The Geiger Counter

Matt Geiger is a Midwest Book Award Winner, a national American Book Fest Finalist, and an international Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist. He is also the winner of numerous journalism awards. His books include “Astonishing Tales!* (Your Astonishment May Vary)” and “Raised by Wolves & Other Stories.” He once won an axe-throwing competition.
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My Wild Ride

Each spring, my dad would disappear into the old corn loft where rabid raccoons used to hunker down and stare out with their glowing eyes for wayward children and dogs to bite. A few moments later, he’d emerge with an antique rocking horse, a faded plastic steed held aloft by four rusty springs and a creaky metal frame. 

These rides seem quaint today, when children run around with smart phones and dive in and out of virtual reality. But in the 1980s, an old, yellowed plastic nag that bounced around when you climbed aboard her back was the best you could hope for. 

“Here you go,” my father would say as he set it down in the yard. “Have a great summer!”

He’d head out into the fields, and I would be left to get reacquainted with my horse, who had wintered in the corn loft with all the mangy Procyon lotor. 

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Tigers and Words

The word “advice” comes from Old French, and before it Old Latin, and it means “to see.” The word “apocalypse” is of Greek origin, and it means “to lift a veil.” In other words, to see better. A wise oracle is sometimes called a “seer.” This one doesn’t take a genius to figure out; it comes from see-er, or “one who sees.”

The more you scratch the surface of the words we use today, the more you find that many of them have something to do with our sight. Language, after all, is about how we see the world. It is our daily rebuttal to the eternal, nagging question posed by the cosmos: “What am I looking at?” And the answer, which is “something strange,” is always reassuring. 

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After my wife and daughter and the dogs went to sleep and the cat woke up, I unzipped a black case filled with wires, tubes and instructions. I was doing a home sleep study, and the doctor’s office loaned me a device to monitor my sleeping and rate my slumber. 

I did it because I kept getting pop-up ads telling me that I might have sleep apnea, and that if I do, my heart will probably explode, or perhaps I’ll just be very sleepy and inefficient when I try to write my weekly column in the afternoon, in other words right now. 

I agreed to do it because I like surprises, and medical bills are always incredibly surprising. 

When my doctor instructed me to take a sleep test, my wife promptly instructed me to find out how much it would cost first. I’m not sure how much my health is worth, but I assume she needed to know if the procedure would cost more than the agreed upon figure above which I am completely replaceable. 

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When your child first learns to speak, words are like snowflakes. Each and every expression is totally unique. Like a thousand little verbal fingerprints.

But all of the old words are falling away, now. The “piddow” on which my daughter used to rest her head has been replaced by a boring old “pillow,” just like the one on which everyone else sleeps. The big, messy bites of “melon-melon” she’d take on a hot summer afternoon has become normal, boring “watermelon.” The way she used to look at two flavors of ice cream and ask: “Hhhm. Should I get the one one, or the wudder one?” That’s slipping away too.

These days, most of the words she says–words like “this is boring” and “you are mean” and “I want to watch a movie on your phone”–could be said by pretty much anyone. And most people, as I think we’ve established in this column over the course of the past several years, are a heady cocktail of mean and boring. 

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Dead Fish

“Daddy, can I get another pet?”

“Maybe,” I replied. 

“And this time can I get one that won’t die?”

“Well, I’ll do a Google search for ‘immortal pets,’ but I can’t promise anything,” I said, unsure, as always, if I was doing permanent psychological harm with my words. 

When the fish we won at a summer carnival a couple weeks ago perished, some friends were kind (read: cruel) enough to bring us a replacement fish. That fish also died. I’d like to make it clear, and I didn’t ever expect to need to make it clear, that we are not running an aquatic hospice at our suburban home. 

“I think maybe a few days is just the life expectancy of a goldfish,” I told my little girl, hoping it was true. “I think I heard they live about three seconds? Or maybe that’s their memories? Maybe that’s not true, though.”

I quickly added my boiler plate final statement to everything: “I’m not sure. We should look it up.”

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I turned 40 last week. Luckily for me, I got my mid-life crisis out of the way early (in my mid-30s), and this official onset of middle age doesn’t have me as rattled as it could.

There is an old saying that age is “nothing but a number.” It’s certainly a number, yes, but it’s a number that has a pretty solid relationship with how much time you have left on Earth, so I don’t think it’s exactly insignificant.

At 40, I’ve outlived most rock stars, most Neanderthals, and even a couple of Messiahs who started major world religions. I tracked down a few studies on life expectancy over the ages, and was surprised to learn that I’ve also outlived, well, pretty much everyone.

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Tales from the Merry-go-round

Summer festivals

A fish died and a kid threw up. That’s the most succinct description I can come up with from the weekend. 

We attended one of those smalltown carnivals, those places where deep fryers congregate like a hundred thousand wildebeasts assembling for migration. A place full of buzzers, bells, lights, power chords the size of your forearm, corn dogs, and the screams and giggles of children who are zooming through the Midwestern sky on rides while adults gaze into their wallets and purses and wonder where all their money has gone. 

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Good Life

It’s become fashionable these days to tell your daughter she can grow up to be president. That she can work on Wall Street or run for senate. That she can be rich and powerful.

Just as rich and powerful as the most miserable men.

The only problem is that I love my daughter, and I wouldn’t wish any of those terrible things on her, or on anyone else about whom I care. 

All I really want for my child, is for her to see beauty and truth in the humble places they reside. That, I hope, is enough. And if she can, she will be able to lead a good, meaningful life, brimming with meaning and love.

I left a mason jar on the side of sink the other day, wobbling when I set it down on the rounded white porcelain beneath it. My five-year-old daughter, Hadley, entered the bathroom a few minutes later, and I heard the telltale crash of glass exploding on the unforgiving tile floor. 

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When I was little, and I’d get hurt, soiled or sodden, my dad would saunter toward me, searching around in his pockets. His stroll lacked urgency, which made me suspect my situation perhaps lacked urgency too and might not end up sending me to the emergency room. By the time he arrived, my father had usually found what he was looking for, a navy-blue handkerchief with a white paisley design swirling around its center. 

Some parents choose to treat their children’s bruises, abrasions and other mishaps with ice packs, warm compresses, aspirin, tinctures, salves or stitches. But he believed a wrinkled piece of cloth was always the right prescription. 

“Here, son,” he’d say calmly. “Let me just smear the mummified leftovers from your prior injury or accident into your new one. That ought to clear things up. There, there. All better.”

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Man At Work: A Look at Michael Perry's Latest

John Steinbeck said he wanted to write about people “who merge successfully with their habitat.” “In men, we call this philosophy, and it is a fine thing,” he added. He wished to tell the tales of “good people of laughter and kindness, of honest lusts and direct eyes, of courtesy beyond politeness.”

That was in 1937. Now it’s late 2017, and the ghost of John Steinbeck is no doubt thrilled to have someone like Michael Perry carrying on his work down here on Earth. Perry’s new book, Danger, Man Working: Writing from the Heart, the Gut, and the Poison Ivy Patch, won’t surprise anyone in scope or style. It’s simply a collection of stories spanning 15 years. Perry writes about dog sledding, existential philosophy, vomit, guns, and the complexities of modern parenting.


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