Monday, August 31, 2009

Sounds fishy to me OR When I say "I love you," you say "You'd betta!"

My brother has a betta fish named Stan, and we do not get along. I think it is because Stan knows about my dark and sordid fish past and he hates me for it.

Every morning I walk past Stan’s bowl and he starts to attack the glass like a crazy fish and then we stare each other down for a while.


First of all, let me say a living thing that you have to care for is the worst present an adult could possibly give to another adult. “Happy Birthday! Here’s some responsibility.”

With that being said, on my twenty-third birthday a “friend” gave me a betta fish. Great. Something I have to feed every day and a nasty fishbowl I have to clean every week. And what does it do for me? Blow bubbles, of course!

I don’t blame my friend, though. I blame Wal-Mart for having fish that are so inexpensive that they can be given as insincere birthday presents. Wal-Mart can’t pay its employees a living wage, but it can sell you fish for about the same price as a Big Mac. But I digress.

My mom had a baby when I was senior in high school, which is the single-most embarrassing thing that can happen to you. I had bad skin and bad hair and now my mom was having a baby! That meant that… well, you know what that meant! Horrible! I told her I deserved to name the baby because she had shamed me so, and I wanted to name him “Herbert.” Apparently that is not how it works. She named him “Quinn” and told me exactly what to do with the name Herbert. Again, I digress.

So I named my fish Herbert, and I will say this for betta fish: they aren’t cool pets, but they absolutely will not die. I had expected Herbert to die in the first few days, like the goldfish I had when I was a kid, but pretty soon “a few days” lapsed into “a few months.”

I got sick of Herbert, quit cleaning his bowl and only fed him sporadically. I feel bad about it now, but at the time I was quite busy with college, work and chasing women. Herbert would wipe a little window in the green gunk growing on the sides of his bowl and look out of it with forlorn fish eyes. But he wouldn’t die.

Eventually I moved, but I didn’t want to take Herbert with me. I didn’t want him sloshing around in my car during the move, and I didn’t want to give him to somebody because I knew firsthand what a sucky present a fish makes. So I flushed him.

That’s right. We said our goodbyes and then Whoosh! I’ve seen Finding Nemo, though, and I know for a fact that Herbert is now happily reunited with his father.

And now, several years later, I think Stan has a fishy feeling about what I did to Herbert, which explains the animosity. Or maybe he’s mad because I make fun of his “bubble nest,” which is something a male betta makes by blowing a bunch of nasty bubbles that look like foam on top of the water.


The idea is that a female betta will come by, mate with him and then lay her eggs in the bubble nest. Stan is looking for love, but Stan is the only fish in his bowl and it’s not working out so well for him. I think he’s frustrated, and my taunts don’t help any.

“Still no mate, eh Stan?” I ask smarmily. “I see you’re still blowing bubbles, though. Keep trying!”

If fish looks could kill…

Monday, August 24, 2009

Take this with a grain of salt OR Slugging it out at work

At my new job I have my own office and my own desk. There are six drawers in my new desk: four are empty and pretty straightforward, but the other two are a baffling mystery.

You see, one of them is filled with salt, and the other with sand. OK, “filled” is not exactly the right word, but each drawer has a fair amount of each.

The bottom drawer on the left hand side of the desk contains a thin layer of salt. I first figured this out when I tried to put my new stapler in there and I heard it crunching around. I reached my hand in there and it came out coated in a white, crystalline substance.

I figured out that it was salt, but I won’t say how. I may or may not have tasted some mysterious white crystals that I randomly found in my desk, which may or may not have been the worst idea ever. I was curious! Don’t judge.

Luckily it was salt and not something else, but that set me to wondering, “What drove this person to fill their desk drawer with salt?” For the rest of the day I thought about it while I worked.

I have no idea who was in this office before me as they left no evidence of themselves. No one really talks about him/her either, although I suspect that no one really notices who comes and goes here because the turnover is so high.

Anyway, after a while I came up with two theories. First, I surmised that this person had lived in mortal fear of slugs. Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of entomology can tell you that the best way to kill a slug is to pour salt on it. Logically, if you were afraid of slugs you’d keep a grip of salt at your disposal, which my mystery desk predecessor obviously had. You never know when one of those slimy things will creep up on you and you have to be ready for them.

I read about slugs and they eat a lot of harmless things like dead leaves and stuff, but they also eat carrion (dead animals) and other slugs, which makes them nasty vulture-cannibals. Honestly, after my research I feel a little uneasy about slugs too. (I left the salt in the drawer, just in case).


My second salt drawer theory suggests that the previous occupant really liked margaritas, which have salt on the rim of the glass. He/she simply kept a drawer-full of salt on hand so that he/she could make a margarita at any given moment. After working this job for a couple of months, I can’t say I blame them.

That still leaves the sand drawer. What the heck was that for? It is right in the middle of the desk where normal people usually keep pencils and pens. The only logical thing I can figure is that the former occupant was lonely and needed someone to drink margaritas with and to confide their fear of slugs to. So he/she bought a lizard and built him a sandy little habitat in the desk drawer. During the day he/she would sneak it crickets and other lizard snacks.

I guess I will never know why I have a drawer filled with salt and a drawer filled with sand, although sometimes when I'm working I swear I hear something scrabbling around somewhere deep inside my desk.

I figure it's the lizard. Or a cannibal slug.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I'll stick with you OR This a test

I like my new job, but the downside is that I have to commute one hour each way. The upside is that during this time I've made some important discoveries.

For anyone else who is mathematically challenged like me, I already got out the calculator and figured out that is two hours of my day spent in a car. What a drag.

But while I'm sitting in traffic I use that time to look at bumper stickers and it gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. I feel like I'm conducting social research from the comfort of my Geo Prizm.

The first thing I've realized, and this could be called “Barben's First Law of Bumper Stickers,” is that there are only two types of people who put bumper stickers on their cars: hippies and people with extremely poor taste. I feel strongly that every bumper sticker falls into one of these two categories.

“But what about political bumper stickers?” you ask. Don't worry, the First Law of Bumper Stickers applies to them, too. Here's how: liberal, Democrat-type stickers fall into the “hippy” category, and conservative, Republican-type stickers obviously fall into the “people with extremely poor taste” category.

Hippy bumper stickers include ones like “Food not lawns,” “Jesus was a liberal” and “Renewable energy is homeland security.”

Then there are all the rest. It's sad to say, but the lion's share of bumper stickers belong in the “people with extremely poor taste” category. I am hesitant to even give examples.

Fortunately even the tackiest of bumper stickers serves a grand purpose. They are kind of like a “Seal of Genuine Stupidity.” Oftentimes, bumper stickers can be thought of as the “Ignorance Broadcasting System.” Most bumper stickers might as well be saying, “I'm a huge idiot. Here's some proof. ” Just the other day I saw a fine example of the ignorance broadcasting system:


Oh. My. Goodness. All I can say is that I hope that guy gets rear-ended. And by looking at bumper stickers I can tell that I wouldn't want spend a single second with the occupant of a given car. That sounds shallow, judgmental and mean but I don't have a lot of free time, so why spend it with annoying people?

You might be surprised, as I was, to note that the crown jewel of the “people with extremely poor taste” category is not even a bumper sticker. I was driving to work the other morning and was thoroughly unsettled to see the following dangling in front of me as I waited at the stoplight:


Yes, that is exactly what it looks like: fake plastic testicles to hang from the trailer hitch of your ludicrously oversized truck. Luckily, I have to get up really early and I often skip breakfast, so I just dry heaved a bunch instead of throwing up.

The guy who invented this is either a total skeeze or a super-genius who is laughing all the way to the bank at all the skeezy dudes who are buying his product.

It made me want to get a bumper sticker that says, “God Bless America.”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Once in a blue moon OR I want to see you dance again on this Harvest Moon

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like weird stuff happens when it’s a full moon. Take this past week when there was a full moon: stuff got crazy.
First off, three of my friends got rear-ended, and while I was driving I saw no less than three car accidents, all rear-endings! That can’t be coincidence. Six rear-endings in one day, and those are just the ones I saw. I think I can safely say that full moons cause rear-ending-type car accidents.

Actually, that was the only crazy thing that happened, but it got me thinking about full moons and lots of crazy stuff goes down during full moons. For one, hospital emergency units see about 10 percent more patients during full moons and most nurses and doctors believe the moon negatively affects patient behavior.

Full moons make people go crazy. During a full moon there is a dramatic rise in admissions to psychiatric hospitals, arson attacks increase by 100 percent and murders and other violent crimes increase. Basically, if you’re going to go bat-crap crazy, you’re most likely to do it under a full moon.

The funniest moon fact is how full moons put coral reefs “in the mood,” if you know what I mean. Most coral only mates under a full moon. I wonder if the full moon has that same effect on people? Not sure I want to know.

Full moons get names, too, depending on the month, like, “Sprouting Grass Moon” and “Fish Moon.” August’s moon is called a “Grain Moon,” and in this month people experience unexplainable cravings for Cheerio’s and whole wheat bread. Okay, I made that up, but September is the “Fruit Moon.” During that moon people are known to experience an inexplicable need for Jamba Juice and banana bread. Totally true.

The coolest moon name is February, which is the “Wolf Moon.” This name is undoubtedly referencing the coolest full moon phenomena: lycanthropy, which is a fancy way to say “werewolf-ism.” There are many variations but generally a werewolf is a regular person who turns into a ravenous beast during the full moon and then turns back into a regular person after.
I am sure that people get a little uneasy around me when it’s a full moon since I am kind of hirsute. I think I might look suspiciously like a werewolf.
Maybe I am a werewolf, now that I think about it. When someone turns into a werewolf they don’t usually remember it, right? Sometimes werewolves even eat their family and friends, because they aren’t in their right mind and are only thinking werewolf thoughts. I might have been out on tons of full moon rampages and not even remember it!
Sadly, a cursory analysis will show that I am probably not a werewolf. All of my family and friends can be accounted for, I don’t have any mysteriously ripped clothing and I don’t recall ever being bitten by a werewolf. I can even remember what happened during the full moon (like the six car crashes). I guess I am not a werewolf after all. But I can still hope, can’t I?

I can’t wait to see what happens next full moon.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I told the Witch Doctor I had a stye in my eye OR I only have eyes for you, baby OR Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

A few months ago my eye started hurting and I discovered an angry red bump on my eyelid. Thus began the ophthalmic journey that would bring me to the brink of madness.

First I had to wait to start my job. Then I had to wait for my benefits and insurance to kick in. Then I had to get an appointment with a general practitioner, which proved to be a feat in and of itself. Nobody in town was making appointments until October, three months away.

So I went to the Urgent Care on the advice of a smarmy receptionist, and it is there that I learned that Urgent Care doctors suck, or at least mine did. For only a $30 copay he basically gave me some attitude and told me to see a specialist.
By a miracle I got in to see the ophthalmologist within a month. I sat in his waiting room for two hours before I finally got to see him. I was a little worried about my visit. Somebody told me my red bump was a “stye,” and I promptly looked the word up on WebMd (bad idea). It said that a stye is basically a nasty, ugly pimple in your eye. Awesome.

Also, in my months of trying to get seen by a doctor my stye had gotten bigger and redder. A “friend” said it might have to get “lanced” and “drained,” which is a nice way of saying they might have to cut it open and let all the gunk ooze out. Fun times.
So when the doctor finally called me back I was a little nervous. He poked my eyes with all kinds of exotic instruments. Just when I thought he couldn’t possibly have anything else to jab my eyeballs with he would supernaturally produce another device and stick in my eye. He put a couple of different drops in my eyes. He made me read letters off of a chart.

And then he said, “You have a stye, which is basically a nasty, ugly pimple in your eye.”

“Good diagnosis,” I said. “WebMd told me as much. What do we do about it, doctor?”

And, honest-to-goodness, this is what he said: “Well what you’re going to need to do is put a hot compress on your eye twice a day. I recommend a potato. Just sick it in the microwave for a few minutes and then put it on your eye. Oh yeah, and omega 3 fatty acid also helps, so you’re gonna want to take some fish oil, but don’t skimp. Get the expensive fish oil because cheap fish oil will make you smell like a tuna fish sandwich.”

I was dumbfounded. “You’re telling me to take fish oil and put a hot potato on my eye and that will cure me? Should I sprinkle some sour cream, chives and bacon bits on there too? Does it need to be under a full moon? Is there an incantation I should say first? What kind of old wives’ tale witch doctor ophthalmologist are you? You really feel OK taking my money?”
But of course I didn’t say any of that. I just let him write “potato” and “fish oil” on a piece of paper for me like it was a prescription and send me on my way.

All I can say is, “second opinion.” And I want my $30 copay back.