Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Side Effects of Smoke Free Living

Writing is one of those endeavors in which starting is usually the hardest part. You sit in front of the keyboard, crack your knuckles like a cartoon pianist, make sure that you have a digit hovering over the a,s,d,f, h, j, k and l keys, lock your line of sight onto your commuter monitor and then, well, basically you sit there in a motionless state of catatonia until you have to pick your nose or something. Personally, I need inspiration in order to kick out an article.

Unfortunately, I get precious little of that these days. It is winter here in Michigan and for someone who has very little tolerance for the cold despite having grown up here, I just do not get out much between the middle of November and the end of March. I get up, go to work, come home, eat, help get the kids to bed, clean up the kitchen, turn on the TV and sit there watching Grey’s Anatomy with my wife as my brain melts and flows out of my ears. At least I think that’s what that stuff is that keeps ruining my shirts. If its not, I probably just need to rediscover the joys of the Q-Tip.

When you are not accomplishing anything noteworthy, it’s really difficult to come up with anything to note. Now there are things that occur at work that might make interesting copy but I have an inviolate policy of separating my professional and blogging life as it’s a good way to get more time for blogging than your checking account can handle. Granted, blogging’s fun but its the ten to twelve hours a day I spend in the psychological torture chamber that pays my internet bill.

With that in mind, just to get back into the rhythm of regular writing I am going to try to use The JEP Report as sort of a diary to document my effort to quit smoking. I’ll do my best to make this bearable for you all, but I need to warn you up front that I am dealing with VERY dry material here so I can not guarantee my results. If nothing else, I can always fall back on documenting those Chantix dreams. Last night, for instance I met with Pope Benedict to forward my suggestion increase church membership by moving away from ceremonies conducted in Latin to ceremonies conducted to the beat of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”.

I am presently on my 9th day of being a non-smoker and I have to say that some strange things have happened to my senses. For instance, I lost my sense of smell in 1993 after being involved in a chemical accident when I was in the military. Now, if you have to lose a sense, I guess losing your smell is the way to go. You lose an important part of your perceptive abilities but at the same time, you gain an amazing ability to tolerate military cuisine as well as my Aunt Helen’s tuna casserole. You can also manage to clean up after your children’s various bodily fluid mishaps with minimal discomfort and when it comes to Dutch Oven combat, well, let’s just say I haven’t been defeated for almost 15 years.

I might be losing that edge however. Today, I had a flash of odor recognition which even now I am unsure of whether it was a real smell or just some sort of olfactory hallucination. Of course, this did not happen to me while I was in a great restaurant or botanical garden so that my nostrils would be filled with the aroma of a perfectly grilled angus tenderloin or blooming orange blossoms. No, it happened to me while I was standing in front of the urinal listening to someone performing a paint-peeling posterior polka two stalls away so that my nose was assaulted by the reek of someone’s Crohn’s disease taking a terrible turn for the terminal.

Still I was strangely thrilled, wondering if my loss of smell was actually more because of my smoking than the lingering effects of the accident I was in. In order to find out, I exhaled and then drew in a deep breath through my nose to see if I could smell it again. I got nothing. Undeterred, I tried it again but still I got nothing. I did it a third time and, though my nostrils did not register anything, my ears did and I realized that the bathroom’s echo amplified my nasal inhaling and it sounded as if I was desperately trying to catch a whiff of the most aromatic rose the world had ever seen. That could prove tough to explain to the dysentery victim in the stall beside me and heaven forbid if he was in senior management. I had to rush and finish my work at hand and get out of there before he emerged since, I would guess that promotional opportunities for suspected flatulence fetishists would be awfully hard to come by.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Joys of Chantix Among Other Things

Wow. It has been quite a while since I have been here. I’ve had the best of intentions of updating this thing but it seems like something always kept getting in the way. For starters, my home computer crashed and I was without reliable internet for months. On top of that are the usual time constraints that go along with my job and family commitments. Then comes just plain old writer’s block. The few times I did manage to get in front of a computer, I just stared at the screen with my mind completely unable to think of anything to write about. Then there is the fact that ever since the first of the year, I have been trying to kick the nicotine addiction that I have harbored for the past twenty-five years. Trust me when you’re doing that, NOTHING seems funny and that does not bode well for someone who at least tries to write comedy (though whether or not this drivel really can be called comedy is pretty much up to you).

Though I will not say that I am completely out of the woods on the smoking thing yet, I am definitely navigating through a pretty large clearing. My cravings are almost completely gone and even when they do arise they are generally very mild and can be dealt with by sucking on a lemon drop, eating some celery dipped in Ranch Dressing mixed with frank’s Red Hot Sauce or by ripping all of my clothes off and strangling the life out of trespassing bunny rabbits in the backyard snow.

I am now at a point in the quitting process that I can now see the bright side of being cigarette-free and for the first time in my life, genuinely consider myself to be a non-smoker. Among them:

I have gotten back in touch with hallucinations that I haven’t seen since high school.

Trust me if it was up to will power alone, I would still be smoking a pack a day. My success in getting this monkey off of my back is owed almost entirely to my prescription of CHANTIX. When it comes to smoking cessation, this truly is the Holy Grail of wonder drugs. As with any medication worth its salt, it also comes with a number of side effects that have afflicted me since I started taking it. For starters, I have been suffering from a mild case of nausea since I started taking it coupled with an awful taste in my mouth that makes nearly all food sound unappealing. It also induces in me a particularly harsh case of gas which makes me feel as if I’m digesting rusty nails if I try to keep it in but fills me with fear that I might set the couch or my children’s’ hair on fire if I let it out. Finally, I have trouble falling asleep at night but once I do, my night is filled with the weirdest, most vivid and intense dreams I have ever experienced in my life.

In those dreams I ran into Drago, the lederhosen clad leprechaun that used to hide beneath my parents’ basement stairway and loved to jump out and scare hell out of me when I tried to take a leak in the laundry tub because I was too trashed to make it up to the bathroom. He looks good, now employing a more pragmatic sense of fashion while trying to sell used cars on the west coast. I also ran into the nine-headed peyote demon, who has really mellowed out since Satan took him to the vet and got him fixed. Now he is just like a big ole’ puppy dog. A sixty-foot tall, razor toothed, virgin blood drinking puppy dog that reeks of decomposing wildebeests, but a puppy dog nonetheless.

In addition to reconnecting with some old friends, I’ve met some new ones too. In the past couple of weeks, I taught Genghis Khan how to play gin rummy, went water-skiing with Winston Churchill and went cow-tipping with the cast of The Golden Girls. I also went hunting for Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Thailand, took my kids fishing for giant man-eating penguins along the banks of the Amazon river and was surprised on Christmas morning with a real live mountain gorilla that my wife bought me, a gift that we had to eventually return because we had some issues with its potty training. Basically, it would shit on the floor and then rub my nose in it.

In the 1980s, I used to fork out good money and risk arrest or rehab for visions like these. Now, I get them legally, openly and even with my rotten health care plan, damn near for free. The only difference is that I am not experiencing them during fifth-hour social studies class.

Instead of treating the symptoms of stress with cigarettes, I am now forced to confront it directly and eliminate it at the source.

For instance, one source of extreme stress I have been dealing with emanates from the cat my daughter conned me into getting a couple of years ago. Now, I have a natural dislike of cats in general and rather vehement hatred of that one in particular before I quit smoking. Presently I have almost no tolerance for it, especially when to jumps up on the table to steal food or knock over glasses full of milk for a drink, something it does over and over again, caring little if you are even watching him or not.

Last Saturday night was the last straw. My son poured himself a large glass of milk before going to bed and only drank about half of it before leaving it on the kitchen table and forgetting about it. Unfortunately, I did not catch it before I went to bed. As midnight approached, I was just on the verge of drifting into sleep when I heard the unmistakable sound from downstairs of a glass falling over onto its side followed by the noise of a dairy waterfall flowing off of the table and onto the dining room floor.

Before I quit smoking, I would have gotten up, put on a pair of pants, shooed the cat away and then gone outside and had a cigarette until I regained control of my temper. Then I would have went back inside and calmly cleaned up the mess and then locked the cat in the basement with his food water and litterbox for the rest of the night.

I was up out of bed and charging downstairs in my underwear the instant I realized what had happened. When I burst into the dining room and flipped on the lights, I caught that son-of-a-bitch red-handed. On the occasions that I had caught the cat doing this in past, he usually shot me look of disinterest before nonchalantly jumping off of his perch and leisurely sauntering away. Not this time. Fishstix’s feline instincts must have kicked into overdrive and told him I had snapped because he looked at me with an unmistakable expression of sheer terror and then tried to haul ass for cover. The key word there is “tried”.

Now if we had not blown the money to get the damned thing de-clawed, the cat probably would have had better traction but as it stood, his legs started madly flaying about at ninety miles an hour, only he was not going anywhere. In fact, he didn’t get off of the table until I ran into it and knocked him off of it, at which time he hit the ground running at just a hair below Mach 3. At this point though I was so enraged that I was running just as fast. I chased him around the kitchen island twice, back underneath the dining room table and into the living room. He tried to seek refuge beneath the baby’s playpen but the thing has no weight to it at all and it took nothing for me to lift it up with one hand and toss it crashing into the couch. He then dodged beneath an end table but I was right behind him. Next, he fled underneath the armchair but with a flick of the wrist, this too was on its side and he was once again left exposed and vulnerable.

It was there that I almost had him. I reached out and wrapped my fingers around his collar, loosing a scream of victory as I did so. My wife however, had bought one of those safety collars that came easily unsnapped in order to prevent one of the kids from grabbing the animal by the neck and strangling it by accident. Obviously, she never even considered the possibility that her husband might have someday wanted to do that on purpose, otherwise she would have purchased something that wouldn’t come off in his hands just as he was on the verge of success. Before I knew it, the cat was back on the ground and getting a chance to catch his breath behind the television set.

I could have pushed the television over and easily gotten my hands on him and there is no denying that I nearly did exactly that. The Hollywood writer’s strike had just ended though and my marriage would have surely turned unbearably miserable if I had deprived my wife of the ability to see new episodes of Grey’s Anatomy in the near future. I had to be careful so I tried to reach for him. Staying put just out of my reach, I heard FishStix hiss at me. In response I told him that his mother did Dobermans.

When reaching for him didn’t work, I tired throwing things at him which didn’t seem to have any effect at all (probably a result of my aim completely sucking). Finally, I was forced to break out the vacuum cleaner. That flushed him out in no time, but now he was breaking for the kitty opening in the basement door. I knew that once he got down there I had lost him for good so I dropped everything and sprinted to head him off, throwing myself over the couch to tackle him as he hit the kitchen and finally nabbing the bastard less than a foot from reaching safety.

Now that I had him, what to do next just came naturally. If one of my kids had done what he had, I would have made them clean it up. I saw no reason why the cat should not be subjected to the same treatment. Carrying him by the scruff of the neck, I hauled him to the table and proceeded to try to wipe up the mess with him.

One would think that being completely covered from head to tail in thick fur would make an animal fairly absorbent, but truth be told, FishStix retained less water than I do. I spent quite a while wiping him up and down and back and forth across the table but the only thing I seemed to be able to accomplish was spreading the milk further around. I figured that he just must have been saturated and needed to be rinsed like any other rag so I dragged him to sink and dunked him the old dishwater that I had forgot to drain, shook him off and went back to work. I do not know how long I did this for but I finally had to pause when I caught myself laughing maniacally while contemplating if FishStix’s effectiveness as a dish rag would be increased at all if I tried to wring him out after the water-boarding sessions.

That’s about when I had to stop and think about what it would look like if someone suddenly walked into the room and saw what was going on. My wife and two daughters were spending the weekend at her mother’s house while she worked so I did not have to worry about them. I had the two boys however and my five-year-old is pretty perceptive. What would he think if he came downstairs to investigate the racket only to find the living and dining rooms ransacked, the kitchen covered in water and his father soaking wet in his underwear holding a cat in his right hand that was covered in bubbles and looking rather violated?

I’m sure that would’ve painted a rather pretty picture for his psychiatrist, so I locked the cat in the basement and spent the next half hour putting the house back together. I can’t say that I am particularly proud of snapping and terrorizing the family cat the way that I did but at the same time, I’m not going to say that I particularly regret it either. I haven’t seen the cat in days and frankly, I’m much more relaxed because of it.

Well there are other things, but I gotta go now and get to bed. My hallucinations are waiting for me. It’s been good to be back for a visit. Hopefully it won’t be so long before my next one.

Oh before I leave, my favorite corrupt politician on the planet, the mayor of the City of Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick, was finally nailed in a sex scandal after being caught dorking his chief of staff and then firing two police officers investigating whether he broke any laws in the tactics he used to cover it up. Since the story broke the mayor has been avoiding the media for obvious reasons. After a couple of weeks of official silence, I created a list of the “Top Ten Reasons Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick Has Decided to Remain in Seclusion Rather Than Make a Statement Regarding Lying in Court About His Affair With His Chief of Staff”. In case it’s a while before I make it back, I guess I’ll post it now:

10. Sees no point in talking to press as soon-to-be-released photos of him courting women in the city’s steno pool wearing a leather negligee and Richard Nixon mask pretty much speak for themselves.

9. Knowing that Marion Berry went to jail after he came clean, decided that sitting in the corner of a dark room while crying and wetting himself would be a less hazardous course of action.

8. Is too busy helping close friend Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm prepare for her American Idol audition.

7. Decided that now might not be the right time to announce to the city that he no longer wants to be known as “The Hip-Hop Mayor”, instead preferring the moniker “Tricky Dick Kilpatrick”.

6. Figures time spent getting roasted by reporters could be more constructively spent cruising for babes on MySpace.

5. Just can not find an opening to schedule a press conference with all the time he is spending with his Security Detail planning his going-away bash at Manoogian Mansion.

4. Is spending his time in deep meditation trying to answer the eternal question: “What would Clinton do?”

3. Would love to give a press conference to discuss the text message scandal but has been waiting in line trying to score Hannah Montana concert tickets since December 22nd and is not about to give up his place now.

2. Feels he can not discuss his affair with the press without jeopardizing the retainer he received for granting an exclusive interview to “The Jerry Springer Show”.

1. Is too busy fielding calls from male citizens asking, “If I throw parties with strippers and prostitutes at the mayor’s house, run up $250,000 bills on city credit cards, have taxpayers buy my wife a luxury SUV and fire any city official who looks into my misconduct, can I sleep with Christine Beatty too?”

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