Friday, September 27, 2013

The Day I "Failed" My Drug Test

The government wants my bodily fluids.

Okay, that's being a bit overdramatic. They don't want all of my bodily fluids. (Yet.) They just want my urine. Lots and lots of my urine. (And occasionally my breath, too.)

One of the "fun" things about being a truck driver is that the DOT (Dudes On Tricycles  Dogs On Trampolines  Desperately Obnoxious Texans  Department of Transportation) requires that I be subject to random drug tests. I guess it makes sense, because no one wants people who are on drugs or have been drinking to be driving trucks on our nation's highways and byways. (Although I, like most Americans, don't know what exactly a "byway" is.)

But, as a "clean" truck driver, I've always looked at these tests as annoyances. I've never worried about passing the tests, because I've never taken any illegal drugs, and I've never so much as even tasted a beer. (I've smelled beer, and that's enough for me. The smell of beer reminds me of shoveling rotted, moldy, mice-infested grain inside a windowless metal granary in the heat of the summer when the temperature outside the metal shed was over 95 degrees and the temperature inside was well over 100 degrees. And barf. So, just the smell of beer has been more than enough of a deterrent for me.)

How it works is that every so often (it might be once a month, it might be once in a couple of years) my employer will get a notice that my name has been drawn, and it's my turn for a random drug test.

It was worse when I used to work at the warehouse of a local, Utah-based grocery store chain. (For the sake of anonymity, we'll call it "Smith's.") This particular grocery store chain also did random drug tests on all of the employees at the warehouse. So, between "Smith's" and the DOT, I was doubled up on the random test list. I would rarely go more than two months between drug tests.

A woman would come to the warehouse with a list of names and a bunch of empty bottles. The names would be called, and the bottles would be filled. If the bottles couldn't be filled, then it was time to drink, sit and wait. I always felt bad for the woman and some of the things she had to put up with. No one was ever happy to see her. Those who knew they might not pass the test were often belligerent with her. (I was always amazed by how many employees were "caught" and fired due to the random drug tests. It would be, "Hey, I haven't seen Jasper around for a while. Where did he go?" "Oh, he got caught by a random last week.")

And, sometimes the woman would get stuck hearing things she just didn't want to hear. Like the time one of our more mentally challenged employees, after having to do the "drink, sit and wait" told her, "Ma'am, I've been waiting so long that now I have to go out of both ends!"

Not satisfied with just taking my urine, the DOT will occasionally also ask for my breath. I remember the first time I got picked to do the random breathalyzer test. I was at the warehouse, and did the test at a table in the break area where all the other employees were walking by. The sheer horror on the faces of some of those employees who thought that the company was now administering breath tests was pretty funny. I had to reassure them that it was special treat reserved only for the truck drivers.

Just trying to give the Government what it wants. (One cup full of urine at a time.)

So, last week when I got the notice that I had been the lucky one "selected" for a random drug test, I wasn't too worried. I had been through this before, many times. At my current job the procedure is that I will get a notice that I've "won the urine lottery," then I have to go in, either that day or the next day, to a nearby medical lab that specializes in administering drug tests.

So, I got my notice, finished my night at work (I was too busy to break away), and figured I'd go in the next morning on my day off.

The next day I went through my usual routine, except I made sure I didn't go to the bathroom after brushing my teeth. I got Roni off to kindergarten, loaded Buzz up in the van, grabbed a soda pop and a bottle of water to drink on the way in, and made the twenty minute drive to the lab office.

I got there, signed in, and went through the usual procedure. I emptied my pockets. (They have to make sure I'm not carrying someone else's pee in my pockets.) (Because, you know, that's something that I regularly do.) I was given a cup. I was shown the line to which I needed to fill the cup. (The government needs enough of my urine to fill two little vials.) I was then sent to the toilet room with the emphatic instruction to DO NOT FLUSH THE TOILET!

I followed the instructions and did what I was told. Everything was going fine until it was time to fill the cup. I didn't quite fill it up to the line!

What? This had never happened before! But, it was this close to being up to the line. Surely that would be enough, right? The lady poured from the cup into the two vials. Nope. Not quite enough. I had "failed" my drug test!

So, I was given a cup, the same size as the cup I had just tried to fill (but NOT the same cup!!!) and told to take it out to the drinking fountain. I needed to drink plenty of water and sit in the waiting area until the time I felt I could fill the (other) cup up past the government's need-for-pee line.

One immediate problem faced me: I had Buzz with me. So, I had to figure out how to entertain a three year-old boy in a doctor's office lobby. Buzz decided that the thing he would most like to do is jump up and down. He did this four or five times before I was barked at by the receptionist. "There is an office directly below us, and they can hear everything! I'm surprised they haven't come up here to see what's going on yet!" Great. So now I have to wrestle with an active, hyper three year-old, keeping him from jumping up and down, so the idiots working beneath a doctor office's lobby don't hear sounds from the people above them. Nice.

In between my wrestling matches with Buzz, I would take the cup they gave me (the second, non-urinated cup) to the water fountain, fill it, then quickly drain it like a shot glass. (Not that I've ever drank anything from a shot glass. Really. I've just seen it done on the movies and the television.) I would take four six-ounce "shots" of water, then go sit down and try to keep Buzz from disturbing the cellar dwellers for a few minutes, then I would get up and take four more "shots" of water. I followed this routine at least four times. (If you are counting at home, that's at least 16 "shots" of water.)

And, eventually it worked. I had to go to the bathroom again. So, I stood up and announced to the room my intentions to give it another "go." (Pun intended.) (Not funny, but intended.)

Once again I emptied my pockets. (Still no foreign urine in them.) (No domestic urine, either.) Once again I was given a cup and shown the line to which I needed to fill it.

And, once again, I came up just short of the line! I "failed" again!

Of course, if they would have just combined the urine from my first attempt with the urine from my second attempt, they would have had more than enough urine to satisfy the government overlords. But, no, that would have made sense. And been too easy. And we can't have that. (This is the government we are dealing with, after all.)

This time I was given another new cup and the instructions to "Drink some water and wait until you can go again, but don't drink more than 40 ounces." WHAT??? Umm, it's a little late for that, I'm afraid. 16 cups of water at six ounces per cup comes out to 96 ounces! (For those of you that are mathematically challenged, 96 is larger than 40.) (For those of you that are not mathematically challenged: 96 > 40.) Oops.

Besides my inability to fill the cup to the appropriate line and the fact that I drank more than two times more water than the government recommendation, I had another problem. My daughter, Roni, was at kindergarten. Kindergarten lasts half a day. And, because of my inadequacies, my attempt to give the government some of my bodily fluids was quickly becoming a more-than-half-a-day event.

I told the lab people that I needed to go home and get my daughter from kindergarten. They said that I needed to finish the test within three hours of when I had started it, but it was okay if I left and came back if it was okay with my employer. That led to a very awkward phone call from me to my boss's assistant. (I'm sure he was not expecting to have a conversation about urine when he picked up the telephone.)

So, with the approval of my work and the lab, I took Buzz and headed to the van. (Once we got out of the building, I encouraged Buzz to jump as much as he possibly could on the sidewalk.) And, of course, about ten minutes into the twenty minute drive home those 96 ounces hit me: I really had to go to the bathroom.

We made it home and waited the ten to fifteen minutes for Roni to arrive home on the bus. While we waited, I spent most of my time shuffling from one foot to another, because I really had to go to the bathroom.

I threw Roni in the van, along with some licorice and some crackers. As I attempted to make the twenty minute drive back to the lab in less than ten minutes, I was constantly stuffing food into my face to try to keep my mind off the fact that I REALLY had to go to the bathroom. 

We've all used the term "hold it" when referring to needing to go to the bathroom but waiting until the appropriate time and place. Well, by the time I got off of the freeway exit, I was literally holding it because I REALLY, REALLY needed to go to the bathroom.

And then, about a mile away from the lab, I reached the breaking point. I didn't think I was going to make it to the lab without peeing my pants. I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY needed to go to the bathroom!!! So, I pulled over to the side of the road.

Roni asked, "What are you doing, daddy?" I knew exactly what I was doing. I was going to walk around to the side of the van and go just a little bit, just enough to relieve the pressure, but not enough so I wouldn't be able to fill the darn cup. It was a perfect plan.

Until I actually got out of the van and walked around to the passenger side. I looked around at the five lanes of busy traffic. I looked at the nearby houses that had an unobstructed view of me on the passenger side of that van. I looked at the van itself, with all of those windows and with my kids staring out those windows at me. I realized the van just wasn't going to provide me very good cover to carry out my plan. (It is, after all, a mini-van.)

And so, I couldn't do it. I got back in the van and drove the rest of the way to the lab. I unbuckled the kids and herded them into the building. As I waited seemingly forever (about 30 seconds) for them to call me back, I did the two-step shuffle of my feet, not giving a damn whether or not I was making too much noise for the office crew downstairs.

And then, I went through the old routine again. I emptied my pockets. (Still no urine there!) (Luckily.) I was given the cup and shown the line. I didn't care about the line. I took that cup into the bathroom and I filled it! I filled it and I kept going. I could have filled five or six of their cups if they had wanted me to. I could have filled one of those big round orange coolers if they had wanted me to.
I did not fill this. (But I probably could have.)

And finally, it was over. Everyone was happy. The government had my bodily fluids. And I had never been so relieved in all my life.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Salt Lake Comic Con (A Running Diary)

For my birthday my in-laws got me tickets to the first annual Salt Lake Comic Con. I was giddy with anticipation for: the vendors with hard-to-find comic books and comic book merchandise; the fun of seeing people in creative and outlandish costumes; and even for seeing some of the "stars" in attendance.

So, once again I'm going to steal borrow the format from ESPN and's Bill Simmons, and give you a "Running Diary" of Day One of the Salt Lake Comic Con.

Day Before Comic Con, 4:08 PM: On their Facebook page, Salt Lake Comic Con says, "Be sure to tune in to tonight's 10:00 PM news for a major announcement of a new "Special Guest" coming this weekend!"

Now, since the Comic Con was first announced, a few changes (mostly additions) had been made to the guest list. Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker from Star Trek: The Next Generation) dropped out because of a scheduling conflict between Comic Con and Patrick Stewart's wedding. We quickly learned that Captain Kirk (William Shatner) was not invited to Captain Picard's wedding, because Shatner moved in to take the place of Frakes at Comic Con.

By the time of this "major announcement," the "Special Guests" were William Shatner, Adam West and Burt Ward (Batman and Robin from the 1960's television show), and Henry "The Fonz" Winkler. So, there was rampant speculation as to who the new "Special Guest" would be. Since the other "Special Guests" were icons of 60s and 70s television, my mind went along those lines. And my thoughts soon went to one person: Lynda Carter!
Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman! (Nice cape.)
If Lynda Carter were to attend Comic Con, my interest in the "stars" would immediately shift from "somewhat interested" to "Dang! I gotta be there!"

Day Before Comic Con, 9-ish PM: Around here there is a colloquial saying for having to get up early in the morning to go to work. It is: "Getting up at the butt-crack of dawn." Well, for my work I have to get up three butt-cracks before dawn, so I had to go to bed before the big 10:00 PM announcement.

Day of Comic Con, 2:30 AM: I can't sleep because there might be a very slight, very remote chance of meeting Lynda Carter. I shut off my alarm (which would have gone off at 2:35 AM, anyway) and hop in the shower.

2:58 AM: Get dressed, and grab my laptop to see who the big 10:00 PM announcement was.

Stan Lee!!!

Stan Lee is the most accomplished comic book writer of all time! With the help of his artists, he created Iron Man, Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, The Hulk, Thor, Daredevil, The Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, and many, many more! In fact, an argument could be made that Stan Lee is the most influential writer (of any kind) of the 20th Century! 

But he's no Lynda Carter.

Stan Lee (Not Lynda Carter)
3:26 AM: Leave for work. (I told you it was three butt-cracks before dawn.)

3:54 AM through 1:57 PM: Work.

2:24 PM: Arrive home. Hop in the shower again. (Yes, I already showered in the morning. But, I figure that there will be plenty of hygienically challenged people at Comic Con. I don't intend to be one of them.)

2:51 PM: Take a "selfie" in my Comic Con "costume."
Ready for Comic Con
(It used to be called a "self-portrait," or even just "taking a picture of myself." Nowadays, apparently, it is called a "selfie.")

3:13 PM: Drop the kids off at The Wife's school. (It's one of their favorite places in the world.) (They like it much more than the junior high kids who actually attend it do.) 

4:35 PM: Arrive in Salt Lake and eventually find a parking spot.

4:42 PM: Attempting to enter the Comic Con, I find my line.
My first line of the day.

4:51 PM: While in line, I spot my first celebrity!
There's Waldo!!!
4:57 PM: Still in line, seeing more and more people in costume.
Catwoman, Bane, Li'l Robin Hood, and Wonder Woman (among others.)
5:02 PM: The line finally winds its way inside the building! I am now inside at Comic Con! Unfortunately, that doesn't mean I'm done standing in line, because inside the line looks like this:
Nerds! So many, many nerds! (And some occasional cool people, too.)
5:15 PM: While standing in line, one of the most common things overheard was people asking, "Who is that supposed to be?" about other people dressed in costume. The answers would be interesting. Some guys had to prove their know-it-all-ness by confidently stating who each costume or t-shirt was supposed to be depicting, whether they were actually correct or not.

Me? I probably knew who about half of the costumes were supposed to be. I have large gaps in my nerd knowledge. I don't know much anime, or fantasy, or video game characters. And, I'm a little shaky on comic book characters introduced after 1993.

5:32 PM: I'm finally at the front of the line! I get my entry wristband and my "swag bag." Everyone who bought the three-day pass for Comic Con was promised a "swag bag" full of "pop culture merchandise." So, what was in my "swag bag?" A Comic Con program and a small, mass-produced poster which featured a drawing of most of the "stars" who would be appearing. That was it. 

The bag was not very swaggy.

5:36 PM: Now that I'm officially inside the Comic Con, I wander around for a bit. I get up on the second floor to overlook the main Exhibit Hall.

The Exhibit Hall, where all the action is.

The Exhibit Hall is where all of the vendors are, and it's also where all of the "stars" have their photo-op and autograph lines. Unfortunately, I discover that in order to get into the Exhibit Hall, I have to stand in another line.

5:52 PM: I go to get in the Exhibit Hall line, only to find that the end of the line takes me back outside again.
Outside in line again. (Hey, look, there's Waldo again, too!)
5:59 PM: My first real celebrity sighting. As I am waiting in the Exhibit Hall line, Lou Ferrigno is whisked by on a golf cart. (He looks incredible-ish.)

6:02 PM: This was a much faster moving line. Only ten minutes! And now, I am actually in the Exhibit Hall! (Unfortunately, so are approximately 30,000 other people.)

6:04 PM: I try to work my way through the throng to see what some of the vendors have to sell. There is some cool stuff. I really liked these posters.
I thought the comic book covers blown up as posters were cool.
But, as a semi-responsible adult, I just can't really see a place in our house where I could hang a poster. (I guess I'm not a teenager anymore.)

Some of the vendors had things I wasn't interested in at all.
Sorry, not even Spider-man can talk me into wanting a pinball machine.
6:37 PM: Eventually, I worked my way to the back of the Exhibit Hall where the "stars" were. The "stars" were lined up behind tables, each with a big picture of themselves to remind the fans of who they used to be.
The guy in the white shirt below where it says "Kevin Sorbo" is actually Kevin Sorbo! (Television's Hercules.)
Of course, in order to get in one of those lines to actually meet and/or talk with the "stars," you had to be willing to pay extra for their autographs or to have a picture taken with them. The extra pay was usually between $30 and $50. (Shatner was $75.) And, I found out later that some of the "stars" would not accept credit cards. Some of them were "cash only."

Not all of the "stars" were in their booths that night. (Shatner and Stan Lee were only appearing on Saturday.) Among those who were in their booths while I was there were:
Kevin Sorbo (Television's Hercules.)
John De Lancie ("Q" from Star Trek: The Next Generation.)
Adrian Paul (Television's Highlander.)
Lou Ferrigno (Television's Incredible Hulk.)
David Prowse ("Darth Vader" from Star Wars.)
Peter Mayhew ("Chewbacca" from Star Wars.)
Ray Park ("Darth Maul" from Star Wars.)
Dwight Schultz ("Barclay" from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Also from The A-Team.)
Dirk Benedict (From the original Battlestar Galactica and The A-Team.)
Richard Hatch (From the original Battlestar Galactica.)

Also, three of the original Mighty Morphing Power Rangers were there, along with a Hobbit, a couple of women I had never heard of, and that one guy from that television show about witches that I never watched. (Brian Krause from Charmed.)

Unfortunately, one person who was scheduled to appear that I didn't see while I was there was Dean Cain (Superman/Clark from television's Lois & Clark.) The Wife really likes him, and I might have actually paid the extra to get a picture of me with Mr. Cain. But, I didn't see him. 

Surprisingly, all evening long the longest lines were to see Ray Park, who played "Darth Maul" in the fourth Star Wars movie. (You know, the one that was supposed to be the first Star Wars movie.) Some of the "stars" would drop in and out of their booths, while others were there every time I walked by. I'm not sure if that meant they were the friendliest and the best for their fans or if meant they were the ones most desperate for the extra cash from the autograph seekers. (Maybe both.)

7:09 PM: As I wander, I get to look at some pretty awesome costumes. Here are a few highlights:
It may look like a dinosaur, but it walks like a man! (A very clumsy, slow man with an obstructed line of sight, but a man nonetheless.)
And then there was this Star Wars guy:
Yes, he's on stilts. And yes, I think the Rebel Forces could probably take him down with that stroller.
More Star Wars:
Sorry it's blurry, but when a dancing, dapper Stormtrooper is walking your way, it's hard to stay focused.
And, one of my favorites:
The Invincible Iron Man! (He's shorter than I expected in real life.)

Of course, there were a lot more people in cool costumes, I just didn't take pictures of all of them. Some costumes were professional looking, others were obviously homemade. (Others still looked as if they had made by drunken frat boys with no sense of fashion.)

There was spandex. There was good use of spandex, and there was poor use of spandex. And, there was very, very questionable use of spandex. (I didn't take any pictures of the folks in spandex costumes, because I didn't want to add to the level of skeevyness.)

I was somewhat surprised by the distribution of some of the costumes. By far the most common costume  was of comic book character Deadpool. I'm not sure why. (I'm not very familiar with Deadpool. He's too "new" for me.) Meanwhile, I was surprised to see only one Wolverine the entire evening, and that was an attractive female in a spandex Wolverine costume. (No picture available, for reasons stated above.)

The most popular female costume was some variation of either Catwoman/Batgirl/Female Batman.  (Usually black tights and a mask, with or without some kind of "Bat" symbol.) There were, of course, lots of male Batmen, too. I was surprised, however, by how many Robin costumes there were. Robin? Really? Lame Robin in his red, green and yellow costume?  I don't get it.

The majority of Comic Com patrons opted for my simplistic costume idea: a t-shirt with some sort of connection to comic books or science fiction. And there's nothing wrong with that. (I saw several other people in Green Lantern shirts like mine, but I didn't see anyone else use the red-shirt-under-the-Green-Lantern-shirt look to make it more Sheldon Cooper-esque.)

7:38 PM: Thought about getting something to eat. Looked at the prices. Decided I could get something on my way home.

7:58 PM: The Exhibit Hall is supposed to close at 8:00 PM. I am on my way out when they announce that they will keep it open until 9:00 PM. I decide to leave anyway. It's been a long day. (Three butt-cracks before dawn was a long, long time ago in a land far, far away.) (You know, now that I think of it, I may have seen someone in a "three butt-cracks before dawn" costume.)

On my way back to the car I walk past a zombie. I think I know how he feels.

Friday, September 6, 2013

I Am a Nerd.

I'm a nerd.

I've known I've been a nerd for a long, long time. Oh, sure, there was that time in sixth grade when I thought I might win the "best dressed" award because I had a Star Wars shirt for every day of the week. I didn't know then. (I didn't win, either.)

I think it was in junior high when I realized I was a nerd. And I was ashamed of it. That's when I quit collecting comic books (the first time.) I was afraid that one of the "cool" kids might see me sifting through the comic book racks at the drug stores and grocery stores of Pocatello, and think that I was some kind of loser. (At the time, I thought comic books were perceived to be for littler kids, not "hip" and "with-it" junior high schoolers.)

I started back in to collecting comic books when I was a junior or senior in high school. By then I knew I was a nerd, and so did pretty much everyone else.

So, twenty-something years later when I started dating the woman who would become The Wife, I was unquestionably, no doubt about it, abso-freaking-tively a nerd. And I was fine with that.

The Wife fancied herself a nerd, too. And so, we had to ask the question: Which one of us was the bigger nerd?

She had some pretty good credentials. For one thing, she had her ham radio license. (Pretty nerdy!) To be fair, it wasn't something she had sought out. Getting her ham radio license was something that was strongly encouraged by her dad. (He has definite nerdish tendencies.) (Sorry, PopPop, but it's true.) But, even though it wasn't her idea, a ham radio license is still a ham radio license.

The Wife's other best nerd qualification is that she is a junior high school math teacher. That is very nerdish! In fact, since we've been married there have been a few times when I have caught her doing math that was not for one of the classes she is teaching or for one of the classes she is taking.

Soak that in for a second. In other words: Sometimes she does math just for the fun of it!!! (Nerd alert!!!)

She makes a strong case. But, it flounders when compared to mine.

My basic nerd credentials can be pointed out in three easy ways:

1: I wear a calculator watch!

My "nerd watch" will even do tricks. Turn it upside down and it says "hellooo!"
Many, many years ago, my sister got me a Casio calculator watch for my birthday or Christmas (I forget which.) I'm guessing this is because she loves me, and she thinks I'm a nerd. (Look at it. This is definitely something you would only give to someone you thought of as a nerd.)

I immediately liked it. It has time, calculator, alarm, and stop-watch functions! I liked it so much that when it came time to get a new watch (because the watchband broke; the watches themselves are nearly indestructible), I bought another one just like it. And, I've been doing so for the past 20 years! (Every time I have to get a new watch I'm a little surprised to find they still make the exact same model. I'm glad they do. I'd be lost without it.)

2: I have a large comic book collection. Several thousand comic books.
Captain America enjoying the view in the comic book closet.

Oh, don't worry, it's not a particularly valuable comic book collection. That's because they aren't in pristine condition. You see, I would actually read the comic books when I bought them! I didn't just bag them and board them and keep them hermetically sealed (on Funk and Wagnall's porch) so they would stay in mint (or near mint) condition. (Oops.)

C: I've been to more than one Star Trek convention. 

You can go to one Star Trek convention and say you are just going to make fun of the nerds, but if you go to more than one, you are not fooling anyone: you are a nerd.

When I was living in Idaho, my friends and I drove down to Salt Lake City to see George "Oh my!" Takei (Mr. Sulu) at a Star Trek convention. We had a good time, but I figured that it would be a "once," and that I was done with Star Trek conventions.

But then, a few years later, it was announced that William Shatner was coming to Pocatello, Idaho! If William Shatner comes to Pocatello, you have to go see him, don't you? (At least, that's what I thought. Most other people disagreed, because there weren't many people there to see The Shat. It was not a well attended Star Trek convention. On the plus side, I can say I saw William Shatner at his only ever appearance in Pocatello, 'cause I'm sure he ain't ever going back.)

That pushed me up to two Star Trek conventions, and sealed my nerd qualifications.

So, despite her best efforts, The Wife couldn't come close to stacking up against my nerd credentials. (And that's without even bringing out my trump card: I was a 40 year-old virgin.)

When the announcement came this summer that Salt Lake City was getting its first Comic Con, The Wife was unimpressed. She wondered aloud who would want to go to such a thing. Meanwhile, when I heard the announcement, I was intrigued and voiced that I might actually be interested in attending.

My in-laws were there when The Wife and I voiced these opinions, and, about a week later, I had myself a three-day pass to Comic Con as a birthday present from my in-laws! As the build-up continued to Comic Con, and as more and more guests were announced, The Wife continued to show absolutely no interest in attending. (Although her attitude changed a little bit when they announced that Dean Cain would be there.)

If you look at the evidence, it's pretty clear that The Wife and I are both nerds. We're just different kinds of nerds. I am most definitely a Comic Book Nerd. So, I'll be going to Comic Con this weekend, and I'm sure I'll be reporting about it here in the next few days. Because that's what I do.

Because I'm a nerd.