More evidence that a.) I’m mentally ill, and b.) I really do need a vacation

Remember that whole Balloon Boy thing? I discovered today that it apparently scarred me.

As I watched what we were all led to believe was a homemade weather balloon with a 5-year-old boy trapped inside of it — or, worse, a homemade weather balloon that may already have ejected and sent plunging to his death a 5-year-old boy — I couldn’t help but imagine how I’d feel if it was one of my own children, and the anxiety that I experienced as a result of that pleasant little daydream was intense.

(And, yes, I wanted to beat the balls off Balloon Boy’s dad when it turned out the whole thing was a scam … but I was relieved that (Not Actually) Balloon Boy was alright.)

“But, Jon, why the hell are we talking about Balloon Boy now?” you ask. “That’s some stale-ass news right there, my brotha.”

Fair enough. Here’s why:

Philadelphia Zoo, 04.22.10

Today, we took the kiddos to the Philadelphia Zoo, and, upon arrival, we climbed aboard the Channel 6 Zoo Balloon, a big-ass balloon tethered by a 400 foot, winch-operated cable. (The basket is actually a fenced-in, octagonal walkway that you can walk around during the ride.)

And as we ascended to 400 feet, I took in the beautiful view on this gorgeous day while listening to the recorded female voice explaining that 55,000 people ride the balloon every year … which would lead any sane person to believe that the odds of something going wrong were infinitesimal to the point of not even entertaining the thought.

But me? I entertain the thought. I always entertain the thought.

My tendency to always envision the worst-case scenario is something I attribute partly to the fact that I’m an ex-soldier/ex-cop; it’s a hardwired instinct. But most of it? Most of it is indicative of an anxiety disorder.

Whatever the case, there I am today, hundreds of feet in the air, trapped inside a cage hanging beneath a big-ass balloon, strategizing a way to save my family and everyone else aboard in the unlikely event that the cable snapped and we started rising to the heavens.

And the Channel 6 Zoo Balloon isn’t one of those regular hot-air jobbers where the bottom of the balloon is open and practically in the basket with you; it is a completely enclosed sphere some 30-or-so feet above the basket.

“What the fuck would I do?” I wondered as I looked up to see if perhaps I could climb the rigging and puncture the balloon (using, of course, the hot-air-balloon puncturer I keep with me at all times) so that it slowly deflated and sent us drifting ever-so-gently back to earth. No dice; the basket is completely enclosed. No way to get up there.

“I guess we’d just rise and rise and rise until we got so high that the thinning air would knock us unconscious shortly before the balloon burst, at which point we’d plummet to our death … perhaps landing in a wild-cat habitat at the zoo, where some carnivorous predator would feast on our gelatinous remains … so, you know, at least somebody would benefit.”

That seemed fucked, though, so I looked around to see if perhaps there was some kind of back-up plan already in place.

That’s when I realized that on board with us was the Balloon Dude who granted us entry to the basket. Obviously, he must have been carrying a concealed gun with which to shoot holes in the balloon, thus saving me the trouble of gnawing my way through the cage in what almost surely would have been a misguided and fatal attempt to scale the rigging to puncture the balloon with I don’t know what; these fucked-up, pointy snaggleteeth of mine might work…

Philadelphia Zoo, 04.22.10

…but I’m pretty sure that gnawing through the cage would have destroyed my choppers, thus leaving me with no choice but to attempt to gum my way through the balloon’s tough exterior, and that would have been a pretty pathetic way to go out.

As I was mulling all of this over, the unbelievably strong and reliable cable that at no time was in danger of breaking began pulling us back down to the landing pad, and I noticed our descent was accompanied by the hissing sound of air being released from the balloon. I looked up and discovered that a small, round, presumably remote-controlled vent on the balloon’s underside had been flipped open. So it turns out Balloon Dude had us covered.

I think you’ll agree that they should definitely inform you of that when you board the balloon, am I right? I mean, seriously: if one of the passengers is as fucked in the head as I am, a pre-flight briefing about Balloon Dude’s remote-controlled vent would spare that person the burden of spending the entire ride consumed with the task of concocting “MacGyver”-like ways of rescuing everyone on board.

Also, we saw some animals.

Philadelphia Zoo, 04.22.10

T-minus 18 hours till we arrive at Secrets Maroma Beach Resort. Can’t wait to get there and suck down a margarita; clearly, I’m going to need a drink after spending four in-flight hours strategizing how to save the plane.

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I was going to call this one ‘Waterworld,’ because, much like that film, this incident involved water and sucked … but at least ‘Waterworld’ had Jeanne Triplehorn in it, which makes it way better than the colossal screw-up I pulled this weekend

Subtitle: That one time Bossy almost ruined my house even though she’s never been to my house and was actually about 2,000 miles away when this incident occurred, but still…

“Daddy, I took my socks off,” Jayna announced as I exited my office and saw her at the other end of the hallway. (I’m big on making the kids wear socks around the house when it’s cold out, because, as everyone knows, the single greatest factor in determining whether or not a child falls prey to illness is whether or not that child keeps his or her feet covered with 2 millimeters of cotton, am I right? Which is why I feel it’s totally worthwhile to fight with my children about it every morning, day in, day out, each time seemingly the first that I’ve ever expressed to them this cumbersome demand.)

“Why did you take your socks off, honey?” I asked while looking at the little pink-and-white clumps on the floor near her feet.

“Because they were wet,” she answered.

“They were wet?” I asked, taking a couple more steps toward her. “How did they get —”

And then I saw it. And then I remembered.

OH. FUCK. (And I promise you, that is not a gratuitous use of profanity. In fact, it’s rather subdued, given the situation — as you’ll soon learn.)

***

I was only going to be in my office for a moment. A second, really. Just long enough to, you know, check for that potentially life-changing email or tweet that I apparently believe is going to arrive any minute now, surely it is, because why else would I suffer from a compulsion that forces me to return to my office and check my email and Twitter every other minute?

And thank goodness I did check, because, had I not spent several minutes scrolling through all of the latest tweets and clicking on the various links contained therein, I might have missed this crucially important communication from Bossy

… and its equally important accompanying photo …

… which, clearly, called for my immediate attention:

Phew. Good thing I got right on that. Now, what was I doing before I came in here? Because I distinctly recall doing something. Hmmm …

“Daddy, I took my socks off” …

OH. FUCK.

***

The wet thing Jayna stepped in? That would be Lake Scratches, a manmade body of water that had formed on the kitchen floor while I was in my office doing Important Business. And for those of you who aren’t geography buffs: Lake Scratches is fed from the north by Scratches Falls … which, on this particular morning, was cascading in grand sheets over the edge of the kitchen counter and down the cabinets thanks to the douchetastic moron who had placed in the drain of the kitchen sink a stopper and then left the water running so that the baking sheet upon which his wife had cooked last night’s chicken could soak for a bit … and we all know who that douchetastic moron is, right?

You know what I can’t stand? I can’t stand when people do Really Stupid Shit.

But you know what I really, really can’t stand? I really, really can’t stand when the person doing the Really Stupid Shit is me.

“Oh no!” I said, barely suppressing the far more fitting profanity-laden tirade that the situation practically demanded … because I am nothing if not a bastion of parental self-control, as I’ve demonstrated so clearly time and again in the pages of this blog.

“Whatsamatter, Daddy?” asked Zan from the other room.

“Daddy blew it, buddy,” I answered. “Daddy totally blew it.”

Somehow, I managed to split my body in two, one half of which turned off the faucet, and the other half of which ran to the linen closet, grabbed a slew of bath towels and tossed them into the disconcertingly deep and wide Lake Scratches, whose boundaries extended all the way underneath the stove, behind which exists a large gap between the baseboard and the floor tile, through which …

OH. FUCK.

I grabbed a couple more towels, dashed down the basement stairs, turned the corner and was greeted by a natural wonder even more breathtaking than Scratches Falls and Lake Scratches: I had discovered the rare Tropical Rain Forest Basement.

Yes, it was raining. In my basement. A lot.

And as I shoved the towels up into one of the primary openings through which the rain was falling, I remembered that this opening existed because my electrician had rewired the kitchen for us after we bought the house, and it was through this opening that he ran a bunch of new electrical lines, which currently were covered in water, and in the midst of which were my hands … and it was then that I realized I was so totally going to win the 2010 Darwin Award, because I was going to be the guy who flooded his kitchen until it showered down into the basement, and who then electrocuted himself to death before falling on the ground in a heap while the rest of Lake Scratches rained down upon his lifeless, idiotic head.

Fortunately, my electrician used the Won’t Kill You When You Flood Your Kitchen & Basement kind of wires, so I avoided death … which, for a few brief minutes, seemed more of a curse than a blessing, given that the water had gone everywhere and required a positively gargantuan cleanup effort that lasted the rest of the morning.

Did I mention that all of this occurred while Wonder Woman was at the gym? Yes, and she returned home to find me standing in the kitchen, pants rolled up to my knees, sopping wet towels everywhere, and the entire contents of the cabinets beneath the kitchen sink strewn all over the floor so I could dry both them and their saturated home.

“What happened??” she asked.

“Daddy blew it, Mommy,” Zan answered.

That about summed it up.

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The one where I justify spending a ton of money we don’t have, because it’s all in the name of LOVE, people

Oh, the stress. The stress, I tell you. It’s very stressful, the stress, it is.

And I regret to inform you that the biggest source of my stress right now stems from a subject that currently is embargoed, so I can not yet speak of it here, but suffice to say that the stressor in question? It’s particularly stressful … stressfully so, in fact. And when the embargo is lifted, there very well may be an absolutely riveting (to me, anyway) saga unfolding in these here pages. But, alas, that will have to wait for now.

Meanwhile, there’s the rest of the stress … the stress of pulling myself out of what I’m pretty sure was a lengthy bout of midlife-crisis-induced depression (which I believe has finally abated … not the midlife-crisis part, but the depression, anyway), and the stress of my ever-precarious employment situation, and the stress of juggling multiple side jobs, and the stress of barely keeping this blog alive, and the stress of coaching my son’s baseball team again (not my area of expertise), and the stress of also coaching my son and daughter through, you know, life, and the stress of maintaining a marriage that primarily revolves around the two little people in this house rather than the two big people.

And that last one? That last one needs to be addressed, because the relationship Wonder Woman and I have with each other is the reason why I’m willing to endure most of those other stressors … and when that relationship gets lost in the shuffle, and isn’t properly nurtured, I start wondering why the hell I’m putting up with all of this other bullshit.

Which is why, despite possessing a mountain of debt that rivals the deficits of several small African nations, and with the prospect of further financial hardship on the horizon, Wonder Woman and I are going to Mexico next week. So there.

“Should we cancel the trip?” That’s the question we were asking each other last week while discussing that of which I can not yet speak. And neither of us wanted to answer “Yes,” because this vacation has been long planned as a way for us to celebrate our most recent anniversary and our 40th birthdays (mine happened in January; Wonder Woman’s is later this month). Also, we regret canceling our trip to Paris 10 years ago. But also? We need this trip right now.

“You know what?” I said. “We shouldn’t cancel our vacation. Yes, it’s a lot of money, and yes, we’re biting off something really huge right now that would probably be better served by us not going on vacation at this particular time … but this vacation? This vacation is an investment in our marriage.”

Yes, I actually said, “an investment in our marriage.” How smooth is that, right? And it sounded so spectacularly convincing to both of us that, a week from this Friday, we will be kicking it at Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico:

And if you could find some way to convert into electricity the degree to which I am looking forward to this trip, you could power all of Manhattan from now until March of 2015 … because, during these past few months, when I felt like a man at sea who had fallen overboard and was bobbing amidst the waves atop some very deep, dark, frigid waters, the life-saving apparatus to which I clung was not a buoyant white ring with a rope tied to it, but rather the confirmation email that our travel agent sent to us for our Mexican vacation.

Internet, you can bet your sweet ass we’re not canceling it.

And how did we select this particular destination, you ask? (Just pretend you asked, OK? Play along, fer crissakes.) Well, it’s actually a bit of a social-media success story.

A few months ago, while searching around online for potential vacation destinations, I tweeted the following:

(And, yes, I know proper grammar would have been “include on your website pictures of families with young kids,” but, at the time I typed that tweet, I was delirious from the visions of the child-free tropical paradise after which I sought.)

A few minutes later, I added:

You know, just my typical laugh-a-minute, side-splitting stuff, right? And since I usually feel like I’m tweeting to a wall, so to speak, I was pleasantly surprised to receive the following @reply from @secretsresorts:

Wow. Now that’s a marketing person who knows how to use social media effectively, am I right? Of course I’m right … as evidenced by the fact that, before receiving the above-shown tweet, I had no idea this place existed, and now, specifically because of the above-shown tweet, my wife and I will soon spend four nights there.

Did I mention that I can’t wait?

P.S.: While at the Mom 2.0 Summit, I told some of the ladies about my impending vacation plans, and, to a person, every one of them blushed and did a sort of “Beavis & Butthead” laugh when I said, “We’re going to an adults-only resort called Secrets,” because they all thought that “adults-only” + “Secrets” = “nude swingers.” Let me assure you, as I did them, that this is not the case … as far as I know, anyway. Yes, there will be plenty of nudity, but I’m planning for it to take place behind closed doors with no one other than my lovely wife.

I promise a full report upon our return — minus the “behind closed doors” part, of course.

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It’s a good thing I’m so naturally crafty and handy and oh wait no I’m not

It was supposed to be so simple: take the little block of wood, cut it into a car-like shape, slap some paint on it, attach the wheels, ta-dah, done, finished, no sweat.

Of course, when it comes to me, nothing is simple … particularly a pseudo-carpentry project.

You need a Pinewood Derby website? Well, hot damn: I’m your man. I can code the living shit out of your Pinewood Derby website. You need me to make a functional Pinewood Derby car out of a block of wood? Yeah? How ’bout I just conjure up some fucking unicorns for you while I’m at it?

Actually, it wasn’t the mere fact that I had to make a functional car out of a block of wood that unnerved me; it was that I had to make a functional car out of a block of wood well enough so that it could hold its own against all the other cars—cars that I was quite certain were being crafted by dads who all had, like, engineering degrees and previous Pinewood Derby experience … and, you know, tools.

And it wasn’t that I gave a shit if the other cars made by the other dads beat ours in the race; it was that my 6-year-old son was counting on me to not be THAT dad … the one who makes the shitty car that all the other kids laugh at and whose owner they ostracize and taunt until the day that child shows up at the prom and gets blood dumped on him as a prank and subsequently uses his telekinetic powers to burn the whole fucking place down with everyone still in it.

So, yeah, maybe I was putting some unnecessary extra pressure on myself. Wouldn’t be the first time.

But, seriously, I had no idea where to even start. Was I supposed to be issued Pinewood Derby-car-design knowledge at the same time I was granted a penis? Because, if so, I got robbed. (Insert inadequate-penis joke here.)

“OK, no problem,” I thought. “This is exactly the sort of thing that the Internet’s for, right? I’m sure there’s plenty of info online that I can tap into.”

And, yeah, there’s plenty of Pinewood Derby info on the Internet … enough info, in fact, that one could conceivably create the most spectacularly kick-ass Pinewood Derby car of all time … so long as you’re willing to buy, like, special molds made specifically for straightening the nails that hold the wheels on the car, and you have access to every woodworking tool in Santa’s workshop, and you own your own airbrush machine.

No, seriously:

I don’t know what’s scarier: the fact that someone did that much work on a nail, the fact that someone made a video about the work they did on that nail, or the “HOLY SHIT, PEOPLE, THIS NAIL-FILING STUFF IS SERIOUS BUSINESS!” musical accompaniment. Pretty sure it’s a three-way tie.

And that video is just one of the many Internet resources available for every conceivable type of Pinewood Derby minutiae you can possibly imagine … the discovery of which made me break out in a flop sweat, for I was certain that all the other dads would be going to similarly insane lengths while constructing their cars.

In a desperate attempt to come up with some kind of workable plan, I paid $12.95 for a downloadable PDF of design instructions for building a Pinewood Derby car. No, I am totally not even kidding. The digital booklet contained plans for three types of cars, two of which appeared to require assistance from NASA, and one of which was, essentially, a doorstop. Guess which one I picked?

Perhaps the most unintentionally funny part about the Pinewood Derby is that the car ostensibly is to be built by the child with assistance from the adult … and yet it also requires, minimally, the use of a band saw and a power drill. I’m 40 and I don’t trust me with those things, let alone a 6-year-old.

Thus, for about a week, the ever-so-little free time I had was a blur of sandpapering and drilling and hammering lead fishing weights into shapes that would fit inside the holes I had drilled in the car’s body, and applying wood putty to close up the weight-filled holes, and more sanding, and black spray-painting (how creative!), and a positively painful hour or so of cutting with an Xacto knife one botched “Batman” logo after another, until finally, the night before the big event, I ended up with the thing you see above.

Did I mention that it had to weigh five ounces? Because it had to weigh five ounces … which, of course, meant that, when Zan and I arrived (barely on time, as is my custom) at the race site on the morning of the Pinewood Derby and the grown man in the Scout garb at the weigh-in table placed Zan’s car on the scale, the display read “5.13” ounces.

“That’s a problem,” Scout Man said to me as I pictured grabbing him by his sanctimonious head and introducing his nose to the table that stood between us.

“Awesome!” I replied, and then, using a small screwdriver as a chisel, engaged in a desperate attempt to pry from the car’s underside one of the lead weights hidden beneath the wood putty. Five minutes and one bleeding finger later, I succeeded … because, quite frankly, failure was not an option; I would have gnawed through that car like a fucking beaver to get that weight out before I would have let my son get disqualified from this stupid-ass race that I so badly wanted to put behind me. (And I’ve already addressed the randomly assigned car number, so let’s just move on, shall we?)

Fortunately, Zan was oblivious to all of this drama. All he knew was that I had made him a Batmobile, and he liked it, and it performed admirably … even managed to nab first place during one of the four heats in which it ran.

He was happy. And that is the only reason I do all this shit.

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Helpful tip: Don’t go to the Emergency Room on St. Patrick’s Day. Also? Don’t try to be your own pharmacist.

So there I was, shortly after midnight Thursday, in the emergency room, eight or nine wires connecting my arms, legs and torso to an EKG machine so that the triage nurse could make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack. I was pretty sure I wasn’t, but, you know … there was all this really expensive shit right there that could definitively say whether or not I was, so I figured I might as well go with it.

I wasn’t having a heart attack.

What I was having, however, was a lengthy, at times mild, at times not so mild, panic/anxiety attack — my first one ever! AWESOME!

I’m not quite sure what I was panicking about — zombies, probably — but whatever it was, it must have been bad, because it caused me to sleep rather poorly Tuesday night, and spend most of Wednesday feeling like the world was about to end, a sense of dread accompanied by the sensation that someone was trying to shove my heart and lungs up into my throat, which made it feel like my heart was racing and I couldn’t quite catch my breath, and my skin was tingling and I could basically feel my whole body pulsating with each heartbeat. And, yes, I know that all sounds sexy, but I assure you, it wasn’t.

When you are medication-free and you begin to take Wellbutrin, you can’t just start up at the regular maintenance dosage of 150mg twice per day, and I hadn’t. No, all those years in pharmaceutical school served me well as I used my pill cutter and guesstimated the right way to taper myself back up to the full dosage. Except, I never went to pharmaceutical school.

So, after taking a quarter of a dose for a couple days, and a half a dose for a couple days, and a three-fourths dose for a couple days, I shelved the pill cutter and started going with the whole enchilada on Monday. And two days later, here come the fucking zombies, and there I am, driving myself to the ER in the middle of the night.

But lemme back up a little bit.

Seeing as how I was exhausted from not sleeping well on Tuesday night, I hit the hay early Wednesday night and discovered I couldn’t get to sleep again; every time I started to drift off, I’d startle awake and get that little rush of adrenaline that makes your heart start racing, and then I’d lay there for a bit, and sweat a little, and start drifting off, and startle awake again, and after a couple of hours, I decided fuck that.

Like any fake pharmacist worth his salt, I had Googled “Wellbutrin side effects” earlier that day, and discovered that anxiety/panic attacks are among the things that can happen when you’re acclimating to the medicine. Also, you can’t go off it cold turkey, because that could fuck you up, too.

So it’s 11:30 Wednesday night, and I’m clearly having an ongoing, Wellbutrin-induced anxiety attack, and I’m supposed to take my next dose at 7 a.m. Thursday, but I’m afraid of further pushing myself into the bizzaro universe by taking what apparently is too strong a dosage, and I’m afraid to not take it, because then the zombies win.

“Honey,” I said as I gently stirred Wonder Woman. “I’m really sorry to do this, but I’m going to drive myself over to the emergency room so I can get this straightened out. I still don’t feel well, and I know it’s because of the medication. I’m not going to have any time to go to the doctor tomorrow, and I’m sure it’ll be empty over there right now, so I’m just going to go take care of it while I can.”

Obviously, she would have preferred to go with me, but we didn’t want to leave the kids home alone in bed again, like when we go out drinking, and I knew I could get myself there, so off I went.

After getting lost for a bit — which, by the way, really helped my anxiety level — I eventually found the hospital, parked and walked into the ER … which looked like mini-Woodstock. Apparently, hospitals are busy on St. Patrick’s Day, which I’ve now noted on my calendar, and you can be sure that when I have my next Wellbutrin-and-zombies-induced anxiety attack, it won’t be on the same night that everyone pretends they’re Irish and drinks themselves to the point of needing medical attention.

And I’d have given up and gone home, except I was still as amped up and jittery as a hummingbird on cocaine, so since sleep was out of the question anyway, I sucked it up and spent, no shit, FIVE HOURS waiting to see a doctor.

Finally, I explained the situation to the kindly doc (who I think was younger than me, and boy, is that weird), and once he finished giving me a psychological evaluation (I wisely neglected to mention the zombies), he agreed that the medication had caused the anxiety attack, prescribed me an anti-anxiety med to take the edge off, and also prescribed a lower dose of Wellbutrin.

I didn’t get back home till around 6 o’clock in the morning, and climbed into bed moments before Wonder Woman had to get up with the kids. (She earned the Scratches Family MVP Of The Week Award for letting me stay in bed while she took my place as chaperone on Zan’s field trip that morning, and I can’t tell you what a gift that was … for me, and for Zan’s entire class … because Sleep-Deprived Anxiety-Attack Man would have been SO not the person to put in charge of a bunch of 6- and 7-year-old kids that morning.)

I only got a couple hours of sleep, however, so, around 8 o’clock last night, I popped me one of my new Lorazepam tablets, climbed into bed and slept like dead people for about 10 hours. THANK GAWD.

Today, I still felt a bit out of whack, but mostly back to normal. I even believe I saw signs of the Wellbutrin working the way it’s supposed to — you know, by making me feel more even-keeled as opposed to making me feel like Zombie Armageddon is coming.

Phew.

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