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Friday, July 28, 2000

Not With My Eyeball You Don't

I have one major phobia, and it has to do with a body part. No, not that one, thanks for asking. You’d think that if there were one body part I’d be particularly sensitive about, considering the fact that I talk for a living, it would be my throat or mouth, but it’s not.

It’s my eyes.

I can’t put anything close to my eyeball except for my own eyelid. If I get a piece of dust or something in my eye, I’m out of action for several minutes while I go into a mild panic until it’s out of there. If my eyesight ever goes south, I’ll wear glasses forever because I could never put a contact lens in. I can’t even watch other people put them in. I have to look away and grimace.

That’s why I am not jumping with excitement at the announcement this week of the latest affront to eyeball safety.

At the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, they are testing a new device called EyeTicket. No, not E-Ticket, the electronic ticketing system that was supposed to cut down on paperwork but instead made you paranoid that your reservation didn’t exist because you didn’t have printed proof.

This is EyeTicket, another system by which you don’t need a paper ticket. You also don’t need to show the airline counter clerk a photo ID or anything else tangible to prove who you are and where you’re going. All you need is your eyeball.

With this new system, you put your face up to a device which then scans your eyeball. Because eyeballs are even more unique identifiers than fingerprints, the computer instantly knows who you are and can recall your reservation more easily and quickly.

Naturally, the manufacturer claims it’s absolutely safe to use. But just off the top of my head, I can think of three good reasons why I (and my eyeballs) won’t be going anywhere near this EyeTicket gadget.

1) Anyone who has seen the movies “Never Say Never Again” (the one where Sean Connery returned as Bond) or “Demolition Man” (the Stallone-Snipes-Bullock one that’s so bad it’s campy-funny), knows that these eye-scan systems can be easily subverted by some sicko who rips your eyeball out of your head, sticks it on a pencil point, and – whammo! – your identity is stolen. Granted, your identity is of little use to you anymore because you’re lying somewhere bleeding to death out of your empty eye socket, but that’s not the point.

2) These eye-scanners will no doubt be operated by the same high-tech-savvy geniuses who now control the x-ray and metal detectors at the airport security checkpoint. I have less confidence in them than I do in the kid operating the french fry vat at Hardee’s. After all, when he hears a beeping sound, he doesn’t take you into the back room for a full body cavity strip search, just because you forgot that the sunglasses in your shirt pocket have metal rims.

3) Most importantly, I have this incredible eye phobia.

Several years ago, I woke up one day with a weird throbbing just under my right eye. It was as if I could feel my heartbeat in some tiny capillary just beneath the surface of my lower eyelid. Rubbing it didn’t help; nothing did.

I whined to my wife about it on and off throughout the day until she finally ordered me to go to an eye doctor the next morning. Notice I didn’t say “my eye doctor.” The only time I ever had my eyes checked was as a kid in elementary school (you remember, it was the same day as the finger-next-to-the-ear audiology test) and as an adult at the motor vehicle department at license renewal time.

Fortunately, right around the corner from where I worked was the office of an eye doctor whose sign I had seen, so I knew his name. I called him and he said that he had heard of this happening to many people who weren’t getting enough sleep, and it was the body’s way of sending up a warning flare. I asked him what I could do about it and he told me to come in first thing the next morning. I agreed, but told him that I was sure I’d get absolutely no sleep that night just worrying about it.

Trust me when I tell you it is nearly impossible to sleep when you can feel your heart pounding in your eye socket. And if you do drift off to sleep, even for just a few minutes, you will have nothing but weird dreams about exploding eyeballs, which do a pretty good job of waking you right back up again, this time in a cold sweat.

When I got to his office, I was far from rested, which only increased my anxiety. That was exacerbated when I went into the exam room and the doctor sat me down in front of a machine that looked like some ten year old’s erector set version of The Iron Giant’s colon, assembled inside out without so much as a glance at the instructions.

The doctor told me to sit calmly while he brought this monstrosity closer to get a good look at my still-throbbing eye. As soon as the device got within an inch of my eyeball, I flinched out of the way involuntarily. Apologizing, I tried again. Same thing. One more time? Sorry, not gonna happen.

Finally, he called the nurse in. I assumed her job was to assist in strapping me into the machine. Instead, she asked if I would tilt my head back so she could take a look at my eye. Being a male human, I immediately interpreted this as flirting. So, to impress her, I did as she requested.

That’s when I felt the burning sensation. While I had suavely leaned my head back into her hands, the evil doctor had swooped in and squirted some eyedrops in my eye. As he said, “That should do it,” the nurse released my head. Or, she may have let go out of surprise, because at that moment I let out a yowl that woke up several dogs in nearby counties.

Regardless, I wasn’t happy. He asked if I could still feel the throbbing, and I replied that all I could feel was his napalm burning my cornea to a cinder.

He explained that the effect of the drops would wear off in about an hour and then I should be fine. I left the office, cursing him each time I blindly bumped into every doorway. To my surprise, an hour later, the burning sensation did in fact wear off and the throbbing was gone.

Sure, I was grateful. But I swore two things that day: I would never return to his opthamological torture chamber except under extreme sedation, and I would always carry a printed airline ticket, so that no minimum-wage-earning airport rent-a-cop could ever incinerate my iris.

I’d rather stand in line and throb, if you don’t mind.

Sunday, July 09, 2000

Making Reality TV Relatable

Last year, the success of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" bred copycat shows like "Greed," "Twenty-One," and "Winning Lines." Only "Millionaire" still thrives.

This year, reality TV is all the rage. “Survivor.” “Big Brother.” “The Real World.” The networks are falling over themselves trying to create similar shows for the fall, though the vast majority of them will likely fail, too.

The problem is that none of these shows is about reality -- they're about voyeurism. They're not really real, nor are they really relatable. That’s why, with the help of my radio show listeners, I have created the ultimate relatable reality show.

It’s called “Family Life.”

Here’s the premise. We lock five families in a house together for an indefinite period and see which one lasts the longest (we were going to call it “The Five Families,” but didn’t want viewers to mistake it for yet another mafia miniseries).

Winning won’t be simple. The entire family has to stay or leave together. No single member can quit or win on their own. Last family out as a complete unit wins.

Like “Big Brother,” there will be no -- or very little -- contact with the outside world. The family members will be forced into interpersonal communication, all day, everyday.

That will be especially hardest on the teenagers, of course. They won’t be permitted to speak with their friends in the outside world, because there won’t be any phones. And no online chats, either. The teens will actually have to talk with their own families, which will be total torture for them. To ease the pain, they can watch an hour of television each night, but no MTV and no wrestling – only the Discovery Channel or some opera on PBS.

Now we have to develop some things to drive the adults a little nuts.

We’ll start with at least two infants under one year old, preferably screamers, but there will be no pacifiers allowed. There will also be no disposable diapers permitted. Just cloth diapers, which must be washed and re-washed after each wearing.

Remember, we want to create a little more tension than simply watching squabbling siblings being separated.

How about letting the pre-teens have a slumber party? Not bad. The squeals late into the night should keep everyone up.

How about letting one teen each week have a date with a boy/girlfriend from the outside – but only if the boy/girlfriend has several tattoos and at least two body piercings, preferably including a nose ring or tongue stud. Now we’re talking!

What about food? Since there’s no contact with the outside world, that means no pizza delivery or anything else brought in. Every meal will have to be prepared in the house, AND everyone in the house must agree to eat the same thing, or they get nothing at that meal! Oooh, that’s good. Forget about barbecued rats on “Survivor,” wait till some family alliance decides on liver and onions for dinner!

One of the kids will enter the house with a cold, which can then rotate through every other human in the house. On top of that, another kid, right at kindergarten age, will have lice in their hair.

You want pets? The relatable reality of “Family Life” will include a puppy that’s not yet house broken and a kitten that scratches every piece of furniture in sight. At least one of the adults will be allergic to animal hair, but can’t get the dog and cat to stop jumping on the bed and lying on the pillow.

Still sound too comfortable and easy to stay in there? What else can we do to increase the tension and force the families out?

The house will only have one bathroom!! Twenty or so people of all ages sharing one toilet, one sink, and one shower oughta guarantee some conflict.

We’re going to throw in two more humans, purely as protagonists.

First will be someone’s mother-in-law. She won’t be the go-along-to-get-along-with-everyone type. She’ll be full of criticism, not just for her immediate family members, but for every person in the house. She doesn’t like the way they dress, the food they cook, or their opinions on anything.

The other wildcard will be some weird guy who sleeps on a futon in the basement when he’s not playing songs on his guitar about how women just don’t understand how important he is in their lives. He may or may not be related to one of the families. Maybe he’s the mother-in-law’s other son who has been in and out of rehab. Regardless, he rarely showers and often walks around nude. He complains constantly about the cruel corporate world that prevents him from becoming a millionaire because it insists on having strict rules about going to work on time everyday, which is why he hasn’t held a job for ten years.

Now we need a host for our TV show. Someone who has the qualifications to oversee this conglomeration of families while simultaneously criticizing the parenting skills of all of the participants. A person who can compare the wildly underachieving kids in the house to their own fabulously underappreciated kids. A host who will point out every time one of the fathers dares to take notice of a woman who is not his wife -- but places blame equally on the man, the woman, and the media. There is only one person perfect for this job.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you “Family Life," with your host, Kathie Lee Gifford!!

Oops. There go all five families out of the house at the same time.