My Own Mr. Mxyztplk

To tell the truth, I was always a pretty casual Superman fan. I only bought the comic books on snowy days, when school was cancelled and my sister and I got permission from our mother to trudge three-quarters of a mile from our house, past our elementary school (where classes had been cancelled) to a small delicatessen known to us as Bob Butt’s, where we bought a pound of sliced liverwurst, six hard rolls, and a can of cream of celery soup.

We then went to the little newsstand/tobacco shop two doors over (there were only three stores in this little row) that we called Al’s. Here we perused all of the usual kids’ magazines, conveniently placed on the lowest shelf. I have no idea what sort of salacious magazines he had on his upper shelves; I never looked. I only ever bought Mad Magazine or Superman.

Mad Magazine cost a dime. I still remember “The Sound of Mucus.” It was this dyspeptic movie satire that finally broke me of the MadMag habit, sad to say.

That rascal Mr. Mxyztplk should be here

Mr. Mxyztplk

Mr. Mxyztplk wasn’t in every issue of Superman. He was some sort of evil guy from another dimension who could thwart Superman with practical jokes. What got me was his name. He could be banished only if you got him to say his own name backwards: Kltpzyxm.

But Mr. Mxyztplk is in my newspaper every day in the form of the Jumble puzzle (by David Hoyt and Jeff Knurek). You’ve seen it: four mixed-up words to unscramble, some letters circled. Take those circled letters and form them into another word to solve a riddle, usually some sort of ridiculous pun, usually not worth solving.

Pre-stroke, the Jumble puzzle wasn’t worth my time. (Sorry, Mr. Hoyt and Mr. Knurek.) I would glance at it, just glance at it, and the four jumbled words would leap into order. RREVI? RIVER, of course. DEEWG? WEDGE, easy. DRANTS? STRAND. COTREK? ROCKET.

Post-stroke, I found I had to avoid that part of the newspaper. Staring at those nonsense clumps of letters hurt my head.

Of course, I was also avoiding the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. And not just the Sunday puzzle, legendarily the hardest one. I was avoiding all of them, even the Monday puzzle, the easiest one.

Oh, I’d tried them all, and failed them all. I’d gotten a clue or two (“Fab Four leftie”) but nothing cross-worthiness. (Paul, of course.)

I was avoiding all games, word and otherwise: card games, board games, strategy games, computer games. Actually, I’ve always avoided card games. The brain rehab therapist tried to get me interested in some online brain game sites; I refused to try them. Even when CF’s mother or my mother had Jeopardy on TV I couldn’t watch it.

This was all stuff I used to gobble like potato chips. It was my junk food. Now I couldn’t go near the stuff. It was from another planet. No, wait. Not to push the metaphor, but … it was kryptonite.

But then last week something went … kltpzyxm.

Abruptly changing metaphors:

You know that look of surprise a baby gets when something happens—the wide open eyes, the rounded mouth? That completely innocent, babe-in-the-woods look?

Surprised baby goes here!

Wow!

Yeah, that one.

Or maybe that was an analogy. Anyway.

By the time I clamped my mouth shut, the letters of the Jumble puzzle had settled back into their scrambled places, but I still knew what their unscrambled order was.

YOW! KA-BLAM! BAZOOKA JOE! Oops, wrong comic strip.

I took another peek at the Jumble and my brain did it again: another jumbled Jumble unjumbled. Two out of four jumbled Jumble words had unjumbled themselves so far!

This called for a pen with which to scribble on the newspaper, easier said than done, since there are four pen-hiding cats, one pen-eating dog, one pen-squirreling son, and one pen-hoarding partner in this household, not to mention one pen mis-placing me. Not to mention approximately two dozen unsharpened pencils, despite having approximately three pencil sharpeners, including a handy desktop electric sharpener, ready, waiting, and plugged in.

Nevertheless, given this landmark event, I persevered. At last I unearthed a slightly salty yet workable Pilot EasyTouch gel pen from a forgotten summer baseball take-along bag, and confidently wrote in WHARF where it said FRAWH and MOUTH where it said TUMOH.

That left me with GLEPED and NOYRED. Ignoring the obvious –ed endings (which these guys never would be so obvious about), I stumbled on PLEDGE pretty quickly, but YONDER took a few minutes. They claim the four jumbled words are ordinary words, but the only person I’ve ever heard say “yonder” is Romeo. Then again, I barely pronounce the “R” in WHARF myself so I guess we’re even.

Even though I haven’t bought a Superman comic book since those snow days in elementary school when I still ate liverwurst, I felt pretty Superman-ish having actually solved a Jumble puzzle some 17 months after a stroke. We take our small victories as they come along.

I don’t plan to leap any tall buildings in a single bound although I think my cane would give me a nice vault for a head start. The $996 arm sling might hold me back, though.

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Pretzels. Finally.

Pretzels were invented by friars who baked them. They just as easily could have been invented by bakers who fried them.

Let that twist around in your mind for a while. It can be your first pretzel thought.

My pretzel thoughts aren’t limited to ones about doughy treats purchased from sidewalk vendors in New York City or giggling teenagers in any decent-sized suburban mall. Or any suburban-sized decent mall.

No, mine are twisted unlimited doughy blobs oozing from my cranial orifices as I attempt to puzzle my way through what were once simple daily chores of life or questions of being.

For instance, CF and I might be chugging down the highway on our way to visit her mother in the next town when she innocently asks me, “Do you think we should stop at the grocery store on our way home?”

Could there be a more innocent question? Could there be a simpler interchange between two people who have lived together for thirty years? Could there be an easier way for things to go wrong so easily, so quickly, so completely? Continue reading

Do, Ti, La, So, Fa, Mi, Re, Do

Julie Andrews, in the guise of Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music, would have you start at the very beginning. But I’m going to start at the very end, and go backwards, you might say.

I’m out of the hospital.

I’m in one piece and in one place. And I’m still not talking about pretzel thoughts.

But I’m home, after two long and boring nights in the hospital after CF insisted on taking me to the doctor when all I wanted to do was go shopping for interesting and silly items to Kris Kringlize for her oversize footwear hanging from our ersatz fireplace.

The doctor decided I needed to go to the E.R., which decided I needed to be admitted to the attached hospital because I had blood clots in my lungs as a result of the rotator cuff surgery I had had several weeks earlier.

The hospital decided I needed to be on blood thinners for the next six months, so they stuck needles with a blood thinner into my stomach until it turned black and blue all over. I would have howled like a dog with rabies, except I had a very nice roommate this time, not to mention my own television, which I kept turned off except for The Good Wife marathon I stumbled upon.

But now I have to take Warfarin every day and go to a special clinic all the time where they prick my finger and test my blood to make sure it is nice and thin so it doesn’t clot up again. Me and Hillary. La ti la ti la.

The shoulder surgery was quite successful, day surgery actually, no hospital stay involved, and it happened on November 20, 2012, as planned. I emerged from it wearing a flimsy little sling on my right arm and clutching a bottle of Vicodin in my left hand. The bottle of Vicodin was covered by my insurance, but the sling was not.

It was ordered by the surgeon from a company that is “out of network.” It is your basic cotton polyester sling, absolutely basic, one that even I with my substandard sewing skills could manage to make from a hunk of cloth. It is so insubstantial that the physical therapists laughed at it when they saw it. They laughed at it! In fact, they had to modify it to make it fit me properly. One of them looked it up online and found a similar one selling for about $10. Now, here is the kicker: the out-of-network company charged me $996 for it. My insurance company covers half of that. Cost to me: $498. So. Too much “Do.” We’ll see about that.

What with my arm in a sling and my ever-handy cane, I presented quite the sight this holiday season. All I needed was an eye patch to complete the picture. I kept thinking about buying one just for the effect, but for the first few weeks, before I was diagnosed with the blood clots, I was feeling worse and worse and really could only concentrate on trying to breathe and stay awake.

Blood clots on your lungs make you feel really glum and dull and depressed. I just wanted to sleep all the time. I couldn’t walk from one room to the next without losing my breath. CF thought it was asthma or allergies, and kept making me take puffs from an inhaler, which did no good, but I kept pretending it was a help, mostly because I am an idiot, but also because I didn’t want to know what was really going on, such as something scary like congestive heart failure or pneumonia or FA FA FA FA I’M NOT LISTENING ANYMORE.

So let us review, backwards of course. Blood clots on lungs, because of rotator cuff surgery, because of a torn tendon, because of a fall, one of many, because of a stroke, because of a bad reaction to medication, because of multiple sclerosis. Anyone want to play dominos?

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the holidays? They were quite lovely, albeit low key, except that I completely missed a dear friend’s birthday, was very late with my sister’s present, sent a bizarre gift to my nephew, struck out completely with my present to my mother, but managed to somehow pull it together enough to bring smiles to CF’s and NF’s faces. And I hear that the LL Bean mad bomber hats I sent to my niece and her husband were the hits of the day.

Thus we wobble into 2013, thinner in blood, stronger in spirit, shored up in shoulder. We vow before you to set these goals for the coming year: to clean our office; to resume our weekly blog; to read the Sunday New York Times before Tuesday. Modest goals, but goals nonetheless.

And as Julie Andrews, in the guise of Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music would tell you, we must climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, ’til we find our dream.

My dream, modestly speaking, is a clean office, a weekly blog, and a fully-read Sunday New York Times.