Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why Have the Disease When You Can Worry About It Without Really Having it?

I am a hypochondriac.

I don't watch medical shows on TV, because when I do, I have all the symptoms of that week's disease about two seconds after the closing credits roll. I watched HOUSE for three seasons before I gave up. Most of his diseases were so exotic even I couldn't develop symptoms. But after three seasons House's dyspepsia did me in. So, in a way, it was a disease that killed that show for me as well.

About a month ago, my brother had surgery in which a couple of stents were placed where stents are placed to open up whatever stents open up. Naturally, since that time, I have had chest pains that radiate down my left arm. I had these same pains ten years ago and went through all the steps people go through with these pains and was declared free of any kind of heart issues. Since I was officially declared free, I stopped worrying about the pains. Now, they're back and it's because I am incapable of not sharing other people's maladies.

Today, as I sat at Barnes and Noble innocently working on a play, the two ladies sitting in front of me doing the volunteer Christmas wrapping thing started discussing a friend of theirs who had passed away. Not a heart attack, but something to do with chest pain.

I wanted to take their wrapping paper and just...wrap the hell out of them.

I have three little lumps of something in my right palm. A year ago, I showed these lumps to my dermatologist. She smiled and said, "Oh, we don't usually do anything about these lumps. Unless there's pain, we just leave them alone."

I've gone a year not worrying about the lumps.

But recently, it occurred to me that it was my dermatologist telling me there was nothing to worry about.

What the hell does a dermatologist know?

So now I'm worrying about the lumps again.

Last Christmas, I was feeling some muscle pain in my neck and skull area. Went to my doctor at Lahey Clinic on CHRISTMAS EVE! He looked at me for about 32 seconds, felt my head, told me I was fine. And I was.

Until this week, when the pains returned.

Now I'm worrying about the pains again.

Maybe it's a Christmas thing.

Every slight discoloration on my body must be melanoma.

Every headache must be a brain tumor.

Every chest ache must be a heart attack.

Every cough must be lung cancer.

I need an episode of HOUSE where, at the end, Hugh Laurie looks into the camera and says, "Nobody is sick. Everybody is well. You, particularly, Neary, have nothing to worry about."

That'll last me a while.

Until I overhear another symptom in the line at CVS.

Well, at least at CVS I can pick up something to take for the ailment.

Whatever it may be.

I am a lunatic.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gus Bernier ("Uncle Gus")

It's that time of year when what has become depressing about the holiday season triggers memories of holiday seasons past when the holiday season was the Christmas season and hardly anybody was afraid to utter the phrase, "Merry Christmas."

Now, when you utter the phrase, you are being bold and defiant.


Oops, there's another un-utterable holiday phrase!

And it's his birthday!

I digress.

So as I fight, fight, fight to return this time of year to its former stature (i.e., better than Thanksgiving), I remember a guy who contributed greatly to making Christmas Christmas for me back in the day.

Gus Bernier. Just a guy who pretty much ran the old WMUR TV station in Manchester in the fifties and a bit into the sixties. I got the impression he showed up in the morning, opened the door of the station, cranked up the broadcasting equipment, and then did everything until he went home, probably after eight or nine in the evening. He did the news and weather, I'm pretty sure about that. And he had a kiddie show, called "The Uncle Gus Show," which ran a while.

But the reason I remember him, and the reason I bring him up today, is that I believed he was Santa Claus.

Yeah, I said "believed."

Sometime in December each year when I was extraordinarily young, Gus did himself up as Santa, sat behind a WMUR desk, and transformed himself. The show would open, as I recall it, with what had to be a miniature igloo or something being dusted by WMUR snow. There was a window in the igloo and the camera zoomed in to the window, then opened up on Gus as Santa. He had an elf, named Ooglook (forgive the spelling, I have no idea), who could have been a man or a woman, and who had the voice of a bursting steam pipe. Bernier's voice was perfect--booming, happy, blustery. He would spend the first part of the show talking to us kids, directly into the camera, as if each of us was his own personal visitor. The television was like Santa's lap, and, since he came on at about 5:00, we watched and listened as we had dinner, or "suppa" as we called it back then.

After this, he would go to his workshop, and show us (and our parents, who, in those days, had "suppa" with the kids) all the new toys he and his elves had "built" at the North Pole. For some reason, which we kids neither understood nor tried to understand, he would tell us (and our parents) that if we wanted to take a closer look at the toys he had built, all we (and our parents) had to do was visit his "friends at Mattel" or wherever. Sponsorship taken care of.

And that's pretty much it. He was as believable a television character as any of the greats--Ed Norton, Barney Fife, Archie Bunker, Cartman--and when I woke up as a very young child and found gifts under the tree, it was this guy I believed had visited the house the night before, left the gifts, ate the cookies and milk.

To me, that's an astonishing accomplishment for an actor.

Well, making me believe, I mean. The cookies and milk--any actor could do that. Most would.

Thanks, Gus.

Merry Christmas.