panic attacks

Ants this time.

I.

I flipped through a magazine in the waiting room of the Urgent Care center. The quality of care I would receive from a medical facility in a strip mall between a deli and a perpetually thumping car stereo equipment store remained to be seen, but it was better than nothing. Plus, no appointments required, which I discovered when I called to make an appointment. “We don’t really do that here, just show up whenever.” I showed up on a Tuesday around 10:30 am, a very whenever time.

The three year old issue of Yankee Magazine was unreadable. I can’t read with music playing in the background, and the bass from the stupidly large subwoofers next door was bleeding through the walls. I also can’t read while an old woman sits across from me and coughs those useless old person coughs. She doubled over and spilled the contents of a plastic transparent envelope that was in the purse that she clutched to her chest. The floor was now littered with coupons. 30 cents off toilet paper, half off a carton of store brand orange juice, and a voucher for a sample of something called Brownie Dunkers. She got on her hands and knees, jamming coupons back into her purse with a wild look in her eyes. I returned to my magazine, and re-read a sentence about 2014 New England Summer Hot Spots again.

II.

The nurse called my name, I followed her down the hallway lined with pictures of famous skylines. The first one: New York City. Easy. The second one… probably Chicago? Or Toronto. Or maybe Tokyo or maybe a recreation of a matte painting from one of those movies where they don’t make it obvious which city they’re in. Like, this could be anywhere. “We’re going to be in room B today.” She led me into room B.

I took my place on the table. “Val forgot to give you this depression test, so here it is, and here’s a pen, just fill it out and Doctor Shipley will be with you shortly.” She closed the door and I scanned the PHQ-9 Depression Test, jumping to the last question in case it was the hardest.

Thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way?

Jesus. I slashed an X through the box labeled 1 – Not at all. Back to the top.

Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?

I looked for a box labeled “I mean yeah sometimes but let’s not make a big deal about it.” Failing to find it, I marked 2 – Several days.

Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television.

4 – Nearly every day.

Feeling bad about yourself – or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down.

Another 4.

I added up the score, and though I didn’t know what the sum meant (I flipped it over to see if there was a grading system on the back) I assumed anything higher than 1 signified “get a load of this very depressed man.” I felt my face get hot. I looked at the last question again.

Thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way?

I changed the answer to 2.

 

III.

Three knocks and the door opened. “What brings you in here today?”

I set the test down next to me on the table. “I’ve been having a hard time managing my stress.” The doctor made the “lift up your shirt” motion, which I did as I tried to put my symptoms into words. “I know what anxiety feels like, but lately I just feel…” The doctor placed his stethoscope on my back. “… wrong.”

“Lungs sound good, let’s take a look at that blood pressure.”

“Also there’s this other thing…” Still reeling from the test’s suggestion that I’m depressed and maybe I should think about killing myself, I attempted to slow my heart rate through deep breaths and the calming pastels of a picture of a healthy esophagus on the wall.

“Wow it’s really up there, do you have a history of heart disease in your fa- are you ok?”

“Yeah yeah yeah yeah I’m good.” Ringing in my ears. Eyes closed tight enough that I saw stars. I could hear the blood rushing through my head. And the ringing. My breathing intensified, my fists tightened, there was an audible pop and a second me landed on the floor with a wet thud. Its eyes opened and it started thrashing around on the floor, its naked skin slapping against the linoleum. Doctor Shipley stumbled backwards up against the wall as I wiped the blood dripping from my nose, hopped off the table and snapped the other me’s neck. It twitched, gurgled, then slumped.

“So is that something you’ve seen before, or…” I trailed off as the doctor rushed to other me’s side, laying there dead as hell.

“What the fuck just happened?”

I scanned the shelves, plucked a cotton ball out of a jar, hopped back onto the table and tilted my head back. “That? Yeah I don’t know, that’s why I’m here. I think it’s like… I can clone myself?” I shoved the cotton ball up into my nostril and continued my self diagnosis. I was feeling better already. “I get stressed and one of these guys show up all crazy and then I snap their necks. Like -” I made a neck snapping motion, then stuck my tongue out, much the same way the other me’s tongue was now sticking out of its very dead mouth.

“I mean Jesus Christ yes I can see that, but…” Doctor Shipley poked at the other me’s skin with a pen, slick with some kind of clone juice. I could sense the doctor was attempting to play back what he just saw. Looking up, looking at me, his brain adding details that weren’t there. He must have fallen through the ceiling. Yes, that’s exactly what happened. No, he fell out of me. Sort of. He was probably here and I just didn’t see him. No, there’s a naked and wet dead man in the middle of the floor, you would have seen that. How did he do that. “How did… how did you do that?”

I shifted my weight on the table. “Well the first time it happened after I sneezed really hard. Like, really hard. Like one of those ones that just sneaks up on you. The next thing I know there’s this naked guy tearing up the house, he’s just knocking shit over going all crazy, so I gave him a shove you know? Just shoved him like hey knock it off, and he fell backwards and broke his neck on the coffee table. Which gave me the idea about the whole, you know-,” again I made the neck snapping motion.

“So I’m wondering doc, do clones have weak necks? Is that a thing? Because you saw how easy this son of a bitch went down,” I motioned towards the body with a weak kick, though I was on the table and too high off the floor to make contact.

IV.

There was a quick double knock on the door. “Is everything alright in there doctor?” Everything was not alright in here, but he replied from the floor with a high-pitched, too friendly, “Yup, no problem, just finishing up, call the next patient, thank you, ok then,” rambling sentence. The doctor stood up, rubbed the back of his neck and continued staring at the other me. “How many times have you done this?”

I looked up, poked at the air with my index finger, and for a brief second the doctor probably wondered if a calculator was going to materialize in mid air to receive my addition.

“Probably,” I drew the word out, exhaled a long breath with puffed cheeks. “Like… I don’t know, 50? 60 times?” The implications of this statement hung heavy, but there was no remorse in my voice. Even I noticed that. I answered, “How many times have you murdered a clone of yourself?” with the same cadence that I’d answer, “How many times did you go to the supermarket last year, if you had to guess?”

“But… the bodies?”

“So that’s the really crazy part, you’ll see in a few minutes what happens next. But I was so pissed because the first time, I mean, technically I just killed a guy, right? So I’m going to Home Depot, I’m buying a shovel, the whole nine yards. And look, I never needed a shovel before, I live in an apartment so I’m not digging too many holes. I come back and the guy’s gone. And it’s not like I lost him, so now I’m stuck with this stupid shovel because I did lose the receipt. I swear to god I went from Home Depot to my car and back to the apartment and I lose the receipt in like 20 minu- oh whoops here we go.”

The other me, who moments ago was lying motionless in the middle of the floor, transformed into ten thousand ants and scurried single file under the door and into the hallway. “OH GOD GROSS,” screamed the nurse as she lead the next patient into examining room A or C.

“Well, there they go. Ants this time. Hah. Weird.” I checked the status of my nose bleed and slipped the sticky cotton ball into the slit on a box labeled BIOHAZARD. “So what’s the next step here, doctor? Do you want me to to uh…” I made a wiggly magic motion with my hands, “summon forth another one? Maybe you can run some tests on its weak-ass neck?”

A single ant had broken away from the group and ran in circles between our feet. Maybe it was all of the commotion outside. Can ants hear? Can ants that were once terrified clones, brought into this world and then just as quickly unceremoniously murdered, can they hear? Doctor Shipley crushed the ant under his heel. And I’d like to say I felt something, like a part of me died or whatever, but it was no different than killing the other me’s.

“Get the fuck out of my office.”

I slid off the table and walked towards the door. I forgot I was still wearing the blood pressure cuff. The tearing of medical-grade velcro reverberated off every surface of the room.

V.

“Did you go to the doctor?”

“Yeah.”

“What did he say? Wait, he or she?”

“He. Not much. ‘Get the fuck out of my office.’ Ants this time, it was gross.”

Another me rubbed my shoulders. “We’ll figure it out.”


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Cascadiavania: Tsunami of the Tsorrowful

The New Yorker published an article about the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami that’s going to destroy most of the Pacific Northwest sometime in the near future. Quoting from the article, “FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million.” The tsunami’s height “will vary from twenty feet to more than a hundred feet. It will look like the whole ocean, elevated, overtaking the land. Once it reaches the shore it will be a five-story deluge of pickup trucks and doorframes and cinder blocks and fishing boats and utility poles and everything else that once constituted the coastal towns of the Pacific Northwest.”

Those were just a few excerpts that my wife read to me as I was quietly drifting to sleep the other night. “You have to read this article, but for now, let me select a few of the most horrifying scenarios and get those firmly planted in your brain. Sweet dreams, love you!” It’s all terrifying stuff. The main takeaway is that once you know the thing’s about to hit it’s already too late. Their advice was basically just run. Run where? I don’t know, somewhere that’s not the Pacific Northwest. Maybe it’s all a cunning plan to sell more Fit Bits and Couch to 5K apps… in fact, yes, let’s assume this is all a cunning plan to sell more Fit Bits and Couch to 5K apps and go over some survival techniques that FEMA doesn’t want you to know about.

It is fine. Everything is fine.

It is fine. Everything is fine.

#1 OK But Seriously, You Should Actually Just Run. And I’m not talking, oh shit McDonald’s is about to stop serving breakfast, let me trot to the front of the line and prepare to do battle with a pimply-faced clock-watching teenager. No, you need to RUN, like a Kenyan Sonic the Hedgehog being chased by a 100 foot water wall of death. FEMA advises against grabbing anything important from your house before you start your run, including photo albums, pets, that mug you really like, children, Wrestlemania tapes, spouses, old issues of Nintendo Power… NONE OF IT. Leave it all behind, but…

#2 If You Happen to Have a Gun, Now Would Be a Good Time to Maybe Grab it Just in Case.  I’m not saying the economy in the post apocalyptic Pacific Northwest is going to be bullet-based for a few years, but I’m also absolutely saying that. Also, do you know what happens when you unload a few rounds into a tsunami? Don’t say you do, because you’ve never done it. Maybe you stand on top of a mountain, slam the bullet thing into the bottom of the gun and then pull the thing on top back and line up the shot and BLAMMO. You instagib the goddamn tsunami and save the day. Or, y’know, you rob some bandits at gunpoint for a can of beans. Both equally heroic and necessary. And finally…

#3 There is No Shame in Drowning in Your Own Home, Surrounded By Your Stuff.  Hey, you had a good run. Maybe this tragedy will kickstart some new evolutionary traits. Maybe we’ll finally evolve into screaming half man / half fish bio freaks. We just don’t know. We don’t have the data. But there is plenty of data that shows mother nature is done with us, and she’s going to be crashing on your floor for a while. And in the rest of your house, too. Also inside your car and your favorite strip mall (the one with two Chipotle’s) and pretty much every place you’ve ever been. Sweet dreams, love you!

Caution this coffee is incredibly thought provoking

It only took a week, and Starbucks is already done with their Race Together campaign, where baristas were encouraged to start a conversation about race with their customers. By writing the phrase “Race Together” on your cup o’ joe, they would jumpstart a not at all awkward or complicated dialogue at 8 in the morning over the loud whirring of frothing milk. I guess they were hoping it would lead to more interaction between humans of different color. Imagine the thrill of this experience: “Honey, I talked to a black person today, and you wouldn’t believe what I learned. Have you heard of slavery? Pardon my French but it was Effed. Up.”

Public reaction to the campaign was mixed. From “why are you doing this” to “no, please don’t do this.”  And while Starbucks claims “no seriously, this was supposed to last a week, we totally planned on giving up on this idea very, very quickly,” I remain skeptical. You can’t talk about race issues in America with an overworked and underpaid person, presumably of a different race, as they wait on your impatient, white, fancy-drink craving ass. Unless of course the conversation is limited to, “Hey is it hard to be black in America?” And they reply “Yes,” and hand you your coffee.

I've got a tall flat white and questions about race for Jhlom? Is Jhlom here?

I’ve got a tall flat white and questions about race for Jhlom? Is Jhlom here?

But hey, you gave it your best shot Starbucks. This is a conversation that we all need to have, just in a less cutesy, “isn’t this fun, instead of writing your name wrong on your cup let’s have a rap session about apartheid” kind of way. But this wasn’t the worst campaign. Here are some other Starbucks conversation starters that the public wasn’t ready for:

Campaign #1 – Holocaust: Fact or Fiction? – Whoa whoa whoa hey man we’re Starbucks, we’re just asking questions here. We want our employees and customers to express themselves. What, you think anti-semites don’t treat themselves to Caramel Flan Frappuccino Blended drinks when they aren’t spreading hate propaganda? Now who’s the bigot? OK, you’re right, it’s still the anti-semites. We’re very sorry for this campaign, we don’t know what we were thinking. Please have a free pastry on us.

Campaign #2 – This is a two part question: a) Do you think if you kill someone in heaven that you’re automatically sent to hell and b) what if the person that you killed was actually an undercover minion of Satan? Admittedly it’s hard to fit all of that on a cup, so it was shortened to SECRET MINION? underlined twice. This raises many theological and moral questions. If pushed to the limit, would you kill someone in cold blood in heaven? And that’s without even getting into the logistics of how you would pull it off. But if I had to guess – razor blade angel wings.

See? These terrible and completely real examples prove that you should never ask customers anything in the morning before they’ve had their coffee. In the best case scenario they’ll throw their drink in your face, worse case they may actually answer you.

You can watch me scream and yell all of my recent posts on AwesomeTalk! It airs every other Tuesday on our YouTube channel, where you can also find past episodes and other psychotic vlog vids.

A Man on Fire, Pringles, and Liquor: My First Memory

According to a poll conducted by Scientific American, 25% of people recall a troubling event as their first memory, just barely beating out “childhood antics” and “war.” And just as an aside, clearly the Scientific American poll-takers are sadistic fuckers, as they don’t find war to be a “troubling event.” Like, oh your first memory was your brother coming home from Iraq with his legs torn to shreds by a roadside bomb? That’s hilarious, let’s mark that under “light-hearted family capers.”

Nevertheless, I am part of the 25% of troubling first memory havers. When I was around 3 years old, the gas station two doors down from my house exploded. I guess that happens sometimes? So we all run outside to watch the carnage unfold, and everyone on the block is just standing around, like, yup. That bad boy’s on fire all right, flames are gettin’ real hot. But it was probably the sight of the gas station owner on fire, rolling around on the ground, screaming, attempting to pull his melting flesh back onto himself like some kind of skin cardigan that made me think, hmm here’s an image I’m wildly unprepared for. Oh, it’s just the nice gas station man pleading OH GOD HELP ME as the flames spread to his giant flammable beard, his face seconds away from pooling into a chunky puddle in front of some barely concerned neighborhood onlookers. The fire department showed up, and there was nothing on TV, so we all watched them put him out instead. I shook uncontrollably as the grand marshal of the block party from hell was extinguished.

To this day, certain experiences trigger my first memory. Getting gas – there’s the man on fire checking my tire pressure. Going to Burning Man – there’s the man on fire, wearing steampunk goggles and tripping his fiery balls off. Netflix recommends that I watch Backdraft, Heat, and Man on Fire – there’s the man on fire, who somehow guessed my Netflix password and is filling my queue with the hottest films cinema has to offer.

That night, after all the fire trucks and ambulances left, we went over to our neighbor’s house. The adults were all trading stories; undoubtedly my father was calling everyone and everything involved in the evening’s events an asshole – the guy on fire, the firefighters that put him out, the cop that asked everyone to take a step back, the gas station, fire itself. All of them ASSHOLES. I sat quietly on the sofa, staring at nothing, my very small brain processing how to categorize this first memory for a Scientific American poll-taker in the future.

But what’s the old saying? Every story about a man nearly burning to death has a silver lining? At some point my kindly old neighbor Mr. Girardi sat down next to me and handed me two things:  a shot of booze and a can of Pringles. “Here, drink this, it will calm you down. Here, eat these, they come in a weird can.” Because this was the roaring 80’s, when an adult could offer a 3-year-old a stiff drink and some chips and it was fine as long as their parents were present. Back when things made goddamn sense. So, thank you Mr. Girardi for teaching me that when it comes to processing a troubling event, alcohol is top notch. It’s second only to burying the event deep down inside and screaming yourself to sleep every night.


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What Are You Supposed To Be? A Topical Halloween Costume Guide

You look around the room, frozen with fear. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of being upstaged. You take a swig of your beer, choke it down, and retreat into the bathroom. You stare at yourself in the mirror, take a deep breath, and ask, “Is my Halloween costume topical enough?” You are dressed as a bent iPhone 6. Some drunken party goer foolishly thought you were a calculator. Really Susan? A calculator? What’s topical about that? I’m the thing that was in the news a few weeks ago, you know, that thing that was trending? I don’t think your costume is trending Susan. Nobody gives a shit about lady pirates anymore Susan. Nobody. Susan.

It's 2009 I'ma let you finish but Octopus Mother is going hashtag viral

It’s 2009 and I’ma let you finish but Octopus Mother is going hashtag viral

As an adult, it’s important to outfit yourself with the most topical Halloween costume possible. Look, any idiot can dress up as a ghoul, or a goblin, or as a member of the bands Ghoul or Goblin, but you want a costume that says, “Hey remember that thing that just happened? Maybe this hastily put together collection of trash stapled to my body will refresh your memory.” Something that will be relevant for the duration of the party and will slowly become less and less clever as the night goes on until you’re driving home, wondering if maybe your costume which consisted of a white t-shirt with the word EBOLA written in a drippy blood red font was not only in poor taste, but also completely stupid. You will peak around 9:30, when a guy dressed as the dad from 7th Heaven will corner you and say “Ohhhhh shit bro this guy is crazy! Look everyone it’s Ebola! Hahahaha oh shit this guy is Ebola! Oh wow. So dark. So relevant.” The life of the topical Halloween costume wearer is filled with exhilarating highs and devastating lows.

So, obviously you’re looking for a way to ensure your costume is as topical as humanly possible. All you have to do is fire up your favorite news source on the morning of the party and rip your costume straight from the headlines. Feel superior over your friends and coworkers, whose costume ideas are stale, entry level, try-hardy bullshit.

Like, oh cool, you’re a dude in cardboard gladiator armor screaming about Sparta? Well I’m Buzzfeed’s “21 Incredibly Easy Salsa Recipes You Need To Try.” That story was posted right before I got here and I’m going to bob the shit out of some apples, amigo. Or, hey, a Guy Fawkes mask. You must be V for Very Bad at Topical Costumes. I don’t know if you noticed but I’m dressed as Joko Widodo, the new president of Indonesia. HE WAS SWORN IN 8 HOURS AGO. If this costume was any more topical you’d be rubbing it on your genital warts.

Are you a gal looking to spice up your topical costume? Give the boys in accounting at the Halloween happy hour something to talk about? You’re in luck. Sexy modifiers can be added to ANY topical Halloween costume to increase arousal points. For example, you could go as sexy Donald Sterling. You could wear a tube top with the word EBOLA written in a drippy blood red font. That’s relevant AND sexy because Ebola is killing people and you have boobs.

So this Halloween, follow these tips, stay safe and stay topical. As for me? I’m getting into the future-sexy-topical game. I’ll be the guy dressed as Oscar Pistorius being released from prison in 2019, and I’ll have the sexiest leg blades you’ve ever seen.

You can watch me scream and yell all of my recent posts on AwesomeTalk! It airs every other Tuesday on our YouTube channel, where you can also find past episodes and other psychotic vlog vids.