Chicken, bacon and Swiss sandwich… right?

At the end of a shopping trip last year, Mom and I decided to stop for dinner at an Arby’s. I’m not going to say the result was a comedy of errors, but only one of them was really comedic. Forgetting to ask for my name so they’d know whose name to yell out when our food was ready wasn’t a big deal. Neglecting to give us silverware so Mom could eat her salad wasn’t a big deal. Not very comedic.

Then I opened up the wrapper on my chicken, bacon and Swiss sandwich. It looked kinda small, flat and smooshed down, which reminded me of those commercials when you see really large and appealing menu items, but what ends up on your plate at the restaurant is really sad and pathetic in comparison. Then I took the top of the bun off and discovered that I had been given a bacon and Swiss sandwich. No chicken patty. Oops.

There were only two other people in the restaurant at the time, one of whom was the server. I flagged her down and pointed out the distinct lack of a major ingredient in my food. I thought it was kinda funny; I just wanted to make sure I got the right sandwich. That’s when she went to talk to that second person who was sitting in the corner. He was the restaurant manager. We didn’t know that at the time, but after the server talked to him, he went back to the kitchen and we heard him say loudly and firmly (not quite yelling, but he sounded pissed): “This should never happen again!

In the end, they made me a new sandwich with all of the proper ingredients (as you would expect, the one with chicken in it looked a lot bigger), the manager apologized for the mistake and gave me a little card for a free combo meal. Like I said, I was really only interested in the first part, but I wasn’t going to turn down free food. After all, accepting it could mean going to Arby’s again, getting another messed-up order and repeating the process for a constant stream of free meals. The only problem might be that each time it happens, “This should never happen again!” and they’ll eventually run out of cooks to screw up my food.

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Share your stories

I went to a Thai restaurant last week and they gave us fortune cookies at the end of the meal. I opened mine up and was really disappointed: it was no good for the “in bed” game and seemed to imply that I’ll be developing Alzheimer’s Disease when I get older. It wasn’t until a couple days later during a long walk that I wished I had kept the fortune instead of leaving it on the table when we left. It said something along these lines:

Share your stories with others so they can remind you when you forget.

“Great, I’m going to forget everything when I’m old.”

But during that long walk is when it occurred to me how poignant that fortune actually was, given how much of my past I’ve already forgotten.

I know I’ve probably talked about this before and also probably mentioned that it makes me a little uncomfortable, but I’m sharing nonetheless. This may be intriguing, it may be relatable, it may be nonsensical. I may be sharing it with you, I may be sharing it with others, I may be sharing it with “The Cloud”. (Given that the Internet is forever, that’ll help me remember just as well as telling other people.)

Anyway! The shortest and most likely explanation for the lack of memories is because of drugs. More specifically, medications to prevent epileptic seizures. And as a reminder, epileptic seizures are caused by excess brain activity, like neurons shooting sparks all over the place so that other neurons can’t fire properly.

As great as technology has become over the years, there are a lot of things we don’t know about brains and brain chemistry. Thus, when the doctors weren’t sure exactly what was causing my seizures (I’ve had CAT scans done on my head that show a very pleasant and non-damaged-looking brain), they tried a handful of different medications to see what would work.

I honestly don’t know how many we tried. I’d guess five, but that’s just a guess. One thing I do remember is that I was taking toxic doses of a medication at one time, but the doctor thought it’d be okay because I was “a big guy.” Turned out that wasn’t the winning combination for preventing seizures, so we moved on to a different kind from there.

Lots of different chemicals plus lots of brain cells, stir up the pot, see what kind of mixture we get and the result was a hack job on my long-term memory pre-2002. (I spent about a week and a half in the United Hospital epilepsy ward with a bunch of wires glued to my head and we were trying to induce seizures, figure out where the excess activity was originating. It worked well enough that we found two medications—lamictal and depakote—that have kept me seizure-free since April of 2002.)

As a side-note, if any of you has ever wondered why I don’t attend any of my high school (’95) or college (’99) reunions… there’s a reason.

Someone once tried to tell me that my problem wasn’t out of the ordinary, that a lot of people forget stuff from their high school and college years when they get older. I think an apt comparison to that conversation would be to tell someone with depression, “Hey, everyone gets sad once in a while.” Not at all offensive and trivializing, right?

I actually kept a journal for a while in high school. I found it in my desk one afternoon, opened it up and read what might as well have been someone else’s autobiography. Aside from my handwriting, there was nothing familiar about it.

When I was eating my lunch one day during law school, someone snuck up to my table and sat down. She was a sophomore at Blake (high school) when I was a senior and we were on the verge of being an item at one point. We talked for a couple minutes and at one point, she asked for my forgiveness. Apparently, she had done some really shitty things to me that year. As it turns out, it’s really easy to forgive someone for something when you have no idea what it was. (Conversely, it can make other people really pissed off when they ask for an explanation about something and you have no idea what they’re talking about.)

Will my memories ever come back? I doubt it, but like with any problem, you accept that it happened and move forward from there. Share the few stories I remember, share the new stories I’m experiencing… this could be like writing a new version of my autobiography. Except this time, I’ll be starting in the middle of Chapter 12.

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Consequences of working on my posture

“Pull your shoulders back like you’re trying to squeeze an orange between your shoulder blades.”
“I’ve got orange juice running down my butt crack.”

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Advice for 2016 and beyond

Whatever you do, have fun doing it. If you don’t, no one else is going to have fun for you.

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Yes, everything that happens in movies is real.

The first part of this story comes from Anne, a friend of mine who lives out in L.A. She was attending a SAG [Screen Actors Guild] early screening of The Martian and Matt Damon was there to be part of an audience Q & A after the movie was over. Anne enjoyed the movie, but the part afterward… not so much.

The first person to ask a question was decked out in a dress like she was on a first date and piled enough compliments and adulation on Damon before she asked him anything that the upcoming question might as well have been, “Are you single?” Anne said it was actually a decent question, but the 2 1/2 minute Matt Damon lovefest before and afterward kinda tarnished the result.

The second question gave Anne a pretty good idea of how calm and relaxed some actors can be for the sake of their fans. Not only can they handle people who sound like they want to run up onto the stage during the Q & A session and do all sorts of unmentionable things to them in front of the audience, they handle questions after The Martian like, “Did that really happen?”

Yes.

I mean, no, the events in the movie didn’t happen, but the question did. Anne’s heart sank in her chest and she immediately became saddened for the Screen Actors Guild: there are people who present that kind of public image and have the SAG title attached to their names.

Again, he delivered a calm and relaxed response, which in this case was that it wasn’t a true story, but scientists are doing a lot of research about how to produce food, water, oxygen and whatnot so they could potentially send people out to Mars for a few months, etc. Uhhh… in case you didn’t know The Martian is about someone being on Mars, I guess I should have added a spoiler alert before this paragraph.

Suffice it to say that actors have to deal with a lot of dumb questions, but it inspired a group of us to come up with one for the next Q & A session that would include Matt Damon. For those of you who don’t know, he’s currently working on a fifth Jason Bourne movie that’s supposed to be released in 2016.

The question we came up with wasn’t, “Did the stuff in that movie really happen?” That question should be saved for a silly person who wants to indulge in another lovefest. Nope, we decided she should get the microphone and ask Matt Damon, “How many people have you killed with your bare hands?” Mic drop, walk away. Q & A session complete.

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Beauty and the Geek psych evaluation

Last week, I got a message on here and on Facebook from a high school student in New York. The full story (that she explained in full a little later) was that her psychology teacher had seen Beauty and the Geek, assigned groups of kids in his class to watch different seasons, then gave them a few options for an assignment after that.

One of those options was to interview a former cast member, so because her group liked me the best (Yay!), they found a way to contact me, we sent a few messages back and forth and I eventually had an hour-long chat via Skype with three high school psychology students. They sent me a list of questions ahead of time, giving me time to think about my answers, so I got to tell them a couple of good stories and I like to think I dropped a couple of interesting knowledge bombs, too.

Some were basic questions that I might get from anyone: Why did you audition for the show, how has it affected your personal life, what would you have done with the money, etc. One question I liked that had an answer they probably didn’t expect was #7 on the list:

Some individuals may feel that receiving the money as an award corrupts the experience. Do you agree with this? In other words, are you glad that you didn’t win?

“No.”

Aside from the obvious “I would have liked to win”, I don’t think it corrupts the experience. It may affect how you approach it: you may be there for the experience or you may be focused entirely on winning the money, but either way, your goal is set, you know what you’re trying to accomplish. If everyone is there solely for the experience and the money is introduced a few weeks in, that could corrupt it. People’s behavior could change because their goal changes. (I suppose “corrupt” is a personal judgment—you consider money a negative factor—but it definitely alters the experience, for better or worse.)

I also liked the final question, #10:

What was going through your head when you found out that high school students wanted to interview you about a show you did 10 years ago?

Initially, I was flattered. “They like me, they really like me!” Then I was extremely curious. “What was the process that went from ‘high school psychology class’ to them contacting me about a potential interview? What kind of terrible teacher would force their students to watch that show?!” (Plus there was the little voice in my head reminding me, “I’m over 20 years older than these kids… God, I’m old.”)

It was really nice that they’d seen all the episodes recently, so I could tell them stories relating to their questions and they knew exactly what I was referring to (the quotes below are approximate, but you get the idea):

  • [One question on the students’ list was about whether I’m still into the same activities that I was ten years ago.] “Remember when someone mentioned ‘going out only two times a month’? That was me.”
  • “We were allowed to tell girls anything but the truth about why we wanted their phone numbers, so Chuck was the smartest out of all of us because he came up with the best lie!”
  • “I let Scarlet yell at me after the outdoor challenge for a long time because I agreed with her. I knew I screwed up.” [I proceeded to give them a list of things I could/should have done differently.]
  • “During the Aftermath, the producers were giving people some of those questions. The girl who asked Joe on a date was 14 years old.” [Joe called her afterward and got to talk to her dad.]
  • “They didn’t show all of the questions because someone asked me about how the Boy Scouts responded after my ‘meltdown’ during the outdoor challenge. I think they specifically worded the questions to see what kind of emotional responses they could get.”

Finally, toward the end of the interview, one girl asked me for five adjectives that best describe the experience for me and there’s no question that “memorable” belongs on that list.

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