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12/28/05 Construction
12/15/05 Tribute Band
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08/22/05 Green Thumb
08/03/05 Poison Oak

Poison Oak

Sometimes nature not only calls; she makes an emergency breakthrough.

I was hiking far from civilization -- so far that you couldn't see McDonald's -- when something stirred below. It came from the grumpy part of the lower intestine where everything's a crisis. I could have run for the car, but it was a crap chute.

Turning slowly round, I wondered what the bears do.

Where I live, there is a type of tree that we, as youngsters, are taught to avoid. It looks like any other tree but is crawling with poison oak. Boy Scouts can spot it by vibration.

I am not a Boy Scout. If my dad wanted to show me the outdoors, he had to strap a television to his back. So when I happened upon a tree whose branch formed a perfect little toilet, I didn't sense danger; I plopped down for a long country "moment."

My wife wonders if I'm dumb enough to qualify for disability.

That night I scratched from two a.m. till sunrise, never thinking to look down. The morning light revealed my crime: a trail of pimples leading from behind my knees up to the Groin Canyon. I couldn't believe it. I was that guy who, having his car stolen, stands in the parking lot saying, "No, they'll be back."

And the rash kept going. By final count, here are the parts that escaped my stupidity: scalp, eyeballs, right big toe. You will notice that "genitalia" is not on that list. It was scary enough to warrant medical attention, so I did what anyone with HMO does: I looked up the answers online.

The research panicked my germ-obsessed wife Howard Hughes, who has since placed me in quarantine. When I look at her, she recoils as though she'll catch the rash by eye contact. One website described a case in which poison oak spread to the brain of a boy who, as the legend has it, promptly exploded.

"So you think I'm dying?" I said.

"No, I'm just saying don't touch anything."

So it goes.


My wife has been nursing me around the clock, my little Howard of Nightingale. Last night he caught me scratching Richard and the twins and felt so bad that she made a pouty face and gave me a giant pretend hug. I was officially the boy in the bubble. She also bought a case of rubbing alcohol, which she applies by sneaking up behind me.

You see, my mom treated everything with alcohol: cuts, bruises, injured feelings. It didn't matter how much we screamed; she was a rubbing alcoholic. So I've come to faint at the scent of isopropyl, and guys, if you never had a chance to catch the clap, you can achieve a close second by rubbing alcohol on your tenderloins.

Howard follows her drive-by dabbings with hydrocortisone, which is oozing from unspeakable creases even now. Then my wife double-bags the cotton and carries it plutonium-like to the trash, careful not to be downwind.

The thing about poison oak is that it never lets up. It itches like the world's gonna end, and you kind of wish it would. Guys who are on fire actually slow down to sympathize with you. The itching peaks on Day Five, giving you, the one who planted his bare buns on the source itself, a lot of time to think about what you've done.

I don't know why governments fiddle with chemical weapons when poison oak is ever ready. I personally would change race, religion, and gender before a poison oak spraying. Tossing in bed, I compiled a list of hardships I'd rather endure:

  • broken bones
  • leeches
  • flesh-eating bacteria
  • spinal tap
  • ten consecutive hours of Mariah Carey

Not Out of the Woods

The hives should last for three weeks, which in poison oak time is roughly 500 years. I like to think that everything on this planet has a purpose -- lawyers included -- but I wonder if poison oak isn't a plaything of gremlins who snicker among themselves as they lead foolish men to trees that look like toilets.

Who would have thought that one decision could have so much outcome: I've stopped donating to the Sierra Club; whenever I sit on a toilet, my white T-cell count doubles; and thanks to Howard, I lost half my wardrobe to a clothes burning.

I suggest that you, gentle reader, teach your children about poison oak. Lecture them with PowerPoint and quiz them afterward. If they resist, remind them of your old friend Jason who scratched so hard that first night that if he were Captain Hook, he'd be dead right now. And if they still don't listen, you can always capture their attention with two simple words: rubbing alcohol.


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