Daffy Duck

Ms. J. K. Rowling has given us the the idea of the Patronus: the ghostly animal that comes jumping out to protect you when you’re in trouble.

I have never had any doubt about mine.

My spirit animal, my Patronus, is an angry greedy little black duck who often gets his beak shot off.

I grew up with Warner Brothers cartoons; I couldn’t get enough of them. Since many of them were made in the 1930s and 1940s, I was often puzzled by the cultural references (and still haven’t worked some of them out), but I could tell that they were smart and witty and clever – in an adult way – far more than their competitors at Disney or Hanna-Barbera or MGM.

I loved Bugs Bunny, of course. I had a stuffed Bugs Bunny that talked when you pulled his string. He said things like “I like you!” and “I’m sleepy” and (naturally) “What’s up, doc?” I cherished him and took him to bed with me every night.

But my favorite cartoons were the ones with Daffy Duck.

Daffy is lazy, and not very honest. He is vindictive. He goes into futile rages. Sometimes he’s so angry that he’s speechless. He schemes, but his schemes aren’t very well constructed. He tries very hard to be sophisticated, and he fails every time. He almost always says the wrong thing. He is easily defeated.

But he always comes popping back up. He’s indefatigable. He might close his eyes for a moment and take a deep breath, but he always comes back for more. He fails, but he keeps trying.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is me in a nutshell.

I’m a greedy little coward, and I often fail, but I just keep going and going.

My procedure


Momma went to the hospital last week.



Let me tell you all about it.



I’ve told you that I have kidney stones. Well, I had accompanying symptoms that worried my doctor (and were scaring the bejeezus out of me), and since I have a family history of cancer, they scheduled me for an exploratory – um – procedure.



I call it a “procedure” to be polite.  Think of it this way: there’s really only one good way to look into a person’s bladder. It involves something like a Krazy Straw, inserted into the most inconvenient place possible.



Luckily, I was under anaesthesia at the time.



I had this done at Kent County Hospital in Warwick, Rhode Island, and I tell you Rhode Islanders who may be reading this: you should be heading to Kent Hospital for pretty much everything. Every single staff member was wonderful to me, and the care was first-rate. They were having dog-therapy day when we arrived, and there was a huge mutt the size of a Shetland pony coming down the corridor toward us when we first arrived, and Partner was immediately entranced. (Sadly, the dogs go off-shift at 3:00 pm.)



I have never been under complete anesthesia before. It was charming. I felt a kind of coldness in my arm, and heard the anesthesiologist telling me to “breathe deeply,” and – well, that was that.



The recovery room was also wonderful. There was another man my age who’d had something unpleasant done to him, and an older woman ditto. I was the least traumatized patient, and the staff were very kind to me as a result, because I was easy to deal with. (I was a lamb, actually. I’d been napping all day in preparation, and I was terribly dehydrated, so I was as weak as a kitten. They could have knocked me out with a wet Kleenex.)



Before the “procedure,” they made the mistake of giving me the binder that had my whole patient history in it. So I read it. Terrific. I find that I had “good hygiene” and appeared to be “well-groomed.” Naturally!



Also I have an abnormal T-wave in my EKG, and an enlarged left ventricle (I think I knew that), and – get this! – an ischemia.



I will hold this over Partner’s head for the rest of his life. Our favorite episode of “The King of Queens” involves Doug’s father-in-law, the unbearable Arthur Spooner (played by Jerry Stiller), having an ischemia, which sends him into conniptions whenever he’s frightened.



Nobody had better frighten me from now on. I might go into cardiac arrest.



Neil Armstrong


Neil Armstrong, the quietest celebrity in modern memory, died last weekend at 82. He was a household name, but a very private man, I knew him through books about the space program, especially “Carrying the Fire,” the wonderful autobiographical / historical book written by Apollo 13 crew member Michael Collins.



You can tell in photos how guarded Armstrong was; even when smiling, there’s a sort of veil over his eyes.  In my favorite photo (at the head of this article), taken by one of his Apollo 11 crewmates, Armstrong actually looks exhilarated, and open, and exhausted, and happy.



I’d ask if you remember that evening in July 1969 when Armstrong first stepped onto the moon’s surface, but I remind myself that many of you are too young for that; it would be like you asking me if I remembered when the Confederates started firing on Fort Sumter.



But I remember it. We’d just come home from a day trip to my Grandma Boitano’s house. I was twelve years old. I remember sitting in our living room in the twilight, watching the spectacle on television – a man on the moon! – and then getting up to look out the picture window at the moon (which I remember as being maybe six days old, a little less than first quarter). I remember thinking: There are human beings up there right now.



And I got a little shiver.



Memory is tricky. I go online now, and check myself. What was the phase of the moon on July 20, 1969?


Six days after new.



I actually remembered my childhood accurately.






Armstrong’s family has asked that, “next time you see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”



I think that’s lovely.



And we have to keep the moon in its place, after all, as the following clip (featuring Tina Fey and Buzz Aldrin) demonstrates:





Rest in peace, Neil.


Finding a new (alternate) fragrance


I keep a bottle of cologne in the office, for emergencies. I had an emergency the other day: I had a doctor’s appointment (my doctor’s office is right across the street from my office), and I forgot to put on cologne that morning.



I don’t want to offend my doctor, do I?



My emergency cologne is L’Occitane’s “Eau des Vanilliers,” which is a not-very-good follow-up to their original “Vanille.” “Vanille” smelled like natural vanilla extract, and brought back memories of Christmas baking sessions. “Eau des Vanilliers” is harsher, and smells (to me) like vanilla mixed with butane.



But I am shocked at how much people like it.



“You smell good,” Apollonia said that day. “Better than usual, anyway.”



Toby sniffed at it and smiled. “It’s very ladylike,” he said.



I’ve written before about smelling like food. It is a surefire way to make friends; people love you if you smell like anything edible. (Creepy, isn’t it?) And I don’t mind smelling ladylike. I remember a study some years ago in which men were asked what scents they preferred, and they all said things like musk and cedar, but when they were actually asked to evaluate scents, they preferred the same floral scents that women preferred.


So there.



My preferred scent is “L’Occitan,” by L’Occitane. (Yes, I know.) It is lavender, with cedar, and burnt wood, and nutmeg, and black pepper. It is dark and interesting.



But you can’t wear the same thing every day.



I went to the fragrance kiosk in the Providence Place Mall a few weeks ago, and I asked the stupidest possible question: “What do you recommend?”



Naturally the salesman brought out lots of mid-price and high-price stuff. Some were okay. One had – I kid you not – no smell at all; I tried it twice and couldn’t detect anything. (Maybe my nose is configured incorrectly.) Finally I settled on a high-end Paco Rabanne scent, in a perfectly lovely bottle, with notes of grapefruit and rose and blood orange. (I didn’t get these from the salesman; I looked them up in basenotes.com later.)



It is a nice change from my other scent, and makes a pleasant alternative.



Then I discover from Tab (my coworker) and Al (my student assistant) that they don’t even wear something every day!



See, I assume that I stink, and that I need assistance in this area.



I will continue to assume this, until I am sure that it’s not true.



So if you smell pepper / nutmeg / burnt wood, or blood oranges /grapefruit / rose,  in your vicinity anytime soon, you can be reasonable sure that it’s me.


Silly Bandz



I was walking to work the other day when, while scanning the sidewalk (I’m always looking for pennies), I saw something like a rubber band in the shape of – I don’t know – a prom dress?



It made me smile. It was one of those Silly Bandz.



They were very big a few years ago. They were silicon bands in shapes – dinosaurs, musical instruments, cars – to be worn around the wrist. Some of the more desirable ones glowed in the dark. Kids were very obsessed with them, trading them, comparing them. Some schools banned them, because they were a distraction. There were rumors that they were badges of sexual conquest. (This was more of a Fox News / Christian fanatic kind of thing.)



Here’s how I heard about them:



A couple of years ago, I was going through a bad time.  My colleague Bill (who’s now at another job) asked what was the matter, and I told him, and he in turn told his kids (who’d met me) that Mister Loren was sad. His kids were very concerned about this, because they had never seen me sad.



So: they decided to send me some Silly Bandz: a roller-skate, and a circle, and a motorcycle.



I was overcome by this. I wore Bill’s kids’ gifts for months.  I was taking a new mood-stabilizing medication too, which I’m pretty sure helped me, but the Silly Bandz helped me too. I wore them for the duration – at least six months; probably closer to a year.



(Bill told me that his kids had a hard time deciding which Silly Bandz to give me. They wanted to give me good ones, but they didn’t want to give up anything really collectible. He talked them into giving me the motorcycle and the roller skate, which were both very collectible, but which they were reluctant to give up, even to poor depressed Mister Loren.)



(But they did anyway, bless them.)



To Bill’s kids: a big belated thanks. You helped me up when I was down.



Faking it


Back in 1981, I was offered a job up on Federal Hill in Providence. My new boss took me to a shadowy back room and showed me a machine that looked like a cross between an electric organ and a typewriter.  “Have you ever used one of these?” he asked.



“You bet,” I lied, my mouth dry.



I managed to figure it out. Within a few months, I was the only person in the place who really knew how to use the thing.



For a long time I felt guilty about this. Then, again and again in my personal life, I found myself faking expertise in a particular field. I still didn’t feel good about it, but at least I was becoming a more proficient liar.



Now I read this article by Luke Johnson in the Financial Times. He tells a story about taking a job as a DJ, when he had a big record collection but no experience. He figured it out. Lesson: many successful people begin their careers by faking expertise.  (Evidently there was even a British TV show about this: people taking on jobs/roles that they had no background for.)



When I was young, I used to be more or less terrified of adulthood, because I believed that I didn’t know the rules. Adults always seemed to know what to do; they seemed so natural. I tried to figure out the rules; I tried to learn the right things to do.



Now I realize it’s all about faking it



And what’s wrong with that?   Life isn’t a quiz; there’s no answer key. We just do the best we can.



What else are we doing in this life, from dawn to dusk and after, but faking our way through?


Whooping cough


Above is a picture of me at the age of five months, in December 1957. As you can see, I was fat and adorable.



A few months later, I was scrawny and miserable.



It was because the whooping cough (AKA pertussis). I almost died of it, because I became very emaciated and weak. I made it through; my body’s immune system apparently fought it off long enough to save me.



I was only six months old, so I don’t remember a thing about it, thank god, but it must have been pretty terrible. Imagine: you’re coughing continually, and you can’t keep down food or water, and you can’t sleep.



But – again, thank god – nowadays there is a vaccine.



But people like the idiotic Jenny McCarthy are telling you not to give your children the vaccine. It might make your children autistic! (This is ridiculous, of course. But a lot of people will believe a pretty (aging) blonde celebrity before they’ll believe their own doctor.)



A few years ago, one of my student assistants told me that, in her public health class, they’d played a recording of a child suffering from whooping cough. This, she said, was the greatest incentive they’d found to encourage parents to have their children vaccinated; once they’d heard the horrible reality, they were willing to tell Jenny McCarthy to go to hell.



Here, for those of you who are tough enough, is the sound of a child with pertussis. This was the caption on the sound clip: “[The patient] is three years old, and has a very severe case of the disease. She only coughs like this five or six times a day.  She coughs until her lungs are empty of air and then you hear several whoops one after the other as she tries to take a breath in. She frequently finishes an attack with vomiting.”





Heard enough?



If you have children, and they’re not vaccinated, go get them vaccinated right away.



Don’t make them go through what I went through.



And tell Jenny McCarthy to go to hell.



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