What the Fuck for Under a Buck

I hit the publish button for Hot Flashes eight days ago. It was a big moment for me. I could now call myself a professional writer since anyone who wanted to read my eBook had to cough up 99 cents to do it. So far, 12 people have.

Technically, it isn’t the first time I made any money through my writing. Back in the 1980s, I interned at a weekly paper in Santa Barbara and was paid 10 bucks a pop for a couple of fluff pieces I contributed. Perhaps somebody scanned them and they’re still out there, gathering dust in a digital archive somewhere. I wouldn’t bother trying to find them though. If memory serves, they weren’t very good.

That was over three decades ago so I figure there’s some kind of statute of limitations in effect. Besides, it’s not about the money. I already have a job to keep a drink in my hand and a roof over my head. I just wanted to have a showcase for my stuff other than my blog and since I doubt any legitimate publisher would have anything to do with me, Amazon KDP seemed like the best bet.

The idea for this eBook has been in my head for at least five years. I was inspired by Etgar Keret, whose fiction tends to be very short and twisted. Hey, I told myself, I write very short and twisted stories. Never mind that my work lacks both the literary value and underlying human decency of Keret’s stuff.

I decided to put out a collection of flash fiction. To make sure I was doing it right, I looked up flash fiction on Wikipedia (which had already become my go-to to learn about anything). To paraphrase, flash fiction is a story with a length of 1000 words or less.

I pulled the fiction posts off my blog to use as future eBook fodder. Stories short enough to be flash fiction would be candidates for Hot Flashes. The rest would perhaps be included down the road in a collection of longer pieces.

It soon became obvious that as is, my eBook would be no longer than a pamphlet. I looked at my other work to see if any of it could be trimmed down enough to qualify. Some stories needed tightening and fit right in. Other stuff was legitimately bulky or morbidly obese. In either case, there was nothing to be gained from trying to editorially shoehorn it into a pair of skinny jeans.

In the end, I still needed more material so I set about churning out new stuff. Over the next year, I wrote 14 stories to flesh out the collection to an even 30.  A lot of attempts along the way were discarded, either for being appallingly bad in their own right or just an inferior rehash of stories I had written before.

Nearing completion, I secured permission to use a photo I liked for the book cover. All that remained was a little cleanup before I unleashed it upon the world.

Then I walked away.

Four years passed without my giving the project more than a passing thought. Then one day a couple of weeks ago, I was browsing my cloud backup out of boredom and came upon those writings. They weren’t bad and some of them actually made me feel proud of myself.

I spent the next week polishing these 30 little turds and handed them to Becca to give it a proofread. On the night of August 13, I submitted them to the Amazon Kindle Store then Becca and I went out for a celebratory drink.

One of the buyers of my eBook was an old, dear friend who dutifully sent me screenshots of typos. There weren’t many, but enough for me have another look at the manuscript. I found some more. I asked Rebecca to have another look. She found a lot more.

It was a learning experience. One lesson was that I can’t proof my own work for shit. Maybe it’s because they’re my own words, they look all right to me even when they are wrong. The other lesson is that checking for errors takes time. Becca did a rush job at my urging. Stuff got missed on the first go and that’s on me.

Last night, I submitted the updated work and it became available for download at around six this morning. I’m sure there were a few errors that went undetected. Even major publishers churn out books with a blemish or two. It is better now though thanks in large part to Becca’s diligence and patience.

As for the 12 of you who bought damaged goods,  sorry about that. Try to think of it as a collector’s item like a postage stamp with an airplane flying upside down. Typos or no, I hope my debut effort can still manage to offend you in the best possible way.

Hershey Highway Revisited

There was no shortage of bloodshed in 1991. American warplanes carpet-bombed Iraqi forces. Civil war broke out in Sierra Leone. Ethnic cleansing began in the Balkans. I was bleeding from my anus.

I’m going to talk about the latter.

There was only a little blood at first so I decided to ignore it. Maybe it wasn’t blood at all. Maybe it was ketchup and my body had forgotten how to digest it. I contented myself with this bit of denial until I let loose with an absolute gusher.

Yep, I was bleeding all right so I made an appointment to see a doctor. I had insurance, but I was only 28 so I didn’t see the need for a PCP. The doctor’s office nearest my work was a clinic located in the International Terminal at SFO. I went in to have my asshole checked out during my lunch hour.

“Young man, I’m Dr. S-,” the man said. He was older, well into his sixties, and he had a large index finger. I was unaware of this latter detail upon meeting him, but found out in short order when he had me bent over on a piece of medical furniture made for anal probing. As he rooted around inside me, I tried my best to mentally detach from the situation while I waited for it all to be over. #metoo

After he was finished, another doctor came in and said he wanted to have a look inside me with a video thingy that looked a little like the stalk on the Martian ships in War of the Worlds. I was given a shot to numb my rectum before it went to town on me.

I liked this doctor better for both his demeanor and his technique. I didn’t want to disparage the other doctor in front of him though. For one thing, that would have been rude. Also, I did not know how I would have reacted if he said “What other doctor? I’m the only one working here.”

I got an anatomy lesson that day. Apparently, there’s this ridge up inside our assholes that’s prone to laceration. It can nicked by brick-like turds or perhaps a toilet-paper-wrapped finger that ventures up farther than is necessary to get the job done (don’t judge). It seems like a design flaw given the heavy traffic through that part of the body.

Anyway, a nicked rectum ridge was what happened to me. The blood that came out was bright red, which meant there was little need for alarm. It’s the brown blood from farther up that’s indicative of colitis or cancer. I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that I was bleeding down there. I had a college friend who did that. He wound up shitting in a bag and eventually blew his brains out. It was better to be safe than sorry, but once I got a clear bill of health, future butt periods merited little more than a shrug.

There was one misconception from that day that stayed with me for over 20 years: I thought I had undergone a colonoscopy. A probe did go up my ass and what it found did get displayed on a video screen. The difference was that it didn’t go up very far so the procedure, I later learned, was a sigmoidoscopy. I still don’t know what the prefix sigmoid- means. I’m guessing it’s a contraction of “Sigmund Freud.” I’ll have to get back to you on that.

If I paid more attention to Katie Couric, I would have learned the distinction. She had her colonoscopy broadcast on nationwide television back in 2000. Her husband had died of colon cancer two years earlier, and she wanted to raise awareness and inspire others to get checked. I’m sure she had some measure of success, but I can’t help but wonder how many of her viewers were sad men, white-knuckling their puds as they watched because that was as close they were ever going to get to the inside of her pooper.

Even if I had watched the show, I doubt it would have inspired me to run out and get a colonoscopy of my own. My scare was years behind me and at 37, I was 13 years away from needing to get one. Couric’s husband was only 42 when he died, but he was especially unlucky.

Despite my predilection for abusing alcohol et al, I managed to make it to 50 more or less intact. Within a year and a half, I went in for a physical for the first time in over a decade. I also planned to get checked for barnacles in the torpedo tube, speed bumps on the old dirt road, whatever you want to call them. The time had come.

After the doctor advised me cut down on my drinking (three drinks a night was cutting down; I thought I had made that point clear), she gave me two options for getting my bunghole checked. One was a colonoscopy. The other was sending a poop sample to a lab to have it tested for blood.

I would gone the colonoscopy route except that would have required that someone come with me and take me home afterward because unlike a mere sigmoidoscopy, serious anesthesia would be involved. All my close friends at the time were bar people. Don’t get me wrong, they’re wonderful people, but our commitment to helping one another only lasted until closing time.

So my only option was to mail off my poo. The lab didn’t want the whole thing, just a dab sealed in a container and placed in a biohazard envelope. There was a proper way of going about it. You couldn’t take the plastic sampler and go spearfishing in the toilet water. The poo had to sit high and dry so to ensure a beach landing, I leaned to one side while powering it out. Since the toilet had an autoflush, I had to be at the ready and stab fast before the water whisked it away, leaving nothing but a useless skidmark.

I was victorious.

It’s worth noting that I did this at work and because I was already scheduled for a layoff, I took perverse pleasure in leaving the envelope on my desk for the rest of the day. However, I resisted the temptation to be even more disgusting. It was just after Halloween so a lot of excess candy was brought in and up for grabs. I considered handling the envelope with the leavings of Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups on my fingers, but decided against it. That was a brief moment of maturity on my part and I regret it to this day.

Unlike a colonoscopy, which is good for ten years, the Shitman’s Sampler is an annual event. I did a couple more rounds, but then my diligence flagged. This year, my current doctor suggested I go in for a colonoscopy and get it out of the way, Since there’s someone I could trust to fetch me afterward (thank you Becca!), I readily agreed.

I made the appointment and as the day approached, I began to wonder what would be found. Given past life choices, lung, liver, or esophageal cancer seemed the most likely causes of death, but one can never tell about these things. It had been a couple of years since my last poop test, ample time to sprout a polyp or two.

And if it was a game-over scenario, what then? I guess I’d have to start for the moment on a level I had by ever tried before. I wouldn’t go on a killing spree because that would bring me no pleasure, ditto rape, but I would damn sure take up smoking again and start doing a fuckton of drugs.

Planning for this contingency brought me peace of mind. I did not relish the prospect of having my golden years taken away, but being high as a kite during my fleeting final months was not such a bad consolation prize.

The procedure was scheduled for 2 pm with a 12:45 arrival. I took a sick day, a first at my current job. I wasn’t concerned about what the doctor would find. I just wanted it to be over so I could eat again.

I had been on a clear-liquid diet since noon the previous day and had nothing, including water, since eight that morning. It was like Ramadan, but with liquishits. To reduce the murk in my bowels, I had to take two doses of a high-powered laxative, one at 7 am, and the other at six the previous evening. By the time Becca and I left for the endoscopy clinic, my decks were clear from bow to stern.

After filling out forms and answering several health-related questions, I waited for about an hour before being led into the back and asked the same questions again.

They gave me a patient gown to wear (open in the back, natch) as well as no-skid socks and something that looked like a shower cap. I was covered with an electric blanket even though it wasn’t cold in the room. They put an IV in the back of my hand. It was attached to a saline drip and had a little attachment where additional injections could be administered. Minus the saline, it reminded me of the thing sticking out of Kitty’s paw when she got euthanized.

Lying on a rolling bed, I was wheeled into the examination room. It was a short trip, but I made it a point to enjoy the fluorescent lights passing overhead like I was in a real hospital drama. When I arrived, they asked me to roll on my side and the anesthesia was injected into my IV. They dimmed the lights and I stared at the railing on the side of the bed, wondering how long it would take for the drugs to kick in.

“You’re all done,” was the next thing I heard. I was back in the other room, being told there were no polyps so I wouldn’t have to do this again for another ten years.  It looked like I have a lot of years left in me after all. My big blowout party is just going to have to wait.