Monday, October 31, 2005

The Shocking Death of Pastor Stew

(AP) 11:54 a.m. ET Oct. 31, 2005

WACO, Texas - A pastor performing a baptism was electrocuted inside his church Sunday morning after adjusting a nearby microphone while standing in water, a church employee said.

The Rev. Kyle Lake, 33, was stepping into the baptistery as he reached out for the microphone, which produced an electric shock, said University Baptist Church community pastor Ben Dudley.
Water in a baptistery usually reaches above the waist, said Byron Weathersbee, interim university chaplain at Baylor University.

Lake was pronounced dead at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, nursing supervisor Pat Mahl said. The woman being baptized apparently had not stepped into the water and was not seriously injured.

Pastors at University Baptist Church routinely use a microphone during baptisms, said Jamie Dudley, the wife of Ben Dudley and a business administrator at the church.

“He was grabbing the microphone so everyone could hear,” she said. “It’s the only way you can be loud enough.”

About 800 people attended the morning service, which was larger than normal because it was homecoming weekend at nearby Baylor University, Dudley said.

Lake had been at the church for nine years, the last seven as pastor. He had a wife, Jennifer, a 5-year-old daughter and two 3-year-old sons.

At a remembrance attended by about 1,000 people Sunday night at First Baptist Church, Ben Dudley told the UBC congregation that they would move forward as a church.

“I don’t know how, when, why, where or what’s going to happen, but we will continue as a church in the community because that is what Kyle would have wanted,” he said.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Happy Not Quite Halloween

Two separate callers today, on the business line and thankfully not 911, called to ask if it was okay to "trick or treat" tonight, since tomorrow is a Monday.

I suggested that, while the police department has no official policy on the practice of pagan rituals, it was not illegal to don a mask and ring your neighbor's door to ask for candy any ol' day.

I did caution them, however; that one would be less likely to be mistaken for a burglar and shot and/or pepper-sprayed if one did such a thing tomorrow night which is actually Halloween, but that the choice was up to them.

I do hope they choose wisely!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I Love Citizens!

People seem to love these stories. Please stop me if it gets boring.

And I realize that when I get home I'm just a citizen like these folks:

1) October 25, 2005

Woman calls 911 because she was chipping ice in her freezer and punctured the lining. She tells the fire department dispatcher that it "started spraying out some sort of gas"

Fire dispatcher asks: "so is this a freon leak?"

Citizen says "I don't know, it's a Frigidaire."

(call taken by the woman known alternative as Jerbear or TK-Ho depending on if she’s answering her cellphone or competing in a Tae Kwon Do tournament)

2) Today, October 29, 2005

Man calls me because his grandfather is having difficulty breathing. I transfer him to the paramedic dispatcher.

Medic dispatcher asks: "does he have history of heart problems"

Citizen: (talking to Grandpa): "Do you have heart problems?" then answers "Not right now"

Medic dispatcher clarifies: "Does he have a diagnosis of heart problems?"

Citizen: (talking to Grandpa): "Have you had hypnosis heart problems? (speaking more clearly for grandpa to understand) "HYPNOSIS, have you had HYPNOSIS?"

3 ) Before my time, probably apocryphal, but still a good story:

Citizen calls because she believes her husband has died in his sleep.

Medic dispatcher says "Is he breathing?"

Caller: "I can't tell"

Dispatcher: "Get a mirror hold it up to his mouth. Now tell me if you see a reflection"

Later, supervisors discussed with the dispatcher that what she told the caller was actually the test to see if the patient was a vampire, not the test for respiration.

I love my job.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Has anyone seen Domino ?

I want to see this movie. Mostly I want to see it because the trailers lead me to believe it will be a lot of fun: quick-cut, gritty, complex. Something like the remake of “Get Carter” but without Sylvester Stallone’s usual brand of bad acting screwing things up.

But then I read a little about the actual person who was Domino Harvey. She died of a drug overdose on June 27th this year at age 35.

the real Domino Harvey

She was born three and a half months after I was. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Well, not that I should have died first, that’s not what I’m getting at. It’s just that she died young. And she died bitterly.

She was undeniably unhappy. She had sold the rights to her life story but could not get script approval. Some reports say she was very upset that the script “cleaned up” some of her life (her bisexuality) but at the same time promoted itself as having some really raunchy scenes. How would you feel if you sold your story and then they picked and chose which things would be acceptable to a mainstream audience and which would not?

At the end she distanced herself from the film and all members of its production.

Oh yeah, and she was on house arrest awaiting prosecution for methamphetamine trafficking. She was out on one million dollars bail and was looking at a life sentence if convicted. She denied all charges.

While she was on house arrest she had three minders, hired to keep her from using drugs or alcohol. She was, however, taking Zyprexa, Trazodone, Clonazepam, and Mirtazapine at the time of her death so it is clear she was suffering some serious mental health issues. Her minders report she had been feeling lethargic and had been hearing voices that night as she filled the tub to take a bath. They later found her unresponsive as the result of a Fentanyl overdose.

The thing is: I want to see this movie. Yet I’d much rather see a documentary about this complex person who was Domino Harvey. I guess I’ll wait for the DVD.

If you see it in the theater, let me know what you think.


Zyprexa (generic name: Olanzapine) is usually prescribed for Schizophrenia and/or Bi-Polar Disorder

Trazadone (brand name: Desyrel) was originally prescribed for Depression but is most often prescribed for difficulty sleeping.

Clonazepam (brand name: Klonopin) is usually prescribed for Panic Attacks

Mirtazapine (brand name: Remeron) is usually prescribed for Depression

Fentanyl (brand name: Duragesic Patch or Actiq Lollipop – no kidding, a little heroin sucker) is a strong painkiller. It’s usually used when nothing else works and when the subject has chronic pain. It’s also the “knockout gas” that the Russians used to subdue the terrorists in that theater in Moscow but also killed a hundred and sixty hostages in the process. Word on the street is that some folks will chew their Duragesic patches in order to get the drug into their system faster. While I try not to judge, I think these folks might be considered "junkies."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Games People Play

Lots of sad things happen at my job. Lots and lots and lots. Too many to dwell on. Babies die heart-breaking deaths, children die accidental deaths, teenagers die stupid senseless deaths, adults die horribly sad deaths, the list goes on.

The first year or two, when all these tragedies are new, it has a heart-dampening effect on a dispatcher. After nearly ten years in, I’ve learned to use my feelings to either empathize with the families of the victims or as motivation to do my best to do the most efficient job I can thereby getting help to them as quickly as possible.

Then I leave the bad things at work. Nothing good comes from bringing the darkness home.

Happily, sometimes we get calls which are just so wonderfully absurd that they can brighten nearly any otherwise crappy day. Here are two such calls.

1) Picture it: It’s a lovely Monday 11:30AM on a spectacularly sunny summer Alaskan day. There is barely a cloud in the sky and the cartoon birds are chirping and landing on the outstretched cartoon fingers of cartoon women singing cartoonish songs.

Then the call comes in. A caller describes a scene right out of a movie: a rather large woman handcuffed a very skinny man, quickly shoved him in the trunk of her Saab, and drove off with him locked in the trunk. The calltaker quickly enters the call and the dispatcher immediately sends the area cars racing to intercept this abductor and rescue the victim. The first several officers arrived and performed a perfect felony traffic stop. They surrounded the car, weapons drawn, and ordered the woman out slowly. They had the woman back up to them and lay on the ground where they handcuffed her and took her to the back seat of a patrol car. Then they let the man out of the trunk.

Upon further investigation it was determined that this was not a felony crime but rather a… um… er… well… a nooner. What the witness reported turned out to be a fun little bondage game played between a consenting couple.

Lesson: Love the kink but keep it indoors or at least not in a public place. Also the man could have received a citation for not wearing a seatbelt.


2 ) Skip merrily to today:

911 hang-up from a residence. The calltaker loads the call and then recalls the residence, getting an answering machine. She leaves a message that the police will be dropping by for a visit. She then recalls several minutes later to have a lovely conversation with an embarrassed gentleman.

Here’s my rendition of the call (this is not an actual transcript):

911: “We received a 911 call from your residence, what’s going on today?”

Male Resident: “Um, nothing.”

911: “Okaaaaay. Who called 911 then, did you misdial?”

Male: “Well… um… I did.”

911: “Is there someone else there with you?”

Male: “No, I’m alone now.”

911: “Okaaaay, so why did you call?”

Male: “I was sitting in my recliner and my wife jumped on me, knocking it backwards with her on top of me. Um… I told her if she didn’t get off of me that I would call 911. She didn’t so I called but she got off so I hung up.”

911: “So you were in a physical fight then?”

Male: “No, no… it was certainly not a fight. It was… um… (sigh) well, it was erotic playing gone awry.”

911: “Oooooooooh, I see. So you don’t need the police, fire department, or paramedics?”

Male: “No, no. I ... um… I just thought I hung up and the call did not go through.”

911: “Aaaaaaaah - Okay. Well if no one there needs the police I’ll go ahead and cancel the call.”

Male: “Yeah, I’m sorry I called.”

911: “Okay, well have a good day sir”

Male: “(chuckling with embarrassment) well I think I might in a little while.”

911: “ooooooooooo-kay, b’bye now”

Note: Yes we did talk to the female half a bit later, so it was determined to be a-okay.

Lesson: Like diamonds, 911 is forever. The second you hit that last “1,” we gotcha till we’re ready to let you go. A little like a bondage game of our own. But not as fun.

Play safe now,

Your buddy Eric.


Pictures from:

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Lovely food, ironic name

They call them bottomless fries but it seems the more I eat, the more bottom I have.

A shame really.

Friday, October 21, 2005


Y’ever have a day when everything is going well, then you screw something up and don’t even realize it until later?

It doesn’t have to be a big mistake, although it could be. It could be something that only you will ever know about. If you are like me, it haunts you.

The beautiful thing about my job is that, to be successful, you have to own up to your own mistakes immediately. It’s better to rat out yourself than be “caught” later appearing either oblivious or as if you were trying to sweep something under the rug.

I tell my recruits that the folks who are good dispatchers are the ones who second and third guess themselves and who agonize over their errors, at least for a day or so. I also say that those folks will probably die early of a stress-related illness, but that they will be good dispatchers in the meantime. I’m smiling when I say this, but I’m not entirely kidding.

Two months short of 10 years on the job and I’m still screwing up here and there. Again, usually nothing serious – it could be a typo like putting a description in a call like “SUSP LSW (last seen wearing) BLU BBCAP, GRN SHIT, BLK PANTS.” Oh yeah, he’s really wearing a blue baseball cap, a green shirt, and black pants but GRN SHIT sometimes leaps out of your fingers and into the call.

Sometimes it’s a misstatement on the radio. In the heat of dispatching six officers to six different calls in a hurry so they didn’t decide to do something on their own and get tied up while I still have dozens of calls waiting for officers, I once sent an officer to a non-injury accident involving a green Chevy sedan and a “Black Suzuki Grand Viagra.” My co-worker RR immediately said “Yeah, comes with its own lift kit.” Okay, so it’s really called a Grand Vitara. The fact that a dozen officers called in to mock me on the phone afterward was punishment enough.

All this babbling being said, here’s something in the news that takes a little of that sting away. No matter what stupid mistakes I have made at my job, I have yet to make one like this:

Car Ticketed With Dead Body at the Wheel

AP Oct 21, 6:26 AM (ET)

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - A traffic warden slapped a parking ticket on a car which had its dead driver slumped at the wheel outside an Australian shopping mall, an official said Friday.

The body of the 71-year-old man, whose identity was not immediately released, was discovered Thursday in a parking lot in the southern city of Melbourne, The Age newspaper reported Friday.

The man had been reported missing nine days earlier and was known to be seriously ill, the newspaper said.

Nevertheless, a parking officer who inspected the vehicle failed to notice the man inside and issued the parking fine two days before his body was discovered.

Paul Denham, the mayor of Maroondah council, where the man was found, said the parking officer was "distressed" to learn that the dead man had been inside the car.

"Our local laws officer checked and wrote out the ticket at the rear of the vehicle and placed the ticket from the passenger side on the windscreen," Denham said in a statement. "The local laws officer did not notice anything unusual regarding the vehicle, and is extremely distressed to have learned of the situation."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Your Mission

“Another Story” by Frisbie. This is the best song I’ve heard all year and it comes from an album released in 2003.

All the songs on “period.” were written by the band’s drummer, Zack Kantor. The thing is: Kantor suffers from bipolar disorder and left the band in 2003 due to his struggle with the illness. “period.” contains Kantor’s previously unreleased songs recorded live by the remaining band members who performed all of the music acoustically with two guitars, a bass, and NO drums.

There’s this really talented chick who writes for the Chicagoist who recommends the entire album. I just ordered the album and therefore have not listened to so I cannot yet recommend it in its entirety but if “Another Story” is any example this is a kick-ass band.

I’ll put the song up on the MyFamily site for J-bro, Terri, and Mom but everyone else who reads this needs to go to and order yourself the album. Tell them you heard about from a Chicagoist interview. Really. Stop reading this and go there now and buy it. You’ll be glad you did.

What are you waiting for?
You have your orders.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Who Links Here

No Stories Today

other than the story of me being home sick.

I’m listening to Summer Melancholia; watching baseball playoffs; sweating off a fever; ripping some discs to MP3; wondering why I’d never heard of a band called Frisbie (“another story” is the real deal) or singers named Justin Roberts or Rhett Miller and why I had never before explored The Shins or The Jayhawks; suspecting that Terri and Jason know these bands; offering crunchies to my dogs who always appreciate something to eat; thinking I need to get busy, to clean up the house some, to cook something for dinner so that Kelli will have a home-cooked meal waiting when she gets home; not feeling the least bit hungry myself; feeling so tired but knowing laying around will only make it worse; feeling guilty that my recruit will get another fill-in trainer in my absence but that I will drag my butt to work tomorrow unless I need to be hospitalized because she deserves continuity plus I hate taking vacation time for illness.

Blah. Bo-ring in E-land today.

Tell me a story.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Unhappy Meal And Other Checking Out Stories

Warning: Gross-out material ahead. None of this is particularly funny, just perversely morbid.

When I first posted this in April, I started with a little diatribe about how suicide is selfish and I had no sympathy for those who succeed, but did for their families.

Well, except for example number 1, it turns out I do have some sympathy for the folks who choose to kill themselves.

If you are reading this and feel suicidal, there are plenty of folks to call. Call me (even at home), call the police, call your local crisis line, call the number listed under this paragraph. Call someone, please.

All this being said, everybody loves a good story, so here are the top three suicides that occurred while I was working (I was there, these are absolutely true):

1. A man in his early 20’s or late teens killed his mother for reasons which now escape me. He left his dead mother and a note in their residence then drove to a popular coastal lookout point. He backed up to a large wooden post and parked. He then cut the seatbelt out of his car. He looped one end of the seatbelt around the post and fed the other end into the drivers side window car and looped it on his head. Then he hit the gas and the car took off. Soon the man’s head was ripped off of his shoulders and rolled into the bushes while his car continued until it hit a tree.

I have this vivid memory of going to a roller rink as a child. The snack bar offered liquid refreshment in the form of soda but also juice and lemonade which were dispensed from glass upside-down fish tank looking things that had a continuous stream of juice or lemonade running down the inside of the clear glass. We’d call this bug-juice. The victim’s car looked much like those bug-juice dispensers because, when the victim’s head came off, the blood sprayed out of his neck, hit the roof, and ran down the inside of all the closed windows.

I am impressed both by the uniqueness of this method and the fact that this guy saved the taxpayers from a lengthy trial and incarceration.

2. A depressed, intoxicated, and possibly homeless woman in her late 20’s went to a floor near the top of a hotel at which I used to work and jumped. While I worked at this hotel we had a few jumpers but this was the first one I had from the other side. What makes this woman special is that she took the plunge from the side of the building were the loading zone was located. She dove 16 stories and landed in a bucket of glue.

I cannot make this up.

Parked into the loading zone was a contractor’s pickup which had tools and a five gallon bucket of glue in the bed. The victim landed half on the bucket, spraying glue 15 feet up the side of the hotel, and half on the side rail of the bed, creating a nice u-shaped dent.

This woman gets points, even from the East German judge, for artistic merit.

3. This one is worthy of a Stephen King story and much more sad than the other two.

We got a call from the manager of a McDonald’s restaurant who wanted to report one of his employees as missing and possibly suicidal. The worker in question suffered from some sort of developmental disability and had been having a rough time. Before leaving on his lunch break he mentioned that maybe he should just kill himself. His coworkers did not think much of this statement, indeed did not mention it to the manager, until the victim failed to return from lunch.

We broadcast a locate message to all units in the area and soon dispatched officers to the restaurant to contact the manager and make the report. Before officers arrived we received a call from the manager who stated the employee was dead.

The employee had not left the premises during his lunch break but instead climbed into the industrial trash compacter located at the rear of the restaurant. There he waited. There was no way to operate the “compact” function from inside the compacter. This poor troubled soul sat in a stinky, dark, metal container listening to the echoes of his breathing and the beating of his heart and waited for a coworker to push the “compact” button. Shortly after the manager called us, another employee pushed that button. The second employee heard the screams and looked to see the victim’s legs in the compacter.

Three things immediately struck me about this call (it was definite an “oh shit” moment in the room):

a) imagine being the victim inside the compactor just before the button was pushed

b) imagine being the employee who has to live with pushing the button

c) imagine the shock of crime scene team officers who were processing the scene while the drive-thru was STILL OPEN AND SERVING CUSTOMERS.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Life Lessons Redux

At 10:23pm on Sunday March 12th, 2000, my recruit and I got a call from one of those doc-in-a-box walk-in clinics. They had a male patient with head lacerations. He wasn’t very forthcoming about how he got the injuries but after repeated questioning by the doctor he said that, after a verbal argument with his wife, he hit himself three times in the head with a bedpost.

My recruit was puzzled about how to put this in the computer: was it a suicide attempt? an assault? Perhaps I’m a bit cynical but this would be the first person I’d ever heard of that had attempted suicide by bedpost. We have had lots of folks jumping off of buildings or taking pills or shooting themselves. Once in a while we’ll have a hanging. A bedpost would be stinkin’ creative. And anyway, I’m thinking his soon-to-be-ex wife was responsible for putting the guy under the influence of a bedpost, but that’s just me.

Lesson: well… that whole “don’t go to bed angry” rule seems to apply here.


A couple of weeks later (and I’ll confess, not on my shift, but I’ve got the paperwork to prove that it really happened) we got a call from an Anchorage Refuse garbage truck driver.

First let me paint a little picture for you: Garbage trucks have a ladder that runs from the front bumper up to the front lip of the trash area, just about dead center so it’s not a big obstruction to the driver’s line of sight.

The caller was doing his nightly rounds emptying Dumpsters™ when, as he’s driving alone down the street in the middle of the night, a guy climbs down the ladder face-first from the top. Scares the bejeezus out of garbage man. Think about it: Even if you were getting a bit sleepy or distracted by loud Tom Waits music, you’d probably make a trash deposit of your own in your coveralls if you saw a guy climb DOWN YOUR WINDSHIELD as you are driving down the street in the middle of the night. So the driver slams on the brakes and calls on his radio for his dispatcher to call the police.

A quick investigation revealed that the subject (who took several years off the life of our friend the garbage man by making his grand entrance) had been sleeping in a Dumpster™ and had been dumped into the truck without the driver noticing (not hard, I’m sure).

Sadly, he hadn’t JUST been dumped into the truck. He’d been dumped at least four Dumpsters™ before and the driver had turned on the compactor at least three times. Three times! The guy was in pretty bad shape (had at least one broken arm, a broken leg, and a broken collarbone) but he was darn lucky to be alive. God watches over those sleeping in the trash too, apparently.

Lesson: don’t sleep in Dumpsters™... ever. Better to smack yourself in the head with a bedpost a couple of times. Then you’ll at least go to the hospital in a more comfortable vehicle.


(Originally posted March 28, 2005 when NO ONE read my blog. I spruced it up by adding some pictures because I think it deserves a re-telling. You’ll be the judge).


Monday, October 10, 2005

This is why I cannot write fiction

The day before yesterday a woman called the police appalled and feeling violated because one of her neighbors, who all hate her, drugged and castrated her favorite horse.

An officer responded and, after a very un-CSI-like investigation determined that, and I mention now that this is a completely true story, the horse had not been violated but instead was very cold.

The junk just disappears inside the body cavity apparently

No wonder those guys can run so fast. I could too if I could raise and lock my “landing gear” away.

You never see a grandfather clock running down the street

Something to consider.



Sunday, October 09, 2005

You Don't Know Me, I Make This Look Good !

Several folks at work were shocked to see me with a short 80's 'fro in the juggling pictures.

Most have NO idea the transformation I took from 9th grade in 1984 to seasoned Police Dispatcher in 2003.

Let's take a walk down memory lane, realizing every step that I thought I was at least a little cool. Oh the humanity!!

The title of this was inspired by my wife and her co-workers' favorite Jerry Springer Guest announcements as they walk onstage weighing 400lbs and wearing a tube-top and hip huggers looking like a busted can of biscuits. The pharmacy is sometimes awash with a tide of 'You don't know me!'s

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Laws of Gravity And Motion


The magic began with a trip to Hawaii and ended with a trip to Hawaii.


A wacky science teacher named Zoltan Gall offered his junior high students extra credit in the form of learning to juggle. My brother Drew was in Mr. Gall’s class in 1990 and took the offered credit.

Drew learned quickly and found he was good at it. Drawn to his new talent, I asked him to teach me (or maybe he offered to show me or perhaps he dared me to learn, I’m not exactly clear on that). He proved to be a good teacher and, along with teasing me unmercifully when I dropped tennis balls or beanbags all over the place, showed me how the whole juggling thing worked.

Here’s the thing about learning to juggle: you must forget everything you know about everything. You might be quite coordinated or a total spaz, but you can learn to juggle in five minutes. I know this. I can teach you. Five minutes. Seriously.

What comes after that five minutes is hours of practice. Once you learn to juggle you soon find that anything you can pick up is something which can be juggled. Nothing within your grasp is beyond your reach, if you try hard enough and practice long enough. There is a lesson in that. So many things about juggling can be translated to life. Juggling is a zen thing. You can lose yourself in the laws of gravity and motion.

Drew and I complemented each other in that he had the talent and sheer will to practice until he could do a trick flawlessly and I had the money to get us some serious gear.

That January, we took a series of community college classes in the art of juggling. Our Sensei was Jim Kerr, Anchorage’s best juggler.

There were only four people who signed up for the first four-week class: Me, Drew, a professional woman named Nancy, and another woman who dropped out after the first class. Jim offered us our money back but the three of us wanted to learn, so we told him we’d show up if he did.

Jim showed us tricks with balls, rings, clubs, scarves, sharp objects, torches, devil-sticks, the Diablo, cigar boxes, and even some rope tricks.

And this wasn’t a clown college. We learned about the history of juggling and great jugglers past and present: Anthony Gatto, Enrico Rastelli, Michael Moschen, et al. We learned that the best juggling clubs are made by Brian Dubè in New York City. We learned that JuggleBug equipment is to juggling what Dick and Jane is to reading: good to start with but not something you keep around for reference.

Anthony Gatto Posted by Picasa

Michael Moschen Posted by Picasa

Rastelli PosterPosted by Picasa

Nancy and I had talked about this and that while in class, mostly while Drew was juggling his ass off and making us look like slackers. I was twenty-two and she was twenty years my senior (oh and married with a seven year old daughter), so there wasn’t any romantic attraction but Nancy was impossible to ignore. She had a magical way of drawing people to her. We enjoyed each other’s company and while Drew and I pushed her to practice more, she pushed us to open up and talk about our lives and swap stories with her.

Then she went to Hawaii.

She came back with little gifts for each of us and a manic enthusiasm both for juggling and for hanging out with us. She told us Hawaii stories and other stories about her life. Something had happened in Hawaii, something she never fully explained, that gave her a thirst for life.

For the next year and a half we devoted nearly every Saturday to juggling. Her daughter, who I’ll call M, hung out with us and became our mascot and cheerleader. After a full day of juggling we’d usually retire to Nancy’s house where we’d eat dinner with her husband and watch SNL before going home late in the evening.

We formed an actual juggling group, although it didn’t have a ‘team name.’

Drew was the most technically proficient: quiet, precise, and dangerous. Nancy was the girl: she’d attract attention and draw folks in. I could keep up with Drew at club passing but I was usually the talker: Funny, goofy, sometimes a little rude, but always talking talking talking. Once Nancy got folks headed our way, I was determined to keep their attention and talk up Drew’s tricks.

We juggled at a Renaissance Faire.

We juggled at a doomed festival called “Tent City.” We juggled at a kite fair. We juggled at various parks all over town. Anytime a mall or indoor location would allow us to juggle inside, we accepted the crap out of the invitation. We attended juggler’s club meetings. We joined the International Juggler’s Association. We planned on attending an IJA festival in the future so we could play “combat” against serious jugglers.

We did one birthday party. Lesson: kids are not impressed with juggling after the first 15 seconds. Birthday parties are for clowns. Serious jugglers are for adults. Drew and I didn’t learn that lesson right away.

I got a call in mid December from a guy I worked with who was a vice-grand Poobah at the local Elk’s Club asking if my juggling group could come entertain some kids for twenty minutes or so. I told him that we didn’t have a routine for kids but he said, “Anything you could do would be appreciated. And there’s $50 in it for you.” “Ch-yeah,” I said. I called Nancy who immediately declined. “Hello! You know why he called, right?” “Um, because we’re fan-freakin’-tastic?” “McFly! He called us because Santa didn’t show up. Besides, I’ve got the flu. Give me a call after you guys get done. I’m sure you’ll do great.”

We arrived at the Elks to find that, yes, Nancy was completely right. No Santa at the Christmas party. So they had us. Drew juggled balls while I talked. Drew juggled rings while I talked. The wise cracks were not going over very well. Performing for adults is relatively easy: talk up the difficulty, throw in a couple of jokes, and don’t get cocky and do anything really hard for very long, and you’re a hit. Idiot guys who wanted to impress their girlfriends by explaining that juggling wasn’t so hard get a rather fun lesson from us. Hecklers get abuse back. But there are a couple things you can’t do when performing for kids: insult their parentage or scare the crap out of them with knives. It’s a rule or something.

Our dreadful routine went flawlessly, unless you consider an inattentive audience a flaw, until our grand finale. It was supposed to go like this: Drew takes a club, a ring, and an egg out of our gig-bag. I explain that he was going to do this for the first time, blah blah blah and he would start to juggle them but “accidentally’ drop the egg on the floor in front of him where it would break open with a splat. Then I would take out another egg and say “we’re gonna try again.” Drew would juggle them for about 30 seconds beautifully and then “accidentally” toss the egg high and directly into the middle of the group of kids, sending them squealing and leaping away until they would see our second “egg” bounce and discover that it was a fake egg. Then they’d laugh and clap and we’d take a bow and walk off stage to collect our $50. The little 5-10 year-olds might even hold up their cigarette lighters for an encore.

Here’s what really happened: Drew picked up the real egg and the juggling stuff and the “accidental” drop went off the stage but close enough to us that no kids got slimed. Perfectly done but there were no shrieks of fright from the kids. More of a “Okay, monkey boy, you dropped an egg. Big whoop.” We regrouped as planned and he started round two. Then he juggled them well, earning him a round of applause (if you consider only two people clapping, both parents and neither in the actual audience as a ‘round). Then he let the fake egg fly directly into the group of kids.

I have an excuse for what happened next: The kids were not on their butts on the floor but were sitting in rows of cafeteria tables which did not offer them many options in the squealing and leaping department.

Second: Have you seen the Robert De Niro, Robin Williams movie Awakenings? Robert De Niro is a patient in a mostly vegetative state until Dr Robin Williams gives him a drug which makes him come out of it. There’s a great scene where De Niro is in a wheelchair motionless until Williams throws a tennis ball at him. De Niro’s hand snaps up and catches the ball as if it were on a string.

That’s what happened to our fake egg. No squealing, no leaping, no bouncing. This little kid just reaches up and caught the egg and says “hey, it’s not real.” Dead silence.

Oh yeah, and by this time the High Arch Grand Poobah has scurried up with a roll of paper towels to clean up our real egg mess from his expensive hardwood floor.

We slunk off-stage. We immediately had to spend the money on something consumable like food or gas because we wanted no reminders of that experience. Nancy had made a miraculous recovery for our dinner and “I told you so” session afterward. It didn’t matter. It was a bad audience, a bad setting, not well set-up, not a great routine. We could still do ANYTHING but might avoid impromptu Christmas parties in the future.

When throwing clubs around in the park we’d always talk about stuff. Once you get into ‘the zone’ you can carry on quite the conversation while still doing tricks and the like. I can remember several times after work when M and Drew were at their respective homes when Nancy and I would vent our daily troubles to each other while passing clubs in the park, completely oblivious to whether anyone was watching or not. We got pretty close, so much so that her husband gave me a tour of his gun collection (and I cannot make that up, it was surreal.) But it wasn’t like that. We were friends.

And when you are juggling you can really get into yourself or you can totally get out of yourself. Unless you are trying to learn a new trick or move, you juggle much better if you don’t over-think it. It’s all about the throw. If your throw is good enough, then you’ll catch it. If your partner throws you garbage, then you either save it or drop it. No big deal. Pick up (or kick it back up) and start again. We thought there was nothing we couldn’t kick back into the pattern.

Then Nancy went to Hawaii again. When she returned, she was depressed and shaken because something had happened. It was never explained to us what had happened but she was getting loose around the edges. I’m not going to describe the bizarre couple of months that followed other than she had what I believe now was a psychotic break. She wasn’t merely manic / depressive but delusional for a time. It was pretty scary.

Sadly that’s where the band broke up. Nancy would call at all hours of the night and show up both at home (freaking out my roommates) and at work unexpectedly. I finally had to tell her that I was just not equipped to deal with her rapidly deteriorating situation. I told her that she was a good friend but she needed some help and I wasn’t the one who could give it to her.

Pause the story.

I still feel shitty about that. After much reflection I realize that I honestly wasn’t equipped. I was too young and inexperienced and not nearly as knowledgeable about mental health issues (including my own). It was a fight or flight response; I chose flight. Pretty crappy as a friend, huh? I couldn’t have saved her. However, I could have kept in better touch. I could have kept in touch with her husband and daughter, since we had spent so much time together, the five of us. It was hard. I felt I couldn’t keep up with Nancy because I couldn’t protect her from herself and I couldn’t keep up with her husband and daughter because that would be like betraying Nancy. It’s her daughter I felt worst about dumping. God, had I the maturity then as I think I have now what different choices would I have made? I guess we’ll never know.

I heard from mutual acquaintances a couple of years ago that she’s doing much better now. I sure hope so. She is one of the most charismatic and, frankly, cool people I’ve ever met and I’m proud to have called her my juggling partner. I’d love to bump into her again, maybe just to apologize.

There’s another friendship that was put on hold recently, for different reasons and under different circumstances, but it still hurts. No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man…

Back to the story.

Drew went on to discover girls, including his high-school sweetheart wife, and I went on working for the hotel until I got my current job as the ears and mouth of The Man. Neither of us juggle much anymore. I still have my Dubè clubs, knives, and torches plus a bag full of other juggling stuff and I have the fondest memories of our little juggling gang.

Nancy: if you’re still out there, be well.

Drew: if you ever read this, get your ass over here so we can pass clubs. It’d be fun. We could meet at your parent’s house and break something relatively expensive, just to remind them that they still have kids!


Photos not obviously mine are from:

The Northern Light, UAA’s newspaper.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Mother Trucker

I realize that I have not posted any stories about my mom on this ol’ blog thing. This is not because I don’t like my mom or that we don’t get along, I very much do and we certainly do.

Our family history, at least in my opinion, involves the comedic accidents which have happened to us over the years. The best stories involve a certain lack of common sense from an otherwise highly intelligent family member (you be the judge as to me; I judge the rest of my family as very intelligent, bordering on the diabolically brilliant). Added injury to the insult increases the laugh quotient exponentially.

Yet I’ve come to the conclusion that my mom is the straight-man in the comedy that is our family.

Diabolically, it’s because she downplays her own considerable intelligence. She doesn’t profess genius. If she makes a silly mistake, she’s set the bar a little lower so it doesn’t seem so ironically humorous. She doesn’t revel in her successes, so if she fails a bit now and then, there’s no schadenfreude for the rest of us. It’s simply no fun to pick on her.

Consider the following two family stories:

1) Mom

My mom drove a Ford Bronco SUV from the time by parents bought it new in 1978 to when she traded it in for a new Ford Explorer twenty years later. As a physically rather tiny woman she likes to ride up high so she can get a full view of the cars ahead of her and the cars ahead of them. She also appreciates not getting stuck when the snow is deep and the roads have not been plowed during the long Alaskan winters.

The only negative to driving a big SUV (don’t EVEN comment about Iraqi oil, we need 4X4 in the winter and we produce oil in Alaska) is that it’s big. Parking in a garage takes some planning so that the mirrors don’t smash against the sides of the garage doorframe and there is still enough room to park my dad’s car. I will always remember my parent’s garage as having a tennis ball dangling from the ceiling to guide the truck in.

Twice my mom backed her truck up into the garage door. The first time she didn’t wait until the door was completely up and clipped it. The second time she backed up while the door was completely closed. The only thing remotely funny about these mishaps was the way my dad describes the splinters of garage door that landed halfway down the driveway during my mom’s second not-so-great escape from the garage. Even my dad, however, has to admit that really she’s only hit the door once every ten years. In the same time she’s never had another vehicle accident that was her fault. She doesn’t profess to be a professional driver so there’s no real joy in pointing out that she hit the door.

On the other hand…

2) Dad

The Bronco was used to haul our three-wheelers on family outings to the Knik River area where there are a lot of ATV trails. Since the tailgate of the truck folded down, it was vulnerable while in the down position to being, oh I don’t know, run into several times by three-wheeler handle bars and banging down onto the jack section of the enormous trailer. Consequently it became fairly dented on the top of the tailgate.

My father had put himself through college (and two engineering degrees) working as an auto mechanic. Added to this, he can fix darn near anything. This is a given.

So Dad very carefully and painstakingly remolded and smoothed and repainted the tailgate. He’s so demanding of himself that when it wasn’t exactly true the first time, he reapplied the Bondo and remolded it again. The second time through it was absolutely true and perfect. While a marvelous piece of artistry and craft, the fact that it practically glowed with perfection was also somewhat of a given.

The very next time we prepared for three-wheeling he backed the Bronco up to the trailer and lowered the tongue of the trailer onto the Bronco’s hitch. The trailer itself was a huge flatbed with four-foot tall wooden side slats that were slid into the bed, forming four fence-like sides .

He pulled the trailer out from the side of the house in an effort to back it up into the driveway where we could get at it from all sides, removing the wooden sides if necessary and putting them back when we were done. He had pulled the trailer so that the Bronco’s front tires were on the street and he was creeping along slowly so that the trailer didn’t get jarred too much as the back tires of the truck traveled down the little dip of a gutter between our driveway and the street.

What none of us knew was that the trailer tongue was not seated on the trailer’s hitch but was just resting on top of the ball so that only a couple inches of metal around the tongue kept the trailer attached to the Bronco.

The scene: Dad is driving truck. I was in the garage with the door open. Jason and Drew (my brothers) were in various parts of the yard.

When the truck took that final dip and my dad applied the brakes, the trailer tongue jumped up above the ball and continued forward and down. The front wooden side of the trailer smashed against the top of the tailgate, putting a huge dent into the newly minted tailgate.

After the loud “thump,” my brothers and I stood in shocked silence as we soaked in the purest moment of the day. Then we scattered like rats from a sinking ship to meet in the house and howl with laughter. Then we all ran back outside to offer assistance and condolences. My father, muttering curses, suggested that it was best for everyone that we all just go away for a while. It was as simple as jacking up the trailer again to seat it firmly on the ball hitch of the truck and backing it up and he did not need our assistance nor did he want our assistance.

We all said versions of “okay Dad, let us know if we can help,” and walked briskly back into the house to debrief.

“Oh my God! That was the funniest thing I have ever seen” was what each of us said, or words to that effect. The beauty was that for once in, well in my case probably 18 years, something major was broken and neither I nor either of my brothers were in ANY WAY responsible for it. Ya-hoo!


So while my mom hitting the garage door every ten years like clockwork is mentioned here and there, the story of when the trailer hit the newly fixed tailgate of the Bronco is a memory all three brothers cherish and love retelling to this day (as recently as two weeks ago when Jason was visiting).

Mom and Dad, I love you both very much.

Dad's just more amusing.
Bronco pictures from

Monday, October 03, 2005

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Shaindlin Perspective

Herb Shaindlin’s talk radio program, which aired on AM 750 KFQD for most of my life and certainly all of my formative years, educated me in more ways than I have time to list on this post so I’ll give you just a few examples:

One is that Herb’s program introduced me to the works of Stephen King, Tom Lehrer, Spike Jones, Robert Service, and many other artists. One taste of each of these artists led to exploring most of their works and works of similar artists. In this way he set my compass on the course I have taken ever since.

The second is that he told stories of his life. Many of these stories rattle around in my head to this day.

Last night I saw a helicopter fly past my house at relatively low altitude, creating a certain amount of noise in its wake. From its direction of travel (and the few helicopters that would have any reason to fly over my house) I could identify it as the LifeGuard Air Ambulance.

As I watched it pass I had to smile as I was reminded of one of Herb’s stories. If memory serves, the story goes like this:

When Herb was growing up in Brooklyn, New York, he would constantly hear the wailing of all types of sirens: police sirens, ambulance sirens, fire engine sirens. He once asked his mother if the sirens bothered her or worried her because every siren meant that there had been a crime or an accident where someone was probably hurt.

Her response was a surprising “No.” She explained, “Every time I hear a siren I don’t get mad because it is interrupting my peace and quiet; rather I am happy because I know that someone is racing as fast as they can to help someone else. Sirens are a happy sound.”

Ever since hearing this story (at least 20 years ago) I have smiled a little when I hear a siren. And now I smile at helicopter noise too.

Thanks Herb, you are the very best.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Etiquette Question

Okay folks, I need some help (but you knew that).

Say you are in an office setting or another “business casual” atmosphere. Can you picture it?

Now imagine you’ve had a series of short “in-passing” conversations with a youngish person for the last week or so. Nothing creepy; same sex or opposite sex, it doesn’t actually matter for this question.

Is there an appropriate way (is it even appropriate at all) to ask the following question:

Excuse me, but I’ve been totally curious about this for several days: Do you have a tongue stud or do you have some sort of speech impediment?

Any advice would be appreciated in case this ever comes up in the future.