Level 9: So Much For Taco Bell Part 2

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Eventually the dog tired of being petted and wandered away. Another patient came in, sat down and began thumbing through one of the many bicycling magazines on the coffee table. My mom continued to spar with the woman behind the counter. I lay on the ground and moaned. Time passed.

“Dr. Groover will see you, now,” said the receptionist after she had thoroughly crushed my mom at pingpong. I got up painfully and hobbled past. I shot a look at my mom reinforcing the demand that she not follow me into the chiropractor’s office. She raised her hands as if to say, “Like I would even consider.” I passed the counter, rounded the corner then walked into a room where a giant was eating boiled carrots out of a glass Tupperware container. Holistic folks hated plastic.

“I’m not done eating yet!” he grumbled at the white-haired old lady. His tone was far too harsh for them to be anything but married.

The giant, bald-headed carrot eater himself. In level 9 he comes across as kind of gruff and that night he was, but in the end he turned out to be a really nice guy.

“Sorry,” I said and began to turn around.

“Sit down,” he commanded, his voice stern but softer than when he addressed his wife.

I sat down and watched quietly while he finished his carrots. They still had parts of the green stems, proof that he had bought organic. I tried not to bother him with my hiccups and moaning. It sort of worked.

Dr. Groover was gigantic. He was also bald, suntanned and strong, Mr. Clean’s back cracking brother. His clothing was decidedly holistic, loose fitting with tribal patterns in neutral tones and a pair of those shoes with rubberized toes. He ate boiled carrots like a wood chipper and didn’t turn around or say anything to ease the tension. When he had eaten a garden’s worth of beta-carotene, he pulled out a clipboard and began asking questions.

“Alright Nathan,” he turned his swivel chair to face me.  “You look rough. What seems to be the problem?”

“I’m – hiccup – sick,” I said weakly. “I threw up every thing for three days. Now I can keep down water, but it – hiccup – gives me the – hiccup  – hiccups.”

He wrote down my answer. “When did you first become sick?”

“May 12, the night the Nuggets lost to the Lakers. I – hiccup  – watched the – hiccup – just down the street.”

The doctor looked at me. “Are you into extreme sports?” A twinkle flashed across his gigantic eye.

The non sequitur threw me for a loop. “No,” my mind searched for an explanation. “I’m pretty indoorsy.”

“Oh,” the twinkle faded. He wrote “May 12th” on one of the lines. “You haven’t eaten anything in four days?”

“No. I almost kept down some Naked Juice. Maybe tonight I’ll try again.”

“Don’t,” he said sternly. “That stuff is crap.”

“It’s blueberry,” I argued. “You people love blueberries.”

“They pasteurize their juices. It kills the good stuff and you’re left with nothing but sugar.”

This guy was hardcore.

The questions continued, mostly stuff my mom and I had already written on one of the forms in the waiting room. When he had all the information he needed he pulled out a head set with a microphone and put it on his enormous skull. I hiccupped quietly while he dictated into the device. The computer transcribed his words into a file, highlighting notes and important dates with different colors. He saved this information as ones and zeros on a hard drive. It was all very scientific.

Once his notes were entered he had me stand on a machine that measured the relative height of my hips. Then he had me lay down on a bench that recorded the tilt of my neck. After that I sat on a table while he felt my back and ribs. As he worked, the strange thing happened again. It was that same, subtle magic I experienced while petting the office hound. The hiccups began to subside. Was this entire place imbued with healing power? I had to get one of those luminous eggs!

When he was done with the examination he rattled off a bunch of holistic shit I didn’t understand. Apparently this was just a consultation. For the real healing I’d have to come back on Friday. Disappointed, I limped back into the waiting room.

“Your mom went next door to the Thai restaurant,” said the cheerful Mrs. Groover.

I waddled over to the restaurant and found her waiting for her order. The smell in the place was overpowering and I almost threw up. “They need you,” I said then turned and got out of there as quickly as I could.

Back in the office I collapsed on the yoga mat and waited for my mom to make the appointment. Friday? I was hungry now! I snapped and whistled at the dog, hoping he would come over and lend me some healing power. He wasn’t interested and went about his doggie business on the other side of the room. My mom came in to make an appointment for Friday. Mrs. Groover was very accommodating, picking up their match right where they’d left off. “My son knows seven languages and translates health pamphlets into Swahili when he’s not doting on his lovely wife.”

“Nathan took Spanish in kindergarten,” My mom replied pathetically. She was trounced, beaten, she’d given up. Mrs. Groover kept coming.

“He’s going to give me 13 grandchildren just as soon as he’s done saving for their college, probably some time next year.”

“My daughter is pregnant.” My mom said and began packing her things, retreating as fast as she could. In the mad scramble to collect her purse, Multi Pure water bottle, travel tea mug, magazines, book and Bible she missed the most important thing Mrs. Groover had to say:

“We’ll see you Friday. The X rays will cost so and so and the time will cost this much. There’s a lab fee and blah, blah, blah $2,000.”

“OK,” said my mom as she shuffled me out the door. Ok? Were you kidding me? Had she heard? There was no way she had heard. My mom was going to pay two grand for a single visit to the chiropractor? She definitely hadn’t heard. But I had. I thought about telling her, “Mom, did you hear her?” Then I thought about how I hadn’t eaten in four days and how I’d have to wait two more before I could try. Two thousand dollars seemed a small price to pay.

Back in the car I held my guts and complained, “I thought I’d be eating Taco Bell after one visit!”

“I can’t believe Jackie lets her granddaughter eat that crap!” Said my mom as she turned the key to start her vehicle.

“Can you put that in the back? I’m about to gag.” I was referring to the smell of the Thai food she had ordered to go. She went around to the trunk and buried it under a coat. She climbed back in and we headed for home. As we drove the chess player inside looked for his next move. Things looked grim, but there was still something we hadn’t tried.

“Mom,” I said quietly, looking at her with tears in my eyes, “we need to do something, or I’m going to die. Maybe a hospital or  – hiccup  – whatever. They could at least pump some fluids in me.”

Cousin Mary Maxwell is a bee farmer and doctor who lives in northern Colorado. Her guiding voice eventually got me to seek the medical help I needed. I am forever in her debt.

She pulled into the parking lot of a Conoco and called her cousin Mary, an anesthesiologist who lived in the area. I hiccup-shuffled inside the station to buy some Sprite. The lady behind the counter was classic white trash, complete with bleached blonde hair and faded jeans. “You OK, darlin’?” she asked, a genuine look of concern in her eyes. I nodded and paid for my soda, then limped back outside. In the car my mom was getting directions to Mary’s house. I took a sip of Sprite. Then another. Something flared in my throat. It felt like I had swallowed a wasabi pea. Had Sauron found his way into the Shire? I set the soda down, scared of what I’d just felt.

“Mary says she’s just getting off her shift at the hospital,” my mom said. “She can’t get her hands on a saline I.V. but we’re welcome to stop by and she’ll look at you.”

“Can she prescribe some pain meds?” I asked.

“I don’t know.” My mom put the car in reverse.

If doggie pets and glowing eggs took the edge off whatever was wrong with me, then riding in a car was the opposite. The drive took an agonizing 45 minutes. I hiccupped the entire way. Mary’s house was in the middle of nowhere off a darkened street adjacent to empty fields. Her driveway was paved with gravel and all sorts of ranch equipment sat around waiting to be used. It looked like a farm. It was a farm. I got out while my mom gathered her stuff. Mary came to meet us.

“Hello, Nathan,” she said in an efficient tone, pronouncing each syllable. She had glasses and carried herself like a doctor. She was a doctor.

“Hey… cousin,” I had no idea what her name was. My mom had told me but I’d forgotten. We were one of those families who rarely interacted. I think I’d seen her a couple of times at weddings or something. Her face looked familiar. She had the stolid Ukrainian features of a Dvirnak.

“Come in,” she said. “It looks like you’ve had a bad day.”

I shuffled past her and went inside. Her house was your typical farmer sort of place. I came from a long line of cattle ranchers so I felt right at home with the rustic décor. Mounted trophies stared down at me from the wall. Mary sat me down in a chair and put on a stethoscope. She took my pulse, temperature, read my blood pressure and listened to me breathe. Where had this been? My mom was a nurse, the chiropractor was a doctor. Where were their stethoscopes and pressure cuffs? Didn’t my mom care about my pulse?

“You’re tachycardic,” she said.


“Your heart rate is fast.”

My mom came in the room with armloads of stuff. I could smell her Thai food from 20 feet away. “What have you found?” she asked over the top of her haul.

“He’s tachycardic,” said Mary as she pulled the stethoscope out of her ears. “It’s a fight or flight response.”

“My heart always – hiccup – beats fast,” I said. “They made me stop selling plasma because of it.”


Twelve years before I got sick I lived in a tiny Colorado town called Greeley. In Greeley there was a clinic where I sold plasma as a way of saving up extra cash for my Big European Adventure. At the time I was an odd jobs man. Looking back, I realize I was probably the oddest odd jobs man the town had ever seen.

When I first moved to Greeley I worked at a grocery store in the bakery. My boss, like most bosses, was a nutcase who made life a living hell. One day I was decorating a cake and I thought about mowing lawns as a kid. Every summer I’d push the lawn mower I’d purchased with snow shoveling money around my neighborhood and cut peoples’ grass. Homeowners also paid me to pull weeds, paint fences, all kinds of stuff. I used the money to buy comic books and candy. It was sweet. The best part was I got to be my own crazy boss. I didn’t have to work evenings or weekends and I was out in the sun all day. As I put the scroll border around another pointless cake, I could feel the wind in my hair and smell the freshly mown hay. In that moment I made the decision. I set down my piping bag and walked over to my boss. “Tonight is my last night.” I said.

“Really?” she replied with that crazy look in her eye.


Her face fell. I was totally screwing her over. “Can you stay at least another week?”


“Please?” she asked.

I shook my head, finished my shift and clocked out for the final time.

Panic set in almost immediately. I spent the next week pounding on doors eight hours a day. If you’ve never pounded on doors, it’s exhausting, but I was terrified and this spurred me to great feats of strength. I didn’t have a car so my effective radius was limited to a tight circle around the place I was renting. I’d knock on a door and if someone was home I’d give him or her my spiel. If no one answered I wrote the address down in a notebook and came back until I got an answer. I treated every house like it was made of gold. I left no stone unturned.

It worked out pretty well. I managed to get a ton of clients who needed all sorts of crazy shit. “Hi, I’m Nathan, do you need someone to mow your lawn?”

“No, but…”

“No, buts” were the best. You could charge people out the ass for “no buts” because there wasn’t an industry standard. One lady I worked for managed 70 properties. Twice a year I made a small fortune going around to each of her many properties and replacing the batteries in the smoke detectors. The rental homes were inhabited by college kids who didn’t keep regular business hours. If I had waited for them to answer their doors, it would have taken forever, so if no one answered, I broke in. I have all kinds of crazy stories about climbing through windows and running into people who were home but hadn’t come to the door. One of them, a hot gamer chick, ended up going on a date with me. It was like a really boring porno with no sex. “No, seriously, I’m here to change your batteries.”

But mostly, I mowed lawns. Problem was, I didn’t have a truck. What was a boy to do?

To make myself more mobile I found a piece of copper pipe and bungee corded it to the seat of my BMX. Then I bungee corded the handle of my lawn mower to the pipe and hung gas cans, grass bags, jugs of water and a trimmer from the tube. I pedaled this monstrosity around Greeley and made a living mowing lawns while passersby looked out their car windows and pointed in amazement. Not only that, I got to make Robin Williams proud.

I am very easily influenced by media. ‘Good Will Hunting’ inspired me to go to Europe. In this story guests on The Adam Carolla show got me to jump in a deprivation tank and take a trip to New York. The deprivation tank is a hilarious level where I hallucinate my face off and in New York I meet Emily who gets her own book in this tragically hilarious tale. Stay tuned for details!

In the movie Good Will Hunting Robin Williams played a brilliant psychiatrist who engaged in verbal sparring with an equally brilliant janitor played by Matt Damon. In one of the movie’s climactic scenes, Robin William said, “So if I asked you about art, you could give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo? You know a lot about him I bet. Life’s work, criticisms, political aspirations. But you couldn’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling.”

I had never stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling either. I had no idea what it smelled like. That summer I decided it was time to find out. So I mowed lawns, washed windows, trimmed hedges and sold plasma.

At the end of the day I’d drop my lawn mower back at The Point (the affectionate name given to the house I inhabited with six other guys) and ride across town to the clinic that bought plasma. I had no idea what plasma was, but they got it out of my blood, then pumped the plasmaless cells back into my veins. To get into the chair you had to pass a series of exams, the hardest of which was the heart rate monitor. If your pulse was going at more than 100 beats per minute, you had to wait 24 hours before you could try again. Mine hovered around 98 and sometimes tipped the scales. When that happened they sent me home without pumping my veins.

“My heart always – hiccup – beats fast,” I said. “They made me stop selling plasma because of it.”

“Hmm,” said cousin Mary, “Can you lie down on the couch for me?”

I shuffled over to her plush, leather couch and lay down. She lifted my shirt and started probing my tender guts. “Tell me if this hurts,” she said. My mom hovered over us with her Thai food. The smell was outrageous.

Mary poked and prodded and asked questions, and as she did the hiccups faded, then went away. Even the pain in my intestines dulled a bit. My mom decided it was a good time to test a theory.

“Hold out your arm,” she said to me. She wanted to broken-Jesus-on-the-cross. I wasn’t having it. She switched victims. “Mary, hold out your arm, like this.” Mary held out her arm. “Now put your hand on Nathan.” She did. “Does this body need –” I don’t remember what she asked, but I do remember the look on her cousin, Mary Maxwell M.D.’s face. It was priceless.

“See that?” my mom asked. “See how your arm dropped?” Mary didn’t say anything. Here was a High Priestess of Exalted Medicine getting voodoo magiced by her crazy cousin. My face split in a sickly imitation of a grin. It felt good.

Mary went back to her diagnosis. I watched closely, looking for a connection between the dog, Dr. Groover and my mom’s cousin. Why had all three been able to quell my hiccups?

“Well,” said Mary after she finished checking me out, “I don’t know what’s wrong. You need to see a specialist.” I heard the rattle on my mom’s tail shake dangerously.

“Ok,” I said. “Can you prescribe me a pain killer?”

“Not without a diagnosis,” she said.

“How do I get a diagnosis?”

My mom’s tail rattled louder.

“I have a friend who’s a gastroenterologist. He’s really good, but I don’t know if he still practices. I’ll call him tomorrow and see.”

Mary’s husband came in the room. She asked about their daughter and he said he was putting her to bed. I met him and immediately forgot his name. Then her daughter came in and we did the same. I gave Mary my phone number and shuffled out to the car. My mom concluded the visit.

When she was done, my mom climbed into the car and we headed home. It was very late.

“So much for Taco Bell,” I said. “We going to the doc’s tomorrow?”

“We can, but it won’t do any good,” my mom said. “Jackie’s granddaughter went through the same thing. They spent thousands of dollars on doctor’s visits and none of them could tell her what was wrong with her kid. She finally ended up with the NUCCA guy in Boulder and he fixed her right up.”

“OK,” I said. “But Taco Bell for sure come – hiccup – Friday, right?”

“Kid, if you want Toxic Hell, I won’t stop you,” she laughed. I laid the seat back. My mom set the autopilot for Denver and hit the boosters.

to be continued

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Little Kid Sessions

I’m tired of uploading my music to the interwebs so this week you get something special! This is a segment of the recording session I had with the kid who played me in this week’s podcast, enjoy!

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