Big Rhonda’s House

The following events are 100% true and accurate. No names have been changed to protect the innocent, as none exist.

My introduction to the entity known as Big Rhonda started innocently enough. Following my initial visit with the Orthopedic Surgeon, the one where he used the “try to tear the leg apart at the knee” test to diagnose me with a torn ACL, he needed an MRI to confirm. He asked Brit3 to fax over a referral. I call her Brit3 because there were three Britney’s in this office. This particular Britney had white-blonde hair and a Carpe Diem tattoo on her wrist. Yeah, Britney was basic. I’d call her Basic Britney, but I don’t think that would do enough to differentiate her from the other Britney’s in the office, or really any Britney. So anyways Brit3 was running through the post appointment checklist, “I’ll fax in referral for Physical Therapy in Napa, and for the MRI at Glen Cove. I’ll call Big Rhhh…umm I’ll call Rhonda and let her know a referral is coming.” “Did you say Big Rhonda?” I asked. “No, I didn’t say that, or at least I didn’t mean to say that. Don’t tell her I said that, please don’t tell her,” she sputtered, clearly flustered. “Uh, yeah OK,” I assured her.

A couple weeks passed without hearing from Big Rhonda, and then when I was meeting with the Physical Therapist in Napa my phone rang. It was a Vallejo number. I answered, thinking in might be Big Rhonda, but it was Brit3 asking if I had arranged my MRI appointment. I let her know I had yet to hear from them. She said she would resend the referral and follow up with another call. I could tell she was dreading the call so I offered to call myself when my appointment was over, just in case they needed additional information from me. She wasted no time in agreeing to that arrangement. I called while walking across the parking lot. “Vallejo Open MRI, this is Rhonda.” Big Rhonda surely sounded big and she also sounded tough. Tough like “Drinks shattered glass cocktails and smokes ‘72 Camaro’s” tough. “Hi, this is Brian, Britney over at Vallejo Orthopedic said she faxed over a referral for me, I’m just calling to check on the status.” “Oh yes, I was just about to call you {sure you were}. I’m having trouble getting your insurance approval, can you confirm your birthday for me.” “Sure it’s [redacted].” “That’s what I have, are you sure it’s right?” “Positive.” “Weird, when I try to get approval from Aetna it doesn’t recognize you.” “Why are you checking with Aetna? My insurance is with United Health.” “Oh really? Hmmmmmmm. I think I see the problem. Let me try something else and I’ll call you back.” Somehow Big Rhonda worked her way through the mess without further input from me and she called back and an appointment was arranged.

My appointment was scheduled for first thing in the morning. I arrived a few minutes early and found everything still locked up. I had parked near the door so I retreated to the comfort of my car to wait. About 30 seconds later the sky darkened (maybe it was just the parking lot) as Big Rhonda emerged from her silver-blue Honda Hatchback. Big Rhonda was certainly big. In the Jim Croce song Roller Derby Queen the titular character is described as being built like a refrigerator with a head. In Big Rhonda’s case she was built like the refrigerator was her head. The clueless perception from our previous interaction was replaced by trepidation. I understood completely why Brit3 was reluctant to interact with her. Her hair was unkempt, her hygiene obviously unruly, her disposition was akin to the T-Rex in Jurassic Park and she wore a (marinara?) stained t-shirt that said simply, “I ❤️ Evil.”

I waited for her to open the door and settle into her workstation. I approached the reception window cautiously, not wanting to startle the beast. “Fill out this paperwork” She roared. “You’re gonna have to drop your pants when you get back there” “But, why? If I’d known that I would have just dressed for work”. “Cuz I said so! And also we don’t want to interfere with the imaging equipment, you deserve the clearest picture possible.” “You’re looking at my knee and I’m wearing basketball shorts and flip flops. It’s an open MRI, says so in the name.” “Don’t you dare question me, YOU’RE GONNA DROP YOUR PANTS, BOY!!!”

At that moment the door opened and Luther called me back. Luther looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo would if he gave up solving mysteries but didn’t cut back on his Scooby Snack input. He gave me a quick glance and said I looked ready to go and I should just hop on up to the table. I mentioned Big Rhonda, and her insistence on me removing my pants. He laughed and told me not to worry. “She’s not allowed back here anyways. The plates in her head cause too much interference.” The scan went off without incident, and a few moments later I was walking out with a CD containing images of my knee. As I was walking out the front door I couldn’t resist teasing the beast. I turned over my shoulder and said, “Hey, Big Rhonda!”. “Hhhurrrrgn?” She growled, looking up from her breakfast of live chicken. “I got to keep my pants on!”

What happened next defies human explanation. A tongue, forked and green shot forth across the room from Big Rhonda’s mouth, colliding with the glass door that now separated us, shattering the glass and destroying the mini-blinds. The tongue retreated and was replaced by a plaintive wail that knocked me backwards into the Scion, shook the sailboats in the Glen Cove Marina and caused a small tsunami to crash into Port Costa, across the Carquinez Strait. I scampered into the driver’s seat and drove away as quickly and safely as I could manage.

About 48 hours later I ran into Luther at Safeway. “What’s happening, Luther? Sorry about the door.” “Don’t worry, it happens a lot, we buy them by the dozen to keep costs down.” “Good plan, that Big Rhonda sure is something, how does she manage to stay employed?” “Two reasons, really. One, everyone is afraid to talk to her, and two, she owns the building. Bought it with her settlement money following her lab accident.” “Well, that explains a lot. Take it easy Luther.”

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Sunday Funday

Sunday Funday Adventure. Decided to get out of the house with the dogs today. Wanted to go somewhere new. Christine has wanted to go out to Rush Ranch for a while, but dogs are only allowed on one trail, The Suisun Hill Trail, through a cattle pasture. On the way up the cows were chill, just moving (mooooving) out of the way as we approached. The dogs were nervous at first, but they got over it. Then the little one walked through a fresh cow pie, sinking in to her belly. While we were distracted yelling at the little idiot, Molly decided to stop drop and roll in pie of her own. When we got to the top of the hill we were treated to a 360 degree view, Mt Diablo, Mt Saint Helena, we even watched a fighter jets doing stunts at the Travis Air Show.
Going down the other side of the hill went well at first, the cows and us just kept giving each other space, but one mama was not happy and snorted and charged at us. At that point Annabel was not having it anymore but we continued toward gate, which wasn’t far away. At this point the gate was being guarded by about a dozen cows of all shapes and sizes. The nice cows that just moved away when we entered were nowhere to be seen. These cows were not interested in moving aside, the girls were in no mood to force the issue, and a younger cow started taking particular interest in Molly. I’ll let Lily describe what happened next, per the text she sent to her group chat. “My parents told me not to jump the barbed wire, but I said ‘screw that we gonna die’ so I yeeted out of there.” With Lily on one side of the fence, we passed Cupcake to her. I lifted Annabel up and over. While I was holding the wire down for Christine to step over Molly crawled through on her own. Then I stepped over and we were safe.
We walked back to the car, loaded the foul smelling dogs in, and made our way home. As we approached the gate at the trailhead the cows we’re still there. Christine said, “I’ve never wanted to flip anybody off before, but these cows are going to get it!” The windows were rolled down and the cows got an earful from the three ladies. We’re home safe, all six of us freshly bathed, getting ready to start dinner. Everyone wants steak.

Excuses, Half-Truths, and Fortified Wine

Three years later I’m resigned to the fact that the Achilles tendon that replaced my ruptured PCL didn’t come from an elite level athlete who met an early demise, but more likely a cirrhotic hobo who sold his body for a few days worth of store label booze. My retirement from the NBA didn’t warrant a press conference, they didn’t talk about me on SportsCenter, no one even tweeted about it, not even me. Of course, never having played in the NBA makes it hard to retire from. Also the fact that I never played at any level higher than before school pickup until college when I moved up to Intramural B’s.

I won’t bore you with the details of the Staph infection and the follow up surgery. But there I was, ten days shy of my fortieth birthday, recovering from my second surgery in five weeks, hopped up on prescription narcotics and eating crackers on the couch. It was then that I knew my shot at the NBA was over. I knew there were limited opportunities for a slow six foot shut down defender with no handles and limited range, but I knew, if given the chance, I could be the best.

I can play hoops again, I’d like to say I’m not as explosive as before, and maybe a step slower, but it’s really hard to tell when the baseline was so low to begin with. I can ride my bike, play with the kids, jog if I was so inclined, and walk the dogs without fear of my knee buckling and leaving me a crumpled mess, laying on the ground clutching my leg and screaming like a pudgy, balding Nancy Kerrigan.

The only real lingering issue is that my left leg is still smaller. It’s only noticable in shorts and my super skinny club jeans. My calves are both robust and shapely, but the left one is noticeably smaller. That is actually a lie, I don’t have any super skinny club jeans, cuz I never get invited to the club. Of course 27% of the women reading this are like “boo hoo, with your mis-matched legs, try finding a comfortable bra when your dealing with two different cup sizes, ya dipwad!” It’s actually much higher I only said 27% because the other 73% quit reading this a long time ago. Those of you who are still reading I thank you. You’re probably wanting me to get to the point of this story, but my friends who’ve known me the longest know that most of my stories don’t have a point.

Be Weird, Be Loud, Be Safe

Had a real weird experience on my drive home tonight. I worked in Napa today, which means the drive is generally long (especially on a Friday), but largely uneventful. I checked Google from the parking garage and saw that there was an accident in Jameson Canyon and the quickest route would be to take 29 through American Canyon and Vallejo. Everything was normal until I was turning left onto American Canyon and a Black Lexus SUV cut into the turn lane right in front of me, which isn’t exactly noteworthy, it’s rude, but not uncommon. So they’re in front of me and pulling away, then when we get to Flosden/Fairgrounds I pull into the right turn lane and Black Lexus SUV is in the right (non turn) lane with like five car lengths between himself and the car in front of him. So I slow down in case he tries to cut over again, he doesn’t, but he pulls forward a couple lengths when I pass, then pulls over into the turn lane one car behind me, which was odd, because he had plenty of chances to get over before then. At this point I’m thinking there is something off with this dude. I make my right turn and next thing I know dude is right behind me.

I’ve been listening to a lot of true-crime Podcasts and I fall asleep almost every night with Christine watching some combination of SVU, Criminal Minds or Elementary, so perhaps I’m a little extra sensitive. Anyways when we get to the next light I open up my texts and type his plate number into my conversation with Christine. Eventually I turn onto 37, take the ramp onto 80 and he’s still there, a handful of cars having gotten between us. I stay in the slow lane on 80, which is annoying, frustrating and slow with all the cars getting on and off. Really anyone with half a brain would get over and go around that mess, but when I go to get off onto 780 he’s still there. So I tap the microphone icon and speak Black Lexus SUV into my text and hit send, knowing that Christine will have no idea what it means, but I was wanting to get the info out there, just in case.

The ramp onto 780 was busy, but I was able to get into the left lane and put some distance and cars between us. At this point Christine called. I told her as much as I could, and said if he gets off the freeway with me I’ll just drive to the police station. I got back into the right lane and kept checking my mirror. As I came to my normal exit I saw him in the left lane and knew there were too many cars for him to get over and follow me without causing a major scene, so I pulled off and he went by, on his merry way. Crisis averted.

One of the aforementioned true crime podcasts that I listen to is called Crime Junkies, and they always say if you feel like you’re in an uncomfortable situation you should “be weird, be loud, and be safe. Did I overreact? Maybe. Did I have a plan? Yeah. Do I regret anything I did? No.

Stay safe and have a nice weekend.

Courage

When I first joined Twitter it wasn’t for camaraderie, I wasn’t anonymous, but I also didn’t seek out people I knew. I followed sports media, comedians, people who thought they were both, and the president. While I would occasionally tweet back and forth with Henry Schulman and TJ Quinn, there was no one on Twitter I would consider a friend. With the Giants losing 99 games, the bowl headed idiot moving the Raiders to Vegas, and the deterioration of our nation’s executive and legislative branches Twitter became less important to me and I would go days and weeks sometimes without opening the app. That changed when I started listening to and getting involved with (wait for it) The Break It Down Show. When I started following the Show, Pete, and Jon I started interacting with a whole new group of people. I’d get involved in a discussion about music and look at my phone an hour later and there would be hundreds of Twitter Notifications. One of the people that was always involved in those discussions was Phil Green. Never the most vocal, but he was always involved, liking tweets, offering positive comments, just generally being a nice guy. At some point Phil followed my Twitter account, and I, having recently eschewed my long held 75 following limit, followed him back.

Following Phil on Twitter a couple things soon became clear, we both love music and our families and Phil is also very proud of his Washington Husky heritage. I guess being a part of two Rose Bowls and one National Championship Team can have that effect (this would be where the director cuts to the Cal grads in the audience as they scratch their heads wondering “how is that even possible?”). Like me Phil has been active in the album fights, judging several, doing the Michael Buffer style prefight ring announcements, and lately doing the accompanying artwork, all of which are awesome. Phil and I have never judged the same album fight (something that I hope changes soon), and never been in the same room. I had a chance to meet up with him and Pete for dinner a month or so back, but I had another commitment (which turned out to have been cancelled, seriously ticking me off). The last few months I have noticed that Phil has sprinkled in some likes and retweets from Steve Gleason, I didn’t think much of it, knowing that Steve Gleason is an inspiration to many people.

On today’s Break It Down Show (click here to listen) the reason for those tweets became much clearer. Phil has been diagnosed with ALS. I don’t know much about ALS. I know Lou Gehrig, Stephen Hawking, Catfish Hunter, Steve Gleason. I have a poster signed by Bo Jackson as part of a fundraiser for his former teammate Steve Smith. Unfortunately the medical community doesn’t know a whole heck of a lot more. They are certainly trying, new tests and treatments are in the works, and warriors like Phil are doing whatever they can, offering their bodies to help. I’m not going to describe what Phil is going through, I’m going to ask you to listen to him, he does a great job of telling his story. The struggles he’s faced so far, the reality he knows is coming, and his desire to not only have experiences with his family while he can, but to also network with his friends and community to help others that are facing the same thing. About 16 minutes in he says the one thing I’ve known all along “I’m a positive person,” and he’s using that to try and help the cause.

In addition to working with Steve Gleason, and other ALS enterprises Phil has created a non-profit of his own, Make A Difference against ALS (MADALS.org coming soon) and is starting a Podcast featuring other ALS Warriors, tentatively called I Am ALS. The Break It Down Show titled todays episode “Courage in the Face of ALS.” That title is accurate, and describes Phil’s quest perfectly, but it’s about more than just ALS. Thankfully most of us will not be afflicted with ALS, but everyone has their own struggles and situations. Listening to Phil’s story and others like his should serve as a message to all of us that we can stay positive and move forward. In Stuart Scott’s ESPY speech a few years back he said, “When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.” Phil is proving that with ALS, and we can all use that in our own lives.

Neat and Lucky

In 16 years of marriage I’ve learned that one of the keys to success is tolerance. In my wife’s case she tolerates a lot. The first thing that comes to mind is that she tolerates, generally without comment, that every February I buy a new Giants hat and proceed to wear it for the next 52 weeks through rain and wind and dirt and sweat until it becomes an oily, dusty, dirty, faded, stinky mess.

She also has to tolerate my quirks. One of which I was reminded of in an email from Pete Turner, yes that Pete Turner, host of The Break It Down Show. In addition to talking and recording interesting people all around the world, and editing and producing PodCasts, Pete is in the midst of an Album Fight (concept discussed previously: click here) pet project. Mix-tapes submitted by fans and listeners face off against one another in a bracketed tournament until one true champion is crowned. His email was a request to listen to a matchup and give him a quick score to use in some secret background analysis.

The first song on the first mix-tape was one I know well, very well. My favorite band. Not just my favorite band, but a song off my favorite album by my favorite band. Aerosmith. Love in An Elevator. Now, you’re probably wondering, and maybe slightly fearful, what is it that Christine has to tolerate about Love in An Elevator? I will tell you to get your dirty filthy minds out of the gutter. This is my life, not a porn set. And in my life I am a product of the MTV Generation, the one where MTV played music videos. I have seen the video for Love In An Elevator no less that eleventy-three bagillion times, and listened to the album version on Pump at least that many times. Both the video and the album track start with a little vignette. The elevator doors open, the female operator announces, “Second Floor hardware, children’s wear, ladies lingerie. Oh, good morning Mr. Tyler. Going down?”

Which brings me to my quirk. When I’m in an elevator, and that elevator stops on the second floor, I must say that line. If there are children present I can manage to leave off the “Going down?” but other than that, every single time it happens. We have been together for over twenty years, that is a lot of elevator rides, and she has never, NEVER tried to get me to stop this. If that is not an example of true love I do not know what is.

Speaking of true love and album fights you might be wondering why I’m not an official judge for these fights. Well, it’s because I have submitted a mix-tape. The theme for this mix-tape battle is “Love”, and the mix-masters were free to choose their own sub-theme. When I think of love I think of my wife first, so I made a mix-tape of ten songs that have been a part of our relationship. It contains some of the first songs we danced to when we started dating, the first dance song from our wedding, some songs that I have heard over the years and sent to her because I wanted her to hear them, and the song from which I made her personalized ringtone on my phone.

One thing that Christine struggles to tolerate in my music. I very rarely have free reign to choose what we listen to, and even when I do I have to proceed knowing that it can get revoked at any time. So when I played her mix for her for the first time I was a little worried. We were stuck in traffic somewhere between Pasadena and Claremont on the Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. She loved it. She loved it so much we listened twice. She loved it so much we played it again at her parents house. She loved it so much she asked me to make her a copy for her phone so she can listen to it whenever she wants.

My mixtape will step into the ring for the first time in the next week or so. I don’t know how the fight will turn out, but I do know that I’ve already won.

Tis the season

Yeah that right, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Jingle belling and twinkling lights with presents under the tree with the hohoho’s everywhere and the bell ringers all up in your bizness at the WalMart? No. Not that season. The coming of our Lord and Savior, born to a virgin mother? Also cool, but not what I’ll talking about. Hanukkah? Nope. Kwanzaa? Nah. Oh wait, you say, I’ve seen every episode of Seinfeld multiple times. The airing of grievances and feats of strength are right up my alley, clearly I’m excited about Festivus. Also wrong. What I’m excited about is a phenomenon known only as “The List Thingy.”

“The List Thingy?” What the heck are you talking about you freaking weirdo? I’ll tell you. The List Thingy is a curated collection of the years best albums as decided by five of the World’s Greatest Living Minds, friends who all share a love a music and lists. The only other commonality is a degree from Cal Poly, AKA the school that most Ivy League grads wish they had gotten in to. The Breakfast Club featured The Criminal, The Princess, The Brain, The Athlete, and The Basket Case. In the List Club I could embody all those personas, but we’re not in High School. In Grown Up World we are The Engineer, The Pilot, The Administrator, The Rover Driver and The Artist.

The List Thingy began several years ago when The Administrator was still The Teacher. We exchanged texts, as we do, and decided to come up with a list of the years best albums. As fate would have it there were ten days left in the year, so we decided that we would each reveal one album each day. The rules were, and remain, simple. No duplicates allowed and the album must have been released during the current calendar year. A couple years later we brought The Rover Driver and The Pilot into the fold, and last year we invited The Artist, and his proclivity towards weirdness, into the group.

The rules remain mostly the same, we start a day earlier now, and set aside Christmas Day for our songs of the year. Last year we decided to start by listing our favorite albums on Day One, to help prevent someone from getting their number one aced out by the no duplicates rule. We’re all also fathers to young children, so we make sure to note any selections that might contain objectionable material.

For me the list is a year long journey, but it’s a journey that involves listening to as much new music as I can find and setting aside the choicest selections for possible inclusion in The List. I’m working my way through November’s releases right now, I’m a little behind from where I am normally as I’ve allowed myself to be happily distracted by the occasional Album Fight, but I’ll get there, and it will be glorious.