Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The God Awful Genetic Gift

Dear Michael,

You recently managed to earn your first black eye.  That’s normally not something a boy gets for the first time at the age of five, but you certainly are a precocious child.  I fear that this is due to the unfortunate genetic gift I’ve given you.

I come from a clumsy people – both the Places on my father’s side and the Ollivetts on my mother’s side of the family.  We’re bright but bumbling. 

It’s a terrible affliction, this complete and utter lack of grace.  We fall down at the most inopportune moments, the worst locations. 

Grammy – the Ollivett side – falls down at the drop of a hat and that’s not because she’s eighty.  She’s been falling for years.  She loses her eyeglasses and her wine glasses all the time too but I suspect those things are unrelated. 

Grandma Lorrie – my mom – gave me the worst introduction to horseback riding imaginable when I was nine or ten.  I was so excited and had begged for horseback riding lessons.  When Mom finally capitulated and took me for my first lesson, Mom rode first while I was getting my gear on.  I watched her horse trot into the center of the ring and geared up for a jump…..and then Mom fell off the damn horse.  She falls down all the damn time now too.  Usually it’s outside and she bangs a foot, a wrist, an ankle…she has trouble staying upright.

Your Aunt Heelo….where I do begin there?  I’m not sure who wins the sash for More Clumsy – me or her.  Heelo tripped on a wet floor in a Stop n’ Shop and broke her foot, which resulted in two surgeries, a lawsuit, and many months of a cast.  She tripped walking up the stairs at the Eveready Diner the night of Aunt Karen’s memorial, just barely keeping from flashing her rear to the whole of Route 9G.  One of my favorite falls was when we lived in the house on Mulberry Lane.  We had a long wooden walkway leading up to the front door.  There was about three feet of walkway before a small step, probably about three inches high, leading to another three feet of walkway.  Heelo was running to the front door when the toe of her shoe got stuck on the lip of the small step and she did an abrupt, high speed face plant into the wood.  I’m laughing right now as I remember the sharp “thwap!” sound her body made as it crashed.  I don’t remember laughing harder at any other misfortune that’s befallen her, except for maybe when our Beagle peed on her.  That one is a close second, if not an outright tie. 

Your grandfather managed to drop the top support pole of a swingset he was putting together onto his leg, tearing a huge gash into his shin that required quite a few stitches, if I remember correctly.  He is the only person I know who’s been attacked by a baby elephant.  I’m sure there are other people in the world who have been charged by a diminutive pachyderm but I don’t know those people and I witnessed this magnificence firsthand. 

We’d gone to the Catskill Game Farm (which, sadly, is no longer.  I’d have loved to have taken you there) when I was about fourteen or so.  There was a young elephant in a small ring, its foot chained to a post in the ground, the chain at a humane length, and the ring was made out of logs, about two and a half or three feet above the ground.  My father suffers from some form of disability where fences and lumber rings do not dissuade him from attempting to get nearer the enclosed animals.  He’d done it more times than I could count with feeding giraffes, so why no one thought he’d go straight for the elephant like a moth to a flame is beyond me.  I suppose it’s my fault as well. 

Anyway, Dad thought it a great plan to throw one leg over the log and try to feed the elephant some of those weird crackers they sold to feed the animals that kind of smelled like big chunks of Cracklin’ Oat Bran and tasted like sawdust.  Maybe the elephant was afraid of Dad’s beard or just didn’t like crackers or was perhaps pissed to be chained in a ring of lumber, but regardless of his motives, the elephant charged Dad.  He was on a chain, as I said, so couldn’t reach him but no matter, I don’t care how tough you are, if an elephant charges you, you are going to get the hell out of Dodge.  

Except it didn’t go quite as planned.  Instead of making a swift exit by pulling one leg back over the log, Dad slipped, ripping his goddamn jeans from crotch to ankle.  In public.  Because what zoo is deserted, ever? 

Ripped.  His.  Goddamn.  Pants. 

Did we go home?  Hells no.  We’d just gotten there.  My industrious, MENSA-member father, gathered some extra denim at the knee and tied the pantleg up, semi-camouflaging the fact that he was half wearing a skirt.  At least the wound in his thigh from an errant nail or something in the log wasn’t to a major artery. 

And this brings us to me. 

I’m pretty sure one of my first mishaps was going down a slide face-first – under the watchful eye of my step-grandfather – and planting my face in the ground, resulting in my teeth going through the inside of my lip.  I don’t remember that one, just heard about it secondhand.  But I know me and it definitely sounds like something I would do. 

When I was in kindergarten, we had this great jungle gym on the playground that looked like half of the Death Star.  I used to like to climb up a little ways, hook my legs over a rung and hang upside down.  Ordinarily I was pretty good at this until the one time I knocked myself out when I swung back too vigorously.

One of my dad’s favorite stories that he still enjoys retelling to this day is when I knocked myself out on the muffler of the family car.  It was winter and we had THE BEST driveway of anyone we knew for sledding (go ahead and ask anyone who’d been to the house on Mulberry Lane and I dare them to dispute it) and sucked for everything else.  It was a big hill, steep, unpaved, with a giant ass turn in the middle with a landing.  Thank god for that landing in the winter because when that bitch froze, you were lucky to make it to the landing and usually you could only do that after getting a running start from the road (all the while praying no unsuspecting people were coming from either direction on the road).  When it got bad, we’d park the car on the landing at the turn and then have to hoof it the rest of the way up the driveway, trying not to fall on your ass. 

I was young, I have no idea how old, maybe six or seven, and Dad had the brilliant idea to send me down the driveway on my plastic sled with Bandit, our puppy.  I got set up in the sled, holding the wriggling Bandit, and Dad stood in the driveway, legs wide so he could take a picture as his eldest daughter and smallest dog went hurtling down the ice crusted, snowy driveway. 

Hurtle we did.  Right down the driveway and underneath the goddamn car.  Knocked myself out on the muffler.  I don’t think Bandit was quite the same after that. 
When I was sixteen, I fell down the stairs on Thanksgiving at Aunt Patti’s house.  Everyone thought I’d killed myself. 

The following year, I fell in the Smithsonian Museum while trying to trip either my dad or Uncle Bob, subsequently spraining my ankle and breaking my foot.  That was the last time we went as a family to Aunt Patti’s for Thanksgiving because I am too accident prone.

When I was away at college, I was alone in the dorm room I shared with my roommate Sara, and got out of bed to change the song on the stereo.  Sara and I, in an attempt to create more room for storage in our small rooms, had our bed frames up on cinderblocks.  I rose from my bed, stepping onto the floor without noticing the clamshell case to my VHS copy of The Muppet Movie under my foot.  Plastic VHS cases slide across linoleum like a sex waxed surf board over the ocean.  I shot right past the stereo, probably having to listen to Sara’s damn Shabba Ranks CD, and flew across the room, landing underneath Sara’s bed, at first not understand how the hell I’d gotten there.  I had a bruise on my bicep the size of a dinner plate that was the color of an eggplant after that.  I’m still not sure how I got that bad boy, I think I must have thrown my arm up in the air and smashed it into the bedframe on impact.  Regardless, it was impressive. 

Most recently (I have fallen many times in between college and now, please don’t think I had a dry spell that lasted THAT long, the preceding were just the most noteworthy), your father and I were goofing around in the kitchen and your father tried to “dip” me, like we were dancing. 
It ended with me flailing my arms like a drowning person and falling to the floor in the kitchen like a sack of stupid, graceless potatoes. 

Considering the way you ended up with your black eye, I fear I’ve cursed you.  And I apologize in advance for all the slips and falls and bumps and bruises you will no doubt incur in the years to come.  I’ll make sure we have the best medical coverage available. 

Two weeks ago, I was out having dinner with JJ when I received a text message from your father, saying “Table 1, Michael 0” with a picture of you with a super puffy eye.  Evidently, you were running around (normal) with the dog (also normal) and Ruby got underfoot, you didn’t notice (normal again, for you and the dog) and you tripped, therefore sailing eye-first into the edge of the coffee table, which may be made of the hardest wood known to man, or at least available in the 1970’s.  The up side to this was that you were home from school for a few days (unrelated to your injury, there’d been a snowstorm) so I didn’t receive any phone calls for visits from Child Protective Services or your teacher. 

Your little legs have been a patchwork of bruises since you learned to walk.  Like your mother, you have no idea from whence they come.  Get used to it, that doesn’t stop. 

So consider this my formal apology and the explanation of the long line of graceless bastards that have come before you.  But hey, at least you won’t be boring!   Farting and falling are two of the funniest things in life (to me) so you should definitely learn to embrace the ridiculous.