too sick to the leave the bed. I stayed in bed much of each day, but occasionally I’d drag my bones to the living room. I didn’t want to watch TV; I didn’t want to eat; and I wasn’t crazy about Kay’s singing. All I did was sit and stare… and try to figure out if I wanted to get up or stay put. The flu does something intense to one’s decision-making capabilities. Don't know if  you knew that.   

            On the morning before Christmas, I had a brief sense of wellness, so I went with Kay to HEB. We entered the store at 8:00 a.m. By 8:20, the place was packed. People didn’t know where or how to steer their carts. Everyone started talking really loud. I would stay at the end of the aisle where there was a display of something no one would want.  All I could do was stand and stare and try to decide that if I moved, where would I go?

            I kid you not, no matter where I moved, somebody would want to stand right where I was. -- “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was blocking the cinnamon flavored Q-Tips?” -- My only contribution to the shopping experience was to stick a gigantic block of cheese in the cart. No rhyme nor reason.

            By the time we got home, I was exhausted. I stayed in bed the rest of the day. A couple of days after Christmas I felt well enough to go to Walmart with Kay. I agreed to go, because I thought we were going to Home Depot.

            Kay had a grocery list that began with “bread” and ended with “soap dishes.” If you look at a list of the 10 hardest things to find at Walmart, you'll find "soap dish" at #3. Best to just buy a bag of Styrofoam dessert plates.

            When we got home from Walmart, I was mentally deranged, but not physically ill. And, I’ve been that way ever since. I now know what the flu is. It’s bad. I don’t ever want it again. But, I still refuse to get the vaccine. There's a 90% chance I'll get the wrong shot. I don't like those odds.

end
Mark can be contacted at hayter.mark@gmail.com

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Learning again




                “Experiencing Different”

            Over the past six months I’ve been experiencing a boatload of different. Different grocery stores, different pillows, different time zone… Different has become my new normal, and I don’t accept new normals. Normal is what is. Everything else is abnormal. So there.

            For about half a year I’ve been living out of poorly-packed boxes, and suitcases with a opening tension strength of 3.06 jiggawillies. Most of the communication between Kay and me involves a question concerning the location of an item. “Kay, do you know where the scissors are? …my coffee cup? …the box with my underwear? … my itch cream!

            If I don’t spend at least 30 minutes a day looking for something, I’ve had a blessed day. Kay and I call each others phone at least once a day in an effort to find where it's hiding in the house.

            When we left Susan’s house a few weeks back, I had pretty much caught on to where everything was. I remembered where the light switches were located; some inside, some outside the room. Some a few inches from the door frame; some a good foot away. I learned to appreciate the closet full of toilet paper Susan had on hand. Susan purchases better tissue than I do. I knew her brand was not good for septic tanks. But it was HER septic tank. Who am I to dabble in someone’s septic tank? So once we got comfortable with the layout and maintenance of my sister’s house, we left.

            Again, we were on the road heading clear across the west staying in one hotel after the other. Turns out, there is a lot of sameness in hotels. Managers buy low-end toilet paper. The kind of stuff Susan would not allow in her house. It’s the same quality used in National Parks and public schools.

            That’s not the all of it. There is something that has taken this country by storm. It took me selling our house and moving out west to experience the madness of something called “body wash.”  

            When at a hotel/motel, when you climb into the shower, you will notice three bottles, each about the size of  a bottle of eye-drops. The bottles are the same shape and color.  There is just one tiny difference in the labels. Printed in microscopic lettering on the bottom of the bottles is the word “conditioner” or “shampoo” or “body wash.” Occasionally, if you have Superman eyes, you might read “body lotion.” I don’t know what that is. No man knows what that is.

            Zeroing in the "body wash", I've got to tell you that real men don't use liquid soap. When in a hotel, we use the poker chip sized bar of soap. They must buy the stuff from Paris, because it’s very precious to them. I can wash dishes, socks and my car with liquid soap. But, I have not reached the point in my life where I am comfortable washing my armpits, chest and nether regions with body wash. It’s just wrong.
.  
            Every bathtub and shower faucet has an area about the size of a hair’s-width at which point the water temperature goes from scalding to frigid. Plumbers have apparently used quantum physics to design the devices. If you’re staying overnight in a hotel room, you’ll not be there long enough to learn exactly where the freeze/fry point is. It’s best to let your spouse take the first shower. I’m just saying. As soon as the screaming stops, rush in and make note of the faucet position.

            There was a time when I had my own special pillow. It was the right shape, weight and firmness. Anytime I went anywhere overnight I packed my special pillow. Unfortunately, on our trip westward, there was not enough room in the car for my pillow. As much as I tried to mash that thing down, its mass was still too significant.

            It was around Month Four that I managed a good night’s sleep without my special pillow. I can now sleep on a variety of head cushions. I don’t like any of ‘em, but I will eventually conk out. That being said, while unpacking here in our new home, I have located my special pillow, and will tolerate no other. 

            Of course, in our new home, it will take me a good while before I discover light switch locations and faucet freeze/fry points and where we keep the plates, forks, garbage receptacle. The toughest thing to adjust to is our new TV remotes. In our new subdivision we had the choice between Consolidated and rabbit ears. Oh, and a satellite dish. I don't like dishes. Ain't doin' it. 

           That means I must learn the intricacies of a new remote. Cosolidated has improved over the years... and they really needed to. I think they're waiting for me to leave the planet before getting it right. 

            What all of this comes downs to is the fact that Mark Hayter is so spoiled! I picked up on that after the first paragraph. How many people would love to experience my gripes? I have not come close to earning a fraction of all my blessings. I know I deserved each of the scalding moments I experienced in hotel showers. While I’m not likely to ever accept the “body wash” phenomena, I will try not to be so outspoken about its stupidity. -- "Body lotion?" I don't even want to know it is.

            My goal in the remainder of my years is for my last words to be something other than, “What is this? I ordered lime Jello!”   

end

Mark can be contacted at hayter.mark@gmail.com. An archive of Hayter’s articles can be found at http://markhayterscolumn.blogspot.com

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas story Part I



Hayter’s Christmas short story this year is a two parter.

“Charlie and the Baseball Man”
Part I

               “It’s nine more miles to the rest area. Can you hold out that long?” Lorne kept glancing at the lump in the passenger seat. It was wrapped in a maroon blanket on which was emblazoned the image of a giant, growling grizzly. Quite appropriate, he thought, considering the low toned groans and snorts that kept surfacing from beneath the blanket.

“Azphloot!”  -- “Bless you,” Lorne responded. “You’ve been making some odd noises under there, but I’m assuming that was a sneeze. So, can you hold out for a few more minutes?”

            A corner of the blanket was slowly withdrawn, just enough to uncover the face of a young lady with a complexion just a whiter shade of pale… as the song goes. “I’ll try not wet on your precious seat covers,” Charlie said. “But, step on it, would you?” Then her face sank again beneath the bear.

            “I hope you realize I would’ve never agreed to this venture had you mentioned having a bladder the size of a grape.”

            Her face appeared much quicker this time. “I can’t help it. I sometimes get this way when I’m nervous. It has nothing to do with my bladder size. And that was a rude thing to say to a sick person, Mr. Uber Man.”

“I’ve got nothing to do with Uber. I’m just a guy with an old pickup who’s trying to get you to Tacoma. You’re the one who asked ME. And, if you recall, I did not sound the least bit excited about the notion? Did I?”

He did not. Before she contacted him, he was prepared to spend the remainder of the Christmas holidays alone in Mrs. McNatt’s garage apartment. He would walk around downtown Missoula, and observe all the Holiday hoo-hah in one of the most festive locales in the country.

Then came the call from a Charlene Sandal. The young lady had a proposition for him. Asked that he meet her in the lobby of her dorm. There was the sound of desperation in her voice… mixed with just a tad of enchantment. She said she knew him from church. She was the girl with the short black hair cut in a bob; usually wore plaid, and sat on the left side of the auditorium mid-way down. Sat next to Jayden and Maxie. – Lorne didn’t have a clue.

Charlene (goes by the name Charlie) hated philosophy. Had no idea why she majored in a subject about the thoughts of people who pretended that what they had to say was soooo important. For a year and half she’d been studying philosophy. Hated her minor nearly as much. Psychology.

Charlie had decided to cut and run. Quit the University of Montana and move back home to Tacoma. Take the remainder of her college funds that had generously been provided by her parents, rent an apartment in the city where she could bide her time searching for a job that paid a lot and was fun to do. She was upset she hadn’t thought of the idea during her first semester.

So, she needed someone to haul her and her stuff to Tacoma. She’d pay $500, the gas and include a $20 a day food allowance. Once there, the driver could drop off her stuff and leave. Lorne had stopped listening after hearing “$500.”

That was two days ago. They were now just outside of Spokane on a dark desert highway. Charlie had a cold and a spastic bladder. Lorne was not sure if the two ailments were related. “I know you can’t help it, Charlie. If I thought you could, I would’ve left you back at McDonalds. The one three miles from your dorm.” Charlie’s laugh caused her to shoot a stream of snot into the blanket. What did she care? She had left every shred of her dignity back in Montana.

“Here’s the exit!” Lorne said. “Hold on, L’il Missy! I’m taking this on two wheels.” Charlie was out and running before the truck reached a complete stop. Lorne got out to stretch his legs. What a day. What a last couple of days. What a last couple of years! After having to give up his baseball scholarship due to a shattered elbow, he had to take out a college loan to make it through the remainder of his Sophomore year at UofM. He was going to sit out his junior year to raise money for school, but that would mean he would have to save money while paying off his college debt of $10,000.

Then, out of the blue, an old lady, Mrs. Vera McNatt, pulled him aside after church service and told him that she had learned about his scholarship problem and knew that he had to be short of funds. She suggested he move into her upstairs garage apartment. It would need refurbishing, but it was his for as long as he needed it. She’d furnish the materials, if he would take care of the labor involved with fixing the place up. 

What a Godsend… for the both of them. Over the past several months, Vera McNatt and he had become close friends. Early on, Mrs. McNatt suggested that since he had a pickup and was already driving a few friends back and forth to campus, that maybe he should start up a taxi service to help with his expenses. He was well respected among his peers, so word of mouth would be all he needed for advertisement.

Well, word did get around, and before you could say “Taxi!” He had more fares than he could handle. He wasn’t getting rich, but he was getting by. More importantly, he returned to UofM for his junior year.

Lorne was staring at an assortment of canned drinks inside a caged vending machine on the porch of the rest area, when a lone figure sidled up to him and delivered a hip bump. “Okay, I’m good to go, Mr. Antsy Pants. You want I should drive?”

Lorne did not want. Charlie was obviously feeling a bit better. She began talking more. A lot more. She was getting worried about what her parents would think of her quitting college. Lorne suggested that the news might go over a bit better if she didn’t mention the part about collecting  her college money so she could move to an apartment and look for a fun job that paid a lot. Charlie acted hurt that he didn’t realize that she was joking when she told him that. What did he take her for?

            When asked if she was joking about hating philosophy, she informed him that part was true. The lie was about her having majored in philosophy. She was a geology major. And she had just failed chemistry. A geologist has to know about minerals and the periodic table and atoms and stuff. How could she be a geologist if she couldn’t pass chemistry. Her mom would be so disappointed. And, her daddy would kill her.

            Lorne told her that she didn’t have to lie to him about all that stuff. That he didn’t care one way or the other. She had the money and he had the truck. That’s all that mattered to him. That confession won him a good elbow to the ribs.

            The next town of significance had a small motel with a flashing vacancy sign. Charlie told Lorne to pull in. She needed a hot shower, hot soup and a warm bed. Lorne informed her that the Maggie’s Motel likely didn’t offer complementary soup. Then he told her to go check in and he’d procure himself a room after unloading some of her cra—stuff.  

            Upon getting Charlie’s suitcase situated in her room, he told her good night and instructed her to be ready by eight in the morning. She walked over and gave him a hug, and whispered in his ear, “Nine works better for me.”

He said, “Yes, boss, and headed for the door. She told him that if he checked his left back pocket he’d find a key to the room next door. He told her that he intended to sleep in his truck.

            “I knew that,” she said. “I’ll see you shortly after 9:30 tomorrow morning. By the way, you need a shower, Baseball Man.”

            Baseball Man? He never told her about being on the baseball team. If he hadn’t been so tired, he might’ve tried to get her to tell him what was going on. Instead he, put the contents of his pockets on the night stand, slipped off his shoes and fell across the bed. It couldn’t have been more a than minute or two, there was a knock on the door. Sure enough, it was Charlie. She was wearing a terry-cloth robe that had a tiny gap that indicated she was not wearing PJs.

            “There’s a spider in my shower,” she said.  

End Part I
scroll down for Part II

Christmas short story Part II



Christmas  2017
 “Charlie and the Baseball Man”

Part II
 
Lorne Sutton did not know if Charlie really did see a spider in her shower or was just messing with him again. She had demonstrated little that would encourage trust. 

Charlie was nervously shaking outside the bathroom entrance, when Lorne inspected the inside of the shower. “Nothing here, young lady,” he said. 

“Look harder! He’s in there all right, and I want to hear the sound of snapping spider bones!”
Where does she get stuff like this? Lorne grabbed the shower curtain to pull it to. At that moment he noticed a quarter-sized spider just at eye-level. Had he been alone, he would’ve grabbed his chest and collapsed into the tub. But this moment did not call for natural behavior. He needed to return to his Sunday school days and summon “the peace that passeth understanding down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart!”   He chose not to sing the song aloud, but what he did do was calmly walk over and take a small piece of toilet paper which he used to capture and smush the arachnid. 

“I told you there was a spider. You didn’t believe me did you?” Charlie said. She stepped into the bathroom to taunt him. 

Lorne nodded. “Charlie you can gloat another day, but right now, I suggest you move away from the sink.”  She never saw the spider that was a mere three inches from her hand. No one knows how far her scream carried, but Lorne assured the clerk that all was well. Just a spider attack. He also informed the guy that he needed to change his records to show that he and a Miss Sandal had switched rooms. His response? “Whatever.”

Lorne slept for about 40 minutes before waking with a migraine and a cough. He had experienced both ailments but not at the same time. Each cough seemed to widen the crack in his skull. And, his nose was running to beat the band. He spent the rest of the night taking hot showers to ease the throb in his frontal lobe. 

Lorne and Charlie neglected to exchange room keys, which is how Charlie managed to barge into his room the next morning and announce, “I have no hot water!” Lorne had just climbed out of the shower and was wearing a towel. He glanced up to see Charlie, who was wearing no robe this time.

What she did have on was a pair of white, flannel pajamas with a pattern of red and blue balloons. Charlie was the only thing Lorne had managed to focus on the entire night. That girl in her balloon pajamas was the cutest image he had ever seen… and he had once seen a panda cub roll down a slide. Staring at her made it difficult for him to express any anger over her making such an abrupt appearance. He did manage a sneeze.

“You look absolutely terrible!” she said. “Here, let’s get that towel off of you and get you back in bed.” Lorne was in no mood for jokes, nor would he consider staying in the motel for another night. He assured her that they were moving down the road.

Charlie gave Lorne an assortment of over the counter pills that she promised would get him over the mountains. He made it known that he would refuse anything that would make him sleepy. She assured him that was not a problem.  “Just so you know, I’ll have you at your folk’s house by nightfall just in time for your family’s Christmas Eve party.

They were about 20 minutes down the road when Lorne pulled over to let Charlie drive. “It’s weird how the pills that kept you awake, knocked me on my rear,” he said. She explained that her body chemistry was different from his.

Lorne was not conscious during Charlie’s few pit stops. And, he missed out on the late breakfast and the early supper. He had no memory of snow plows at Snoqualmie Pass. He was fairly conscious when Charlie stopped in the driveway at her folk’s house. 

“I can do this,” he told himself. He would meet Charlie’s folks, unload the truck, take the $300 and spend the night in the Walmart parking lot. That was the plan. He climbed out of the passenger seat, took two steps and grabbed the side of the truck. 

Charlie came around to help him. “As soon as everything stops spinning,” he said, “I’ll unload your stuff, and then try to escape before anyone notices we’ve arrived.”  She had him put his arm over her shoulders and then grabbed him around the waist. “Just keep step with me, and I’ll guide you to the porch, Mr. Spider Smasher Man.”  

There were Christmas lights all over the place which grew brighter at the opening of the front door. Rayford and Charlotte Sandal, her parents, came rushing down the driveway. “Punkin! You made it,” her dad said and then moved in for a hug. He was moving from light to dark and when he noticed so he had failed to notice Lorne until the moment of the hug. “And, who’s your plastered passenger?” he said.   

 Lorne waved off the insult with his free hand. There was an awkward pause that hung like a fog from the movie about, uh, you know, fog?
 
Lorne did his best to improve his posture, but could do nothing that might help with his loss of self-respect. “Okay, listen up!” Charlie said. “I’m only going to say this once. This is Lorne and he picked me up at the dorm to haul me here, only I got sick and we had to stop and stay the night in some town, and he used up all the hot water, ‘cause it was his turn to get sick, and after I gave him my drugs, he fell asleep, so I had to drive, and the snow hit hard near Snoqualmie Pass, but I followed a plow all the way.” She looked up at Lorne and said,” Did I leave anything out?”
  
Lorne said, “I don't know. Uh, the spider and your scream?”  The quick quip gave him a sense that he must’ve been getting better.
 
After a head scratching pause, Mr. Sandal said, “You mean you don’t know what town you spent the night in?” Charlie did a perfect eye roll. “It was a cheap motel near a town with a fish name.”  
 “Oh, no!” her dad said. “Don’t tell me you guys stayed at Maggie’s Motel in Fishtrap! Did you see any spiders? ”

A voice came from behind the gawkers. Lorne thought it familiar. “Okay, you’ve had your fun. Rayford, you bring Charlie’s stuff into the house. And, let’s get this boy inside. Now scoot!”

“Now scoot?” Son of a gun. Lorne beamed, as much as was in him to beam, and then suddenly backed away. “Mrs. McNatt, you don’t want what I got,” he said. 

Vera stepped forward and threw her arms around him. “Tish, tosh. You’ll never be too sick for me to hug you, young man. Besides I’ve already had the grunge. In fact, I may have passed it along to Charlie by loaning her my grizzly bear blanket.
 
Charlie didn’t act the least surprised that Lorne knew her grandma. Vera picked right up on his puzzlement. “Now, don’t get too upset, son. I could not let you spend another Christmas alone. You refused to join me, so I had to trick you to get you here.”

He felt a bit of a tickle in his heart. Must’ve been one of the aortas. It was caused by a ridiculous hope that the whole thing was a scheme to match him up with Charlie. And, get this, perhaps it was even Charlie’s idea. He knew he had to ask Charlie about that. One thing he’d learned from their brief time together was that Charlie had a “tell”. She never looked him in the eye when she was – for lack of a better word – LYING! 

Charlie’s dad came in the front door with a flat screen TV. “Punkin’, what’s going on? Why'd you bring everything home with you?" 

She looked so surprised. “You mean I didn’t tell you? I failed chemistry and decided to quit college and come home. I’m pretty sure I told you that.”

Rayford looked at his mother-in-law. “Did you happen know that, Mom?” Vera  looked away and said, “It’s news to me.”
  
“Well, Li’l Missy, I’ll have to ponder this for awhile. You and me are going to have a sitdown,” he said.

“Yes, let’s take this up later, Father. As for now, I’ve got a sick man here.” Vera and Charlie’s parents went out to the truck. Charlie led Lorne over to the loveseat and plopped him down. Then she joined him, snuggling up close. Really close. “So, how are you feeling, Baseball Man? What can I get you?”  
“Let’s try the truth,” he said. “Was this a scheme to get the two of us matched up.” Charlie laughed a fake laugh, “Whoa, you must think you’re hot stuff, Baseball Man? She looked over at the side table to study one of those plastic flipping Santas.

“Okay, let’s say it was a plan to get us together? Would that be such a bad thing?” 

Lorne was looking deep into her eyes when he said, “I don’t know, Not if it was your idea instead of your grandma’s.” 

How on earth did that come out? It had to be pills. Charlie feigned surprise. “You caught me off guard, Sir. I’ll need to ponder this.” With that she somehow found a bit more room on the loveseat to scootch in closer still.

I hope this Christmas was one of those that you will recall fondly for many Christmases to come.  Mark
end