Buddha Flu

Got so excited this past rain that I convinced some friends to go mud-wompin’.
“C’mon. When was the last time you played?”
We womped and yelled and drank acid rain till someone joked that we might catch pneumonia. Between you and me, I already had the flu. Happens every time I fly in a tube of recirculating germs. Is it just me, or is everyone in this country sick?
“Now boarding passengers with weepy eyes, runny nose, and whooping cough.”
When I board, I don’t even need a ticket; I just look for the palest person and go, “That must be me. No, I’ll be in your lap. Yeah, just run your hands across my face; let’s get this over with.”
But today, playing with friends, who cared? The creek overflowed, and we were wearing our last-resort shoes...
I write you now with pneumonia.
It’s my first time, so I’m kind of excited. I avoided pneumonia my whole life but finally grew dumb enough to catch it (it was only a matter of time).
The infection moved in like a fussy houseguest with no intention to leave. Mostly, it’s just a goose cough and this stuffed-up head like you’ve been crying for three years. It’s starting to grow on me.
We spend so much time fighting colds. If we’re not trying to get on our feet, then we’re bouncing back or trying to feel ourselves again. I was raised not to feel myself, but the point is that if we surrender, the cold can be a form of enlightenment.
Maybe it’s different for sane people, but my everyday state is a lot of work. I lose whole afternoons worrying that my eyes are different sizes. Illness, for me, is like jumping on Springsteen’s bike and riding out of this valley to where the fields are green.
I’ve been staggering around in a happy haze, hearing only what I need to hear. A guy cut me off on the freeway ... whatevs. Am I 10 minutes late? You’ll have to file a complaint. Form 4512-T.
I wish cold pills actually gave you a cold so that when it’s time to call tech support or do taxes ... take two and call me in the morning. The sky is always falling.
Today at Kaiser, the nurse asked if I had been taking my prescription. I said off and on.
She said from her cross, "Well, that's like not taking it at all."
It was like a face wash in hockey -- as in, take my blood pressure again because it just changed -- but today I watched it all from the bottom of a pond.
“Yes," I said. "It is like that. Wish I hadn’t bought the pills in the first place."
She tilted her head. "No. You shouldn't have." Long stare. No change in vitals.
The doctor walked in and excused Nurse Ratched. He listened to my lungs and asked, as a joke, if I had been out in the rain. I said yes. The doctor laughed because he drives a BMW. That also changes your worldview. Makes you whistle.
“Brace yourself,” he said, “but it’s not a good idea to play in the rain when you have a bug.”
The doctor explained walking pneumonia, which is better, I guess, than lying-down pneumonia. He scribbled a note for antibiotics and agreed with my take on the Buddha flu. But he also looked me in the eye as he handed the prescription: Don’t be an idiot.
I can’t remember what I just wrote. If it bombed ... whatevs. I’m just swimming in this sweet syrup of indifference, man, down to the river.
The doctor said that my pneumonia will get worse if I don't take his drugs; and while I may listen, I must admit that I'm tempted to check out pleurisy.


Queen Nation

This weekend Patti and I saw the band Queen Nation because 1. it was free and 2. it happened within walking distance of our house (stumbling distance if you count the alcohol).

As a fan of Queen, I went with every intention of hating this, their tribute band. I’m not big on concerts anyway, a place where they ruin all the songs you loved on the radio.

But these guys were really super hella good. Damn them.

The singer, Greg, looked enough like Freddie Mercury that if you squinted your eyes, you could forget about his moose knuckle. He also had Freddie’s copstache and biker hat. (You get the feeling that handcuffs came with the outfit.)

Legend has it that Greg was chosen to play Freddie Mercury the same way they find the Dalai Lama: As a child, he was presented with different objects and headed directly for the wrist band.

“We have found The One.”

And we the people gobbled Him up, tossing beach balls, waving glow sticks. Tonight Camarillo would party till ten. And talk about diversity: There were short white people, tall white people, old white people ...

Not a one of us had rhythm. I caught myself several times doing the whitey lip-bite. The guy in front of me -- wearing an Eagles shirt, wrong concert -- swayed the entire time with a #1 finger. He would have used a lighter, but that’s illegal in Camarillo.

Some of the pre-teens formed a mosh pit. They didn’t recognize the guy in tight pants, but they kinda sorta knew the songs and couldn’t wait for him to do “YMCA.” So it goes.

If you plan on seeing a concert in Camarillo, come early. A week or more if possible. I’m not saying we’re starved for entertainment, but the entire populace showed up, pets included. It was like Woodstock 40 years later.

PA announcement: “We’re told that we’ve got some bad Metamucil going around...”

Patti, five feet tall, couldn’t see the stage, so I rolled up our blanket for a step stool. Problem is that from then on I had to hold her by the belt loops. Patti got a false sense of security, like a harnessed trapeze girl, and started swinging left and write to snap photos.

Queen Nation closed with “We Will Rock You” slash “We Are the Champions,” and why are those songs conjoined in the first place? I thought we had the technology to prevent that during the songwriting process.

Greg pranced into the audience while people grabbed at him for a touch, a tear, some brief encounter with this man who was practically almost Freddie Mercury...

And I got to thinking.

Why am I developing new material when I could just recreate the old? How much easier would that be? Maybe it’s time I become Rodney Nation and tour the country doing one-liners.

“When I was born, the doctor slapped my mother. I tell ya.”

In conclusion, this band was so good that I felt the way I do after a long fireworks show -- guilty for having not paid. Then the guilt wears off and I start thinking about how much I spent on alcohol.


Fishing With Dad

A few years ago, my dad retired to Big Bear and lost all touch with reality. He doesn’t wear a watch or own a calendar. It’s like talking to Sitting Bull.

I asked what time I could expect him; he just hit his peace pipe: “When the shadow falls long from the pine tree.”

My dad came down the mountain because he wanted to take me fishing. It was on his smelly-bucket list. Dad is an old fisherman and I ... well, I carry Purell.

I had fished only once, when I was three, and Dad caught me plucking guppies from the aquarium. He freaked out like I was eating them, when it was strictly catch and release.

Now, as an adult, I wonder why I would hunt for something that costs a dollar at McDonald’s? And while we’re asking questions, isn’t “Filet-O-Fish” a little ambiguous? Filet o’ what kind of fish?

McDonalds: Ask us no questions; we’ll tell you no lies.™

At least my dad didn’t charter a boat. Fish aren’t the brightest of God’s creatures, yet we come at them with radar, sonar, migration charts. Some fish just lose their nerve and jump in the boat as you pass.

The jacksmelt, says my dad, is so dumb that you can catch one without any bait. They just like to swallow glittery hooks. Like many voters.

Dad and I didn’t need a boat. We would squat old-school on the jetty, like people who refuse to give up chopsticks despite the superior fork-and-knife technology.

My dad asked if I had a license, so I pulled out my I.D.

He shook his head at the heavens: “Is this really my son?”

Evidently, you need a license to fish and can take home only so many (if we could just apply those same rules to childbearing).

My dad brought a bucket of live, highly attentive anchovies, and I realized, watching them swim their last laps, that you don’t stand much chance as a fisherman when you feel sorry for the bait. So it goes.

I’m not a vegetarian, per se, but I require at minimum that my food be murdered in some remote location. Left to my own, I’d stand on the shore waiting for the fish to die of natural causes.

Dad anchovied my line, then started on his own, not once looking down. By all accounts, he was a master baiter.

He let me cast my own line, damn the torpedoes, and I’m pleased to report no blood loss. I aimed for a seagull, who was happy to guzzle my bait. Dad reeled me in, shaking his head at the heavens.

Poles in place, my job was to report on nibbles, which happen every time the water moves.

“We got one! Wait, no. It’s a nibble! No, no.”

My dad stopped looking over. I was the boy who cried fish.

Turns out that fishing isn’t so much about fishing as it is about not watching TV. My dad and I talked about all kinds of things that don’t come up during commercials. He recalled, for instance, the time I poured Ex-Lax in the salad dressing and how he almost decided to undo me.

And just when I had forgotten about nibbles, my dad’s pole doubled over and he woke up like a fireman, shoving me the net as he reeled, reeled, reeled. The fish, unsure of our intentions or religious beliefs, struggled like a madman.

Moments later, a slimy silver body flickered in the sun. I hooted and cheered like we had captured Nessie. My dad plunked the rockfish into my net, where the little guy thrashed for his life.

“You will have my dead body, but not my obedience.”

Dad and I admired the trophy and then, without snapping a photo or calling the Star, released him back to the wild. Even now the poor guy is spinning tales of his abduction.

“There was a blinding light. I think they planted a tracking device.”

Without looking down, my dad re-baited and crouched down like a baseball catcher, this time with a secret smile. He reminded me of the Buddhists who toil over sand designs for an entire week, then just blow them away. Dust in the wind.

I myself didn’t actually, officially catch a fish, but I did avoid falling into the sea, which is more than anyone expected. My dad has since returned to Big Bear, where he continues to fish not two blocks from McDonald’s. And I can’t wait till the shadow again falls long from the pine tree.



I’ve been attracted to fire from an early age, when Dad caught me trimming the lawn with a blowtorch.

“I don’t care if it is a controlled burn; you get your ass inside.”

Only recently, when firefighters trained in my area, did I see up close again my old flame.

Training took place at five houses condemned to burn because they were built sometime during the Mesozoic Era. The battalion chief, who oversaw the drill with a stoic air, Constantine at war, said they’d be using PSI to GPM the NFL ... they’d be burning stuff.

The men paired off for assignments: ventilation, support, and -- gulp -- lying face down in a house WHILE IT BURNED! That person was called the “dummy.” So it goes.

The captain’s face turned grim: “It is not macho to melt your helmet. Injuries do not impress me. I want you on your bellies.”

You can see why Prometheus, having stolen fire from the gods, was sentenced to have his liver eaten out daily while Mariah Carey songs played in the background for all eternity. And why did Prometheus take so much flak when, in the same book, we see fire-breathing dragons? Plot holes.

Some years after Prometheus, hippies would set fire to just about everything: draft cards, bras, dolls, several metric tons of controlled flora. And let’s not forget the tragic Keebler Elves Incident of '98: “What were we thinking, baking inside a tree?”

For these reasons and more, the chief shouted at his soldiers to man their positions around the houses. After ten minutes of bullhorn talk – like the guy at Jack in the Box reading back your order forever – the captain finally said, “Fire in the hole!”

I plugged my ears for an explosion, like the movies, as the Ignition Group calmly walked inside a house and dropped a flame on “class A combustibles” – haystacks, plywood, Mariah Carey albums. It smelled like camping.

I wonder if an incense factory ever burned down. The reporter would have to be conflicted: “And while this fire has caused millions of dollars in damage, the city smells terrific!

A fireman photographer, Phil, waved me over to House Three, which awaited execution. Did I mention that the house next-door was on fire? I had that giddy feeling you get on your first kindergarten day trip, only this blew away the post office. Maybe we could do that next – blow up the post office.

Across the street, commoners gathered like moths at Lamps Plus. The fire truck blasted three times: last call for the firemen to get out. The dragon crackled and hissed, spitting cinders our way.

“Once it gets like that,” said Phil, “we just surround and drown. It’s all over.”

Until then, I always imagined that I could run into a burning house and save someone’s life. Now I’m not sure. I would at least have to know what kind of person it is – see a résumé or something.

Drills went on like this for hours until all the houses disappeared, dust to dust. The firemen retired to Gatorade and smeared charcoal on their faces every time they wiped. You have to admire people who, for our safety, put themselves in a position to die regardless of their plans for the rest of the day.

Constantine applauded his troops for a job well done. A few stayed behind to babysit the hot spots, which could smolder for days if left unattended. But don’t worry, Dad. It’s a controlled burn.


I'm not the sharpest tool in the light bulb. A long time ago, my parents asked what I wanted to be when I grow up, and I said a horse. In my teens, I thought that air kept the bread fresh, so I would blow into the bag before putting it away.

Still, I knew enough to stay inside an airplane when it's flying at 15,000 feet. Until recently, when something changed my mind: a triple dog dare by my friend Anthony.

When we got to Taft Skydive, it was raining men. They looked like the little G.I. Joe Paratrooper that I owned as a kid. His chute would open about half the time, a percentage that seemed suddenly unacceptable.

In the hangar I met my instructor, Voodoo, who happens to be the adult film star Voodoo Child. (Now you know what they do when they’re not cleaning pools or delivering pizza.)

Outside his tribal earrings and rockabilly sideburns, Voodoo could have been your next-door neighbor. I mean, you wouldn’t leave your wife with him, but you could trust him on your back. I mean --

"When I go up on my own," he said, "I get a little crazy. But with students, it's always by the book."

As I suited up, someone in the sky experienced a "malfunction," which called everyone to the tarmac. The jumper had cut away his primary chute and, proving himself to be insane, tried to catch up with it like James Bond. Finally he gave up and decided to try the reserve chute, his only connection to this whole life thing.

Fortunately it worked, so we put away the giant spatula.

"It happens every few weeks," said Voodoo. "That guy packed his own bag, so there won't be a confrontation."

Immediately, I wanted to meet my own packer. Kippy.

"So, uh, you're on good terms with Voodoo, right?"

Kippy laughed. "He owes me money."

"Then please accept this generous tip."

In the lounge, guys wore their hair long and said things like "no worries" and "it's all good." I felt heavily under-tattooed. It was like a keg party at the airport.

"These guys come every weekend," said Voodoo. "They're junkies like Jester here."

Voodoo ... Jester ... All we needed was Ice Man and Maverick.

Jester, on cue, ran by eating a chicken wing, his pony tail clumped into sections with rubber bands. He sucker-punched everyone he met.

"You get like this after 20,000 jumps," he said, spilling his coffee.

"Any final words before I go up?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "Hold on to your boys [naughty gesture]. Now let's get up there and find out why the birds sing. Woooo!"

In the belly of the plane, students held hands in a breathing exercise while I got in touch with my religious beliefs. We flew so high that I got an ice cream headache. You'd think that as you approached the sun, it would get warmer. And air should keep the bread fresh! So it goes.

Voodoo sat me in his lap —- don't even go there -— and latched himself into my four metal loops. I took inventory one last time. Goggles, check. Altimeter, check. Change of underwear, check.

Jester, riding shotgun with the pilot, came back to say, "Are there any peanuts on this flight?" Then he laughed his head off and crawled back to "first class."

I had just stopped trembling when someone had the gall to open a door. That's when your brain realizes that it's not a movie: You're actually going to jump out of the airplane. My heart wanted out -— to hell with the triple dog dare. What if I died right there? Would they downgrade my ticket to cargo?

"It's going to be okay," said Voodoo. "Four somersaults and then the swan."

I'm not sure what happened next. It was light, it was dark, it was light, it was dark. I screamed through the freezing air, and it screamed through me.

Jester, freefalling beside us, tapped on my foot, but I was in no mood. It took every ounce of my concentration to not have a heart attack.

"Arch your back!" shouted Voodoo.

My partner pulled the ripcord, and Jester spun away beneath us like he had been flushed. And there I hovered in outer-space-like quiet above the birds and traffic and cell phones, a G.I. Joe Paratrooper.

Voodoo howled at the world. "Tell me this isn't BLEEPing fantastic!"

We banked left and right like a roller coaster hitting embankments until the ground demanded our attention. Voodoo set us down in three steps, and there was much rejoicing. I gathered up the canopy like a kid hurrying to get back into line.

"It's better than sex," said Voodoo (coming from an expert).

I was too high for words. Spiritual. If the Native Americans had airplanes, they definitely would have chosen skydiving over the vision quest. You know Geronimo would be there.

On the way home, I didn't talk to Anthony, Mr. Triple Dog Dare. I just hummed to the radio and basked in my afterglow ... if you know what I mean.


Dog Lickers

My mom is a dog-licker. That’s someone who thinks highly enough of her pet to accept French kisses (and we do know where those dog lips have been).

Max, Mom’s dog, is a black poodle. Full name: Emperor Maximus. No, really -- it’s engraved on the doggy bling that Mom creates herself from Swarovski crystal.

Max receives full emperor treatment, too. In the hallway you’ll find portraits of him front and center in the space normally reserved for, well, sons.

It’s not that my mom worships her dog. Well, yes. It is. It’s exactly like that. But lots of people get weird about their pets. One time I was buying a Craigslist toy from a woman who asked if I’d like to see her goldfish. She returned with a laminated carcass.

“Um,” I said. “Um.”

“The salt preserves him indefinitely,” she said.

So yes, when it comes to pet obsession, Mom is off the hook. Ha! Hook. Sigh.

Max weighs five pounds -- half a bowling ball -- but barks like he’s been dipped in the river Styx. He chases passers-by with the illusion that somehow, someway, he’ll render them extinct.

Compare to cats, who have no protective instincts at all. You could fall down the stairs and lie unconscious in a heap, and the cat will be playing with your shoestring. So it goes.

Not to “out” him or anything, but Max does pee in a litter box.

“Does his wil’ piddle,” says Mom.

The pee smells funny because she buys him flavored vitamin water. For an animal that was only moments ago gnawing at his bahookie.

In the living room you’ll find a ball that, when you touch it, plays a recording of Mom’s voice: “I love you, Max. I’ll be home soooon.”

When you suggest that she’s overdoing it, my mom does both voices.

MAX: I just wants to pway wis my mommy.

MOM: Then go get it. Get your ball!

ROD SERLING: And if you get quiet -- listen not with your ears but with your heart -- you too might hear that little creature say, “I am god spelled backwards.”

I don’t mind that Max prefers Skippy to Jif; it’s just that my mom knows about it.

When Mom leaves for work, Max runs to his kennel cab to sulk. Mom pitched to her coworkers a take-your-dog-to-work day, but they’re not biting. Ha! Biting. Sigh.

When last we spoke, Mom and Max -- the twins -- were at the dentist, and can’t you just hear that conversation … “For the last time, Mrs. Baker, no. We are NOT recommending braces for your dog.”

Max has an Imelda-Marcos-size toy collection, 52 animals in all. Last week he had sexual relations with the lobster (and you wonder how we get things like crabs). If you catch him in the right mood, Max will have relations with your leg. And that’s another difference between cats and dogs: A cat may love you, but dogs go all the way.

My mom is not alone in her obsession. Have you seen the dog-treat section at Petco? Sirloin kabobs, duck jerky, organic crispy cheese cakes. Not that Max would eat food that comes from a “pet store.” He’s ready for a setting at the dinner table.

“Who made you rice wich your chickeeen? Max! Don’t eat the garnish!”

Mom and my step-dad Mark watch The National Dog Show, which is when a starchy woman, perhaps the queen of England, walks around pointing out flaws (the way TMZ does).

Max himself couldn’t handle a contest because he’s prejudiced against dogs. Once he learns to stand upright, he’s getting a wax and having the surgery.

At Christmas, Mom fit the dog with antlers and took him for pictures with Santa. She’s submitting the pictures to Parade and fully expects to see prize money.

Here comes the scary part: Mom and Mark may be getting another puppy. Breeders beware. These are the nicest people in the world, but they’ll spoil your dog beyond recognition. They will decorate him and take him on road trips and teach him to speak in childish tones.

“Who’s the bestest, most bootiful boy in da wooorld?”

I hope my mom sees the humor in all this because one, I love her, and two, I’m going over for dinner tonight. We’re having Snausages.



I live with a coyote. That’s what the Native Americans called people who sneak up and scare you or make prank smoke signals or put their icy hands down your loincloth -- all crimes committed by my sweetheart, Patti. I am sleeping with the enemy.

Patti claims little responsibility for her terrorism. She figures that if she is standing behind you for 10 minutes while you cook a meal and finally turn around and scream, that’s your problem. Never mind that she poses like one of the creepy twins from The Shining.

“Play with us, Jason. Forever and ever and ever...”

Patti definitely has the patience of a coyote. She is willing to wait however long -- behind a door, under the bed, holding the Downward Dog asana. If she could hover on a chord like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, believe me, she would.

Patti likes it most when I go into karate mode like Mr. Furley. It’s so good to her that she jumps up and down like a girl at the circus. One time she turned to me for a high-five!

“Yeah, honey,” I say. “That’s great. Do you know where I put the Xanax?”

Then she reenacts the whole thing, holding her face like The Scream. “This is you. Here. Look.”

I myself do not share the prankster gene. I don’t even have the nerve to throw a surprise party. So it goes.

Patti, on the other hand, will go through the trouble of parking her car around the corner so I think she’s not home. Then I’ll settle in for a bath and eventually come up for air, and WHAM -- The Shining. She may as well write in steam on the bathroom mirror.

Patti, mind you, is an otherwise gentle woman. She takes her tea on the porch and requires a certain amount of slow-dancing. It’s just when she howls at the moon. Ouw-ouw-ouwooo!

One night I was playing guitar in the SUV, our only sound-proof room, when everything started to shake. Once. Twice. On three, I called Patti to see if she felt the earthquake, when I heard her phone outside the car. I knew it to be my call by the circus-music ringtone. I opened the back to find Patti rolling on the ground, laughing so hard that it came in dry heaves.

“I got it on camera,” she said, waving her phone. “I’m gonna post it on Facebook.”

Patti is now onto wet willies, especially at bedtime. Last night she gave me a deep willy and said, “Don’t wipe it ... Don’t ... Dooon’t ...” And I didn’t wipe because that’s the man I’ve become.

I can only assume that Patti does these things because she likes me, the way Regina Walker liked me in third grade when she ratted my hair with Hubba Bubba.

Patti’s crowning moment came last Halloween at Magic Mountain’s Fright Fest, where zombies jump out at every corner. It would be ... Coyote Paradise. Patti laughed so hard that security came over to make sure she was all right.

“Yes,” she said, doubled over. “It’s just that ... Grrrrr.” Patti was mocking a sound I had made after a psycho jumped out of the tree with a chainsaw. Good times.

I’m afraid that Patti is addicted. What’s next? Wedgies? Nipple twisters? The Dutch Oven? All I know is that I tiptoe around the house and sleep with one eye open, spittle in my ear, watching the moon for any sudden changes. Ouw-ouw-ouwooo!