Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Masters of Modification
Dec 1998

“The smart-alec engineers didn’t think of this, that’s for sure!”  my friend stated proudly. He’s right there, I thought. The only way an engineer could conjure up what I was gaping at would be during a “burrito nightmare”.

I stared at the object in question, belatedly shutting a mouth that had dropped in horror at the sight of the metallic apparatus that now clung to the side of the expensive combine like a mechanical wart. I couldn’t stall much longer and frantically tried to come up with an appropriate response.

“Well, the paint nearly matches”, I said with all the spin-doctoring I could muster. “Yeah”, he said excitedly, “The last can was a few years old, but we just kept spraying more on.” That would explain the numerous discreet drip trails in the corners and on vertical surfaces, I thought.

Still, it was hard not to appreciate the blazing audacity of a man who would plunk down hundreds of thousands of his bank’s hard-earned money for the acme of industrial technology, and then blithely proceed to adulterate it with leftover angle-iron and too many welding rods.

Perhaps this behavior is a type of ownership evidence - machine-branding, so to speak. I mean, we ear-notch livestock, don’t we? It’s effective, too, as my eyes always locked on the farmer alteration when I saw this combine. And we all could identify it later on the used machinery lot. Where, incidentally, it sat for some time.

But whence springs this urge to change, to smash-to-shape and bend-to-fit? Oh sure, there are many from the school of thought that perfection comes from the factory, and any fooling around is hardware heresy. But then, these are the same guys who have mint-condition farm toys still in the box now, while mine have been totally worn out, taped together, and destroyed again.

Maybe this could be a form of ritual scarring. Just like those tribes that fill the pages of National Geographic, we are mortifying the mechanical flesh, as it were, to establish our identity. For instance, one of my trademarks is to rewire the radio bypassing the key switch, so as to allow playing it without fans or beepers or gauges coming on. This adaptation makes waiting for the truck to get back from the elevator a much more pleasant experience. This is typical of the serious efficiency gains that can be achieved by businesslike tinkering.

Many farmers have similar “signature” transfigurations. Some use the same kind of boards around the grain tanks of combine after combine. Some weld hitches at seemingly random locations about tractor frames. Many mount can-holders at strategic locations to prevent accidental death by thirst. All of these tendencies become expected features others look for on our tools.

My second theory for this behavior is man-machine bonding. Welding an angle iron apparatus on the side of an implement is the agricultural equivalent of a “blood-brother” ceremony of our childhood days. This machine becomes a part of us, a relationship of depth and intimacy that our wives envy. Our machine-brothers give us a “team” outlook, even when we farm alone - a comforting, albeit pathetic, substitute for actual friends.

The true sadness of the whole business though, is our lack of aesthetics. Let’s face it, most of us weren’t taking art or design classes at school. If we did, it was to meet girls. I’ve witnessed the alarmed countenance of a factory tech rep visiting my farm when he sees the sacred Company Product gashed and patched with ruthless farmer savagery. It’s like a New York art critic seeing a black velvet Mona Lisa.

Much of the problem comes from the traditional rule of never using any new material. Any alteration must be manufactured from materials on hand or within cannibalization distance. Suitable parent material can include but is not limited to: unused parts from other machines, household appliances, Tonka® toys, neighbors’ tools, Erector set leftovers, and lunch remnants. This juxtaposition of elements from who-know-where tends to give a Frankenstein appearance to our ingenious innovations. But I find some near-spiritual meaning in seeing reincarnated bits of old mechanical friends bolted to sides of more recent acquaintances.

But above all, such improvements are a bold statement to vendors that anything they can manufacture, we can mutilate. And as our farms, like our personalities, become even more unique, I think the ag world can look forward to astonishing displays of farmer “post-industrial craftsmanship”. There is evidence on most every farm machine. 

But not enough to convict.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Flushed With Victory

Spring 2012

Nothing attracts manly attention like a powerful product demo. Check out the drill bit guys at a farm show, or the spokesmodels at a car show. Wait – maybe the latter is a different phenomenon. Or cast your mind back to the ancient Veg-O-Matic. Tell me you didn’t try to “julienne” a potato when you got yours.

Today the presence of ubiquitous, easy to find video like YouTube and the stuff your brother-in-law forwards constantly means this commercial entertainment form may be reaching Oscar-like quality.

An abnormally long dry spell had dried up our house well last year for the first time in decades. Scrimping on water usage became The Prime Directive.  In fact, the highlight of my week was driving to South Bend to tape US Farm Report and take a REAL shower in the hotel. The rest of the week I just took a swim after work, and used Old Spice liberally to counter the chlorine aroma.

One major culprit was our fleet of old toilets. Being as green as the next guy, I had long pondered replacing our 6-gallon water-splurgers with new 1.6 gallon misers, but was troubled by the results I had observed decades before when manufacturers essentially reduced the tank size and hoped for the best. It was not good.

However, I am happy to report the new generation of low-flow toilets really sucks. (I should point out as an engineer that nothing actually sucks, everything is blown, but this argument gets pretty tedious pretty fast.)

But I still had doubts. The slope of the drain system was problematic. However, it turned out that Internet research buttressed by an episode of This Old House relieved that fear.
So I began serious research on which of the 37 different models at the Box Store to buy, whereupon I ran across a video of an American Standard Champion 4 toilet. My jaw dropped as it slurped up 18 golf balls with ease. You read that right: EIGHTEEN GOLF BALLS!

Like most engineers, I had a brief period of fascination with toilets as a boy. The mystery of their function, the elegance of their action mesmerized me and begged for experimentation. I learned of course that 1) simply getting stuff down the toilet trap was only the beginning, and 2) however much fun it is to see a tube sock disappear in a graceful swirl, it was hard to shift the blame for the consequences to sisters or the dog. Still, the Internet video ran incessantly in my mind, begging for verification.

Removing the old ceramic water-waster, I assembled the sleek new ASC4, marveling at the massive tank valve. But I wisely decided to do my own golf-ball test run before actually mounting the new fixture.

Nerves on edge, I dropped a golf ball down the toilet flange, ignoring for the moment the backflow of sewer gasses. Result: if you hold your breath and listen carefully, you can hear the ball boink its way down the PVC pipes and even the faint “ploot” of the final entry into the septic tank.

It was massively amusing, as in Fourth-Grade Hilarious – the absolute gold standard of male humor. So were the next twenty balls that followed.

And so with this hard empirical data to back me up, and a second bag of old golf balls from my buddy, I installed the ASC4. After a few warm-up flushes, which revealed its impressive “SLORK!” noise, I began the sea trials.

I am a man of vast mechanical testing experience, much of which was not disastrous. However, I am not ashamed to say I was more excited than the last time I drove a new $300,000 combine into the first field. Six balls were child’s play, and the resultant pinball echoes good for breath-taking guffaws.

But, as seen on TV, my 18-Ball Challenge was a masterful hydraulic triumph, with rewarding ricochet sounds marking the progress of the doomed little spheres. Ditto the remaining test flushes I had bookmarked on YouTube, including half a box of Kix cereal. It’s on the Internet – it has to be true. And I can verify it.

I must also add a high-five for the Kohler Memoirs toilet, which has a most impressive, guest-alarming snorking sound as it whisks away the bowl contents. It sounds unnervingly like a giant trying to get the last of an enormous milkshake up a straw, or cope with a huge runny nose.

But all good times must end. As a final note, the septic-tank guy told me later the local golf-ball record is 27. And we both doubled over as the unfortunate orbs rattled up his hose. Funny is funny, and it doesn’t get any better than this.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

©John Phipps 1998

The Done and the Undone
October 1998

“You done?” my friend asked. I, of course, fully anticipated this opening query and had even crafted my reply as painstakingly as a press secretary during a sex scandal. This conversation was the real reason I didn’t want to come to choir practice in the first place. 

Being DONE - that metaphysical state of agricultural nirvana that we get to experience twice a year (we hope). Beyond the completion of an intensive effort to plant or harvest, it is also the agonizing finish of a race with neighbors and friends. And despite scientific evidence to the contrary and professed disavowal on our part of the racehorse mentality, speed still counts in the manly evaluation of farming prowess.

Done is a state of higher existence, a lofty, carefree plateau of superiority from which to pity our slower, and therefore, lesser neighbors. It means falling asleep easier, tasting our food, and speaking to our friends again. During particularly bad seasons it can also mean the ability to communicate verbally in something other than grunts.

Periodically it is necessary to check with others to see what the score is. The score keeping system, however, can be confusing, like a cross between cribbage and tennis. For outsiders or beginners, let me offer this handy clip-and-save guide for answers to this eternal question.

Just started [Actual completion 0%] The idea of planting or harvesting seems reasonable, and significant efforts in that direction will now commence. Fields look like they are supposed to look, and the increase in activity in the neighborhood is noticeable.

Not near done [Still 0%] This phrase indicates that most of the major machinery necessary (planter, combine, trucks, grain bins, etc.) have been located and the prospect of actually getting into the fields now looms as likely within a week or so.

Half-done [25-33%] The concept of “half” here is sort of metaphorical and subject to free interpretation. Field work has actually been accomplished and one or two fields may be completed.

Almost done [40-66%] This phrase is used less to indicate an actual performance mark than to revive flagging spirits who can no longer remember doing anything else other than planting or harvesting. It indicates the approximate midpoint of a seemingly endless endeavor. It is the same phrase shouted to marathon runners at around Mile 11. First use of this phrase in a group of competitors can galvanize the whole neighborhood into renewed frenzy.

‘Bout done [66-75%] [Note: Many neophytes will misunderstand the subtly shaded meanings of these phrases.  In some sections of the country they may also appear in different order, as well. Be sure to check closely with more experienced operators to make sure you are “talkin’ the talk”. Above all, do not be misled into a literal interpretation.] This phrase indicates the actual possibility of finishing has slowly emerged as a non-humorous comment. By stringing several pieces of good fortune together (combine keeps running, miss the next two rains, elevator doesn’t slow down, etc.) completion is now imaginable.

‘Pert near done [75-85%] [Again, local usage varies] This phrase is used almost exclusively to update a report of “bout done” at the previous conversation. Some progress must, of course, be made, without actually acknowledging a fixed level of accomplishment. ‘Pert near usually indicates the shift from active interest into obsession with getting done. The heady odor of completion drifts on the wind like an agricultural pheromone. Consequently, bad farming may be about to occur.

Done all ‘cept ... [90%] This phrase is followed by softly mumbled caveats similar to car financing disclaimers. It indicates that outside agencies [crop sprayers, elevators, rain, landlord peculiarities, etc.] let you down. Mostly it announces that it’s not your fault you’re not done, and therefore you can use the sacred word to begin your statement.

Done [95%] Virtual completion. Some rounding error may occur. You must have no complete fields left, and a clear window for the beloved last round. Test plots, wet holes, male corn, dryer bottlenecks are typical allowable exclusions. It is at this point that the physical completion letup degrades rapidly to a full-body meltdown.

ALL Done [100%] [Note: pronounced with emphasis on the “ALL”] Fields are fully completed, machinery has been herded home, trucks emptied, bins and sheds closed. Appetites and obnoxiousness are peaking. Immediately after achieving this status, maximum time is spent cruising the neighborhood to share this happy news with the less fortunate.

Example: This article is ALL Done.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Pooling our ignorance

October 2005

Back in the mists of time, when life was simple and I was still coping, Jan and I decided to add a pool to our backyard. The urge arose from the fact that her sister had one, our family always enjoyed using it when we visited, and we too, had a backyard. The logic was unassailable.

For once it was fairly sound, as well. The cost was just about the same as a boat similar to what many of our friends were buying for family recreation on the few small lakes in the area (Minnesota we ain’t).  So while a pool seems dangerously pretentious, we had talking points in place. Unlike boats, pools can’t be hidden in sheds and can be a constant reminder of our ever-so-slightly conspicuous consumption habits.

Maybe it will fade with increasing numbers of private pools, but for many people my age and older, having swimming pool was like ordering champagne – slightly beyond appropriate. Spend that same amount on a Harley however, and nobody bats an eye.

Actually, the pool turned out to be probably a better deal. Nobody ever went to a pool show and traded for a 2-foot longer one, for example. And given my history with seldom used gas engines, long hot afternoons floating adrift with a dead motor was not just possible but likely. 

Not that pools are foolproof, mind you. After a few years of alternately cloudy and green-tinged water, we were able to master to art of pool maintenance by changing the master. As luck would have it, just when I had finally flogged those gallons of dihydrogen oxide into submission, Jan became the Princess of Chlorine.  Suddenly the water became and stayed crystal clear. 

This too, is probably a good thing.  I have seen on TV what can happen had we been forced to call in a “pool boy”. If housewives can get that desperate, what about farmwives? Maybe it’s a side effect of algaecide or something. At any rate, the possibility should be more clearly spelled out on the label!

In fairness to my history as “pool fool”, Jan uses techniques that are difficult for me to accept. For example, she follows instructions – to the letter! What’s up with that?

Worse yet, she does things when you’re supposed to. This violates the solid foundation of farm maintenance: if it’s working, LEAVE IT ALONE. Fussing around with a crystal clear pool seems to be asking for trouble. 

Pools change the ecology of a backyard as well. One bizarre and mildly disgusting discovery was that, as nearly as we can tell, our pool from the air appears to be a large toilet for some bird species. In fact, during nesting season, blackbirds fly bombing raids to clean out their nests. Luckily an automatic pool sweep adequately handled the cleanup chore, but sheesh! Suddenly the smell of chlorine doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

Meanwhile toads flock from miles to frolic at nights in our pool or weirdly pile in at the first sound of thunder. Jan (ever the gardener) is too kindhearted to allow me to kill them, but turns the other way as I launch the unsuspecting amphibians several dozen yards in graceful arcs with a long-handled net. Actually I suspect this may be the reason they keep coming back. Wheeeee!

Even more spectacular are the aerial exploits of barn swallows. They circle and swoop down to get a, um, swallow of water. Either that or they are practicing for cat-strafing.

Likewise, dogs will walk right by cool fresh water in a dog bowl to stretch over the edge and lap up water. Being outside dogs, maybe this is the closest they can get to drinking out of a toilet. During dry weather deer, raccoons, and something that eats baseball gloves also come by to guzzle. Luckily, I sleep through it.

Having a pool in the country is a not just an unspeakable extravagance. It is temptation for instant gratification without thought of the moral consequences. Conjuring a random imaginary example, you have just finished mowing a long inside fencerow next to a cornfield in late July during a heat wave. You stumble to the house covered with insect parts and leaf cuts and are enticed by gallons of cool clear water promising your relief. Who wouldn’t shed the itchy, sodden clothes and plunge in?

Answer: anybody who noticed that the United Methodist Women were meeting in the living room.  

Still being miles from anywhere with a traffic count of about 3 (per month) does not reinforce modesty. At best, we have gotten better at scattering towels close to the edge now. Besides, unless I’m mistaken the UPS truck didn’t use to glide into our drive so silently before. And since when does the meter reader need to do a 360 around the house to find the meter? Hmm, maybe it’s actually just a shrubbery problem.

Call me a hedonist, but nature didn’t intend water to be enjoyed just in small bottles.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Lesser Moments in Agriculture

Our profession has known some pivotal events in its glorious history. The Homestead Act, the introduction of fertilizer, the invention of the cow, the reaper, hybrid seed corn, the tractor, the seed corn cap - all seminal occurrences that directed the path of agricultural progress. Interspersed with these, however, were those instances when the march of progress stopped to take a stone out of its collective shoe, a hiccup in the saga of the advancement of farming. These happenings, although justifiably ignored by serious ag historians, have had profound impact on farmers’ lives, and deserve to be brought to light by a commentator of (what can I say?) some considerable weight.

Lesser Moment Number One - Hydraulic Destiny
April 31, 1947: [Somewhere in Chicago at the Farm Machinery Association, Grand High Executive Potentates Council, several beers after 11 pm.] Chairman: Next item on the agenda - “Standardized Remote Hydraulic Fittings”. Now boys, we’ve been over this and over this. Currently there are 43 different kinds of couplers being manufactured and our customers are getting confused.
Company Rep #1: While it would be better for farmers to have a uniform, simple way of hooking up hydraulics, we mustn’t rush into this. How do we know which type is best without thirty of forty years of field experience? Company Rep #2: Right. In the meantime, we can help our customers by selling them thousands of adapters, which, I might add, have a profit margin of (whisper, whisper).
All: (excitedly) (whisper, mumble, whisper) (giggle, giggle)
Company Rep #3: (speculatively) You know...., if we were to start using two or three different thread pitches and change styles completely every five or six years, we could maximize our profi-, I mean, field data before settling on one style in, say, 1985 or so.
Chairman: (shouting above the cheering and belching) Gad! I love this business. Drinks on the treasury!

Lesser Moment Number Two - The Great Patriotic Wire
February 8, 1943 - [Pothole, Nebraska]
Son: Jeepers, Dad! These “bale” things are great. It sure beats a pitchfork, and we can store a lot more hay in the barn now. But, what should I do with these loops of wire?
Copyright 1997 John Phipps
Dad: Just more junk to throw away I guess. Come over here and help me fix this gate. It keeps falling over.
Son: (after struggling with the gate for several minutes) Man! This just isn’t working. If only we had something we could sort of tie it up to the posts with. Wait a minute! What about those bale wires?
Dad: Sounds crazy, but it just might work. This will only be temporary, of course. We’ll come back tomorrow first thing and fix it right.
Son: Absolutely, Dad. We wouldn’t want our whole farm to be held together with wire. Ha, ha, ha!

Lesser Moment Number Three - Overheads Up
November 23, 1962 - [The University of Northern South Dakota, College Of Agriculture, Division of Ag Economics]
Prof. Weems: Whoa, Finster. Whatcha got there?
Prof. Finster: Oh, nothing much. Just a revolution in the whole field of ag economics.
Weems: Right. I believe you said the same thing about your so-called “cash flow plan”, and we all know how far that went.
Finster: This time is different. This little baby is a genuine “Overhead Projector”, and its going to set the winter ag meeting circuit on its ear. Weems: How so?
Finster: (getting excited) Well, according to the salesman, you just plug this thing into a nearby outlet (it only needs a short cord) and you can lay these easy-to-handle sheets called transparencies on the top and they are projected up on the screen. It’s practically foolproof, impossible to get the sheets on wrong, and the bulbs are cool and last practically forever. But the best part is that you can draw and write all over your charts and graphs, making them even clearer to your audiences. They make special pencils that are extra- legible and smudge-proof. No more clumsy slides or messy chalkboards. Those farmers won’t know what hit’em.
Weems: Gosh, it really does sound great. Boy, if this won’t keep farmers awake and excited in a warm dark meeting room after lunch, nothing will. Finster: Oh yeah. I think it is safe to say that ag economics will never be the same. This technology is going to make color TV seem dull and lifeless by comparison. Finally, we economists will be able to put the same sparkle and zoom in our lectures as the entomology boys with their fancy-pancy “larva slides”.
Weems: (running after Finster) I’ve got to have one! Finny, old buddy, wait. I’ll trade you my autographed picture of John Maynard Keynes...

Real history, because it is made by real people, is seldom pretty.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Stuff of Life

August 1994

It fills our pockets, crams our desk drawers, occupies our basements, and packs our machine sheds. It's our Stuff. And we love it. One of the most wonderful aspects of farming is the ability not just to store, but semi-justify the accumulation of enormous amounts and types of Stuff. We can stack it on long shelves, pile it in unused buildings, line our fencerows, and load our dashboards with it. The ownership of vast heaps of Stuff is an outward and visible reassurance of our success and well-being.

I have done some deeply serious research on Stuff and the unusual importance it has in our lives. Take Pocket Stuff, for instance. Men carry lots of change because there is something slightly unmanly about ever using it to pay for anything, so it accumulates in a large jingling mass in our right front pocket. Into that receptacle also go small parts we don't want to lose, but never seem to get back on the machine. Many of us also carry a pocketknife of some kind here in direct defiance of our mother's wishes. This act of rebellion can be so strong that to express it fully we need to strap an 8 inch Swiss Army Knife in a special holster onto our side, to be admired by all, and ready for some split-second Corkscrew Emergency. [Technically speaking, it then becomes "Belt Stuff".]  In one rear pocket we find the ubiquitous Hanky - large, loud, and sporadically laundered. In our pockets also lives the Wallet. Wallets double as filing cabinets and bookkeeping systems - sometimes becoming three inches thick. This substantial weight causes many trousers to be worn at half-mast. It also explains the shape of the driver's seat cushions in used pickups. These wallets can produce business cards from 1955 and hog checks from last year. This is the origin, I suppose, of the phrase "running your business by the seat of your pants". Other popular items of Pocket Stuff include the ever-popular screwdriver/fingernail clipper, woefully abused checkbooks, enormous rings of mostly unused keys, scraps of paper with 6 out of 7 digits of a phone or part number, various office supplies, lunch particles, and anything given away free at the last store visited. At my farm supply store, the farmer ahead of me dumped his pockets on the counter to find a nickel. Along with everyone else in line, I checked out his Stuff, which included: various capsules of medication (loose); two bullets (caliber unknown); a Brillo pad; and most interestingly – a mascara pencil. Eyebrows were raised, so to speak.
At the end of the day Pocket Stuff is transformed into Desk Stuff. As farming becomes a larger and more complicated business, many of us are spending increasing amounts of time driving a desk. To help us feel at home, we bring some of our Stuff to be with us, pocketful at a time. It accumulates and breeds in the drawers and under paperwork until interred into modern storage devices, such as old coffee cans. Desk Stuff has other components, mostly paper. Articles, or even whole magazines to be read diligently at an appropriate time, warranty cards to be sent in from tools long since broken, school pictures of now fully grown adults, important papers to be filed when the new improved filing system is in place, unlabeled computer disks, eight-track tapes, appliance instructions (untouched), and forests of old newspapers comprise the hoard. It bulges the file cabinet, buckles shelves, and buries every square inch of horizontal space. 

Of all our Stuff, however, it's the Farm Stuff that is dearest to our hearts.  Farm Stuff is divided into two general categories - Machines and Tools.  The difference being that when a tool drops on your head it doesn't kill you, usually. We spend our lives accumulating a respectable herd of Stuff and when the End comes at our auction, we hope for that highest of accolades, "He had Good Stuff". 

Stuff is our equivalent of a picture album, I have discovered. While Jan can waste an entire afternoon on a baby book discovered while doing the biennial dusting, I can kill a similar amount of time looking for the right piece of angle iron amidst my Stuff. In a large old corncrib built in my youth is a mother lode of machine parts, metal scraps, replaced tools, and broken, but still valuable, leftovers of my and my father's farming careers. Wandering through it produces an irresistible urge to identify and reminisce over rusty heirlooms nearly forgotten. I emerge from this quality Stuff-time at one with my heritage, and on rare occasions, holding what I went for.  

Tool Stuff, for many of us, is not just an astronomical farm expense; it is a fundamental reason to exist. Look at the lustful eyes of farmers in the tool tent at a farm show. Likewise, what farmer doesn't secretly like to look in his competitor's shop and scope out his tools, forming an instant opinion of him as a human being?  The welders and grinders, saws and compressors; the gleaming wrenches and pungent fluids of our profession - with these we wreak our will on the steel and wood and earth of our world, leaving a visible mark of our existence. They are extensions of our hands, and seldom argue with our purposes. They are our closest friends (which explains our social lives).

Machine Stuff is just grown up Tool Stuff.  We have had many visitors to our farm and I am convinced that corporate executives privately envy our ability to surround ourselves with large, noisy, shiny evidences of our personal power. To top it off, they are tax deductible!  Eat your heart out, Lee Iaccoca. This characteristic of machine stuff has impacted the evolution of our industry. The trend to no-till is doubtless slowed by its Stuff-diminishing effects. There is a palpable sense of loss in a half-empty machine shed, regardless of the economic benefits. 

Of course, these are the Nineties, and we all realize that true self worth is not associated with possessions and comes from within, blah, blah, blah, etc.  People are much more important than things, but until the world has come to the full realization of this most important concept, don't mess with my Stuff.

Monday, February 11, 2019

I’ll stick with an apple a day

November 2006

There comes a Moment in every real man’s life when he has to look deep, deep inside himself and see what’s really there.

It’s called a colonoscopy. And apparently it’s legal in many states.

But first some backstory.  Like most men I schedule my annual physical exam dutifully every 6 years or so.  Minor medical problems - which I define as those without medicines advertised during sporting events on TV – are meant to be endured with stoic sniveling and pathetic attention-begging until our spouse threatens to reformat our hard drives.

Oh yeah? – well, that’s what spouses threaten in my house.

One problem with this approach to medicine is we guys often don’t get very attached to the actual service provider. In our part of the woods, doctors come and doctors go.  Mostly back to their own countries, I think.

So when I passed a certain age, I succumbed to the fad of the moment and agreed to have a “checkup”. Since my last doctor – caustically referred to among my friends as Arthur “Big Hands” Johnson – had moved to places unknown, I asked some of my friends about their physicians.

Imagine my astonishment when they could name several area urologists, but no family doctors. Hmmm, I thought. 

Anyhoo, acting on a tip from one of Jan’s exercise friends I called up a Dr. Dennie Lim.  I was sure old Dennis and I could come to an understanding and he would sign off on my vital signs with a gentlemanly wink.

But as luck would have it, as I was waiting in the exam room checking out the posters depicting what people looked like without any skin, a young girl knocked perfunctorily and burst into the room with a flurry of introductions and questions. 

I edged back warily. “Look, miss – there’s been a mistake” I replied kindly, “This is my waiting room, and I’m sure Doc Lim will point out yours to you if you ask.”

She drew herself up to her full 62 inches, offered her credentials, and whipped out a stethoscope while pulling on rubber gloves.

Over the course of the next few minutes I was poked, prodded, and bled – and sometimes just for fun I think. Dr. Lim asked all those questions to which we both knew the answers to see if I would respond like a man, or tell the truth.

It was like dental assistants asking if you floss. They know already – it’s just important for them to force you to admit it. Boy, do they have issues!

We reached a point in the interview that remains etched in my memory. “You know,” the doctor said thoughtfully, “men your age need to have a colonoscopy for preventative reasons.”  To prevent what, I thought bitterly – happiness?

Actually, I did know. I visit on a regular basis. By the way, here’s a hint for your next visit to your doctor: come armed with a list possible aliments gleaned from doing your homework on the Internet. They love to debate amateurs.

Another trick is to ask what a procedure costs. Doctors hate that. Eyebrows shoot up and inevitably they bleat, “You don’t have insurance?” This is the deadliest of all possibly health problems. Lately, thanks to HSA policies, medical providers actually have guesses, but it’s still fun to spin them up.

I found I would be paying about $3000 to boldly go on this unsentimental journey. For the benefit of readers who might be anxious about a similar directive from their physician, let me reassure you, the procedure is simple and painless. I think.

You see, for a colonoscopy medicine has invented a special drug, called Versed which is not only a potent sedative, but prevents the formation of memories. You can’t remember anything and you don’t care. As such it merely reinforces what it is like to be a man. Here’s how it goes down (so to speak):

I spent one sad day very close to a bathroom drinking cocktails of unexciting ingredients to promote – indeed, command – “cleansing”.  This continued merrily all through the day Monday.  And the night. 

Early Tuesday morning I reported to a surgical center and within minutes was wrapped in a charming, but poorly designed gown, and plugged into an IV.  Various nurses wearing those colorful jammies so popular with medical professionals would stop by to explain stuff and get my signature. Then they wheeled me into a “procedure” room and the nurse squirted some stuff into my IV. Some dude came in and introduced himself… and, um…they…

Wait – let me start over. I woke up and got into the car. Jan drove me to this place. I remember taking off my shoes…and then…uh…

No, hang on, I’ll get this. I know I went to church on Sunday. I guess I came home afterwards…

Anyway, I somehow made it to Wednesday and I’m pretty sure I had a colonoscopy. 

I was very brave.

Want to see the DVD?