by John Gosselink
growing up, I was that kid you could dare to touch anything. A river bloated cow,
someone’s Grandma’s dentures, both in glass of water or in napping mouth, strange
growth on the mutt living behind the grocery store, I was the kid the other kids
made touch it.
How they got me to touch weird and/or disgusting things
was my ignorance to the dare penal code, not knowing when refusing a dare crossed
the misdemeanor to felony line. Double-dare? Double-dog-dare? Triple-black-dog-dare?
Who knew? I was just sure I didn’t want anything on my record showing up years
later that would embarrass me in a press conference during a presidential bid.
“Is it true, Governor Gosselink, that in 1975, you feloniously refused a double-dog-dare-to-infinity
to touch an ossified dog dropping issued by a Mr. Jack-Jack McCoy?” I was a pretty
politically savvy 8 year old and wasn’t taking any chances.
But just like
any addiction, what started off as satisfying peer pressure evolved into recreational
touching of stuff, to daily touching of stuff, to ultimately a life centered on
finding the next thing to touch. Telling the wife that I was golfing, I’d spend
whole Saturdays wandering landfills, swamps, and the Neverland Ranch looking for
strange things to touch. It’s sad, but it’s who I am.
This proclivity for
tactile adventure does have its downside, especially if one has a violent reaction
to plants producing the oil urushiol. In other words, itchy poison ivy folk. I
just happen to be the official, and itchy, spokesman for said group.
learned the hard dark side of a seemingly innocuous touch of a pretty leaf can
have long and life changing effects. And don’t believe those older kids who try
to tell you nothing can happen the first time you do it, or that if you jump up
and down and drink a coke with an aspirin in it afterwards, you’ll be safe. These
myths are allowed to persist due to the woefully inaccurate and naïve health class
curriculum mandated by the state education agency. And like the plague of touching
things, it’s time we were honest with and about our kids about poison ivy.
Maybe my story can prevent others from following the same path to itchy and scratchy
destruction. (Please insert your favorite after-school special music, circa 1981,
and imagine me being played by an older, fatter, harrier Robbie Benson, with a
special appearance by Barry Bostwick as the knowing and wise “Uncle Jimmy”).
Through my years of touching stuff, I had had the usual, almost cliché, experiences
with poison ivy, oak, sumac, and the sort. A rash here, an irritation there, nothing
I couldn’t handle and never really gave it much thought. But a few weeks ago I
was out in the yard doing some landscaping and touching the occasional Houston
Toad with a tumor hopping by when it happened.
I was trying to put some
flowers around the base of a Pecan tree, but these vines creeping up the side
of it kept getting in the way. So I thought, “I shall touch these strange vines,
because that is the way I am, and then rip them from this tree with verve and
manliness, celebrating my virile success by rubbing my eyes vigorously.” You can
probably see the flaw in this plan.
The next day is a Sunday, and at church
my eyes were bit poofy and watery, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I went home
and spent the afternoon doing more things with verve, manliness, and touching
because, as I’ve said, that’s the kind of guy I am.
Wake up Monday morning,
or at least I think I wake up. It’s incredible dark. First reaction “Oh my gosh,
I’ve gone blind overnight!! How can that be, I haven’t done anything that the
coach who taught health warned against since I was a teenager!”
reaction, touch a crusty residue being issued from the corner of the eye (at least
I get the comfort of touching something weird) and stumble to the bathroom. My
right eye is swollen completely shut, but I can see through a little sliver in
my left. You add swollen to big and hairy, and it’s not a good look.
and itchy is no way to go through life, so I ignored my usual aversion to going
to the doctor and made an appointment. Looking like a bus had repeatedly backed
over my face, the receptionist asked, with air quotes and all, if I had “walked
into a door” and starting calling the spousal abuse hot-line. After assuring the
authorities this was just a touching stuff accident, I got some help.
My treatment included some steroids, but not the cool kind. I was greatly disappointed.
After the sumac swelling went down, there wasn’t any swelling anywhere else, especially
not in the bicep area. Again, my dreams of playing left field for the San Francisco
Giants were dashed.
After my eyes opened, I made the mistake of trying
to shave. That really gets the swelling going and my face blew up round as a beach-ball.
I looked like Charlie Brown and Lyndie England’s love child. Kids, no matter what
you do, it is impossible to look cool when you get sumac in your face. After a
few more days and skin sloughing, lots and lots of sloughing, I finally returned
to life of seeming normalcy.
So that’s my story. Hopefully someone who
reads this will learn from the mistakes I’ve made and not suffer the devastating
effects of reckless touching stuff. Next week, a very special episode of SF when
I learn the hard lesson of drinking milk without smelling it first.