Seeking Medical Help!

I have this problem with my wisdom teeth. My last trip to the dentist was a while back, and he said they were fine. Well, they’re not now. I keep getting gum infections because my wisdom teeth didn’t fully break through the gum. So I get bits of food stuck under the gum back there and they get infected. The infections are more annoying than anything, but I got some ointment that’s supposed to help relieve pain and promote healing.

I was standing in front of the mirror, having just smeared this gel all over my infected gums when the brilliant idea struck me that I should read the directions.

“If swallowed, seek medical help or contact a poison control center immediately.”

I looked in the mirror at my still-open mouth and this stuff (which apparently is poisonous) plastered all over my gums and thought, “Maybe this isn’t intended to be put in your mouth.”

I flipped the packaging over and checked the label, expecting it to say something like, “for use on feet only.” I’m not sure whether I was more relieved or perplexed to find the words “Oral Anesthetic.” Go figure.

I looked in the mirror and slowly closed my mouth. I tried really hard not to swallow—really, I swear….

If You Had to Choose Between WiFi and A Refrigerator…

“When you can’t think of anything to write, just start writing.” That’s the first line of most of my great works. It usually gets removed before being published. Actually, it’s never been removed from any of my works before they were published…mostly because none of my works have ever been published—that’s not to say they weren’t great. This time, I’ll leave it in here as a sort of disclaimer.

***

Growing up in the 20th century is very different than growing up in any other century. Technically, I guess I don’t know that growing up in the 20th century is any different from any other century since I didn’t grow up in any other century. My statement is largely based upon the fact that I grew up in a generation that had computers and internet and I’m told that previous generations did not.

“Would you rather have a refrigerator or wireless internet,” asked my landlady.

“That’s a tough question.” I replied. To most people, the answer would be simple—a refrigerator.  However, the fact that I already had a (sort of) working refrigerator, and absolutely no internet, made the decision difficult.

“I think I’d rather have internet…” And so begins the story of my summer in Texas.

***

“Can you remember a time before the internet?” The question was asked of me three years ago by my friend, John Bradshaw.

“I think so, but I’m not sure,” I replied.

Having grown up the son of a computer programmer, I’ve been around computers since I can remember. Though I didn’t venture on to the World Wide Web until I was 14, I had already owned several computers, and was very familiar with them. From the age of 14 until 18, my life consisted of web design, posting in online forums, and video games—lots of video games.

For those of you, like myself, that have grown up in the 20th century, you can understand my chagrin when I moved to Texas and found that I would have no internet whatsoever. This opportunity to have wireless internet was more than I could resist. In retrospect, I probably should have chosen the refrigerator…

It was about a week after the offer was made that a wireless router was installed, and another week before I had a computer, as mine was in for repairs.

***

“Darned mosquitoes,” I thought to myself as I scratched a cluster of about four bites on my ankle. I had multiple bug-bites covering my arms and legs. The reason I had so many bites was that I’d been sitting outside in the evening on my laptop checking my e-mail. “Why not go inside,” you ask.

My computer is several years old now, and probably needs to be upgraded soon. I bought it before wireless was being integrated into mainstream laptops. When I made the switch to WiFi, I bought an adapter. Unfortunately, an aftermarket adapter doesn’t have the range or stability of integrated wireless, and the router is in my landlord’s house 50 feet away. In a nutshell, it means that I have to go outside just to check my e-mail.

Of course, checking my inbox only takes about a minute, and it’s always the same—empty.  Imagine a five year old running downstairs Christmas morning to look at the presents under the tree, only to find nothing there when he arrives. That’s what it’s like for me to check my e-mail—every day…

Once I’ve confirmed that nobody loves me and that I’ve been forgotten, I have a moment of silence thinking, “There’s gotta be something else I needed to do…” Of course, I always find something else to do (like checking myspace.com to see if I got any messages—it’s like checking my e-mail all over again). Once that’s done, I go back to my e-mail, just in case. Sometimes, this cycle can consume hours.

By the time I’ve finished doing nothing online, the mosquitoes have been well-fed. Of course, it’s always worth it at the time, but the next day I think to myself, “I should have just gotten the refrigerator.”

Thinking I might be able to avoid the mosquitoes, I started checking my e-mail about mid-day. I soon found that I was getting just about as many mosquito bites at mid-day as in the evening—it’s just a little easier to see the mosquitoes.

“I’ve g2g, the keys are burning my fingers,” is how many of my messenger conversations and e-mails ended. 105F is pretty hot, and with the afternoon sun beating down on my black keyboard, the keys can get very hot. The one advantage to using the internet during the day is that the cars don’t interfere…

So long as I’m within about 70ft of the router, have line of sight to the window in which it sits, and point my “omni-directional” antenna at it, I can connect.

“Oh!  I have signal here!” I carefully adjust my chair and sit down. A moment later the dog starts barking. “Oh, great…there goes my signal.” Contrary to what you might be thinking, I do not lose signal simply because the dog barks. The dog barks because my landlord is almost home. Inevitably, my landlord parks his SUV directly between me and the router…

Even when I do get connected, the connection is slow. They have satellite, but it’s not as fast as they make it sound. There’s a delay—kind of like talking to someone on the phone in England.

“Hello?”

*silence*

“Hi!”

*silence*

“How are you?”

*silence*

“Fine…”

When observing the traditional moment of silence during these conversations, it takes forever to get anything said, and the silence can confuse things. The same is true with this connection. I may think a page isn’t loading, when, in reality, it is. But I didn’t realize it, so I hit refresh, and it started over again. Eventually I give up and go in for lunch.

Now, there’s a way around all these nuisances. It’s called a “cantenna.” Unfortunately, I’m being perfectly serious. It is possible to use an empty Pringles can and a bit of wire to extend your wireless range. Using a special mathematical algorithm you can determine the optimum placement of the wire inside the can so as to get the best signal. It only costs about $5 to make. Being the sensible, budget-minded individual that I am, I saw the potential in this and decided to go for it. I began collecting the necessary parts immediately (that was nearly a month ago). As of today, I’ve collected the empty Pringles can (it wasn’t empty when I got it, in case you’re wondering).

Ideally, I would be able to attach the cantenna outside, running the cable through a window where I would connect it to my wireless card, thus increasing my signal strength, and enabling me to connect inside my trailer. “So why haven’t you done it,” you ask.

It takes too much time. “Doesn’t it take more time and cause you more discomfort in your current situation?”

I suppose it’s not as bad as I make it sound, or else I would give up on the internet, right? Or am I that desperate? Maybe it’s just part of my culture (sounds like a good excuse…) I don’t know.  What I do know is that at home in Colorado, I get good signal strength, DSL, and it never gets above 90F. Here’s a question even Google can’t answer: “Why on earth did I come to Texas?”

A Bachelor, A Camper Trailer, And Some Sketchy Food

I was hungry again.  It’s not uncommon for me to be hungry, especially at my age. I stepped into the kitchen, and looked at all the dirty dishes stacked on the counter. I quickly made my way back to the comfort of my seat in front of the computer…but that nagging hunger just wouldn’t leave. Once again, I got up and made my way into the kitchen (a distance of about 5 ½ feet). Once again the dirty dishes sat there, motionless on the countertop. It had been nearly one day now, and none of them had washed themselves yet. The situation wasn’t improving.

I’m currently living in a 30-foot travel trailer for the summer. The kitchen is nearly eight by eight. The countertop takes up only a small portion and fits between the sink and the stove. There’s just enough space on the counter for a box of cereal and a bowl—you have to hold the milk. Across from the counter is the table. This would work as a counter except that it also works as an office….

The refrigerator is worse. Originally, there was a decent-sized gas refrigerator. Unfortunately, it had quit working and had been removed. The refrigerator I am currently using is about 5 cubic feet. To give you an idea of how small 5 cubic feet is; if you wanted to put a pillow in the refrigerator—not that you would—but let’s suppose you wanted to, you’d have to take the pillowcase off, smash it down real small, and if you try real hard, you might fit it in the refrigerator—the pillowcase, that is—what were you thinking trying to put a pillow in a 5 cubic foot refrigerator? But I digress.

I went back to the computer. As I sat in front of the computer listening to my stomach rumble I decided it might be worth it to do some dishes. I realized that if I was going to eat with a fork, I’d have to wash it. However, I was out of plates as well. This meant that I’d either have to wash a spoon—as eating out of your hand with a fork isn’t pleasant—or else I’d have to wash a plate as well.  I went back into the kitchen….

The sink is smaller than the refrigerator. This makes doing dishes somewhat tedious and frustrating. It’s not uncommon for me to get more water on the countertop and floor when using a full-sized sink and with a sink this size, it’s even worse. But my stomach was still rumbling, so I started running the water.

To hold me over, I got out the peanut butter. I then opened the overly crowded refrigerator to search for the celery. As I bent over (the refrigerator is about knee-high) I saw the celery—surrounded by about a dozen other objects. I carefully began extracting the celery. Thump. The soy sauce fell out of the door. I put it back in the door and quickly closed the refrigerator door before the mustard tried to escape as well.

Now I set to work washing dishes and munching on celery sticks with peanut butter. I only own two plates, two bowls, eight spoons, eight forks, eight knives, one wooden cooking spoon, one spatula, two pans, a skillet, and one glass. All but two knives and the spatula were dirty.

One of the pans hadn’t been used, but was still dirty. This is due to the leaky stove. Well, technically it’s the vent above the stove that leaks. I use this pan to catch the drips (sometimes as much as two quarts of slightly brownish water). If I don’t catch them, they go down, through the stove, and onto the carpet in front. There’s not much carpet to get wet, but it’s all I have to walk on and it’s not pleasant to walk on we carpet first thing in the morning. But I digress again.

I finally got all the dishes washed, and nearly all the peanut butter eaten. I find myself eating things simply so they don’t go bad or get “any worse.” I suppose peanut butter won’t go bad very quickly, but I’ve thought that more than once. It’s something like this:  I open the fridge in the morning.

“Huh?” Wipes eyes. “This hasn’t been in here that long.” Sniff, sniff. “Hmmm. It doesn’t smell too bad yet. Humph, spaghetti for breakfast… Well, I gotta eat it before it gets any worse.” And who knows what Tofu really smells like anyway?

Well, that’s what was on the menu tonight; salad, because the lettuce was frozen—I’ll get to that in a moment—spaghetti, because I didn’t know how much longer it would hold out, and spaghetti sauce that’s only been open for 3 days (I’m trying to plan ahead).

I opened the fridge again. Thump. There was the soy sauce again. I pulled out the carrots, spaghetti in a zip-lock bag (moldable and space-saving), a green pepper, the spaghetti sauce, lettuce, and a slice of soy cheese. I put the soy sauce back in the fridge and thought, “Wow, it looks so empty.”

I began inspecting the objects I’d just pulled out of the refrigerator. I looked at the tomato first.

“What is that? Ewww. This has only been in there one week. Well, maybe two—I don’t know. I guess I could just cut that part off.”  Sniff, sniff. “Whoa, forget that! No tomato in the salad tonight.”

Then the lettuce.

“Oops. It’s frozen. I guess I can’t store it in the freezer.” To most people such an observation might seem a bit, “well…DUH!”  Here’s the scoop: having only 5 cubic feet to work with, I was confronted with a choice last time I bought celery sticks. Either the celery stays out, or the lettuce goes in the freezer.

The refrigerator has one cooling coil that doubles as the “freezer.”  I packed some stuff around the lettuce to insulate it and prevent its coming in direct contact with the coil, hoping it wouldn’t actually freeze.  For those of you living in 30-foot travel trailers with 5 cubic foot refrigerators that are thinking of doing this, let me tell you now—it doesn’t work.  I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to let the celery sticks wilt.

The spaghetti sauce looked fine, which was to be expected. Then I grabbed the spaghetti….

“Spaghetti in a zip-lock. Heh, it looks a bit like a brain.” I opened it up. “Doesn’t really look slimy. That’s good!” Sniff, sniff.  “Whoa, that doesn’t smell right.” Sniff, sniff. “…it doesn’t really smell wrong either though.” Sniff, sniff. “What is left-over spaghetti supposed to smell like anyway?” Sniff, sniff. “It smells like garlic. Did I put garlic in the spaghetti when I made it? I know I put some in the sauce. Did I put some in the spaghetti too—I can’t remember. I guess I’ll have to taste it.” Taste. “Hmm, can’t tell.” Taste, taste. “Hmm, still can’t tell—I guess it can’t be too bad.”

The pepper was fine.

I failed to mention that I have one well-used cutting board (I had just washed this as well).  I pulled it out and began chopping up the veggies. I put the sauce in the pan and began heating it. I put the spaghetti in the microwave just to be safe. The idea being that 7 minutes in the microwave will kill anything living in the spaghetti. I heard that ants are the only thing that can survive in a microwave. If I’m wrong, please don’t tell me.

I looked at the lettuce. “I suppose this is what frostbite would look like on a green human. At least nothing is growing on it….” I pealed off the outer leaves, and found a decent amount that was salvageable. I used what I could, and threw away the remainder.

With carrots, celery, green pepper, lettuce, soy cheese, and dried cranberries, I was able to produce a very tasty-looking salad. As with all my edible-looking creations, I took a picture of it.

The sauce was ready, so I got the spaghetti out of the microwave. I was feeling pretty safe about it at this point. I put the spaghetti on the plate and poured the sauce over it. I put away all the vegetables, making sure none of them were in direct contact with the cooling coil. It was looking good, but something seemed to be missing. Garlic bread! I pulled the bread out of the “pantry” (similar to a medicine cabinet). And retrieved the toaster oven from its cupboard—under the sink….

I won’t tell you about the toaster oven right now, except to say that it took me a while (and lots of very strong chemicals) to become comfortable about the idea of my food actually touching it. I needed the Smart Balance, so I opened the fridge. Thump. Clatter, bump, rattle, thud. The soy sauce was out again. This time ½ the contents came along—including the carrots.

“Lord, I don’t know how you give me such patience.” I put the carrots, soy sauce, curry, sweet and sour sauce, and rice back into the fridge. Quickly, I shut the door. I then “buttered” the bread and put it in the toaster oven. Then I returned the Smart Balance to the fridge—or at least tried. The door wouldn’t close. I rearranged the orange juice and milk, put the spaghetti sauce, rice, and soy sauce on the other side of the fridge, and tried again. Still, nothing. I put the carrots under the jars. This time it worked.

I stood up, proud that I’d repacked the fridge so well. Sniff, sniff. “It smells funky in here.” I turned around. “Oops…” I’d forgotten about the bread. Quickly I shut off the oven and opened it. “Hey, that’s not too bad.” I scraped off the worst of it and added some garlic salt. I sat down to eat. “Finally.”

The salad was very good. The spaghetti wasn’t bad, and I’m still feeling okay, so I might be able to finish the rest of it tomorrow….  The bread was pretty good—I even made seconds on that, and I forgot it again….

Finally full, I stacked all the dishes in and around the sink. I looked at them sitting there, motionless. I walked over to the computer and sat down. “I’ll do those later….”

A Road Trip, A Motel and A Lying GPS

It was 11PM, and I was still driving. I’d been driving since 10AM, and other than getting lunch and refueling, I hadn’t stopped. I was moving from Colorado to Texas and it was a 15 hr. drive.

It’s a hard-to-swallow fact that we can get by with much less than we have. I may have over-proved that fact on this trip. Usually I have a topper on my truck, and am able to move a decent amount of possessions. This time, I didn’t have that topper. Why? Because it’s “uncool…” I own a green, 2001, 4×4 Toyota Tacoma extended cab. It’s a really cool truck. The topper, on the other hand, is a blue, universal topper for an uncool 90’s model. So I took it off.

When moving across states (which I do about every 3 months), it’s not uncommon to run into bad weather. It was therefore necessary to pack everything I was taking with me into the cab of my truck…

“Maybe I should have kept the topper on.” I said to myself as I steadied my computer from falling off the stack of clothes in the seat next to me. Everything I would need for the summer was in the cab of that truck with me, including my violin.

It had been a long drive, and I was getting tired. To help keep myself awake, I rolled down a window and turned up the music. Suddenly a voice blared out:

“Off route, recalculating route.” It was my GPS, which was hooked into my truck’s stereo system.

“Oh, great, not again.” I’d missed my turn. This happens frequently. It’s like Murphy’s Law plagues my driving. If I can get lost I will get lost! This is ironic, considering part of my job is to drive around and find people…

“Okay, let’s pull over here.” I pulled over, examined the laptop, and figured out how to get back on route. I know you’re thinking, “How on earth does someone get lost with a GPS?” Well, it’s not entirely my fault.

The GPS unit was a relatively inexpensive package we got on a product exchange at Best Buy. This is not a military-grade GPS unit. In other words, when the GPS says, “Turn right,” It really means, “Turn around, you’ve passed your turn.” I now realize that, but this doesn’t solve the problem of getting lost in the first place. Often, while driving on a highway, I’ll ask, “Where are we?”

“We’re over there,” comes the reply.

“Over where?”

“About thirty feet on the other side of that fence, driving through that corn field.”

I really hope the military’s GPS guided munitions are more accurate! Another problem I’ve noticed is this: I input an address and follow the directions. After making numerous turns and winding along roads the GPS indicates I’ve arrived at the address. I look around, and there’s nothing there…nothing but a heard of sheep.

“This can’t be it man, we’re in the middle of a sheep fold.”

“It says it’s right here,” my friend replied.

“There’s no way! There’s nothing here but sheep. Let me see that thing. Hmmm… Okay, forget this; let’s go find the next person.”

I have wasted more gas money following my GPS on wild goose chases than the GPS cost me in the first place.

The story was no different moving to Texas. I now found myself lost again at 11PM. I finally got back on track.

“I should call someone,” I thought. The problem is that almost everyone I know is sleeping at 11PM. “Steve’s in Hawaii, I’ll call him.”

“Hey dawg, wassup?”

Stephen: “Money! I haven’t heard from you in forever, what are you doin’?”

“I’m driving across Texas. It’s really boring, keep me awake man.”

“What’s that I hear?”

“It’s my GPS telling me I’m lost again. Hold on… Okay, there.”

“Haha, I thought that was a woman in the car with you!”

“C’mon man, you know me! Though, I must say, 13 hrs. in a vehicle by yourself will make you wish you were married like nothing else!”

I’ve since rethought that statement: 13 hours of you and your spouse alone in the car would probably make you want to be single like nothing else…

“Haha, How much longer are you planning on driving?”

“My parents want me to get a hotel tonight, so that’s what I’m looking for.”

We continued talking until I found a hotel.

My initial plan was to fit everything in the cab of my truck so that I could stop at a truck stop and sleep in my truck for the night. My mom wasn’t keen on that idea, and so they’d called and asked me to find a hotel. Being the wonderful son I am, I grumbled and complained, and finally agreed. I found a decent-looking hotel and stopped.

“How much are rooms?”

“$$$”

“I don’t want to buy the room,” I was thinking to myself.

“Is there anyplace cheaper in town?” I asked.

“Not with a pool.”

I look over at the pool, the sign on the door states that it closed at 10PM—one hour ago.

“It’s already eleven I won’t even get to use it. Can you give me a discount because I won’t use the pool?”

“No sir.”

*Silence*

“Okay, I guess I’ll take a room for the night.”

“I’m sorry, but all of our rooms are booked.”

“Thank you, you’ve been very helpful.”

I finally found a hotel with vacancies. There are two reasons this hotel had vacancies. One, it was so far removed from the interstate that few people found it. And two, this hotel was actually a motel, and most of those who found it decided to spend the night under a bridge instead.

Upon getting into my room, I decided it wasn’t that bad and determined to take a quick shower.

The shower was in the corner of the bathroom and looked a little like something you’d find in the space shuttle—so small that if you dropped the soap, you had to turn the shower off, open the curtain, step out, bend down and pick up the soap, then get back in the shower. The shower head was in the corner, and sprayed directly into the shower curtain—thus, I needed to be in the shower, with the curtain closed, before turning the water on. Then I turned the water on…

Why do hotels think their guests need pressure-washing? When the water hit the shower curtain, it nearly ripped it off the rod, and sprayed water all over the bathroom. The only way I could save the shower curtain was to stand between it and the shower head. As I stepped out of the shower and dried off, I looked in the mirror. I looked like I had gotten severely sunburned. “At least my skin is still there,” I thought to myself—when I was in the shower, it was hard to tell.

Just before the move, some friends had warned me about checking under the mattress in motels for bedbugs. “If I find some,” I thought, “what will I do? Maybe it’s best to remain ignorant.” So, squeaky clean, and slightly tender, I climbed into bed. I had no trouble deciding which bed to sleep in—the one closest to the air conditioner. I turned the air conditioner up all the way, and lay in bed, glad I would arrive at my destination the following day—if I didn’t end up in a pasture somewhere…

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