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Can you tell me which jack-o-lantern is new?

October 10, 2013

Growing up I read Highlights, a children’s magazine. My favorite feature was The Timbertoes, a comic strip about a family made of wood. I hated Hidden Pictures, which required readers to locate small objects masked within a larger illustration.

No, the puddle on that sidewalk doesn’t resemble a spoon, I would scowl while reviewing the answers in the back of the magazine.

That dog’s ear looks nothing like a pear, I would huff.

I didn’t curse then, so I would mutter things like “Oh fooey” and “Foot!”.

“Watch ye mouth,” my father still would sometimes scold me.

Hidden Pictures skewed my sense of self-worth since I never could make out a bottle of toothpaste sketched into a tree trunk or a hardback book that also served as a chimney. Despite the long-term emotional scarring Hidden Pictures caused, I now play a similar game every morning on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s website: the Find Five Challenge. Two color photographs are placed side by side, and within 45 seconds users must click five nuances on the right-hand image that don’t appear on the left. Even worse: three wrong tries, and you’re out. Sometimes my heart races during the final five-second countdown, reawakening memories of my Hidden Pictures failures as a four-year-old.

“A-ha! BOOYAH!” I once shouted when I successfully selected five subtle variations on a Bengal cat’s coat. Perhaps my boss thought I had figured out a particularly challenging string of CSS.

I’m pretty sure that when my father underwent neuropsychological testing he was forced to engage in exercises similar to Hidden Pictures and AJC.com’s Find Five Challenge. He didn’t do well, hence an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

However, Daddy always is quick to point out items my mother recently has purchased; his eagle-eye attention to her shopping habits is deeply branded into his subconscious. Every year Mother scatters hundreds of jack-o-lanterns throughout the house along with other Halloween decorations. Jack-o-lanterns line the mantel, and Mother typically adds a new piece to the echelon every year. A couple weeks ago Mother arranged the multi-mooded pumpkins across the mantel and asked Daddy, “Can you tell me which jack-o-lantern is new?”

jack o' lanterns on Mother's mantel

“THAT ONE,” Daddy pointed without hesitation.

“You’re right!” Mother beamed.

Mother has spent Daddy’s money so predictably and for so long that Alzheimer’s still can’t cripple that part of his brain.

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But what if Alzheimer’s likes being fucked in the ass?

October 2, 2013

I came up with a personal slogan for this year’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s: “Fuck Alzheimer’s in the ass!” While inebriated at my family’s lake house, my sisters-in-law and I criss-crossed our arms into a tepee of sorts and screamed, “Fuck Alzheimer’s in the asssssss!”

“Bobbin,” Ryan glared at me from the other end of the dock, pointing at his parents. “Stop.”

“Whatever, Dad,” I slurred. “We care about the cause.”

When I shared my slogan with my friend Adam, whose grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s, he grimaced.

“What, are you offended or something?” I asked, shocked by his prudishness.

“No, it’s just… what if Alzheimer’s likes being fucked in the ass?” Adam explained.

“Good point,” I squinted.

What are you up to this weekend? my friend Sean asked me last week on Gchat.

Bobbin: Fucking Alzheimer’s in the ass at the walk.

Sean: Don’t fuck Alzheimer’s up the ass. It probably likes it.

Bobbin: Alzheimer’s would be experimental like that. It fucks over everyone.

I sighed and resolved to use a new slogan next year.

alz1Despite my marketing failures, Team Hot Dog Beehonkus raised $1,116 to help put an end to this dreadful disease. Ryan as well as my mother and four of my in-laws walked with me in addition to making generous donations. We decided to leave my father at home, since he probably wouldn’t be able to handle a 3.1-mile jaunt around Atlantic Station.

The day before the event Daddy seemed strangely talkative and inquisitive on the phone.

“What else is happenin’?” he inquired several times after I discussed our cats, the house, and anything else new that came to mind. Timber also spoke with Daddy that day and mentioned his chattiness to Mother. For the first time in two years, he took interest in her career as a physician’s assistant and asked questions regarding her salary and health benefits.

I guess Daddy rose to the challenge of fucking Alzheimer’s in the ass, too. For a day he acted halfway like himself. However, his whole self would try to ground his 29-year-old daughter for using curse words.

What’s a ta ta?

September 18, 2013

I’ve been remiss in updating Hot Dog Beehonkus for a couple reasons: 1. Ryan and I got kicked out of the house we were renting and decided to buy our own place amidst the maelstrom and 2. lately I’ve been in a funk about my dad and haven’t found much about his steady progression joyful or funny. But! He came through the other day while visiting Timber in Augusta. During a morning walk with the dogs, a “Save the Ta Tas” bumper sticker drove past them – a popular breast cancer awareness campaign 99% of the population has pulled to a stop behind at a red light.

“What’s a ta ta?” Daddy asked.

“Robert,” my mother murmured as though explaining this wondrous synonym for breast would offend a stray cat or man riding a roaring lawn mower. “I’ll tell you when we get back to the house.”

However, Daddy wouldn’t let it go.

“When we get back to Calhoun, can we get a ta ta? Maybe we can get Bobbin and Ryan a ta ta, too!”

“Robert!” Mother clasped her chest. “Ta tas are BOOBIES.”

“Oh.”

Instead of lamenting the deterioration of our father’s vocabulary, Timber grew irritated that he didn’t offer to gift her a ta ta upon his return to Calhoun. When she relayed this vignette to me via telephone, my heart swelled with victory: Daddy chose ME as his top tittie recipient.

My father always has been more of a fanny man (hence the title of this blog, an homage to my mother’s beehonkus); in fact, growing up he always barked at her butt but never her breasts. When playing softball in the front yard Mother usually served as pitcher, and one summer evening I batted the ball straight into her areola.

“OUCH!” she bellowed.

“Poor Mommy,” Daddy cooed, massaging the wound – the most affection he ever offered her breast in front of Timber and me.

“Stop it!” she screamed.

In college I went through a brief phase of wearing tie dye fabric draped across my shoulders as an excuse for a shirt and bra. I decided sporting a green one I found at local consignment shop Psycho Sisters for Sunday lunch with my family would be appropriate, even though a couple Saturdays prior while wearing it at Club Europe a creepy 40-year-old man lifted me above his head and spun me around in a frightening re-enactment of his favorite scene from Dirty Dancing or Swan Lake. I couldn’t tell which one.

“Yer boob’s hangin’ out!” Daddy yelled when I leaned toward the bowl of green beans.

“Oops,” I said, realizing the sheet indeed had shifted to one side, ta ta hanging dangerously close to the mound of mashed potatoes on my plate.

“Good. Gawd!” he huffed, spooning raspberry jelly onto a slice of bread.

Oh how I long for the years when my bad ’90s clothes offended my father, when the word “ta ta” elicited a rise in his eyebrows that now are permanently stuck in a clueless dispassionate line.

I have Alzheimer’s?

July 17, 2013

A couple weekends ago Mother sent me this text message:

If you’d like to see The Lone Ranger, I could take Daddy to meet you in Cartersville for the 11:30 show, and then the two of you could come home together.

I interpreted that to mean:

Please take your daddy to see The Lone Ranger so I can have the afternoon to myself.

Despite my disinterest in seeing The Lone Ranger I cooperated so Mother could enjoy a 4-hour span sans daddysitting.

Daddy with his Annual Popcorn Bucket

Daddy with his Annual Popcorn Bucket

Daddy brought his Carmike Annual Popcorn Bucket for a mere $3.50 refill, carrying it like a trick-or-treater. His confusion at the concession counter, difficulty shuffling through the dark to our seat, and hyperbolic handling of his large Coke Zero reminded me of a toddler. Perhaps his physical and mental devolution perfectly coincided with the movie release, since both my parents watched The Lone Ranger growing up. With intense concentration, I pretended to be Daddy’s best friend Carolyn sitting on the living room floor of her childhood home, watching The Lone Ranger on the McCollum family’s black and white television.

Once Daddy and I returned to the house, Mother solicited his thoughts on the movie. He expressed himself like a child put on the spot at Thanksgiving dinner.

“There was action, and… and… it was exciting.”

Daddy immediately went to bed and stayed there when I departed for Atlanta – the first time he hasn’t walked me to the door.

Over the course of the past few weeks Mother has canceled Daddy’s subscriptions, particularly to The Wall Street Journal — now a needless $400 expense. These days Daddy might look at each section’s cover photo and then drop the paper back on the floor.

“We can’t subscribe to you anymore,” Mother tells whatever random customer service staff member calls. “My husband has Alzheimer’s.”

“I have Alzheimer’s?” Daddy asked the other day when he overheard the conversation.

“Yes.”

“I thought I had mild cognitive impairment,” he continued, an impressive phrase to remember from the early stages of the disease.

“No, you have Alzheimer’s,” Mother broke the news to him as if it were new.

Lately I’ve missed my father’s mentorship; Ryan and I are under contract on a house, a topic Daddy and I would have bonded over if he were normal. The director of my department at work looked at a scary inspection from another property and begged Ryan and me not to buy it.

“I really appreciate your advice, Peter,” I said, “since my dad can’t talk to me about this kind of stuff.”

“That’s great,” Peter said. “But I’m not that old. Can you please say older brother?”

I even cried to my realtor the other day, explaining why I asked so many personal questions about the stress of a mortgage. “I mean did you and Judy ever rough it? I’m s-s-s-sorry,” I stuttered. “It’s just, my dad has Alzheimer’s, and I sort of see you as a father figure even though we’ve only known each other a f-f-f-few weeks.”

As Daddy noticeably progresses, I feel myself embarking on a new phase of grief as well as coping techniques. Waking up naked and hungover in the guest bed or on the bathroom floor isn’t working for me anymore. After all, Jack and Cokes are expensive, and I have a mortgage to pay.

Man of Steel

June 18, 2013

WARNING: This post contains movie spoilers.

man-of-steelI took my family to see Man of Steel for Father’s Day. For several days prior to the film’s opening, Daddy told Mother he was dying to go.

“I wanna see the new Superman movie.”

“Well Bobbin’s taking you to see it for Father’s Day!”

“Oh really?! That’s GREAT!”

Ten or so times, Daddy repeated his cinematic desire.

“I wanna go to that new Superman movie.”

“You’re in luck! Bobbin’s taking you to see it for Father’s Day!”

“All RIGHT!”

In addition to Henry Cavill’s pillowy yet firm pectoralis major, I appreciated his manifestation of emotion: saving his classmates from drowning after their school bus swerves into a lake and watching his father die in a tornado chisel intensity into his face (and pectoralis major). Cavill exhibits depth far beyond what Dean Cain achieved on Lois & Clark. (I watched Lois & Clark during my formative years, so Dean Cain remains my Superman point of reference.)

Most little girls view their fathers as Men of Steel both physically and emotionally. A former Army Ranger, my father always maintained a particularly stoic temper. He sort of but not really wept in front of me once; my grandfather (his father-in-law) passed away while Timber was studying abroad in London. When we broke the news to Timber upon her return, he quivered while offering his most logical explanation: “I wanted us to grieve t-t-t-together.” Daddy quickly regathered his impenetrable armor and let Timber do the crying.

While Daddy always remained outwardly reserved, his expression suggested otherwise: furrowed brows and physical tics hinted that M16 rifles constantly fired in his mind. His crinkled eyebrows have softened into Alzheimer’s Stare.

Last week Daddy’s childhood best friend’s mother passed away at 97. During the drive to and from the funeral he obsessed over when he and Mother were scheduled to pick up the dogs from the hillbilly pet resort. As if unmoved by or unaware of her death, he didn’t reminisce with other service attendees and continually asked Mother on the ride home, “When are we getting the puppies?”

Finally before bed he mentioned, “Well I’ll miss Aunt Jenny.”

I spent Saturday with Timber, and my friend Kari asked how our dad is doing. Intrigued by what Timber would say, I let her answer: with a shrug. One of the last statements Daddy made to Mother before fading away was:

I’m afraid.

“Daddy isn’t afraid anymore,” Timber later said when I noted his overall apathy.

Daddy carries on fearlessly, unable to fully feel.

Daddy used to be my Superman but has transformed into a different kind of Man of Steel.

I know I got a good night’s rest because I didn’t fall asleep during church this morning.

June 5, 2013

Timber is living in my best friend Leslie’s childhood home in Dahlonega while completing her ER clinical rotation. Because Mr. and Mrs. McAbee are on vacation for the next couple weeks, my parents and I visited Timber this weekend. My public-facing pleasant facade quickly devolved, not only because I feel comfortable in the McAbees’ house but also because I remained frustrated from a family spat that had taken place a couple weeks prior. Despite my efforts to feign contentment, I couldn’t hide my irritation and came across like a teenage bitch, self-absorbed and intent on making everyone else’s life a living hell as well. Aware of my vexation, Timber kept asking me what was wrong. However, I couldn’t find the right words to accurately express how I felt — a plight that Alzheimer’s sufferers eventually face in the progression of the disease. I guess my reticence resulted from years of built-up animosity that can’t be summed up in an hour-long discussion or therapy session — and only can be understood by one of the members of my nuclear family.

Daddy at 2 Dog

Daddy at 2 Dog

Still, I wonder if an Alzheimer’s sufferer who points to a jug of sweet tea and asks someone to pass the whatchyamacallit, or who snaps his fingers while identifying an old friend as whoseywhatsit, feels the way I did, choking on thoughts that refuse to move from mind to tongue.

This loss of vocabulary and down the road, speech, explains why many Alzheimer’s patients cry out of exasperation. After Timber continued prodding me, I burst into tears because I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.

Wages sandwich

Wages sandwich

I eventually let down my unpleasant guard and lay beside Daddy in Leslie’s bed where he had been napping all afternoon after lunch at 2 Dog in Gainesville, the neighboring town. I forced Timber and Mother to join us for a daughter sandwich, flanked by Mother on one side and Daddy on the other. I suggested we skinny dip together in the McAbees’ pool, but everyone refused.

“You would swim naked if it were just you and Mother, wouldn’t you, Daddy?” I asked.

“I most certainly would NOT!” he huffed.

Mother and Timber left fully clothed for the pool, and I followed them naked — my style of a peace offering, a heartfelt truce.

When Mother and Daddy arrived home that evening, she immediately zonked out on the couch and didn’t wake up until 7 the next morning.

“I know I got a good night’s rest because I didn’t fall asleep during church this morning,” Mother said on the phone. (Her head typically rolls around during every sermon.)

Mother might think solid sleep prepared her for a boring Sunday service, but I prefer to believe our family spooning session on Leslie’s bed is what rejuvenated her the most.

He’s a grand cat – literally AND figuratively!

May 30, 2013

My father never liked to talk on the telephone. However, he used to stay on the line with me to discuss the urgency of my earning an MBA, the importance of my starting a Roth IRA, or the irreparable economy. Now Daddy is either disinterested in or incapable of elaborating on the topics that once facilitated father-daughter conversation. These days our 2-minute-tops phone chats revolve around one thing: my cat MacGyver.

“How’s MacGyver doin’?” he always asks.

“He’s doing well. His automatic food dispenser went off, so he’s happy to be eating dinner.”

“That’s my grandcat. He’s a grand cat – literally AND figuratively!”

I laugh as if Daddy never had made this joke before. Half of the time, he asks the same question 10 seconds later.

“How was your day?” I attempt to switch the subject.

“Good. Slept a lot. So how’s MacGyver doin’?”

“He’s doing great. He’s eating dinner.”

“Let me tell you, that’s a grand cat – literally AND figuratively!”

“I know, Daddy. He’s grand all around.”

Daddy and MacGyver when he was four weeks old.

Daddy and MacGyver when he was four weeks old.

A little history: MacGyver’s weight posed a problem until I started feeding him prescription diet food about a year ago. His formerly grand physique continues to provide family joke fodder. Despite MacGyver’s new lithe silky build, perhaps Daddy still remembers his grandcat as borderline rotund and himself as lanky despite his rapid ingestion of chocolate and hot dogs, and subsequent weight gain.

Ryan and I recently considered the idea of buying a house, and I felt sad I couldn’t talk to my father about it.

“You should try,” Ryan encouraged me.

Daddy immediately attempted to get off the phone, but I semi-forced the subject.

“Any advice?” I winced and asked.

“Well… just get somethin’ ya like. Buyin’ a home is the best investment you will ever make.”

Three years ago Daddy would have approved of the idea but also broken down the hidden costs of home ownership, told me to kiss my love of clothing goodbye, and mentioned that my generation never will enjoy the quality of life our parents achieved.

Still, he said something.

“Thanks, Daddy.”

“Yup. How’s MacGyver doin’?”

“He’s awesome. He wants to make sure we buy a house with adequate bird- and squirrel-watching windows.”

“That MacGyver is a grand cat – literally AND figuratively!”

I laughed and released Daddy from the phone so he could go back to sleep.