Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Unnatural Happenings in My Backyard

I believe this is the quickest I’ve ever followed one post with another. I’m sitting cross-legged at my writing desk in a thunderstorm. My hand is cramping and I would really like a snack, but I feel compelled to relate the following story.

Yesterday I saw a creature pollinating our petunias that initially appeared to be a hummingbird, but on closer inspection resembled a bumblebee. It had transparent wings with a brown border and a long curly “nose” like a butterfly. Rather than black and white stripes it was yellow with one large, brown stripe. I suspected it to be the lovechild of a hummingbird and a bumblebee, the result of a tryst forbidden by Mother Nature.

Later, chasing a plastic back across the lawn, I stumbled upon a second alien creature in the shade of the woods. I saw a patch of completely white flowers. They looked like wilted rosebuds sucked dry by a vegetarian vampire, a cross between a crocus and a fungus.

After I recovered from the shock of all of the disparate organisms breeding in my yard, I wrote an e-mail to my friend, an authority on matters of plant and animal identification, asking what they were and if I should fear them.

Before she could respond, my curiosity lead me to Google. First, I searched, “Strange hummingbird and bumblebee like insect.” I found this page. The seemingly anomalous insect turned out to be a Snowberry Clearwing Hummingbird Moth. Then I searched “Strange white and transparent flower,” and I got this page. The plant is called Indian pipe. It has no chlorophyll and feeds off of the delicious fungus on the dead leaves. It is also known as Ice-Plant, Ghost-Plant, Corpse-Plant, Plant-of-Death, Ominous-White-Plant, and many other suitable titles.

Later, my friend responded to my e-mail and confirmed my search results. My conclusion is that Google is the boy scout of the twenty-first century.

Another Word for Bird

Let there be an outdoor deck with beige planks hot from sun exposure in the shadow of a white house surrounded by woods. Then let it be populated with potted annuals, a hibiscus, and a prehistoric canna extending a red bloom approximately two feet above my head.  Furnish this outdoor living space with stylish weatherproof furniture from Target’s Patio and Garden department, and do not omit the fountain of Buddha that ceases to spurt water whenever the sun descends behind a billowing cumulus cloud.
Then, if you will, paint me a black wicker couch with faded, orange cushions and a glass topped table. Let this table be strewn with white index cards, smudged with the dark ink of a Pentel click pen which sits atop a striped notebook, a Czech/English Dictionary, and a copy of Casanova’s autobiography stacked one upon the other. On the table, paint me a floral tea cup in Christmas colors, filled with water because at home I only take beverages in teacups. Paint me a black and white cat lounging on an orange cushion and, beside the couch, a Venus flytrap photosynthesizing. (In ten minute intervals, so as to prevent a brush fire.)
Somewhere between the cat and the flytrap you may sketch me onto the couch however you’d like, because I prefer to be mysterious. Perhaps I am holding an index card with the Czech word for “purple,” attempting all seven syllables without breaking to take my inhaler. Perhaps I am distracted by a small black dog of German descent which is yipping and begging at my feet. Begging for what? Knowledge, I assume.
This is a reasonably clear picture of how I’ve been spending my free time. I have one month left to work on my Czech language skills, and I have encountered sources suggesting that I use pneumonics to easily remember new words. I decided I would make index cards with the Czech word and a picture to help me remember it.
Going through the flashcards after the fact, I realize that some are more confusing than helpful. The word for “purple” (cervenofialovy) is accompanied by a sketch of an eggplant, but every time I see it I have to think about what it’s supposed to be. I don’t know why eggplants were the first thing to come to mind that day when I thought about purple, but it will probably never happen again.
I used birds as the pictures on at least five of the cards. I paired the word for “yellow” (zluty) with a rubber duck, but when I come across the card and see the picture, I think, “Bird.” I thought of peacocks when I was drawing a picture to accompany the word for “blue” (modry). When I see peacock on the card, I think of neither blue nor peacocks. I think: “Bird.” In my mind there are several words that mean “bird,” but none of them actually mean “bird.”

I have a similar problem with my “May” card, which depicts a inscrutable sketch of the Mayflower, steered into Plymouth Rock by a stick figure pilgrim. I see the card, and I think: “Boat.” For morning I scribbled a cranky looking cartoon of a man drinking coffee, but the coffee looks like beer and he looks like an angry drunk. I’m not worried that I will confuse it with the word “beer,” because even the shakiest beginner knows that one.

I drew a teapot on my card for “tea” (Caj, pronounced “chai,” oddly enough. Do I see evidence of the Indo-European language branch?). The teapot slowly morphed into an elephant while I was drawing it, and now that card just confuses me altogether.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Venus Fly Trap: Week Whatever

The action in the terrarium is hardly worth reporting. It’s looked the same for several weeks now. Every time a leaf grows to a certain size it keels over and dies. Then another leaf starts growing on the inside and the cycle begins again. I put it outside in the shade on a hot day to evaporate some extra water, and when I came back for it one of the leaves had little bite marks all over it. I took the plant aside and explained that it is supposed to be eating the insects and not the other way around.

On another note, I let my dog out while I was sautéing a milky green squash to find him on my porch minutes later with a skunk carcass in his mouth. The skunk has been decomposing at the end of our driveway for more than a week now, and the smell alone has been enough to discourage me from biking if only to avoid passing it.

Now that the smell is wearing off a little and the skunk no longer resembles a skunk, Bear thought it would be a good idea to stop traffic and risk his life to acquire this savory morsel of rotting flesh. My neighbor brought him over, the flattened road kill dangling from his smiling snout. It looked like something that fell into the bottom of the oven and was left burning for several years. Bear tried to bring it into the house, but we got him to drop the skunk remains on the porch before he went inside.

I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I took our kitchen broom and swept it off of the porch. Then I disinfected the broom with vinegar. After that, I disinfected the porch with vinegar. Then my brother hosed the porch. He removed the skunk with some sort of fireplace tong, and then we disinfected the tongs with vinegar. My brother sprayed his body with Lysol. Then he Lysol-ed his shoes.

It will be a long time before I feel like my porch is sanitary enough to walk on. It will be an even longer time before I think my dog is sanitary enough to kiss.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Remaining Teeth Bite Back

What did I ever do to you, Teeth? Is this your revenge for all of those years I didn’t floss you regularly?
At the follow-up appointment for my wisdom teeth procedure, the dentist dared me to challenge my teeth. “I have been challenging my teeth,” I said. “Yesterday I ate a sandwich.”
Since the procedure, I have been mainly eating oatmeal, cucumber soup, avocados, tomatoes, applesauce, pierogies, ice cream, melon, and pasta. Grapes turned out to be a no-no, but I had some just about every day to be sure. Then I chased them with an ibuprofen. The chocolate-caramel-pecan candies that have been tempting me from the coffee table were a terrible idea. A delicious, terrible idea. I wish I had one now.
I got adventurous when Dave came to visit me and had shrimp tacos. We had a feast of breakfast foods including pancakes, English muffins, eggs, and a rather out of place ice cream float. If I told you where we ate this feast, I would have to kill you.
Following the advice of the dentist, I ate a slice of pizza today. By the time I reached the crust, I felt certain that my swelling gums would burst through my cheeks. The prolonged toothache was subsequently followed by a headache, which led me to sleep for several hours in the evening.
I’m supposed to start rinsing my mouth with hydrogen peroxide. Somehow, putting hydrogen peroxide in my mouth seems counter-intuitive. My dad says you can also put it in your ear to prevent swimmer’s ear. I refuse to believe that this is safe.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Something About Octopi

This is the true account of what I actually believe happened during my wisdom teeth procedure on Thursday, during which I was administered Novocain and laughing gas. I recorded this account promptly after returning home from the oral surgeon. The results of the extraction are four shattered wisdom teeth that are improbably large for a person of my stature, as well as increased proficiency in the Czech language.

I’m sitting in the dentist chair. My head is lowered. The nurse takes my blood pressure. She puts a cup over my nose and tells me to breathe.

“I’m just going to numb the area,” the nurse says. She takes a Q-tip saturated with gel and spreads it onto my gums, behind my molars: First the top right, then the bottom right, then the top left, and the bottom left doesn’t feel like it got any, but maybe it just hasn’t kicked in yet?

The nurse tells me to breathe through my nose, but I don’t feel like I’m getting any air so I breathe through my mouth.

“It’s not going to work unless you breathe through your nose,” says the nurse. “It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic. Just breathe normally.”

I breathe as well as I can through my nose. The nurse puts my headphones into my ears and I scroll to the playlist I made to calm myself during the procedure. I press play. I set my iPod on my chest and settle into dizziness. The doctor comes into the room. “Is it enough? I can turn it up if you want.”

“No, it’s loud enough,” I say. When I realize he was talking about the laughing gas and not the music, I predictably laugh, as one on laughing gas laughs.

They put a jack between my lips and crank my mouth open until it unhinges like a snake’s.

“Just a little pinch,” says the doctor, ticking a needle of exaggerated size into my gum. Coolness washes over the area of injection. My gums feel like they are coated in shellac. The needle is inserted into the back of my palate and Novocain is injected into my brain. I become very sleepy, but I hold my eyes open.
My hands and feet fall asleep against my will and I begin to covertly rotate them. The doctor and the nurse turn their heads towards my feet, and I quickly freeze. They gaze back into my mouth and tell me how great I’m doing. I rotate my numbing feet. They see at the corners of their eyes and turn their heads, but I stop just in time.

The doctor takes out the drill.

“A lot of noise,” he warns me. He pounds it into my shellacked tissue. I feel pressure on my back molar and wonder if they have begun to drill the wrong tooth, but I cannot move or speak to tell them that they have read the x-rays wrong. I wonder what it will be like to chew with missing molars when they have all been removed by accident. The drilling is epic. I will write a story about this. An epic poem. No… a novel.

My body becomes inanimate, but my mind is lively. A sudden movement from the nurse drops my iPod to the ground, and as it hits the tiles it switches into random mode and plays all of the songs that I downloaded for free but didn’t actually enjoy. I mentally sink to my knees as the song mercilessly carries on. I think: “Noooooo…” Then I laugh, and it isn’t because of the laughing gas because I usually laugh at the absurdity of life. In fact, all of the things I have been laughing about are things that I would laugh at in normal circumstances. The doctor and nurse don’t know this and I suppose they are attributing my behavior to the gas. I’m worried that my movements will cause them to make a mistake and possibly exhume more teeth that I require for chewing. Who are these people and why don’t they know how to read a dental x-ray? Shouldn’t these professionals know the difference between an impacted wisdom tooth and a perfectly good molar?

I create a short cartoon depicting my feelings which will later be recorded in my novel as my eyes lull shut. Triceratopses are chomping on vegetables. T-rexes are sinking their teeth into mammals. A snail gets closed into another snail like a Russian nesting doll.

My body is slipping farther away from me and I am certain that I’m going to die. (I always think something is going to kill me; that’s what makes me so charming.) Of course it would be during a simple, routine procedure with a lame anesthetic like laughing gas. If I die now, as obvious as it would be, none of this will be recorded. This alarms me more than my impending doom.

But I’m not going to die after all, because they are now drilling on the other side. Time has skipped ahead with the music that I don’t enjoy.

“Halfway done,” the doctor announces.

“You’re doing great,” says the nurse.

My lips are not wide enough and the doctor puts some device that is usually used to wax automobiles between them to stretch them out forever. They ripple in every direction and my jaw cracks in half.

So I live after all, but what if I don’t remember? It could be like a vivid dream that I forget when I fall back asleep. I think of something about octopi which makes me laugh, and I tell myself to remember the octopi. Remember the octopi.

The doctor puts the drill to the fourth tooth and I begin to moan, but the doctor and nurse are conversing.

“And then he was arrested on the way to the hospital,” says the doctor. I cry out to alert them that area was not numbed properly, but I sound like a baby elephant.

“Can you feel that?” says the nurse.

“She doesn’t like that,” says the doctor.

I suddenly and reluctantly black out. I forget something about octopi. Maybe I’m dying.

But I open my eyes and they are cleaning up. My nose is released from the cup. My torso is elevated by the chair. I’m not listening to music anymore. My iPod has begun to play my Czech language tapes. I laugh, and it is not because of the laughing gas, but the Czech language tapes. To make sure this is understood, I begin to explain that my iPod fell and that random things had been playing throughout the process. My voice sounds muffled and I’m not sure he can understand me. I feel like I’m wearing a retainer.

“It’s not music. It’s Czech language tapes,” I explain. My body is still out of my control, so I rotate my wrists and ankles some more.

“Are you… going on a trip to Czechoslovakia?” he asks.

“Yes, but it isn’t called Czechoslovakia anymore. After it ceased to be a communist state it peacefully divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. They’re two separate countries now.”

The doctor has no idea what I’m saying.

The nurse leads me into another room and gets me some apple juice and a glorified ibuprofen.