Friday, February 29, 2008

Getting Ahead

Four reasons to feel good going into the weekend:

1. Daddy's All Better

The jungle rot is gone. Or at least, close to it. My left eye not only opens, it also sees. It's not 100%. There's still some blur. But the doc says I probably got lucky. Though that little infection I got can damage the eye permanently, he doesn't think that will be the case.

2. She's moving in.

After many frustrating months of looking for a job in Detroit, the search is over. Kirst was offered a reporter position on Wednesday for a small conglomerate of newspapers based out of Warren. Which means in three weeks, we'll officially be shacked up. Which means our relationship will no longer have a commute. Which means we're both going to feel spoiled very soon.

3. Fruition.

Some of my pet projects are starting to see the light of day. For starters, there's The Clapp, an electronic music project I started with my friend Andy. We've been doing several remixes this winter and the first one to come out dropped yesterday at RCRD

Sunday, I'm turning in a rough mix of the song "Hard Core," from a solo record I'm working on, to the Shifted Sound podcast. Shifted Sound is based out of Dallas, Texas and they were big supporters of Judah Johnson. We stopped in their studios on tour in '06 and performed for them. They sent me an email recently and asked if we had anything in the works that they could play for their special anniversary podcast and I told them about the solo record and they're all about it. So that will be fun for that to come out.

And lastly: About a year ago I decided to get "serious" about writing, or at least trying to get some freelance work published. After starting out at Real Detroit Weekly, and it going nowhere, and then writing for Detour for a bit, and it really going nowhere, I was introduced, through a friend, to an editor at the Metro Times. He (irrationally) decided to give me a shot and so my first is going to come out next week. It's a feature of the band Zoos of Berlin, who are going to be on the cover of their Blowout Music Festival issue, the biggest issue of the year. The story that emerged as I interviewed them is funny and inspiring and touching and I can't wait for people to tread it. Plus, I'm still at that stage where picking up the paper somewhere in town and seeing something I wrote in it feels cool.

4. Victory is mine.

I'm currently winning against all of my word wenches on Scrabulous, including Sarah, from D.C., whom I've never actually met and who is the wickedest, most ruthless Scrabble foe of all.

Gentle Bear

My daughter is so gentle. You can see it even in photographs. She's a light leaf blowing through this life of mine. I tell her that when she was a baby I had to tie a string to her, like a balloon, to keep her from floating away.

These pictures and video were taken at a birthday party for Kirst's nephew last Sunday. Watch the footage of her "slam dunking" a basketball. It's the very absence of aggression, further encouraging my hope that she's going to save the world.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Scrabs of Steel

Hi. My name is Daniel Johnson and I'm a Scrabaholic. There, I said it. My girlfriend is a Scrabaholic, too, which I guess makes us enablers. Between us, we own four Scrabble boards (and secretly want more). We've stopped going out socially and try to avoid leaving the house in general, unless it's completely necessary. I mean, why would we when we can stay in, pound whiskey sodas, and get in a half dozen rounds of Scrabble before the sun comes up?

I once joked that, for us, Scrabble was foreplay, and some people thought that was funny. Well it's not funny anymore because the fact is, we've long since stopped having actual sex. Scrabble is the sex. No, strike that, it's better than sex. For me, the spine-tingling euphoria I felt after the 98-point bingo I landed last Saturday was like having four orgasms at once. It was a fourgasm (which is, sadly, not a word you'll find in the official Scrabble dictionary).

The addiction is making me do things I don't want to do, become a man I don't want to become. I've stopped even trying to be Scrabble-faithful to my lady. I have a Scrabble haram, a stable of word wenches that I play the online game Scrabulous with all damn day. Life is so good. There's Sheila and Sandra and Sarah and.... ahh, their names all blend together. I've started to think of them as one woman - one demanding, energy-sucking woman with a double D vocabulary who is always telling me it's my turn. Yes, it's both as hot and as exhausting as it sounds.

Obviously, I'm rocking Scrabulous when I should be working. And I'm pretty sure my boss is on to me ever since she saw the Scrabble tiles fall out of my pocket in our last meeting (I keep a 'Q' and a 'U' with me at all times for good luck). And when she asks me a question, sometimes I don't even notice. I'm just staring off, muttering under my breath, "J-O.... J-A... what two-letter words start with J?" The loss of my gig is imminent. Do I care? Nah. I'll just have more time for Scrabble.

How did this happen to me? How did I come to risk losing my cool points, and possibly my humanity, for a stupid (but so lovable) tiled word game? I think the answers can be found in tracing the history of my Scrabble board ownership.

Board 1 - My First Scrabble

This was my first board, a hand-me-down. Notice the classy letters bag and the fact that the tiles are two different colors because they were combined from separate sets. It's beat to shit now, but I won't throw it away because it has too much sentimental value. I used to kick my grandma's ass on this board. I remember people in my family would be looking at me funny like, dude, take it easy on Grandma, and giving me dirty looks when I trash-talked her. I don't know what it was, but I could never hold back with Grandma, even then. I wanted to wipe the floor with her, and taunt her while doing it. I guess that Scrabble had already started to corrupt my mind.

Board 2 - Travel Edition

This was given to me for my birthday by people in my band, on the eve of leaving for a national tour. I can say with absolute certainty that it saved my brain to have Scrabble capability on those brutally long drives. The only reason I feel a tinge of sadness when seeing this Travel Edition Scrabble board, all covered in dust from the American Southwest, is that it brings back memories of the ass kicking I endured at the hands of our bass player Rodrigo. See, when we left for tour, I was the master and Rodrigo was a mere pupil, learning at my hairy feet. But Rodrigo is, by nature, a scientific and calculating bastard, and within weeks the tables had turned and he was regularly smearing me. At some point, it just started to hurt my feelings.

Board 3 - Michael Graves Designer Edition

This was a rare instance of too much fancy being a bad thing. I bought it for Kirst for Christmas last year, thinking it was a really sentimental thing to do, since the seeds of our love had been sown in the fertile soil of Scrabble. It was a designer edition, by Michael Graves, that they were selling at Target. It looked all high-tech and super next-level. I couldn't resist. But I don't think Michael Graves has ever bothered to use his own designer Scrabble game, let alone even repack it once. For all its futuristic sheen, it's just not a very functional design. The tiles slide around, the game components fall out when you open the shell... it's not the worst thing in the world, but it doesn't even come close to....

Board 4 - Onyx Edition

This is the Holy Grail Scrabble edition to end all Scrabble editions. For one, it's based around the color black, which is, like, the official color of Kirst and I's love. We bought it for ourselves this year for Christmas. She was out shopping and spied it in a bookstore. She called me to tell me about it and half joked that we should go in on it. This was, of course, preposterous because we already had boards coming out our ears. Why would we possibly need another? And yet, when I double-checked to see if I'd heard her right, that it had the lazy Susan feature, a raised tile grid, and was indeed based on the color black, my response came quick: buy it immediately.

I'd like to think that this board will last us the rest of our lives, or at least tide us over for a few years until they invent the version that will also make you whiskey sodas while you play. But I'm not that naive. She's already talking again about that Simpsons Edition we saw and made fun of. "It's so silly. Simpsons Edition. But still... what could it possibly be like?"

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Buddha Bunny Strikes Again

I have this friend. This essential friend.

I wake up and find text messages on my phone from him sent late the night before. The texts are elliptical sometimes, other times brutally sincere. He was probably drunk, I think. Or just ecstatic. But the important thing is he wanted me to know.

This is the latest:

Thu Feb 21, 11:46 pm

How do we end the cycle of life and death?
Just kidding.

La Femme Black Widow

This is Kirst's latest creation for La Femme Monkita. It's a custom job, a wrap for her aunt. (Her aunts are all kicking it in high Monkita style now - freaking Monkita mink coats.) It's a personal favorite of mine, just cause I like color.

The only drawback is that it took her days to make this, and those are days that could have been spent fashioning me the knit hammock of my dreams: it will be silk, in the shape of a spider web, and bolted wall-to-wall in my bedroom. I've always wanted to refer to my room as The Lair, and when I have my web-hammock, I can.

Come to think of it, there is something sort of dastardly - sort of... spiderly really - about Kirst's constant knitting. As if she were sewing the seeds of somebody's destruction. And lately she's been stuffing me with really delicious, but carb-heavy meals. Like she's fattening ol' Dan up for the kill. Could the next time I slip into a food coma, after gorging myself on her pasta, be the last mistake I ever make?

If she starts speaking in a lisp I'm swatting her spider ass.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The New Speed of Progress

I'm working on a feature for the Metro Times this weekend. It's my first for the paper so I'm trying my best to not make this piece suck. It's a story about a local band, and the band is going to be on the cover. Seeing as I've never written anything beyond an album review for them, this seems like an inordinate amount of faith in my abilities on their part. All I can hope is that, when all is said and done, I'm not known as that guy Dan Suck who turned in the 1,200-word bowl of suck soup.


My eye is starting to open, hesitantly like a shy little flower bud. I just want to say to it, "It's okay little fella. Come out and play! Nobody's going to hurt you." But it's on its own slow schedule. Who knew that healing could take so long? I thought medicine had, generally speaking, gone microwave. I'm so used to 24-hour flus and stories of 5-minute laser eye surgeries, the fact that my eye is only healing a little bit every day is driving me batty.

Thankfully Kirst is here in town nursing my ass. And how's this for a sense of accomplishment. I have, literally, one person in the world that I hope to impress: her. But then I look in the mirror and see a 31-year-old man ravaged by illness - pale, thin, sickly, and all-together Tiny Tim-ian in appearance, complete with fingerless gloves, dark circles under my eyes and rats nibbling at my coattails. And still, Kirsten looks at me like I'm George Clooney, grins, and keeps trying to make out with me. To which I say: Blam! Mission Accomplished.

Friday, February 22, 2008


To understand this great moment in g-chat (Google-chat) history, I have to explain what was going on behind the scenes.

1. I was writing my blog's profile bio, and had decided to brag about some of the useless and totally uncool talents that I have, like parallel parking or Tetris. I'm not sure everybody gets that I'm being ironic when I do this, but to me, being raised in a family of jock dudes, talking trash about something like my perfect eyesight is pure comedy. So I was asking Kirsten to help me come up with examples.

2. Kirst and I were in the middle of playing a game of Scrabulous, the Facebook online Scrabble application. We're pretty much obsessed with this game and do it non-stop, all-day, during work. What I didn't know, what I couldn't possibly know, was that Kirsten had just laid down a 72-POINT WORD that was going to completely sink my battleship, and she was anxious for me to take my turn so she could gloat.

3. If you don't get my sense of humor in my replies, you're just not getting it.

me: what are some things that i am strangely, freakishly good at?
like parallel parking for instance?

Kirsten: you're up.

me: really stupid things like that
like tetris. sudoku.

Kirsten: sexing me up?

me: yeah, but that's a cool thing, that i'm hot shit in bed. i'm looking for something totally stupid.

Kirsten: you hear a song and you instantly can play it on the piano

me: no, that's cool too, that i'm a rock star

Kirsten: making whiskey-sodas.

me: NO!
whiskey drinking is bad ass

Kirsten: talking in voices

me: wha?

Kirsten: farting
the stinkiest farts ever

that's not a skill
that's an illness

Kirsten: going. because it's your turn on scrabulous.

me: c'mon. really.

Kirsten: no, but it's really your turn.

me: i'm asking you a serious question
what the hell!

Kirsten: ha ha ha

me: ha ha ha ha

Kirsten: ha ha ha ha ha

me: i am laughing out loud right now

Kirsten: me too

me: i'm LOLing

Kirsten: ew

me: but seriously
name some

Kirsten: no really

me: you whore! [This is me finally looking at the Scrabulous board and realizing I'm doomed.]

Kirsten: haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

me: that's why you wanted me to go

Kirsten: I'm laughing so hard right now and trying to hold it in.

me: what have i done!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

In Sickness and in Health

This has been the extent of my official medical history as an adult.

1995 - Checkup. Mom forced me to do it.
2003 - Checkup. Just got insurance through new job - thought, "why not?"

This means that, in addition to having freakishly good luck with my health, I don't like doctors or hospitals and have preferred to pretend they don't exist. I get the flu about once a year and my choice has been to sweat it out and let my body do its thing. I don't even like using over-the-counter pain relievers if I don't have to. I have an irrational fear of getting addicted to them.

It's worth mentioning that for probably at least half of the last 14 years, I've been uninsured. So that was me just asking for trouble, and somehow not finding it. The result is that I don't remember the last time I had an antibiotic or a prescription drug, let alone a procedure. I'm not bragging. It just kind of happened. I blinked and 15 nearly doctor-free years had gone by.

All that changed this week. This is the breakdown of how it happened.

Part I

For me to tell this story right, take a short trip back in time with me:

Jan. 17 - Make the comment to Kirst in conversation, "Wow, I just realized it's been over a year and I haven't gotten sick. Maybe I've gone post-sick!" Gods of disease everywhere feel taunted.

Jan. 20 - Wake up with what I've come to refer to as SARS Plus, a brutal demon flu that feels like it's whittling my spine and using the shavings for firewood. What gives SARS Plus its "plus" designation is that it can change its shape, so that:

Jan. 22 - Bug is still going strong, achy fevery stuff morphs into stomach holocaust, which morphs into:

Jan. 23 - Wake up in the middle of the night feeling like my throat is being slit by an assassin. Silly me, that was just the SARS Plus shredding my larynx. And is that?... yeah, that's an infection by my wisdom tooth. Of course. "Welcome to the party, wisdom tooth infection. Can I offer you something to drink?"

Jan. 24 - Wisdom tooth infection is swollen so bad I can't bite down without touching the inflammation. Switch to liquid meals mostly, but it doesn't really matter. I haven't been able to taste anything for days.

Jan. 25 - Wow, this thing is still going strong. I didn't know that American bugs lasted that long. I thought you had to nick the insides of your cheek with razors and take an open-mouthed swim in the Congo for these kind of party favors.

Jan. 27 - DAY 7. Seriously? I ask myself. This is still happening? Depression sets in. The thing is, even my brain is sick. I don't even realize I'm depressed. I'll be talking to friends, thinking I'm keeping up a good front, and they're like, "Uh, are you ok?" And I'm like, "Yeah! I'm fine. Just a little under the weather's all!" Meanwhile I'm looking out the window of my house, watching squirrels frolic in my yard, and thinking about how much I hate them.

Jan. 29 - DAY 9. Still sick with no end in sight. I stop returning calls and emails.

Jan. 31 - DAY 11. I don't remember much of what was happening during this time. The sickness made it all go black. I have a memory of applying Claire's watercolors to my face like war paint and standing nude at the front window for hours at a time, staring at the neighbors as they walk by. But that could be a false memory.

Feb. 1 - DAY 13. Relief! It's a good day. I'm still too physically weak to do anything but lay on the couch, but at least no part of me is in screaming pain. And I have seen the light at the end of this dim, dim tunnel.

Feb. 3 - DAY 15. First day of healthful feelings. After just losing two weeks of my life, it's a near-high to just feel semi-normal again. The rest of the city is bitchy about getting snow dumped on us, and all I see are the beautiful flakes, no two alike!

Part II

Feb. 9 - Nearly a week has passed without illness. After assigning myself a clean bill of health, I take it upon myself to do a little free weights routine. I haven't done so much as a sit-up in weeks and I feel really flabby. So I really push myself. Little voice in the back of my mind says, "how come that swelling by your wisdom tooth hasn't gone completely away?" "What does it matter?" I reply, "The virus is either dead or dying. And I feel great."

Feb. 11 - Wtf! Wake up with searing muscle pain throughout my upper back and neck, and nerve sensitivity through the rest of my body. My head, for instance: the very jostling of the brain in its fluids can be felt, and it hurts. It's like I have whiplash mixed with the cold sweats. I get to work and the heat in the building isn't working. I spend the morning shivering and aching. I use my precious lunch break to go home and put long underwear on. By the evening I'm completely sick again.

Feb. 15 - Flash forward four days. Thanks to my new girlfriend Advil, I made it through the work week, having survived another stretch of body pain by light and jungle sweats by dark. It's almost become a way of life for me, this sweating through my sheets every night: the waking up to towel off, the extra loads of laundry every day. It's been going on for so long now, it seems I've never know any other way.

9 p.m. - I think the fever is breaking. I have big plans tomorrow to meet Kirst halfway between Chicago and here in a hotel room with a jacuzzi. It's going to be our belated Valentine's day and we haven't seen each other in weeks. So I decide to make myself a bowl of breakup soup (crushed blue corn tortilla chips and salsa, mixed together), kick it on the couch watching movies on my laptop, and turn in early. I go to bed feeling optimistic, like I've turned a corner again toward wellness, and proud of myself for getting to bed at a decent hour.

Feb. 16

7 a.m. - Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! AHHHHHHHHHH! I am woken by the heart attack I'm having. Or at least the suffocating pain in my chest and back. Pain that is all consuming. Is this the end? Does SARS Plus take me out like a little bitch, after I fought it so hard for so long?

I'm imagining the worst. My friends had gotten me all psyched out last week about my mouth infection, how it can spread to your brain. When they said it, I wrote it off as an urban legend, but now I was beginning to wonder? Had the infection taken a canoe trip down my bloodstream, straight into my happy heart? Do I die here this morning, moaning into my mattress (I sleep on a mattress on the floor. I don't even get to die in a real bed!), clutching my chest in confusion, with chips and salsa breath?

I start surfing the net, in blinking pain. I find a site for home remedies, then a page for heartburn. I've never had heartburn, but there's a first time for everything and even though I'm pretty sure I'm dying, I still have enough logic left to doubt that my heart is really failing. I see "apples" and "vinegar" listed repeatedly on the forums. I find both in the kitchen, gobble them up, and wait, pacing the floor. After about 45 minutes, the pain has subsided enough that I consider lying back down to get some rest for the big day. On the way back to my room I glance at a mirror. Is that... pink eye? Oh, and hey Mr. Cold Sore, haven't seen you in a while. Nice day for you to drop by.

Let's take a minute to talk about Mr. Cold Sore. Mr. Cold Sore is herpes. Not the kind you get from questionable one night stands, the other kind. They say that 95% of people have it lying dormant at the base of their brain. Stress and illness make it erupt and I guess that for normal people this means cute little cold sores that are closer to large pimples. But for me, an outbreak that is untreated results in a disfiguring, elephant-man-like swelling of the upper lip and under-nose. Mr. Cold Sore rips open the flesh of my face and grows pizza out of it. It is so extreme that no amount of exaggeration here can make you believe its hideousness. Its like a thick, throbbing crustacean clinging to the space where a mustache would go, complete with barnacles and its own heartbeat. It rarely gets to this point, mostly because I found one - and ONLY one - thing that'll kill it, this cream called Zovirax. But one time I had an outbreak while the band was touring and didn't have my precious Zovirax on me. The guys still don't like to talk about what they saw.

So anyway, it's Saturday morning and I see Mr. Cold Sore make an appearance. No big deal. I've got you covered, I think, taking out my Zovirax. "I will enjoy killing your ass," I say as I lather the fucker up in cold sore kryptonite. As for the pink eye, I decide to figure that little bit of good fortune out later, after some zzz's.

12:00 p.m. - My hearburn has mostly subsided, the cold sore is being nuked and my eye's a little red. I'm supposed to have brunch with an editor at the the Metro Times to meet and talk about feature writing. We've already rescheduled twice this week because of some car trouble, so I don't even think about canceling. Besides, I don't have his phone number.

12:50 p.m. - The editor is kind of looking at me in disbelief as I try to casually list the soap opera of pain that has become my body recently. "Hearburn? At 31? That's like old man shit," he says. Later, he lights up a smoke, after asking if I mind. I don't. But he starts to notice my eye blinking a mile a minute. "Are you sure you're ok with the smoke?" he asks, "Your eye looks really red." I feel like I should be quarantined. Later, when we are saying our goodbyes, I notice he doesn't shake my hand. Smart guy. He knows a leper when he sees one.

1:00 p.m. - I need some eyedrops for this pink eye. But I don't have any health insurance. So I'm racing around town making calls to people I know with kids. What really stings - besides my eye - is that a) I am a People With a Kid and b) a few weeks ago, I thought Claire had pink eye, got a prescription from the doctor for the drops, and then held off on filling it to see if it really was pink eye. It wasn't, but why didn't I get the drops anyway? It wasn't like they weren't going to come in handy anyway down the line. Like now! And I threw away the prescription!! This completely boneheaded decision was made while I was in the grip of SARS Plus, by the way, and would prove to be the first of a series of poor, poor choices, the rest of which were about to start flowing fast and furious.

1:15 - Driving to a family friend who has some drops for me, I glance over at the seat and see some Moist Wipes that I use to clean Claire's face and hands before dropping her off at day care. "Anti-bacterial" the packaging says. Hmmm, I think. Isn't pink eye a bacterial infection? Why don't I use those Moist Wipes to clean the gunk off my eyelashes and, hey, if a little gets in my eye, it's anti-bacterial. Bonus!

4:15 - Leaving to meet Kirst. I'm now barely able to open my left eye, but am resting in the confidence that action has been taken, drops have been applied, and all that remains is for the miracle of modern medicine to take its course. Plus, I'm secretly congratulating myself on my resourcefulness. I managed to meet my own medical needs without paying a cent. I coast onto the freeway in good spirits, with one working eye and a dab of cream under my nose that looks like a wad of pearly white snot. I head west on I-696. Never mind that Kirsten is waiting for me in a hotel off I-94. Never mind that we've been to this hotel together several times before, and that I know where fucking Kalamazoo is. SARS Plus is in control, and so I take I-696 toward Lansing.

6:00 - After realizing the exit number I was looking for didn't exist, I call Kirst and that's when we both come to the sad, inescapable conclusion that, though I should by now have been minutes from the hotel room, I am actually an hour and a half north of where she's waiting. This hurts possibly worse than anything SARS Plus has done to me so far.

7:30 - I arrive finally. She is, literally, a sight for sore eyes. I've never seen anything prettier. Whereas I must look amazing - in a bad way - with my bloody eye and nose cream. But Kirst never lets on. It is the greatest Valentine's day (even though belated) of my life. She has brought me gifts, including three bags of blue corn tortilla chips and a large vat of salsa. I tell her I'll pass on the chips and salsa.

Feb. 17 - Driving home the next morning, my eye has swollen shut. Guess those eye drops are still doing their thing. I take the Moist Wipes and clean off the outside of my eyelashes. Despite all that's happened, I'm still feeling unexplainably, irrationally positive. I've got a fresh cup of crack drink, just spent an amazing night with my lady, and am going home to pick up the Bear. Everything is going to be ok. Still, maybe it wouldn't hurt to stop at one of those walk-in clinics. See where they weigh in on all this mess.

4:00 p.m. At the Royal Oak Medical Clinic. My eye is now dripping quite a bit. And hurting. And a lot more swollen. Something, I think, is not as it should be. I see a doctor, and he knows I have no insurance (i.e. no tests are done), listens to my story, takes my word for it that I have pink eye, and tells me not to use the drops I've been using. They could have been contaminated. For the SARS Plus, he gives me a script for a free antibiotic that you can get at Meijer, and a sample of another antibiotic, in eye-drop form, for the pink eye. This doctor is all poker face, all the time. I see a sign on the wall for pectoral implants and ask if if he has time to pencil me in for one today. Without cracking a smile, but acknowledging the joke with his eyes, he says, "No, not today."

This all gives me a new level of confidence. An actual doctor has been seen. Consultations have occurred. I haven't quite been diagnosed, but he didn't panic when he saw my eye. Plus, I now have an honest-to-goodness antibiotic, my first in over 15 years. Time to kick this SARS Plus's ass, once and for all. On the way home I glance at the back of the Moist Wipes, the part where it says "avoid contact with eyes." Oops.

Feb. 18 - Monday. President's Day. Thank god its a work holiday. There is no way I could have gone in today. You see, I proofread for a living and, though I didn't think this was even possible, my eye is actually WORSE. The lid is more swollen, and parts of the face too. And it stings like the dickens. At the rate I'm at, I'll look like this soon:

And the eyeball itself feels like it's being squeezed in a nutcracker. Also, it feels like my cornea is scratched or something. My eye is weeping fluid non-stop but, oddly, there is no classic pink-eye crust. Meanwhile, I'm doing my best to tend to Claire (nothing a few new dolls won't fix) and washing my hands every two minutes like I'm going for the gold medal in OCD. There's no way Claire's getting pink eye from me, I'm thinking, and if this spreads to the other eye, I'm fucked. Driving, for instance, would be one of the essential activities I could no longer do. Let alone working. And this is a crucial work week. To qualify for HEALTH INSURANCE I need to log at least 20 hours to have accrued my fourth full-time work week. That's how it works at my contract agency. So tomorrow, maybe, I could think about taking off. But if I don't work Wed.-Fri. I'll have to wait another month to be eligible for crucial, life-saving benefits.

I flush my eyes with water and a rinse solution. This brings some temporary relief. But whenever I put the Dr. Poker Face's drops in, my eye explodes. I put off going back in to the clinic however, thinking I need to at least give the medicine over 24 hours to take effect.

Feb. 19 (This morning) - I call in sick at work. The eye isn't better. If anything, it's worse. I put a knit cap on with a brim and pull it low to hide my quasi-moto eye, and then drop Claire off at daycare. When I'm about to walk out the door I'm overcome with affection for my little bear and so I bend down for a kiss, the first bit of actual contact we've had in days, but she chooses to blow me a kiss instead. I guess even 4-year olds know a leper when they see one.

10:00 a.m. - I pass out in the waiting room at the clinic. My head feels submerged in water and I can barely keep my good eye open or think. When they wake me up to be seen by the doctor, they're looking at me funny. I'm not taken to the traditional little checkup rooms they used the other day, I'm taken to a little section behind a screen they pull aside that looks more ready for battle.

I fail the vision test that I passed two days previous. The doctor puts dye in my eye and looks at it under a blacklight. "You've got abrasions on your cornea," he says. "You mean I scratched it?" I ask. "Maybe," he replies. "Or it could be from a virus." Meaning a virus could have opened gashes in my eye, much the way that Mr. Cold Sore opens them on my face. He explains that he doesn't know if it's pink eye after all, and wants me to see an ophthalmologist that he'll refer me to. He wants me to go immediately. The first clinic visit was $100. The second, they only charge me $75, but he tells me the ophthalmologist will be another $75.

I ask him if I'm contagious. He says yes. I tell him that I really need to work the next few days. He says I can be religious about washing my hands, but if I'm going to be in contact with others, it's risky and I should stay home. This is the worst news of all.

2:00 p.m. - The ladies at the optomologist take instant pity on me. First the receptionist, then the one who gets me prepped. The latter is old enough to be my mom, but I flirt with her, because flirting with old ladies is how I do. Plus, even with half an eye and a water brain, I like to keep people guessing. She puts a numbing drop in my left eye and tells me I'm going to love her for it, but then hate her later when I can't get it any more from her. It's all true. I tell her the whole complicated story, doing my best not to leave anything out. But honestly, my brain is mush. It's floating in hot, SARS Plus juice.

Eventually the doctor comes in. He's like a better looking version of Rick Moranis. He brushes up on the notes of my case, then sticks my face in a contraption with a microscope attached to it. It looks like something out of Brazil. He prods my eye in different directions. He finds out some interesting things. Like that it hasn't spread to my right eye, which pink eye definitely would have. He consults the chart. Then uses the microscope thing again. Does a "hmmm" to himself. Does the microscope thing again. He seems stumped, which worries me. Then the microsocpe thing again, and he gets it. I can tell, though he hasn't told me. He goes back to the chart and starts scribbling away. Eventually, he spills the beans. "What you have is herpes in your eye. 95% of people have this virus lying dormant in the base of their brain, and then stress or illness brings it out. It usually shows up in the nose or lip. In rare cases, it can get in the eye. The pink eye drops you've been taking have steroids in them. Some of those medicines are built to beef the bug up before killing it. In your case, it was just beefing it up. So quit taking those drops. I'm going to write you a new prescription for drops for the eye herpes [he doesn't actually call it "eye herpes"] and you have to take them every two hours. But the thing is, this drug can't be used indefinitely because it will eventually do damage. So I have to see you back in here in 2-3 days."

"Am I contagious?" I ask. He says, technically yes, but not in the same way pink eye is. Don't rub faces with anybody at work, if somebody brings in cookies don't take any, and I should be fine. Yes!

On the way out, the lady who prepped me, who has taken a maternal interest in me it seems, is helping me get checked out with the receptionist. "I'm just glad it's not pink eye," I say, for reasons she doesn't understand. She stops and gives me a hard look. "What you have is much, much worse than pink eye. It could actually damage your vision. Be very careful about this." Dear god, I just want to be healthy again.

The drug they tell me to get is $120. And this is where I win one against the system. My brothers and I were all three given the same first name: Robert. All our lives this has plagued us from issues with credit bureaus to having to hear "hey, just like George Foreman!" more times than we can count. But today, TODAY, it finally comes in handy. With James Bond-like cool, I walked into the drugstore where my brother's info is stored, submitted a script written out to Robert Johnson, gave them my brother's date of birth and phone number, my brother who is fully insured, and walked out with my Eye Herpes Killer Drops for the bargain rate of $10.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

My Fish Just Tried To Kill Itself

I can't believe my eyes. I heard a flop-bloop sound from Tiara's little tank and when I ran over to see what the noise was, she's just sitting there, halfway out of the water, with a resigned look on her face, waiting for nature to finish her off.

"Cut that out," I said and shook the tank until she fell back in.

I have to confess that the reason she was able to even be halfway out of the water was that her tank was low. Because it was a little overdue for a cleaning. In my defense, Tiara is a Beta fish - basically one step up from a goldfish, which is like five steps up from an amoeba. They'll tell you at the store that Beta fish don't need a lot of fluid floor space. They're supposedly perfectly happy in the little baggie they're sold in. I guess with a three-second memory, life is just one big surprise party.

But I was never satisfied with setting her up in that kind of lifestyle. This was going to be my daughter's first pet, a gift for her 4th birthday, and, while not the first pet she'd lived with, the first one that was exclusively hers. And so we spared no expense. The bowl we got her, about the size of a small pumpkin, was a Beta fish mansion. And I generally always keep it full.

I can only speculate what would have driven Tiara to this act of attempted fish suicide. Was the low water breaking her heart? Its swampy consistency? Did Tiara have other plans for her life that we didn't know about - ocean-sized dreams in a goldfish bowl-sized reality. Or was it something else wearing down her soul, like the hours spent alone while Claire and I are at work and school; or the psychotic pep of Claire's Care Bear's movies on repeat.repeat.repeat. Maybe she just didn't like my piano playing. (No, that's impossible.) Had Tiara gotten her memory back!

For now the bowl has been cleaned and we're keeping an eye on her while also making an effort not to stare at her with condescending pity.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Checkout Lines

The back story to this little conversation requires a brief diatribe, about how I think credit cards are kind of pure evil. I mean, I don't even know if I believe in that word anymore, evil, and yet... what do you call something that exists to prey on others' weakness. Cause that's what credit card companies are about, predatory practice. This goes beyond the casualties of capitalism when its practiced with cold impartiality. This is business that encourages weakness. Your mistakes are their gains (credit history problems, failure to pay on time, etc. = higher interest rates, more profit for them). In other words, it's in their best interests for you to fuck up, and what kind of relationship could you build on the foundation of one wanting the other to fail? One very similar to the relationship between mice and hawks.

So the fact that every retail joint, from clothing shops to hardware stores, is trying to get in on the act now irritates me a bit. To the point where even though making small talk with store employees is one of my favorite things to do, the second they ask me if I want a store credit card, gregarious Dan vanishes as quickly as he appeared. My eyes go cold, my lips shut at a perturbed angle, the fountain of friendly dries up and both of us look at the ground while the stink of what just happened hovers in the air as if one of us just shit his pants and neither wants to acknowledge it.

So today. Me at the checkout line, just trying to get my groceries. Everything's going well. Items are being scanned, chit chat is being chut. And then he says it.

Clerk: [Bagging my stuff, not looking up.] Would you like to save 10 percent off your purchase today by opening a Meijer credit card?

Me: [Brief silence. Consider just not talking to him anymore. Then,] Yeah, no.

Clerk: [Still not looking up.] It's tempting huh, but today you'll pass?

Me: Not really.

Clerk: [Still not looking up.] Maybe next time then.

Me: I think that credit cards are bad. They're bad for people.

Clerk: [Still not looking up.] Yeah, especially when people apply for them in your name without telling you.

Me: Well, there's that, but...

Clerk: [Still not looking up.] Yeah, my brother took out three in my name and I got tagged with $40,000 in debt.

Me: Whoa. Serious?

Clerk: [Stops what he's doing. Looks around first, then at me.] Yeah. I can barely stand to say that part about the credit card thing. But I have to.

Me: Why?

Clerk: Because they send decoy customers through the lines, people who work for the store but are undercover, just making sure you're saying all this stuff. They have a list, are you doing this, are you doing that...

Me: What happens when you do all the things right on their list.

Clerk: They compliment you.

How bad does that suck? The guy is working this depressing job, trying to pay off the whale of debt that his brother stuck him with, and the degrading irony is that he's forced to pitch people credit cards. It's practically mythological. Like when Prometheus stole fire from the gods and the payback was him getting chained to a rock where his regenerating insides are eaten daily by vultures.

Maybe not that bad. But pretty bad.

In Defense of Brand Loyalty

Regarding yesterday's Crack Drink post, I want to say a few things on my behalf to all the haters out there.

Look, I know you look down on me for supporting a Globalized World Conglomerate Super Corporation (or, as a Starbucks Barista would repeat back to me, a World Super-sized Classic Status Multinational Corporate Entity). I know that I must be indirectly putting the hurt on whole villages of Guatemalan farmers every time I buy myself a cup of crack drink. I know that this makes me an evil stain of a man equivalent to Ronald Regan, only without the folksy charm. And I know you also judged me for throwing around a brand name in my blog so carelessly. I know this because I feel your judgment, all the way over here.

But I was just trying to be scientific about all this, because I am nothing if not a man of science. A man of science and specificity. You see, I am using the word Starbucks to refer to a specific narcotic beverage, not a brand of coffee. Trust me, I've tried Caribou's java. I've tried Dunkin Donuts' brew. I've tried the independent shops. I've made coffee myself on my pathetic, Fischer Price toy of a coffee maker and I've had it in the homes of friends with large, stainless steel contraptions that look like little power plants and that are supposed to produce exotic, "Starbucks-strong" joe. And what I've discovered in my field research is that it's just not the same. Because that's all coffee and Starbucks is crack drink. I like coffee, by the way. But I need crack drink.

Now, if there were a way for me to buy crack drink and make it myself at home, so as not to support a wickedly giant corporation, I would in a heartbeat. Or if they sold crack drink at the local independent coffee shop, or at gas stations, or at restaurants, I'd buy their crack drink, and give a little back to my community. But they don't. Starbucks just happens to be the only place I know of that sells crack drink. Which has the semantic effect of making the word "Starbucks" synonymous with "crack drink." And when I use the word "Starbucks," it's not because I'm a brand sheep, it's because I'm a lover of specificity.

For instance, let's say that crystal meth first made its appearance by being offered at a popular retail chain, called Methbucks. And imagine that Methbucks sold crystal meth in a candy form that was similar to a Lick-em-Aid. Now, you'd still be able find regular old Lick-em-Aids - a white, hard stick that you dip in a pouch of sweet sugary goodness - at supermarkets, convenience centers and liquor stores. But the only place you could get a Lick-em-Aid that'll flood your brain with the chemical of love and keep you up for days, scrubbing the kitchen floor while giggling to yourself, is at Methbucks. Well, I guarantee that you'd call Lick-em-Aids Lick-em-Aids and Methbucks Methbucks.

I rest my case.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Crack Drink

I'm pretty sure that when people think of me, they picture me with a Starbucks cup in my hand. It's a visual association; part of my identity. Like Mr. Peanut and his monocle.

Or Colonel Sanders, with his white suit and cane.

So that if you tried to conjur an image of Daniel Johnson, not only would you see a prominently sized head, a long face and Levis twill pants, you'd also see the white Starbucks cup. Like so:

And I am fine with that, honestly. Not that I'm comfortable, in principle, with being so attached to a brand. It's just that I've come to terms with my addiction. Because there is coffee and then there is whatever they sell at Starbucks. Which is not coffee. They sell hot, black liquid crack. (I know it's crack, because every year on Christmas I can't get my fix and I end up fetal by the end of the day.) And I'm hooked on the junk. But it's a manageable addiction, and I've gotten attached to the half hour of bliss every morning that follows that first cup.

But I have one gripe. You see, I've been self-medicating myself twice daily with these cups of oily, steaming euphoria for close to a decade now. Which I would like to think makes me a bit of an expert when it comes to Starbucksese, a highly specific vernacular. But not so. I guess that the ace team of coffee PhDs posing as Starbucks baristas don't want anybody infringing on their select status as resident experts. Because no matter how many times I order the same. goddamn. drink, they pretend I said it wrong. It goes something like this.

Me: Hey. I'll have an iced grande coffee, unsweetened.

Barista: Ok, iced grande iced coffee, classic status. Anything else?

So not only do they insert the word "iced" in there a second, useless time, they make up some kind of phony Starbucks term for "unsweetened." Classic status my ass.

But! If I were to repeat, verbatim, what they called my drink the next time I'm back, this is what happens:

Me: Hi! I'd like an ice grande iced coffee, classic status.

Barista: That's one grande iced coffee, no sweetener. Will that be all good sir?

Do you see? Do you see what's happening here? They're sticking it to me, with a smile. I may have come to play, but the decks are stacked against me, and the house always wins. Because no matter what I say, they'll invert it. It's a subtle gesture of superiority. Their little way of reminding me that they're behind the the Starbucks counter, not me. And they'll be damned if some coffee junkie with a $30 a week habit is going to tell them what to call their drinks. They went to Starbucks college.

In the end, I've come to accept this little song and dance as a small, if degrading, sacrifice that I have to make for excellent crack drink. But it still doesn't keep me from secretly hoping that one day they'll acknowledge the fact that they've seen me every morning and evening of nine years and that, just possibly, I know how to say my order correctly.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Make a New Start?

The following g-chat conversation may or may not have taken place last Friday between myself and a party or parties who may or may not have been the lovely, and soon to be emissary of goodwill and good times abroad, Megan.

strut092: i'm reading this blog, that for some really odd reason, always reminds me of you

me: because it's lame?

strut092: naw, you heard of it? dooce?

me: no
looks awesome

strut092: no it really is, you should read it sometime if you have a chance
i've been reading dooce since i was a sophomore in college.... strangely, i've been following the life of this gal for like 5 years
she's pretty effing hilarious. and i admire the fact that she and her husband both quit their jobs b/c selling ads on her blog more-than-sustains their income...

me: what???
that's insane

strut092: oh yea, dooce is wildly successful. and it looks so easy. just start blogging, every day, about your, life?

me: Hmmm
That's really, really interesting

strut092: i hope dan's wheels are turning

me: I've been wanting to change directions with blogging, do less music and movies

strut092: which takes me back to my original message, about this blog really reminding me of you

me: I will definitely check this blog out

strut092: word. don't be lame. just start a new blog. see where it takes you.

me: Ok


So then I started reading By the time I took my lunch break I was a fan for life. She - Heather B. Armstrong - has been publishing the blog since 2001. From her "About" section:

This website chronicles my life from a time when I was single and making a lot of money as a web designer in Los Angeles, to when I was dating the man who would become my husband, to when I lost my job and lived life as an unemployed drunk, to when I married my husband and moved to Utah, to when I became pregnant, to when I threw up and became unbearably swollen during the pregnancy, to the birth, to the aftermath, to the postpartum depression that landed me in a mental hospital. I'm better now.

Her archives are posted on the site so, after scanning enough to know that I liked her attitude and acidic wit (she is what is known in some circles as a "hater"), I decided this woman's story was one I wanted to read. I started from the beginning, the summer of 2001. I'm up to Christmas of that year (she currently has gas from eating too many bowls of grape nuts). It's fluffy stuff, but most of it is really funny and she has some kind of genius for making you feel totally welcome. I come away feeling that I'm just like her. We both had to deprogram ourselves from religious brainwashing; we're both parents; both nap in our car during lunch breaks.... She's like my brain twin (when I told this to Megan she said that everybody feels like that when reading her). So yeah, in general there is a lot of ruling involved, on many levels of ruling.

But what I really wanted to say is that I've decided to rip her off. Understand, I've spent my entire creative life trying to be original, or at least subtly unoriginal. As a musician, a good rule of thumb is that you're going to rip people off, intentionally or not. But if you have to plagiarize, copy from the underground. So I aped the Afghan Whigs, Swervedriver, Catherine Wheel. And nobody was the wiser.

But fuck it, I'm going to blatantly rip of At least at first. Long enough to find out what I want to do with this blog thing. Not because I aspire to make a living selling ads on my blog (although that would win a gold medal for ruling). But because for some reason I can't get it out of my head that blogging and I should stay friends. I think that because I am a chronically over-serious bastard, I've tried to write meaningful things. The only problem is it's easy to wander into the dark forest of opinion doing that. And I am so burned out on opinion. I'm trying to go post-opinion. Of course, nobody could ever be entirely free of it. But trust me, in my case I need to go on an opinion diet.

So I'll rip her off. She posts pictures of her dog, I'll post pictures of our pet fish Tiara. She makes an update just to notify you that she has gas, I'll write a pamphlet on how to search the bathroom stalls at work in the morning and detect which ones haven't been defiled yet. She tells you about how her whole family went on vacation and then spent a week in their hotel room with the flu, I'll try to explain the butt wicked strand of Congo-bred SARS-concentrate that has attacked me TWICE this winter. And when I'm done ripping her off, I'll take it to the next level. I'm going to borrow a video camera and make a home movie called Ice Cold, where I play up to hilarious effect these little unintentional, poker-faced gangsta-isms that Claire does from time to time. Dooce gets called out on questionable mothering practices? I'm going to be the first R-rated parent blog. Have I played you the mp3 I made called "Falcor Gets Lucky," where, with a slight amount of editing, characters from the Neverending Story sound just like they're servicing each other? No? I will.

I still want to write about, and post tracks of, music that inflates my trousers for my other blog Fone Culture. (I harbor a secret dream where I, single-handedly, reverse the distasteful stigma attached to the word REGGAE – you know, rank incense, dorm rooms, Marley paraphenelia – and replace it with an image of soul, futurism and crazy-ass innovation that I've found in some of the genre's deepest, oldest cuts. I know: losing battle.) But I'm also ready to try something new.

When I try to break down what it is I love about, and the idea of, it's that she's only communicating texture, not trying to convince anybody of anything. Yeah, she has a section called Daily Style that is essentially a guide to blowing your disposable income on cuteness. But because she's only writing about things she likes, she's all PRO, no CON. That's an approach I've tried to take with my culture writing. But I still hit a ceiling because it was all culture. I love music. I love it when a movie makes me think. And sure, I even love the act of just trying to put that rush of thought into words. But I also have this whole other life, in which some pretty amazing things happen that defy me to try and describe them. For instance, my four-year-old daughter, the Walking Whimsical One, is some strange hybrid of sass and manners, so that you never see what's coming. You're either getting your heart melted or your ass handed to you on a plate of "no-duh." And there's all these shenanigans that my lady and I are involved in. Our joint pipe dream. And a concoction for romance involving whiskey, scrabble, and lots of inappropriate touching. I mean, all day I'm thinking "I should write this down."

So now, I will.