Croup

Croup: (n) any condition of the larynx characterized by a hoarse cough and difficult breathing.

One of the more annoying aspects of writing a column or posting a blog on the Internet is what seems to be the incessant need to talk about life beginning with how it relates to yourself.

I will be honest—I don’t think I am as interesting as other folks do.

I don’t know whether this is even possible, but I have often felt I was boring myself.

But when I saw the word “croup” today, I couldn’t resist relating a piece of personal identity concerning the condition.

Up until five years of age, I was sickly.

Chubby, round-faced and ill. (Very attractive for young parents.)

Every time I caught a cold, it went into my chest and I mustered a hacking cough which eventually made it difficult to breathe. So my mother often rushed me into the bathroom, turned on all the faucets with hot water, and sat there with me in the steam, hoping my croup would clear.

It was so bad one night that the town doctor was called to come to our little bungalow.

He  felt compelled to give me a shot of adrenalin in the heart to keep me among the living.

Yet somewhere along the line—about the age of six—I began to improve. It was a good thing, because on top of my croup, I was festered with an inability to master swallowing pills, and the only real treatment for my condition were these huge, white sulfa tablets, which greatly resembled horse pills.

So yes—because I could not swallow them, I had to chew them up—two at a time, every four hours.

When the reprieve came and “croup” decided to become a part of my past, I was jubilant. Later on we discovered that because my dad was a cigarette smoker, the air quality in our little home was not conducive to my fussy lungs.

So even though I shared this story with you in candor, and the years have certainly passed, and I have proven myself to be more balanced for the human environment…

I still feel like a Willy Wonka Wimp.

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Crouching

Crouching: (v) stooping or bending low.

After all my years of human travel, experiences, lifestyle changes, enlightenments and detriments, I still can find reasons—new ones every day—to hate baseball.

You would think I would run out of possibilities and begin to repeat myself, but even now, as I looked at the word, “crouching,” a new manifestation of my disdain for “America’s pastime” has surfaced.

I must be candid with you.

The reason I hate baseball is because I never took the time to learn to like it. When I was young, kids divided into categories:

Kids who like to fish and kids who hated the smell of fish

There were kids who liked girls and kids who held tightly to the conspiracy theory about the “cootie” thing.

There were kids who liked baseball and kids who liked football. I was part of the latter group.

But every once in a while, I would find myself caught on a hot summer afternoon, when everyone thought it was stupid to play football, squeezed into a corner with a bat and glove, to play with my fellow-warriors.

Matter of fact, I even tried out for Little League because my friends thought I would be great, I was kind of funny and would be a thousand laughs in the dugout.

So when I arrived at the ball diamond and the coach met me, I didn’t even get a word out of my mouth before he ran over, patted me on the shoulders, looked into my face and said:

“You’re chubby. You’ll make a great catcher.”

I didn’t like being called chubby. Chubby was not a manly term. And God and John Wayne both knew—I was manly.

But I was willing to listen.

He presented me with some sort of padded vest which didn’t fit—well, because I was chubby. So he taped it onto me, gave me the catcher’s mask, the big catcher’s mitt, and led me behind home plate. I stood there as he waited for me to assume the correct position.

At length he said, “No, no. You’ve got to crouch.”

Did I mention earlier that I was chubby? When you have a few extra pounds, crouching is not a given.

But again, I was willing to try.

What I didn’t realize was that this crouching thing was not a one-time event. As a catcher, you not only need to crouch, but you need to stay that way through the entire half-inning and be able to get up on your feet quickly from that descended position so you can make plays.

Without going into a lot of painful detail, I didn’t have any of the aforementioned qualifications.

My knees kept hurting.

I got a cramp in my thigh.

I was always falling over onto my side.

And every time I tried to stand up from the crouch, I felt like Atlas with the world on his shoulders.

I lasted through two innings before the coach took me into the outfield, handed me a glove, said, “It’s quieter back here”—and relieved me of my misery.

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Corduroy

Corduroy: (adj) a cotton-filling pile fabric with lengthwise cords or ridges.

As a young man–being a chubby threatening to be a tubby–I was always looking for an advantage that would open the door to girls whom my basic features had failed fail to attract.funny wisdom on words that begin with a C
I
noticed that women liked to touch soft things, so at a thrift store I found a really plush, thick turtleneck sweater. Girls loved to run their hands up and down it. My thesis was, once they got accustomed to feeling my sweater, touching me might not seem so repugnant.

I found the same thing to be true with corduroy pants—what they referred to as the wide-wale ones. The ladies loved to reach over and stoke my leg, feeling the material.

I had no objection.

I was young—a simple touch on the knee was like an express train with the destination “Ecstasy.”

Here was the problem, though, with my corduroy pants: I had plump thighs, so when I walked my legs rubbed together and wore out the corduroy on the inside. In no time at all, I had the top of my legs covered with corduroy and the inside of my thighs looking like the cheapest cotton ever picked in Dixie.

Pretty soon it became noticeable that my pants were two different textures. Even more obvious was what caused the loss of the corduroy.

So what began as a grand plan to make connection with dear women ended up only pointing out to them that my portly limbs had totally destroyed my corduroy appeal.


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Chubby

Chubby: (adj) plump and rounded.

Please do not feel the need to grab your thesaurus when describing me.

I am not portly.

I am not rotund.

I am not big-boned.

I don’t have a healthy appetite.

I’m fat.

And as painful as the word may be, and as many different negative associations it carries, it is still better than “chubby.”

Chubby removes all possibility of being masculine.

Babies are cute and chubby.

Furry animals are chubby.

Things that are cute are dubbed chubby so we do not have to comment on their rolls of blubber.

In the pursuit of gentle phrasing, nobody’s feelings are spared. Only the speaker feels self-righteous about placating through terminology.

I’m too old to be chubby.

I’m too manly to be chubby.

I’m too fat to be chubby.

Chubby things are acceptably fat, yet fat things are not acceptably chubby.

I don’t want to be a chub, so I certainly don’t want to be chubby.

So as painful as it may be to my ears, I am more comfortable being referred to as a “fat person” instead of a man who has “a big body to hold his big heart.”

 

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Cherub

Cherub: (n) a beautiful or innocent-looking child.

It takes a lot for me to become motivated to try to lose weight.

It’s similar to convincing an ant-eater that ant consumption is bad for its health. After all, you are named “ant-eater.” To suddenly stop eating ants not only removes your diet, but robs you of your identity.

I.e., if I am not a fat man, who am I?

If I’m not the guy talking about calories while lamenting my metabolism, how would I be able to find myself in a crowded mall?

My identity is wrapped up in my weaknesses just as much as my virtues. I don’t know why we take so much time to lie, cheat and cover up our frailties, when the
y are obviously going to pop up and announce their presence.

But every once in a while, I do become motivated to try to carve away some of the fat from my body. It usually takes a shock. One such occasion happened when a gentleman from a newspaper, reviewing my show and describing my face, wrote: “He is a chubby fellow with cherub-like features.”

I was appalled.

There is no man born on this Earth who wants to be a chubby cherub. Matter of fact, if you told a woman that her blind date was “chubby and cherub-like” she just might call in sick.

I became obsessed.

I went to my bathroom mirror and stood there for at least fifteen minutes, peering at my cheeks–my second chin which was thinking about adding on an addition–and eventually became convinced that I indeed was a cherub. Although that supposedly has angelic proportions, it also makes you look too child-like and too plump.

I immediately started a diet, which didn’t last long because I was motivated for all the wrong reasons.

So over the years I have tried to grow a beard, which was as successful as any other cherub, and I’ve sported a mustache–a goatee which I occasionally have to pencil in because it’s just not dark enough.

This whole story would be very pathetic except for the fact that deep in my heart, I really don’t care.

My confidence is not based on my appearance, but rather, the confidence my appearance may proffer to others.

 

 

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Bunk Bed

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Bunk bed: (n) a piece of furniture consisting of two beds, one above the other, that form a unit.

Ralph had a good job and therefore had some money.

This was rare in our hometown area, where the local gospel singers who aspired to be superstars in the cavalcade of heavenly tunes were normally poor, with dreams the only stuffing in their heads.

I was one of those poor ones.

But Ralph had some money. So his quartet went out and bought a bus, and Ralphie Boy signed for it. It was a 4104 Greyhound, which I’m sure will mean nothing to you unless you can conjure the image of the transportation of that era. If you can muster a picture of a Greyhound, it more than likely is a 4104.

Did I mention that Ralph was also a carpenter? So he ripped the seats out and built the insides to look like a little home, complete with four bunk beds for traveling nights, which might require some sleeping.

Everybody who had a pitch pipe and desired to sing four-part harmony bounced between admiring Ralph and his bus and being envious that they were not in his quartet.

But he was generous and let people come along on little trips so they could say they had been in the magic chariot.

I went on one such trip. It was an “overnighter,” so I got to sleep in the bunk.

It was at that precise moment in that particular location, with my chubby frame wedged into a tiny bunk, that I realized I was claustrophobic. What started out as a night of dreams and new opportunities left me terrorized that the bunk just above me was going to suddenly give way, come crashing down and suffocate me, probably to death.

When we finished the trip, Ralph asked me how I enjoyed it, and being a polite Midwestern boy, I said it was absolutely amazing–but that I was a little scared of the bunk beds.

Ralph thought that was hilarious–so funny that he decided to share it with everybody he ever came in contact with.

So from that point on, no matter what the activity, people would walk up, pat me on the shoulder and say, “By the way, you can relax. There won’t be any bunks.”

 

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Big Top

Big Top: (n) the main tent in a circus.

Dictionary B

The circus smells like elephant poop.

That’s my main memory from the only time I went there at twelve years of age.

I had this strange sensation of smelling pachyderm droppings while simultaneously eating cotton candy. It was a disturbing mixture.

I was a chubby fellow, so when the clowns came out to perform, one of the jokesters targeted me, using mime to imitate my tubbiness, to the delight of children nearby. Obviously lacking some training in sensitivity, the bozo continued to do so until the laughter subsided.

So to a certain degree, I was very happy when the elephants arrived and I was no longer the largest in the tent.

The circus was impressive.

There were things flying in the air, fire spewing from the mouths of entertainers, and all sorts of horses running in circles with brightly-colored saddles, which were ever-so-faintly fading through years of use.

I worked really hard to be a fan.

I oohed and aahed on cue, making it clear to all my friends around me that I was an appreciator.

But as I left the tent, even though I was just a kid, I sensed that these professionals were working awfully hard to make life fun. Matter of fact, when I hear people draw the parallel that “life is a circus,” I think to myself, no, it’s not.

Actually, our goal is to make sure that life doesn’t become a funeral … by adding just enough clowns, dancing monkeys and corn dogs.

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