Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dying while talking

MARK’S ARTICLE – July 28, 2009 “Motivationally speaking”

After three minutes of looking at an audience, I can sense whether or not I’m in trouble. It’s a scary gift. Sometimes I can figure out during the introduction that I’m in deep doo. “So, here’s Mark Hastner.” Somebody just shoot me.

A few weeks back in a town far away, I was giving a motivational talk to a rather mature audience. Old is what these people were. The chance of any of them reading this article is rather remote, or else I wouldn’t be writing it.

By the way, do any of you have elderly kinfolk in Central Oklahoma? Say around Tulsa? Well, don’t send them a copy of this. In fact, I don’t see why you’d wanna send anyone a copy. Read and then burn.

Okay, back to the talk. I started out by asking if everyone in the room was pretty well happy about how life had turned out for them? I looked out at the sea of gray and got a few nods and a bunch of loud whispers. Age can really do a number on a whisper.

I was getting no help from the audience, so I tried again. “You’re telling me that everyone here is happy with how things have gone? There’s nothing you’d care to change if you could?” -- Nothing. -- “Do you realize we’re having salmon patties after this talk? Nothing you’d care to change?” No comments. A few smiles. No laughs.

At that point I was dead. If you’re a motivational speaker and you find yourself talking to a group of people who are totally satisfied with life, the talk is over. Anything you say can only do harm. I thought of faking an asthma attack, but feared it might set off a chain reaction.

A more confident speaker might’ve said, “Well, if you’re happy now, imagine how much happier you’ll be when you hear what I’ve got to say!” I don’t have that much confidence. When facing a group of people who aren’t laughing and who are actually looking forward to salmon patties… well, let’s just say I’ve had better nightmares.

The guy who invited me to speak actually told me to talk for as long I wanted to. Three minutes in, I’m wanting to sit down. I should’ve sat down. But instead, I stood my ground and talked for about forty minutes. Talked about everything that came to mind.

At one point I tried to get my listeners to see that they couldn’t possibly be happy with the way things were going. Couldn’t they see what reality TV was doing to society? These competitive cooking shows where the cook is yelling at everybody? Who enjoys that kind of stuff?

By the time my talk ended, the audience was thoroughly disgusted with the way things were going. Some wouldn’t even touch their salmon. Turns out, it wasn’t all that bad, either. You can really mess up a salmon. Don’t get me started.

All said and done, I managed to motivate my audience to anger. That wasn’t my intention when I showed up, but I think they deserved it. At least I got them to thinking about stuff. They’ll thank me one day. Like they’re gonna see me again.

For the life of me I don’t see why there aren’t more people around who are susceptible to motivation. Young people? Too many of ‘em know what they want and are fairly sure they’re gonna get it.

Have you seen one of those episodes of “America’s Got Talent?” Some yokel will come out and say that he was born to sing or dance or do magic. It’s his destiny. Begins his presentation and he stinks on ice. He gets all sad when they say he’s not qualified to continue. What’s he thinking?

How do you motivate a guy like that? He already thinks he’s God’s gift. “Keep hammering away. You can do anything you set your mind to.” What a load of hooha.

Obviously, there are a number of people who need de-motivational speakers. Someone to bring them down a peg or two. I don’t think we should do that to the elderly. I just did it in my talk ‘cause I was desperate. Didn’t want to come away looking like an idiot.

But, more and more I find people who are way over confidant. Think they deserve the best for nothing. Get a job and expect to start out on top. Get married and expect to start out in a new house with a new car.

Where did this attitude get started? Well, like most of you I believe it all started with the advent of the all-you-can-eat buffet. Before the buffet, we knew our limits. “No, you got the one leg. There’s no more chicken. Don’t look at me like that, or you’ll be eating your next meal through a straw.”

Now, we don’t need anyone to say when we’ve had enough. We can just keep going. “I want the fried chicken. And, you know how much I want? All I can eat.”

Yeah, that’s what did it. The buffet line. And, uh, that stupid purple dinosaur. “I love you. You love me…” Get real. That dinosaur doesn’t give two hoots. He’s a dinosaur, for cryin’ out loud! A meateater, at that! They don’t call ‘em carnivores, cause they like Ferris wheels.

Yes, that’s the kind of stuff I had to resort to with the group of senior citizens. Just pulling stuff right outta the air. Outta somewhere. I was throwin’ everything I had at ‘em.

It was the fourth scariest moment in my life. Tough audience. They just about made me cry. You ask me, they deserved what they got. Nobody can be that old and that content. They wouldn’t cut me a break, I’m telling you. Well, scratch Oklahoma from next year’s circuit.

You can contact Mark at mark@fromtherooftop.net.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nephews around the table

Clint helping me in the yard.

MARK’S ARTICLE – July 16, 2009
“Guy talk”

I was involved in some pretty heavy guy talk with three of the nephews yesterday. I couldn’t identify with a lot of what was said, but none of the boys made fun of me. They must’ve figured I would tell on them.

The rap session took place at my dining room table after Clint (31 years-old and Big Al’s boy) came over with Nalin (32 and Dennis’ son) to meet CJ (25 and Susan’s grandson.) Hey, try to keep up.

Since you probably don’t know any of these macho men, let me tell you a tad about each. Clint is the nephew who used to come over to my house when he was just a toddler to help me work in the yard. You give that kid a water hose and you’re beggin’ for a soaking.

My favorite picture of Clint is the one taken when he was about two. Big Al was at work and Clint was sick, so his Mom called to say that Clint wanted to see his Uncle Mark. When I came over, he climbed into my lap and went to sleep in my arms. Kay snapped a picture. Clint doesn’t care to hear that story today, but I don’t care. Uncles like to remember the times when they felt relevant. Don’t we all?

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Nalin. The kid had just been born, and he was, uh… how do I say this? He was one scary lookin’ kid. The top of his head was tall and square. I’m talking four cornered. He could’ve played the “baaaaby” on that Seinfeld episode.

The doctor said that Nalin’s head would get normal if they kept rotating him in the bed. You know? Kind of round things out. It worked, too. I would’ve never believed it. His head straightened right out. Uh, rounded right out.

My favorite Nalin story is the one that took place at the Family’s 1987 Halloween talent show. Nalin had been practicing his Michael Jackson “Beat it” routine for days. Before the stage lights came up that kid was be-bopping right and left. He had Jackson down.

Being the emcee, I announced Nalin, put on the tape and opened the curtain. That boy froze. Michael was singing to beat the band, but Nalin was not mouthing the words, nor was he dancing. It was the ol’ proverbial deer in the headlights. Finally, I went out there and joined him, and showed some of my Michael Jackson moves. The kid snapped out of it a little. By the way, do you know how long that “Beat it” song goes on? Forever. Nalin with my grandnephew J Bear

I’ve already told you some stuff about CJ. He’s the nephew just back from Afghanistan. He’s the kid who has been six years in the army, and spent five of them in either Iraq or Afghanistan. I could fill this newspaper with some of the stories that he’s told, but I suppose you could do the same with some in your family.

Nevertheless, those were the three guys who sat at my table and talked through the afternoon. For awhile, the discussion focused on movies. I thought I knew a lot of movies and the names of a lot of stars. I know nothing. The girl in “Transformers”? No idea. All three nephews agreed that she is the most beautiful girl on the planet.

Was “Top Gun” your favorite Tom Cruise movie? Wasn’t even close for me. Each one of my nephews started reciting lines from that movie the minute CJ mentioned it.

Speaking of CJ, that kid knows more movies and actors than anyone I know. Are you familiar with the six degrees of Kevin Bacon? It’s a theory that you can take an actor and hook him up with Kevin Bacon through movies he was in with other people. Supposedly, every actor can be matched to Kevin Bacon in at least six movies.

For example, CJ matched me with Bacon in just four movies. Me! If you can match me, you can match a Romanian extra. Here’s how he did it. I was in “Return of the Outlaws” with Peter Sherayako”(1), who was in “Tombstone” with Val Kilmer (2), who was in “Top Gun” with “Tom Cruise” (3), who was in “A Few Good Men” with Kevin Bacon (4). Took the guy about 40 seconds to do that.

CJ got his Uncle Al there in three movies. I don’t remember the trail though. I think it started with Armand Asante in “The Man Who Came Back.”

After movies, the conversation went to sports. Nalin even brought up softball and the 1992 Deer Park Tournament that the Hayter boys won. I’m not joking. He mentioned it before I did. I instantly ran to the study and got the framed picture and the autographed softball. The boys passed it around. I can tell feigned awe, but it was nice of ‘em to at least act impressed.

I asked Nalin and Clint why they didn’t play in the game with us. They shot quick glances at each other before Nalin said, “Uh, Uncle Mark, 1992? We were too young.” I knew that.

All the while we talked, cell phones kept going off. Mostly the beep tones were alerting them to text messages. CJ is the fastest text-messager I’ve ever seen. He’d be in mid-sentence, pull out his phone, poke around on it a bunch of times and then put it back in his pocket. Didn’t miss a beat.

Typing out coded words and phrases on a keyboard the size of a business card is a talent. A talent their uncle will never acquire. Even if he wanted to.

The conversation went on and on, up until the time Aunt Kay got home. The nephews love their Aunt Kay, but this was guy talk. Before leaving, Clint and Nalin each gave Kay a hug, and then they came over and hugged me. That would be awkward for a lot of tough guys, but my two nephews did it without a thought. And, before heading back to Fort Hood, CJ also gave me a hug. Even told me he loved me.

CJ with his old Uncle Mark

Great kids. And, through it all they never made fun of me the times I couldn’t relate. There were moments when it likely took all they had. They just laughed along with me, not at me. Went out of their way to make their uncle feel relevant. Somebody must’ve raised ‘em right. I should probably tell their parents.

You can contact Mark at mark@fromtherooftop.net


Friday, July 10, 2009

Health issues

MARK’S ARTICLE – July 10, 2009
“Health Issues”

I look pretty healthy, don’t I? See? Fit as an oboe. Look at this. I’m writing the alphabet in the air with my toes. A doctor told me to do that once. I never lost the knack. Or the penmanship.

I could show you some other stuff, but I’d hafta standup. I’m not getting out of this chair just to show off. There was a time, but it’s not now. Thing is, to look so good, I’m really a mess.

For one thing I passed a kidney stone last week. The thing was 4 millimeters. Millisomethings. On the renal scale that’s the size of a lawn tractor.

It must’ve been my eighth stone attack over my short life. As soon as it hit I took an old pain pill. Took another. After the third I still hurt, but I began not to care so much. I could get addicted to pain pills were it not for one thing. Constipation. I don’t care to talk about it anymore.

The kidney doctor showed me the stone on the x-ray. It didn’t look all that big. That’s why they have the renal scale. The doctor also showed me a stone in each kidney, each larger than the one that was workin’ its way through me. He said he’d have to eventually use that lithotripsy sound machine device. He didn’t say “if” they get to be a problem. “We’ll keep an eye on ‘em,” he said.

The doctor did say I would have fewer stones if I would keep taking the pill he prescribed awhile back. I would, but the things give me really bad breath and heartburn. It’s a heck of a choice between perpetual bad breath and heartburn or periodic kidney stones. The thing about kidney stones is that, as horrible the experience, it does generally go away. Kay wouldn’t even watch TV with me when I was taking the breath pills.

As fortune would have it, the day after the doc visit, I passed the stone. There was dancing in the house. I had to dance sans-partner. Kay’s still in a boot with her broken foot. She had no idea I could move like that. I was like that Riverdance guy.

The joy was short-lived, ‘cause right after the stone I got this miserable sinus thing. If someone hadn’t invented the tissue with the lotion on it, my ol’ honker would be look like a catcher’s mitt. As is, it’s a batting glove. Kay finally made me call the doctor for an appointment. Since over the counter pills don’t help, Kay said I must have a sinus infection.

My kidney stone. Actual size!

Have you ever known a person with a runny nose not to have a sinus infection? We’ve all got ‘em. I’m pretty sure I got mine from the sleep apnea test I had last week. Everything’s happening at once.

This was my third sleep clinic. The second one merited me one of those C-PAP machines. Kay’s got one, too. They’re the contraptions with straps and a mask thing that fits over your nose with a tube running to a machine.

After seeing the devices, Jill called us pod people. She wants to see us in bed with those things on. I won’t let her. The other night, right after our good night kiss, I put on my mask and said, “Tower, this Zulu, Bravo, Seven. I’ve spotted a bogie at one seven niner.” Kay actually got tickled at that. I think when you go to bed laughing, the next day is supposed to be a dandy. The next day I believe was when I had my kidney stone attack.

Anyway, I had to have another sleep test, ‘cause there was still something blocking my breathing. That’s what my machine told the doc. The machine records everything. No telling what all the doctor knows about me. I notice each time I see her, she gives me this strange knowing nod. Freaks me out.

My most recent sleep test required that a tube be stuck my nose to record my esophageal… I don’t know. I think that’s what got my nose to running in the first place. It was a thin tube that went down my nose and stopped just north of my stomach. I think. What do I know where a guy sends a tube?

Every time I swallowed it felt like I was crimping the tube. The sleep guy told me not to worry, that I would soon stop swallowing. Mr. Funny Man.

So, I’ve got wires connected to diodes all over my head, my chest, my legs. There were even four wires coming out of my shorts.

So, I’ve got all that hooked up and the thing up my nose and the sleep guy says, “So, Mr. Hayter, are you ready for bed?” I wanted to say, “Yeah, if you’ve got a big enough hammer, I imagine I could drop off.”

After a sleeping pill and the passing of 38, 391 sheep I must’ve gone to sleep. The next thing I knew it was 4:30 and the sleep guy was in the room checking on something. I asked him what was happening and he told me the test was over and that I could go ahead and sleep till light. I suggested he unhook me and let me go home. He must have noticed the desperation in my voice, ‘cause my wired face couldn’t convey anything.

I don’t know the results of the test. The guy did say that I have restless leg syndrome. The doctor already gave me something for that. The pill gave me headaches and the Big “C” problem. (See pain pill side-effects)

On top of all this, I have two voice messages from some hospital telling me that I’m at the age where I need a bone-density test. Bone density! You think they’d notify me if I didn’t have insurance? It’d be as likely as me calling you to ask if I could clean your ceiling fan blades.

But, I’m drawing the line on this bone density thing. I’ve flunked every test a doctor has ever given. I hate to think what medication they’d give me if I had less dense bones. If the pill cured headaches and gave me the Big D, maybe I could go back to taking the restless leg pill. Yeah, I’d give that a shot.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hot enough

MARK’S ARTICLE – June 24,2009
“Hot enough”

ROOFTOP – The first one who says “Is it hot enough for you?” is outta here. You won’t even need a ladder. You’ll just slide a ways and land in the hedge down yonder. Might even be fun.

This is one of the few mornings I’ve come up here without my coffee mug. I’ve been known to drink coffee when it’s major hot outside, but didn’t want you to see me sweat. I overly perspire. Got it from my dad. Got his sweat glands and his nose. All the good stuff went to the other brothers.

The birds are even too hot to join us. There was a cardinal on the jungle gym when I first got here. And, a blue jay made two hops in the oak over yonder. But, now, all birds are hiding. You can occasionally hear ‘em, but they’re too hot to move much.

I was talking to an acquaintance a couple of days ago about the heat. I told him that the summers mess me up more than usual. Told him that I didn’t know if the heat was getting worse or if it was just my age. He said he thought it was my age. He didn’t smile when he said it either. Ouch.

You wanna know what I think it is? I think that every year we experience air conditioning makes us that much less tolerant of the heat. A genius I be.

When I was a kid I hated the heat, but I didn’t whine about it like I do now. Back then I went to bed in a sweat and woke up in a sweat.

You can never feel truly clean when you’re hot. Did you know that? When I was a kid, I was never clean for more than 15 minutes all summer. The 15 minutes was due to being able to take one of my baths before Dennis. We had to use the same bath water, and he always got to go first. Poor Big Al. He was always last to bathe. I don’t think he ever got past that.

We’d play outside at all times of the day back then. Didn’t matter how hot it was outside, it was always hotter in the house. Outside you could at least sit under a shade tree and wait for a breeze.

Meanwhile, Mom would be inside ironing clothes in front of the oscillating fan. The old metal-bladed, clanking thing. You couldn’t stop it from oscillating, if you wanted to. I don’t know if was made that way, or that’s the way it got after Dennis and I knocked it over while playing dodge the Whiffleball in the house. Mom went to her grave not knowing about that episode. We thought it best.

On a few summer days, Dennis and I would actually ride our bicycles to the library. We’d always bring something home to read, but we really went because it was air conditioned. We’d sit in there looking at pictures of volcanoes and bugs in the encyclopedias. I’d grab a Hardy Boys or Rick Brandt book right before leaving. You couldn’t go wrong with a good mystery.

On the really good days, Mom would give us a quarter each and we’d ride our bikes to the public pool. I mostly walked around in the pool. Bobbed around is more like it. If we tried to splash or have camel fights, the lifeguard would blow his whistle at us. “No horseplay in the pool!” Hey, why have a pool if you can’t splash around? Sometimes we got blowed at just ‘cause it looked like we were having too much fun. That’s what I think.

We’d stay at the pool for at least three hours. That’s about how long it took for the bottom of our toes to get really chaffed. I think they put the grainy texture on the pool bottom just to get the kids not to spend so much time there.

Do you remember how hungry you’d get after being in the pool for awhile? I don’t know why that was. I’d come home starving. Must’ve been some kind of water pressure on the stomach thing. Sure wasn’t from running around and splashing. -- “TWEET! Hey, no running there!”

Do you know what the tallest structure in the world was back when I was a kid? No, this was even taller than the Empire State Building. The tallest structure was the high dive at Pasadena Memorial Pool. That thing was a mile high.

It took me about three years to work up the courage to climb that ladder to the top. Once up there, I was committed. There was always a bunch of kids yelling for you to hurry up. Some of ‘em were girls even! No, way could I chicken out.

Finally, I walked to the end of the board, said a prayer, held my nose and jumped. And, you know what? It wasn’t fun. When I hit the water, my swimsuit tried to push its way to my throat. I dog paddled to the side and then followed the edge back to the shallow water. That’s all I needed. One jump. Just to be able to say I dove off the high dive. Yes, it was a jump and not a dive, but, if anybody asked me, it came out a dive. Coming across as a coward or sissy back then meant much more than it does now.

Isn’t it weird how the aging process changes so much stuff? When I was young, Grandma’s house was huge. Her front porch was big enough to have a game of tag. I saw the place a few years back. It looked so small. I can’t believe it was the same house.

Begs the question, at what time in our lives are things as they appear? Is it when we’re young, or after we get older? Does age simply minimize the appearance of things?

I happen to believe that’s the case. When we were kids, everything was actual size. Stuff was as big as it was meant to be. As we age, our minds tone everything down. Make stuff less spectacular. That’s a bad trick the mind plays.

Wish my mind could do that with the heat. I really think it’s actually hotter than it used to be. Has nothing to do with age. What I think. Regardless, it’s too hot to remain up here any longer. And, before anybody says it, yes, it’s hot enough for me. Beat you to it. -- Next time.