Many, many bad things have happened to my head over the years. I’ve seen my parents naked, listened to “You Light Up My Life” when it came out, had my eyebrow split by a catcher’s mask and paid money to see “Pearl Harbor” at the Cineplex. When I was a hospital housekeeper and had to empty the trash at the lab, I had to smell old petri dishes, which is tied as the worst smell ever, with “Wet Buffalo”.
Some of the bad things about my head are genetic, and hence beyond my control: It’s too large for one thing. I wear size 8 ¾ hats, which means ‘extra large’ usually just rolls across the top of my head. Oddly, given the Astrodome-like dimensions of my skull, my ears are too small, and so I can’t use ear-buds.
I also have trouble with big, old school over-the-entire ear headphones, because they won’t extend far enough to be comfortable and also they wander around my head trying to find my tiny ears to hold onto. My genetics also felt compelled to make my head sprout bright orange hair in such quantities that I had to have my hair thinned periodically as a child.
And yeah, me and my noggin have had some adventures. I once had a fever for 5 straight weeks, including a sustained 108 degree temperature that should have turned by brain into Cream of Wheat. And a few years ago I hosted a tumor on my jaw that entertained itself by kicking out half of my molars.
But those are just the ‘also rans’. Here are the 10 worst things that have happened to my head in 45 years. I sincerely hope that this list will never have to be re-arranged during my lifetime.
1) I got started on the list right away, in utero, by fooling the doctors into thinking I was going to be a girl for 9 months, by growing a massive head of hair, and by somehow managing to emerge feet first. I was a breech birth, which had my umbilical cord wrapped around my neck and also completely munched my nose on the way out. My mother capped my idyllic toddlerancy by once dropping me on my head onto the driveway.
2) Because of these facts, or perhaps in spite of, I have the highest pain threshold of anybody I have ever met, and so this made me a natural to play soccer. In 13 seasons though my worst injury occurred not during a match, but at a practice. I was leaning down to tie my cleats when I heard somebody shout “Heads Up!”
Now, having a huge skull did not mean that I was born with a great brain. Everybody knows that when you hear “Heads Up!” you put your head DOWN. But I was a literal-minded child, and so I took a screaming soccer ball right off the right side of my jaw.
When I awoke I got to my feet and found that I could only speak in a spitting Scottish slur because my jaw was now stuck askew. Inside the emergency room I was quite the celebrity as all of the doctors and interns on hand wanted to see the freaky kid who looked like Popeye and sounded like the Yosemite Sam.
Finally the X-rays came back and the nurses gently explained to me that my jaw was misaligned. I tried to say “Duh!” but all I could manage was to spit out of the side of my face. The people in white uniforms then went outside of the room to consult. While they were gone a blue uniformed intern came in. He was about 5’ 40” and had hands that had trouble finding gloves the way my head had trouble finding hats.
He looked me over silently, sized up the situation, glanced back at the consultation in the hallway and then he braced his feet. “This is going to hurt” was the first thing he said to me. His right hand then engulfed my entire head, holding it just so. And then his left meathook swung across and connected solidly with my jaw, snapping it back into it’s proper position. He had me open and close a few times, said “That should do ya”, and walked out without a word to anyone.
3) Shopping with my Mother was a rare thing, because neither of us likes to shop. Nevertheless we were at the Sears Surplus store, and I was bored out of my mind. While she was looking at merchandise I decided to try an experiment. Standing in the middle of the aisle I put my right foot on top of my left and put all my weight on it. Then I tried to extract my left foot from underneath my right.
Next thing you know I had managed somehow to trip myself, to such a thrilling degree, that the first part of my body to make contact with the linoleum was my forehead. My Mother now claims that she saw the whole thing but was too amazed at my stupidity to interfere.
4) On News Years Eve, 1979, I had my first and last drunk. I drank two entire bottles of plain wrap champagne, passed out head first into a bean bag and spent most of the 80’s with a sore neck and a hangover.
5) When I was a Junior in High School the complications of my breech birth finally manifested. The deviated septum I sustained at birth had permanently cut off my right sinus. Over 16 years a steady drip of unspeakable horror had built up in there, eventually coalescing into a golf ball of awful.
I had no idea of it’s existence of course until one morning when it had finally grown too big for my sinus cavity. My cheek bone kept it blocked one way, so it was forced out the back of my skull, to the area where my spinal cord enters my brain.
The practical application of this was that I woke up one morning, sat up, passed out, woke up, sat up, passed out, woke up, sat up, passed out over and over again. Enough times that I was actually starting to enjoy it. But seeing (out of the corner of my eye), that I was going to be late for school I called for my Mother and showed her my new trick.
Mom, being Mom, screamed, leaped across the room, picked me up bodily (even though she is half my size) raced down the hall to the bathroom, threw me into the bathtub and, for no discernable reason, opened the cold water tap on my head. So it was then sit up, pass out, drown, sit up, pass out, drown, sit up, pass out, drown.
Once I had calmed her down a little we headed for the hospital, with me (now soaked and bruised), curled up on the floor boards. I spent 5 days in the hospital being looked at by lots of white uniform people until one faint X-ray finally showed them my nasal golf ball. 6 hours of extremely tedious pliers-up-the-nostril surgery later the ball had been removed, piece by piece, my septum repaired, and my right sinus was finally open for business.
So my sense of smell doubled overnight. Needless to say I gained 20 pounds in the blink of an eye. All was fine until a couple of weeks later when I went surfing, wiped out and got a whole mass of salty seawater on what still counted as virgin tissue. I RAN out of the ocean with my board on top of my head, screaming like a little girl.
6) No list of head trauma would be complete without mention of the strangest thing that I have read.
Nothing, nothing, nothing in the world will mess your head up more than “Oedipus in Disneyland” by Hercules Molloy. I have a first edition, for the simple fact that it never made it to a second. The title, snappy as it is, gives one only a small glimpse as to its range. The subtitle: “Queen Victoria's reincarnation as Superman”, while also intriguing, is likewise only part of the tale. What will melt your mind is Clark Kent, unaware of his destiny, sitting alone in a Mexican jail cell, reading “Alice in Wonderland” and providing a subtextual play-by-play.
Copies are hard to come by, not surprisingly, but a google search turned up one review that began with the words “It is positively disgusting….” And one webpage that just had some keywords: “Classics-Alice-Wonderland-Kent-Clark-Dirty-Sex-Superman-Bad-Words” which I think surmises it pretty well. Printed by Paranoid Press in San Francisco in 1972, which is also telling.
7) I was a good soccer player. I wasn’t very fast but I was quick, big and a little bit taller than most kids. I’ve taken 50 MPH full volleys off my ear, had cleats up my nose and the impression of a sprinkler head imprinted on my forehead. I also have, as mentioned earlier, an enormous skull and a sky-high pain threshold. So I was a fearless header. What this lead to was many instances of my head coming down on top of some other players head coming up.
In 13 years of playing I estimate that I was knocked unconscious and ‘dead-cat-bounced’ about a dozen times. Sometimes I woke up on the sidelines. Sometimes I woke up looking at all of my teammates looking down at me. Mostly I came to looking up at a referee who would see me blinking, blow a whistle in my face, yell “Play on!” and leave me to figure out my circumstances on my own. It got to the point that I was so used to smelling salts that I would instantly perk up when I heard the capsule open.
8) New Years in Rochester, New York, where it is not uncommon to have a snow tunnel from your front door to your car. I am downtown, walking without adequate headgear. But hey, I’m from California, where a muffler is a car part and ‘scarf’ is what you do when you’re hungry.
As I walk between two tall buildings a howling wind comes blowing through the metro area, reducing the temperature to “shivering polar bear”. It was so cold my brain slowed down. I literally grayed out from the sudden cooling of the blood in my head. And sadly, that was the most interesting thing about that trip.
9) The week before Christmas is a busy time at Dominos Pizza. In fact the second biggest night of pies (Behind perennial pepperoni powerhouse Superbowl Sunday) is Christmas Eve: You’ve got relatives in your house and your planning a big homecooked meal on the next day. So when dinnertime rolls around you say “screw it” and dial up some grease.
The week before Christmas is also when people drive like rabid wolverines who took a Dristan with their Kahlua. So I am training a new guy. I pull out of the parking lot and get T-boned by some nutjob who must have had the speed limit doubled. My co-workers, who saw the whole thing through the front window of the store said that the impact was so powerful that the cars actually did a full turn, locked together like boxers.
I awoke with a policeman’s flashlight shining in my face. “Are you Okay?” He asks. And considering that it took him a full minute to say three words, I guess, correctly, that the problem lies not in his speech patterns, but within my head.
I move my jaw experimentally and little nuggets fall down from my face and into my lap. I move my jaw again and more chunks fall down. I reach down and my lap is full of pieces. How many teeth have I lost? I think. I reach down, pick up a handful and raise them to where I can see them. They are not teeth, but chunks of glass. Apparently the impact was so sudden and forceful that my face went through the side window.
The next day I am discharged from the hospital with a chin full of butterfly bandages, stitches, and bandaids. My doctor’s parting words: “You might consider a beard.” Three months later, having moved to a new town, I again apply at a local Dominos Pizza.
Job secured I return home to shave (no facial hair for this Christ-loving corporation. Except, didn’t Jesus………..whatever). Anyhoo, I shave for the first time since the accident, and sure enough, a beard would still be a good idea. I’ve had one ever since.
10) But the worst thing I’ve ever done to my head would have to be 1989 through 1993: The years of the Mullet.