Sunday, April 27, 2014

#6: How I Got Paralyzed At The Polls (Polio)

I’m never voting again.

I woke up this morning excited to vote in my first presidential election. Being a part of democracy was great and all, but my local polling plaza was offering free popcorn! Who could turn that down? Today was supposed to be a good day.

Then, as I was about to leave my apartment, I got a call ‘reminding’ me of my tonsil surgery appointment. Today. I had scheduled it for next week!

The receptionist apologized for the mix-up but the next availability wouldn’t be until December. It was June. So I went in to get it over with. I walked out of the doctor’s office (exhausted from the drugs and with one hell of a sore throat) to find that it was raining. The weatherman said clear skies! And me, without my umbrella.

I had only an hour to get across town and to my local polling booth. Traffic wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, but there was this one guy who kept cutting me off. When I honked my horn I guess it startled him. He sped forward and crashed right in front of my exit, making a huge pile-up that blocked both the highway and my exit. I had to get out and walk.

When I finally arrived at Grand Central Plaza Polling Center, the security guards stopped me. “What’s that smell?” one of them said.

I noticed it just then, too. It was foul. I checked under my shoes. I had stepped in dog shit. Of course.

“It could be some bioterrorism,” the guard said to the other. And just like that, I was a national security threat. I’m all for protecting the homeland and junk, but was it really necessary to make me strip down to my boxers? I don’t think so.

By now, I was quite irritated. When I walked into the voting area, I didn’t even care that there was no privacy: all the voting booths were not really booths at all, but computers with big monitors where anyone could see your vote. Whatever.

Of course I had technical difficulties. Someone had inactivated the account I needed to vote. I immediately knew who must have done it: Iggy, the woman I had gone on a blind date with a month ago, never called back, and was now stalking me. It took another thirty minutes to sign up for another account and reboot the system.

At long last, the candidates. There was GI Joe, who didn’t have a bio at all. The second candidate was Babyface, an R&B singer who was running on the slogan “Do it for the children: stop global warming.” The third was Albert Einstein, and his campaign slogan was a tad more ambitious: “Though the deficit’s at its peak, I’ll fix it in a week!” Finally, there was Clark Kent, who claimed he could end the War on Terror. He didn’t have a nifty slogan, but I had heard much about him. He planned to shut down all four branches of the US military, one by one, over the next 15 years.

I knew nothing about politics and was really itching for that free popcorn, so I went with the most popular candidate: GI Joe. I clicked on his name, and frowned.

“That’s weird,” I said. I tried clicking GI Joe’s name again. And again, Clark Kent’s box was checked. Again. And again. At first I thought this was more bad luck and then I glanced at everyone else’s computer. They had all voted for Clark Kent.

This election was rigged! The last pre-election polls I'd checked had GI Joe a clear favorite with 90%, but that wouldn’t matter if the damn votes were rigged.

Yeah, I know. Who cares, right? But now it was about more than just popcorn: it was about principle. Thankfully, I knew the law. I could vote orally if I didn’t want to use a computer.

I put in my request for an oral recording of my vote and, to my surprise; they led me out back to a dingy old cabin. They said that senior citizens weren’t allowed to use oral voting by law and, even though I have only a single strand of gray hair on my head, they checked my ID to make sure I wasn’t too old! This was all probably to dissuade me, but my throat hurt, I smelled like shit, and I was determined to have my vote heard. Besides, I wanted my free popcorn.

After the vote, I left the cabin with my free bag of popcorn and my 'I voted' sticker. I was about to finally pop the first kernel of popcorn into my mouth when, out of nowhere, Iggy came up and tazed me.

"That's for not returning my phone calls!" she said and then ran off giggling.

She left me there, writhing around on the ground. I spent the next hour trying to move my hand to grab just one of the popcorn kernels. I almost had it when an iguana came by and began to eat. Since when do iguanas freaking eat popcorn?!?

#5: The Rhino and the Corona (Rhinovirus and Coronaviridae)

Three old men get together every Spring during the rainiest night to exchange stories. This year, the topic is ‘the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen.’

The first man told the story of Rebecca the Rhino. He’d been responsible for her years ago when he worked as a zookeeper at the San Diego Zoo. Ever since Rebecca had been born, she didn’t like being naked and would try to cover herself with all types of things—leaves, grass, the trash people left. One day an overzealous tourist leaned too far and fell into the rhino pit. In her terror, she dropped a red ruby necklace as she ran away. Low and behold, the next day Rebecca was wearing it around her neck. From then on, visitors would bring her jewelry and by the time she died she had 113 different earrings and necklaces!

The second man told the story of the Beer Tornado that almost destroyed the world. One day, a college kid shook up a Corona for three whole days and then popped the cap. The gas had built up so much that it spawned a huge tornado that quickly spread throughout the countryside, coating the land with beer suds. The tornado was so strong, the old man claimed, that people could smell the beer all the way in the Middle East. The tornado was so strong, the man claimed, that it changed the constellation of the stars.

“How did they stop it?” the first man asked.

“They didn’t. It was wintertime and that night the temperature dropped something fierce. By morning the whole tornado was frozen solid. It was amazing how it stayed in one piece. People came from all around that Spring to drink from the Preposterous Corona Reserve.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” the first man said. He turned to the third man, who’d been quiet. “Well, what about you? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen?”

“That,” the third man said, pointing. They all turned around.

It was Recebba the Rhino, in all her 113 pieces of jewelry, drinking a corona.

#4: Gemma's Pet Shop (Enteroviruses: Coxsackie A/B, Echovirus)

Gemma’s Summer Pet Shop was located on the top floor of Coldstone Plaza. She loved working in a pet shops because she got to meet all different kinds of people. One day, for example, the cutest little girl and the most stressed-out father walked into her shop.

“How about we take the helmet off now, Autumn?” the father said.

The little girl, who was indeed wearing a burlap sack over her head with eye slits cut out and a #1 written on the front, didn’t respond. The father sighed and said, “I mean, how about we take the helmet off, Popcorn.”

“That’s right, I’m Popcorn, explorer of worlds!” the little girl said, standing tall with her hands on her hips. Her arms were caked with dirt. Gemma thought it might be an attempt at camouflage.

“We’re inside now,” the father said. “So I think you’re safe from the alien acid rain. So no helmet, okay?”

Giggling, the little girl took off the sack and went to look at the different animals in the shop. Gemma cringed a little as Popcorn touched the sparkling glass cages with her dirty hands.

“She’s going through . . . a phase,” the father said to Gemma.

“I can see,” Gemma said. “What brings you in today?”

“We’re looking for a pet mouse. You got any?”

“As a matter of fact, we have two. Right over here.”

“Perfect.” The father turned to call for his daughter. “Autumn--I mean, Popcorn! Come look at the mice!”

The two mice for sale looked very similar, but one could easily see the differences if they looked long enough. The first mouse, Angel, had a pretty red bow tied around his neck and a pattern of spots that Gemma had never seen on a mouse before. His body was completely white, except for black spots on all four of his paws and one covering his nose, as if he were wearing gloves and a muzzle. He was a lively mouse and immediately started doing little tricks to impress Popcorn. He even played dead, lying on his side for a full minute without moving. Popcorn clapped in delight.

The second mouse, Braveheart, was nothing like his name. He shied away in the corner, so afraid that you could see his heart beating through his chest and hear his strained breathing.

“Which one do you want, sweetie?” the father said. Gemma knew it would be Angel. Why would anyone want a scared mouse like Braveheart?

But the little girl thought about it, then surprised Gemma.

Can I have both?” the girl said.

The father smiled. “Why not?”

On their way out, Popcorn stopped to marvel at Echo, my pet Bat. Echo was pregnant, and therefore wasn’t for sale. Before Gemma could say anything, the father grabbed Popcorn’s hand.

“Not a chance,” he said.

When they'd gone, Gemma went to clean the cages.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

#3: The Merciful Mummy's Revenge (Measles, Mumps, Rubella)

The Parrot King was the greatest ruler Egypt had ever known. He was responsible for ending the longest Civil War in history and bringing Egypt back together. He was a just king and was known for being especially kind of animals, and was even mummified with his pet parrot (and thus the posthumous title, the Parrot King). He was so loved that all his laws remained unchanged for thousands of years.

Measopholees, a descendent of the Parrot King, was set to inherent the throne and all of his family's riches. He was a handsome man with bright blue eyes, but most people revered him as a great warrior. He was especially known for his strategic brilliance, and always wore the family crest (a Falcon rising above a tornado) with pride. Yet he secretly disagreed with one of the Parrot King’s laws: the law against incest.

His inability to abide by this law wasn’t entirely his fault: his sister, Ruby, had always admired her brother’s intelligence and wanted her own children to have his smarts. So she seduced him from an early age. The two were usually careful with where they broke the law, but on the night before Measopholees’ coronation, he was so taken by lust and excitement that he had sex with Ruby right in the Royal Plaza. When they were seen, Measopholees’ claim to the throne was immediately revoked. They took his family crest and he and Ruby were shamed in the street. From now on Measopholees and Ruby would have no ties to the royal family, and would be considered less than peasants.

“You must fix this,” Ruby said, for she wanted her children not only to have a sharp brain, but also the heart of a true King. “If you cannot, you are not the man I thought you were.”

Measopholees was nothing without Ruby's love. He quickly came up with a plan not only to regain his inheritance, but to also shame the Parrot King, who had made the stupid law in the first place. He broke in to the Parrot King’s tomb, where he had been mummified and laid to rest.  A king was said to rule even in the afterlife, and any failures would be represented in this world. An exposed head meant the greatest transgression, so Measopholees ripped the bandages off the Parrot King’s head. To further shame the king, he took the bandages off his groin and exposed a long-hidden family secret: the Parrot King had testicles the size of mangos.

Measopholees wasn’t satisfied. The humiliation the King’s law had caused him…Measopholees decided he’d leave with a little trophy. He was tempted to take the urn (which was said to hold the Parrot King’s brain) as a symbol of his own superior intellect, but stealing such a thing would be too easily found out. Instead, he took the bright red ring off the King’s pinky. “You stole my inheritance from me,” Measopholees said as he removed the ring. It looked marvelous on his own finger.

The next day the tomb cleaner discovered the King’s desecration and soon the whole city knew: the Parrot King had done something terrible in the afterlife and was thus shamed. The king was so widely loved that no one even considered this could be vandalism. Measopholees quickly took advantage of this and made the case that he should be given back his inheritance, and that the incest laws should be abolished once and for all.

Measopholees enjoyed his riches for two and a half weeks. Towards the end of the third week, a dark mist crept across the desert and fell over the land. No one in the city could hide from it. When they breathed in the mist it made all of their hair fall out, except for a single strand. The mist grew so thick that it blocked out the sun and caused freezing temperatures that no one had ever experienced before. For the first time in recorded history, it snowed in Egypt.

It snowed everywhere, except for over Ruby. A special cloud hung over her and a circle of rain followed her wherever she walked. And when Measopholees made a speech to the city about the current crises, he couldn’t finish, he was coughing so much. It was well known that both omens were signs of a curse. The city council launched an investigation on Measopholees and Ruby. At their trial, Measopholees wore all his jewelry, along with his pinky ring. The tomb cleaner recognized the ring as the Parrot King’s and everyone knew the truth: Measopholees had disrespected the king for his own gain and thus brought this hardship over the city. Ruby was befuddled as they took them in to custody. How could Measopholees do something so stupid as bring evidence of the crime to his own trial? That was so unlike him!

The only way to cure the town of the Parrot King’s curse was to get rid of Ruby and Measopholees. Since the Parrot King had been a merciful king, instead of killing them, they sent them into exile, but not without doing some damage first. Measopholees was sentenced to 10 lashes from the whip. They had to drag him to the courtyard kicking and screaming. Again, Ruby was surprised: Measopholees was a brave warrior. When had he become a coward? The city’s strongest law enforcer gave Measopholees his licks. On the last, the Enforcer purposefully hit Measopholees on the face, popping out one of his beautiful blue eyes. A stray dog ran by and snatched up his blue, bloodied eye in its mouth.

Measopholees was stripped naked of his clothes and Ruby was given only a toga to protect her from the desert sun. Then they were driven out of the city. The hot sun burned Measopholees from head to toe. Ruby still had the rain cloud hanging over her, but the heat made the water boil. As the bubbling water dripped down her body, it burned her hair from her head and boiled her skin. Soon both lovers looked like someone had hung them by their legs and dipped them in a vat of acid.

One night, when Measopholees tried to make a sand mermaid (it was actually pretty good, too) using Ruby’s rain, she realized why his personality had been changing and why his intellect was deteriorating: her lover’s brain was turning in to mush from the Parrot King’s curse. She had fallen in love with him when they were children because of his smarts, and now he was getting dumb and dumber. He got worse and worse, and as they continued on through the desert, his speech was the last to go. Soon he would only ever yell the letter ‘A’ in response to anything Ruby said.

As a last resort, Ruby told Measopholees news that she’d been holding in ever since their exile. If any of Measopholees was left, this would bring him out.

“Measopholees, my dear,” she said. “I’m with child.

Measopholees stopped and looked at her. He opened his mouth, then screamed, “A! A, a, a, a, A!!!” He sat down in the sand and continued to scream. Ruby, devastated, left him there to die.

Ruby finally comes to a small town called Munich. With the bad omen still hanging over her, only one inn will let her stay the night because the innkeeper can see she is with child. She is in grueling labor for three whole days.  When her son is finally born, the rain stops. Ruby does not rejoice, because she knows this only means the curse has passed on from her to her child. She wanted her child to have Measopholees’ robust mind, pretty eyes, and the heart of a king, but, because of her greed, instead he would forever be dumb, blind, and heartless.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

#1: The Boner Bandits Rob a Magic Shop (Influenza and Parainfluenza)

Pinky and the Brain (known collectively as the Boner Bandits) were cursed by Felix the Magician after trying to steal a wand from his magic shop. He disconnected their abdomens from their legs, so that every time they jump, or fall, they have to be put together again!

To take their revenge, they plan to rob his shop!

They hire Buddy Love as the getaway driver. Love wasn’t cursed, and so is in one piece, but loves mayhem so is along for the ride. His getaway car is called the F-Bomb because when it’s time to go it can 'get the eff out of here', no matter the terrain! It’s especially needed for this job since it’s been snowing all day and thick, white snow covers every inch of every surface.

“You sure you don’t want to come in with us?” Pinky asks as Love parks around the corner from the shop.

“I’m a getaway driver,” Love says. “I never go in. I’m staying right here.” He puts his legs up and takes out a big Caesar salad, full of croutons.

“Suit yourself,” Brain says. He and Pinky check the magazines of their M2 Machine Guns and then holster them on the inside of their big fur coats. “Let’s go, Pinky.”

First Pinky and the Brain have to get past the Magic Shop’s defense: a magical ram tied to the roof that sings all day and night. His music prevents non-magicians from even getting close to the shop.

While Pinky waits by the entrance, Brian scales the side of the magic shop, using only a sword to dig into the concrete walls. A Nameless Sellsword who owes Felix a favor is supposed to be watching the ram, but he’s sleep on the job. Brain easily sneaks by him. The plan is to slaughter the ram, but now that Brain sees it, he finds sympathy. He instead cuts the ram free, then shoos it away by flapping the tails of his fur coat. The ram flees, jumping from rooftop to rooftop. Soon, the music is gone and the magical barrier is no more. Brain radios the go-ahead to Pinky, then sneezes over and over again as a strong wind blows dust in his face. The Nameless Sellsword begins to stir.

Down below, Pinky approaches the door with no trouble. The ram’s music wasn’t the only defense, however. The doors are locked and only the retina scan of a true wizard can unlock it. But Pinky and the Brain are ready! The day before they’d robbed the grave of a wizard and stole his eye. Pinky holds the eye up so that the scanner can see, unlocking the door. Delighted, he steps inside.

Felix has been expecting retaliation, and Pinky isn’t ready for the horrors of the Magic Shop and it’s loyal magicians. Pinky first encounters an old woman covered with bugs. Without thinking, Pinky rushes to help her. When he’s close enough, he sees that the bugs are not bugs at all, but rats! The old woman laughs, rises, and commands her pet rats to attack Pinky, who is able to kill many before the rest scurry off. But now the old woman (who looks a lot less helpless) is getting ready for her next attack: a fireball is forming at the center of her hands. Panicked, Pinky pulls out his gun, which makes his coat come off in slow motion, just like in the movies. One shot, and she goes down.

To Pinky's surprise, the woman immediately picks herself off the floor. In fact, she’s not an old woman anymore. She’s at least 20 years younger!

“I knew that resurrection spell would come in handy,” she said, brushing herself off. “Tell Felix that Mona took one bullet for him, but she's not taking two. As for you, call me sometime.” This New Mona kisses him on the cheek as she passes.

Meanwhile, sirens rage outside. The ram must have tipped off the police! Not only that, it’s the Magician police and they always have new and unusual ways of catching criminals. Today, they’re using their Synchronized Mastiff Unit: a pack of a hundred dogs, all barking in unison. It’s enough to drive any man crazy. In fact, their sudden presence startles Buddy Love so badly that he begins to choke on his crouton. They have him surrounded.

Inside the magic shop, Pinky advances cautiously. He just needs to find the cash register, and then he can leave. He turns down a hallway and finds a young magician boy, practicing his magic. The boy is wearing a shirt with the Ace of Spades on the front. When he sees Pinky wielding his gun, he does what any normal boy would do: he runs. There’s another boy still in the hallway, however. One Pinky didn't see a second ago. That's because this one is only a spirit. The ghost wears a crown on his head and a costume with lightning bolts on the right side, as if it's Halloween. Even as Pinky points his gun, the brave spirit charges and yells, ‘Ray to the rescue!’ If he were alive, Pinky would have surely thought him insane.

When the spirit boy runs through Pinky, his body goes weak all over. He loses his balance, trips, and his gun goes flying. Because of Felix’s curse, his torso lands in one direction and his legs in another. Before he can bring himself together again, Felix apparates out of thin air and snatches the gun off the ground. Grinning, he mounts it on a mantle. Pinky's legs make a run for it; his arms grab on to them.

On the roof, the Nameless Sellsword is really testing Brain's abilities! The Sellsword gets an opening and it looks like it's all over when he slices Brain through the middle. But Brain is already in two pieces from the curse! After this close call, he leaps over the side and quickly climbs down the wall. As he does, he sees the Magic Shop door bulging out in a very peculiar way. Brain recognize's Pinky's face pushing through from inside, frantically trying to escape! Brain slices at the elastic wall and frees his partner.

“Forget the cash, let’s get out of here,” Brain says. Pinky agrees. But the police have them surrounded. Thus ends the Boner Bandits' reign!

A week later, Brain’s cousin, Adrian, comes to pay Felix a visit. He doesn’t play games, he just burns down the magic shop.

#2: Sydney Drops The F-Bomb (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)

Sydney the Giant wasn’t the most popular kid in Mrs. Stark’s kindergarten class. In fact, he was desperately lonely. He was the #1 student, so he got teased for that. He was the only kid without a Pinky and the Brain bookbag (he had a Gargoyles bookbag instead) so he got teased for that. And, of course, he got teased for being a Giant.

One day Sydney tripped in the snow on the way to school and rolled down a great big hill and spent all day trying to free himself of the snowball he’d created. It was more than enough time for all his classmates to come and see. They laughed until their ribs hurt. For Sydney, this was enough. It was time to change. He needed to do something to make himself cool.

That night, Sydney watched 12 hours of the best stand-up comedy he could find, without taking a break. It was a marathon! By the morning, though, he knew what he had to do. He knew how to make people think he was cool.

The next day when Mrs. Stark called on him to answer a math question, Sydney got ready. This was it. It was his time to shine.

So he did it. He dropped the F-bomb. In front of everyone.

The reaction wasn’t what he’d expected.

Not only was Sydney the #1 kid in the school, he was the first kid to ever drop the F-bomb in class. Many of his classmates covered their ears and started crying. One classmate spit out the water he was drinking. Another tried to run out of the room in terror, tripped over the teacher’s desk, skinned his knee, and got blood all over the tests she was going to pass out at the end of class. Even the flower Mrs. Stark wears behind her ear was offended: it immediately wilted and died.

Mrs. Stark, to say the least, was disappointed with her star student, but she could sympathize with him. She needed a way to show him that grade-school popularity wouldn’t matter much when he got older, and that people who go around dropping the F-bomb don’t get very far in life. To prevent him from ever saying the bad word again, Mrs. Stark made Sydney watch hours and hours of compiled Sarah Palin speeches, titled Palin’s Vision for the US of A.”

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Roller Coaster, Part I

Originally published in The Colored Lens
credit: Instagram @oscarliii
No Country Club for Old Men was built at the bottom of a small mountain, much like everything else in Martinsville, Virginia. The town had more hills than convenience stores and the one leading up to Bob Woods’ country club was particularly steep. I biked to work and often tried to pedal the last stretch. I usually failed and ended up walking the rest of the way. Tonight was no different.
A little before ten I parked my bike beside the hedges lining the driveway leading up to the club. I wiped the sweat from my face with my shirt and looked up at the mountain. Spiked and bald at the top, the rest of it was ragged with trees, its bottom hidden by the club and the only palm trees in Virginia. The sounds coming from inside were loud; the day’s party was going late.
Woods had made it clear I was not to interact with any of his guests, so I went around the side and waited by the dumpster. It wasn’t my area of choice, but it was the only place away from doors and windows. I tried to pass the time by picking up on conversations drifting from inside, but I couldn’t make much of the excited chatter. With an occasional popping noise I imagined champagne bottles and overflowing glasses, the kind that looked like upside down China-hats. I envisioned people dancing and singing karaoke in one corner and drunkenly discussing politics in another.