Lingua Frank

This blog goes fishing in my memory hole for stories that I hope will provide at least marginal amusement for all.


This blog is really about memories from my life...retold for the pleasure or yawns of friends and strangers alike. Bon appetit.

среда, февраля 06, 2008

Davy Jones' Locker

Apparently, "tomorrow" is a subjective term...but onward and upward, I suppose.
I recently hosted my parents and two younger brothers for a week and a half. Our visits are extremely infrequent, as it is ludicrously expensive and soul-crushingly frustrating to drag my increasingly huge brood onto cross-country flights. It's the best of all worlds, then, when I can bring bits of my life in Utah to me. It was especially great to spend some time with my dad, who has always been (not to wax too corny) my hero.
Of course, there was one time in particular when my father actually, physically sprung into action to rescue me from certain doom. Allow me to regale...
I was sixteen, awkwardly straddling the hellish divide between adolescence and adulthood, yet still thoroughly convinced of my own invincibility. The Flanafamily had congregated at Payson Lakes on a cloudless summer afternoon and I sat on the shore, gorging my (then fit and svelte) self on six-foot hoagie and a bulk bag of Ruffles while my younger brother and cousin exhausted their lungs inflating the gargantuan "Fun Island" that my parents had purchased at Costco on the way out of town. When all four concentric circles of yellow vinyl were adequately taut, I abandoned gluttony for the call of an afternoon of sloth lounging on the Fun Island in the center of Payson Lake.
My brother, cousin and I piled on and slowly paddled out with no particular destination. After mere minutes, however, the outer ring of the "Island" spontaneously deflated, instantly rendering it considerably less fun. I got off on the side and started to swim with it back to shore, when a sudden bout of hubris overcame me. I stared at the far-off shore and decided that my ridiculously weak swimming skills had suddenly assumed powerful, olympic proportions.
Leaving the rapidly diminishing Marginally Entertaining Islet, I set off at a confident breaststroke. About halfway to dry land, I became acutely aware of my own idiocy as my recently consumed smorgasbord wreaked unholy vengeance on my middle.
Convulsing in waves of crippling cramps, I vainly attempt to half dog-paddle my way out of certain death. No use. I begin bobbing just above and below the surface of the lake, and realize that I have to call for help. At first timidly and then with panicky gusto, I cry out for aid. Arching my back into a half-float, I realize that I am facing my mortality and begin to lament, among slightly more spiritual and philosophical regrets, not having ever made out with a furiously hot foreign chick. Still screaming for help, I look to the shore to see that my portly, determined father had noticed my deathly predicament and had sprung into action...running to the restrooms to change into his swimming trunks to come save me. My thoughts of imminent demise in a watery grave subside for just a moment as my soul groans out an exasperated, disbelieving "daaa-ad!".
In the meantime, a passing canoe fishes me out of the water and I live to tell the tale.
Thanks, pop.

вторник, января 22, 2008

Resurrect Sean

Three long, eventful, postless years are drawing to a close...Linguafrank is now poised to return in all of its glory. Starting tomorrow, I'll be making weekly posts, so begin being delighted.

воскресенье, ноября 27, 2005

Thanksgiving on Ice

I am back from a long weekend of unmitigated gluttony and sloth at my in-laws, and I find myself lounging behind my desk, my blithely pleasant mood contrasting far too much with Trent Reznor's overanguished wailing. Hang on a minute.
There...Bing Crosby is now radiating out of my tinny speakers, effulgent and sublime, gliding from Adeste Fidelis to Silent Night with impassioned pleas to support our boys fighting in Europe by purchasing war bonds. I think I'll take a few myself.
Sometime in the late afternoon on Thursday, after the tryptophan had already blessed me with hazy euphoria and I was languishing dopily on the divan in the sunroom of my in-law's log cabin/palace, my thoughts drifted back to Thanksgiving nine years ago...a story that begins, like so many others that I've found myself telling of late, on a train in the icy depths of a Russian winter night.
There were four of us. Blazer, Gunn, and Smith were all packed in a tiny train cabin filled with all our earthly belongings, pamphlets, Books of Mormon, water filters, and fifteen thousand dollars' worth of cash (a sum that would have fit in just a few hefty bundles in American Dollars, but which took up considerably more room when changed, as they had been, into multicolor mountains of an unfathomable number of roubles). We were to be the first Mormon missionaries in the city of Petrozavodsk, an island of civilization in the morose Russian wasteland that becomes more utopian in my memory with every year that passes. The closest missionaries, and any sort of support, was three hundred miles to the southwest, in St. Petersburg. As we vainly tried to make out the dark landscape rushing past our frosted cabin window, none of us could muster our powers of speech, so consumed we were with our own haze of jumbled thoughts.
For myself, I was just happy to leave downtown St. Petersburg, the gaudy majesty of which had been sullied for me at the time by the constant companionship of a different Elder Smith, whose desire to wade out each day into the murky tedium of life in Russia had long since been extinguished. I had spent most mornings playing amateur psychologist to a gloomy, blanket-covered lump whose constant refrain was a mixture of grunting sighs and sniffling. My powers of empathy taxed to their limits, I leapt with ecstatic relief the morning that the Mission President had called to tell me that I would be taking the Petersburg-Petrozavodsk express the following evening. I smiled at the snowbound blur outside the train...I would miss the pancakes though...that clinically depressed doughboy did make damn fine pancakes.
The feeling of giddy anticipation when we finally disembarked onto the ice-glazed Petrozavodsk platform was unrivaled by anything I had experienced since stepping off the plane in St. Petersburg seven months previously. The early-morning midnight-blue sky stood in contrast against the unnaturally bluish glow of the deep-frozen snow that clung to the trees lining Lenin Prospect...a huge fir adorned with a red, eerily Soviet star towered over the square directly in front of the station- the people of Petrozavodsk had started their holiday preparations early. I smiled, wrapped my scarf more tightly around my face to shield it from the sting of the frost, and turned to Smith. "Happy Thanksgiving, man."
We all loaded up with the ungodly amount of supplies and luggage that we had brought with us on the train, and set off to find a hotel where we could stay until we could negotiate the lease of a couple of apartments. After checking in to the ludicrously overpriced Hotel Petrozavodsk (where the shower in our suite was a tiled closet with a drain and a garden hose), we opened our bank account, and set out to find the lone member of our church in the city. When we found Andrej, he was overjoyed. He had been in Petrozavodsk for two years since being baptized in St. Petersburg, and he had spent much of that time contacting the Mission President, imploring for missionaries to be sent to his city. In a sense, he had been profoundly lonely, and the gratitude he showed us just for being there left an indelible impression on me.
Afterward, as we were strolling through the city, chatting and taking in the lakeside splendor of the Karelian capitol, we rounded a corner and beheld a site as inspiring and beautiful as any natural vista. I breathed in sharp, unbelieving gasps as I beheld it, a tiny hint of a tear freezing at the corner of my eye. There, in the tundra of Northern Russia, desperately far from all things familiar and comforting to us, was a Ben and Jerry's ice cream parlor, shining like a fatty beacon in the culinary wilderness of Russia, a land of gustatory masochism. Apparently, Petrozavodsk is the sister city to the Vermont town where first the hippie compatriots set their hands to an ice cream churn...and the fruits of that blessed connection glimmered in unspeakable glory before us.
Breathless moments later, we emerged from the parlor clutching our individual pints. I eyed my container of Chubby Hubby lustily as we set out to find a bar/restaurant where we could feast and make our deepest Thanksgiving. Eventually, we got a table in a cozy, wood-paneled cafe, where we dined on Pel'meny (fried Russian ravioli) and ice cream. Every one of us downed our 80 grams of glorious fat and joy, and we spent the rest of the evening resplendent in the dawning of what we sure was to be our bright new day in the thick black of the Arctic winter.

понедельник, сентября 12, 2005

Biloxi Blues

We were somewhere in Alabama. My head, shoulders, behind and legs were all bent at unseemly angles as I rewedged myself into the unforgiving contours of the bus seat, my left foot dangling out into the ether as blood stubbornly refused to pay it a visit, leaving it a tingling lump in the middle of the aisle. About twenty dark, sleepy shadows stumbled over and around the foot for a quick jaunt into the truck stop to slump onto sticky toilets or buy a Coke. Neither my bowels nor my thirst could rouse me from my hideously uncomfortable position, as it was the best one that I had managed for many hours, and I was afraid of forfeiting my half-assed sleep to an even less accommodating contortion. I slithered my hand out from under my pillow and down to my backpack to illuminate my cellphone. Two-thirty. We'd be in Biloxi at five, leaving us only two hours of actual rest before leaving to the work sites.
There were around two hundred of us in a caravan of three tour busses followed by plodding pickups lashed to heavy equipment trailers. They had asked for volunteers at Church to help with the cleanup from Hurricane Katrina, and the response was enormous. Thousands were coming to the devastated areas from all over the United States and Canada...
I looked, disengaged, at the darkness. I've never been all that much of a joiner, especially when it comes to handyman type work (of which I have little experience and less skill), but I couldn't not go this time. The shadows trudged back past my deadened foot, and the diesel engine growled as we pulled away. I loudly cracked my neck, and pretended again to sleep.
After a quick orgazational meeting at the church, we were split into work teams and shuttled to various areas around the city. My team would be clearing fallen trees and debris in a formerly middle-upper class neighborhood. As we snaked along short stretches of highway, the horrible force of the hurricane was apparent...the Golden Arches of a McDonald's sign had buckled and twisted into some archaic character of an obscene tongue, boats were overturned in trees miles from any water, entire sections of town were obliterated.
When we got to the worksite, I remember thinking that the houses didn't look that bad...until I got to the back, where half of the house had been torn away by floodwaters and a section of pier that had been torn from its mooring and sent careening into the house. Rich or poor, Katrina had forced an ugly equality of squalor on all in her path. Engines roared and chains bit into hundred-year old trees that tangled into each other and crashed into the earth. Slowly, log by heavy log, we hauled them away. After ten hours, a van picked up our aching, despondent crew, and took us back to the church, where I greedily inhaled a helping of gommed-together spaghetti, crawled into my tent, and fell fast asleep in my jeans at seven thirty.
The next day, Sunday, we got up at five o'clock, hastily ate whatever we happened to bring along for breakfast, and eased past the mountains of cases of food, water, and diapers sent for humanitarian relief into the chapel for a quick sacrament service. I was dressed in a t-shirt and my dirty jeans from the day before. I still smelled of swamp and decay. Even the leaders conducting the meeting were filthy, yet infinitely dignified. Simple words of thanks and determination, the passing of the sacrament, a prayer, and we headed right back to work.
We were bussed to a subdivision beside the river, where floodwaters had risen to the rooftops of most of the houses. One guy told us how he and his family had taken refuge in their attic, but as the water started to seep up through the scuttle entrance, he was forced to break out a window and swim his family over a hundred yards to a taller house across the street. His six-year old girl clung to his leg as he told us. He had carried her.
Our task was to clear out the houses. As I walked inside the first house, I saw what I knew must have been very old wedding pictures, the veil and tuxedo now just vaguely recognizable blobs inside the dripping frame. The smell was indescribable. I took a shovel, fought off my gag reflex, and began shovelling the sludge of rotting food, excrement, and filth that had festered in the fetid Mississippi heat for a week. Breathing through my nose only worked for short spurts...eventually I could taste the smell.
We tore out everything...I shovelled entire lives coated in mud and grime into wheelbarrows and dumped them unceremoniously onto the mounting heap in the street. We tore out molded wallboard and insulation, trying not to notice the gigantic insects that had newly made themselves homes in the rotted walls. We left skeleton houses...gutted and soulless, devastated by forces that make us all puny. The fact that our service in the aftermath of destruction was just a more necessary destruction was a bitter irony that didn't sit altogether well in my already churning stomach. There was no doubt that what we had done was needed...but as I toted my gear back to the waiting bus that afternoon, I felt insignificant in the face of the desolation of the storm. All I had managed to do was finish its grim work in a tiny speck of its path.
Almost to the bus, one of the neighbors caught up to me and thanked me for what we all had done, even though his house wasn't one that we had been able to clear. He told me that he doesn't believe that God sent the hurricane...he leaves that to meteorological chance...but he said that he knew that God had sent us.
Now, writing that in my usually ultra-cynical blog, his comment seems pithy. But then and there, as he clasped my hand in his work gloves, there was no room for cynicism...only regret that we couldn't stay longer.

воскресенье, августа 14, 2005


My 3 (almost 4) year old has a massive flair for the dramatic. She's never just hungry...she gets huuunnn-greeee, daddy! I want a POPSICLE!
Likewise, she likes to hold off on the potty until the moment when her bladder is on the very verge of blasting through like a urinary Vesuvius. Her eyes dilate with a look of excitement/horror as she announces with unnatural volume that she has to go RIGHT NOW. This happens regardless of what we are doing or on what god-forsaken stretch of highway we are driving. Countless times, she has proclaimed her imminent explosion in the middle of NASCARville, forcing me to hustle her into those convenience store "restrooms", which offer anything but rest, and are actually just pee-coated closets with a toilet and a machine on the wall that dispenses strawberry-banana flavored glowing prophylactics. I stow a huge canister of bleach wipes under the passenger's seat in order to fight off the hamster-sized bacteria that fester in those cesspools.
Of course, I can understand how she feels. I recall a train ride between Petrozavodsk (a stone's throw from the Arctic Circle) and St. Petersburg when I was forced to make what can only be characterized as a horrible decision. Let me explain.
It was January, when the icy dark of Russia consumes all but two or three hours of every day and oppresses an already generally cranky country. It was weighing my shoulders down as I half stooped inside my lightless, chilly cabin. The train lurched along its 300-mile path at a crawl, carrying me away from the missionary Valhalla, Petrozavodsk...the land of milk and sweet home Karelia.
It was a 10 hour ride through the deep of night...from 9 to 7. I was sharing the cabin with a member of the Mission Presidency, a quirky 50-ish Russian with a rumbling, Russian-accented snore. I wasn't sleeping well at all, and every time I began to fade off into a sleep-like daze, the train would creak to a halt at yet another nameless forest platform, and I would be shaken back into something resembling consciousness. At 3:40, though, I was jolted violently awake by the call of nature. My bladder was slapping me with its white leather glove, barking in a Kentucky drawl that it demanded satisfaction. I quickly glanced through the creeping frost on the cabin window...the train was at a standstill, but not at any real station. I leapt from by bunk, unlocked the multiple latches on the door and shuffled down the tiny hallway in a potty panic. I finally got to the end of the car, and entered the little antechamber with the bathroom door. I pulled on the handle...the bathroom was locked. Horrified, I shot down the car to the extreme opposite end where the little attendant sits watching Santa Barbara dubbed into Russian...badly. Unmoved by the terror blazing in my eyes, she informs me that the bathrooms are locked while the train isn't moving, and that we would be heading out in 15 minutes. In a dazzling feat of illogic, I convince myself that I can hold out that long, and leave to loiter intensely in the hall.
Three minutes later all that stood between me and the defouling of my jammies was my thumb and forefinger clenched tightly around my business as my urethra puckered and unpuckered, singing a little tragic opera about unfulfilled dreams.
A peek into the attendants chamber...empty...where could she have gone? Wasn't she just there? Was she really just the ghost of a long dead train attendant, doomed forever to deny young passengers access to the urinal? The potty opera reaches a crescendo, with Valkeries circling on flaming horses, great armies clashing in an apocalyptic bloodbath and giant ominous clouds gathering, threatening to unleash a torrential downpour...
Whimpering slightly, I slouch into the antechamber, hoping against hope that the bathroom will have mystically unlocked itself. No such luck. As I prepare to soak myself for the first time since grade school, I glance over to a flap in the wall with the word "Mycop" written on it. Trash. No. I couldn't. I'm a civilized human being. But Brunhilde is inside me with her giant metal brassiere, poking me in my unmentionable with her spear. Almost without realizing it, I slouch down past the windows in the antechamber where nobody milling about at the platform across the way could spy my descent out of dignity. I open the little flap, pull down my pajamas just far enough and let loose the fury of biology scorned. It keeps going and going...I'm afraid I will overflow the garbage pail with my...byproduct...I think with regret about the poor underpaid railroad employee that would find a very unwelcome gift the next morning...but mostly I am relieved. Ever so effing relieved.
Not nearly as much ashamed as peaceful, I pull up my pajama pants and go back to my cabin. The fat lady had sung, and it was glorious.

вторник, августа 09, 2005

Stern Rebukes

I've received some complaints lately about my stubbornly unupdated blog. Please have patience and keep checking back, as I'll have some more fun narrative morsels coming soon.

четверг, июля 28, 2005


Sorry it's been so long since my last post, but maybe this will help a bit... Here is the recording of the 911 call that goes along with the insane story of my baby's birth (below). Bon appetit!