jayellebee's Blog

March 4, 2010

Young Men, Eel and Flying Disks

Filed under: Published Pieces — Joanne @ 10:30 pm

(Originally printed in San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, January 22, 2006 http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/01/22/CMGQIF608P1.DTL )

My Caller ID flashes the name of an aquarium shop in Santa Barbara, along with our youngest son’s work number.  Mid-week.  Mid-morning.  An unexpected pleasure.

“Hey, Kiddo,” I answer.  “What’s new?”

“An eel bit me,” he says, without preamble.  “Think I need stitches?”

I would like to believe my friends with young adult sons have similar experiences.  I would like to believe good guys finish first.  I would like to believe I’d be the same sweet, hard working person if I won the lottery.  The truth stares me down.  I blink first.

“An eel bit you,” I echo.  “Where?”

“Here.  In Santa Barbara.”  Our son’s voice proclaims renewed amazement at my stupidity.

“No.  I mean, what part of you did the eel bite?”

“Oh.  Left index finger.  Last knuckle before the nail.”

Too bad Caller ID doesn’t mimic Homeland Security’s color-coded warning system.  Name displayed in green – no immediate threat level perceived.  Yellow – take deep, cleansing breath before answering.  Red – pour large glass of wine and sit down.

“What does the bite look like?” I probe.

“Well, I jerked my hand back when he bit me,” our son confesses.  “Kinda startled me.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet.”  My heart threatens cardiac mayhem at the very thought of being in close proximity to an el.  “Are you bleeding?”

“Not anymore.  The gash is about an inch long.  And I can see this weird white stuff inside my finger.”

I stare out my kitchen window, imagining our son with an eel dangling from his finger.  Did he say, “gash?”

“Mom?”  Our son’s deep voice resonates across the miles.  “Still there?”

“I’m thinking,” I temporize.

It isn’t as though I’ve never  had a call like this before.  Far from it.  Three sons, all grown and on their own.  I cut my maternal teeth on conversations with school secretaries.

“Mrs. Brown, you son is in the vice principal’s office.”  Underground high school homecoming shirt.  Boys physically debating its message.  Bloody nose and one day suspension.

“Mom?”  Impatience slithers out of our phone.  “Stitches?”

“How clean was the tank?” I ask.  ” A tetanus shot might be a good idea.  Any chance the eel nicked a tendon?  You better have a doctor take a look.”

“Aw, man.”  The mature voice reverts to a favored childhood phrase.  “There’s a tournament this weekend.  I won’t be able to play worth crap.”

Ultimate Frisbee tournament.  Good to see our son hasn’t lost his priorities.  Ultimate directed his college choice — UCSB Black Tide — and obliged him to spend five years as an undergrad so he could enjoy his “star year.”  Now, his passion sends him chasing the plastic disk from state to state in various tournaments.  He definitely needs two good hands.  Preferably with all ten fingers firmly attached.

“I’m thinking,” our son opines, “a glob of Neosporin should take care of this.”

“You can see it,” I say, resigned to defeat, “I can’t.  But watch for infection.”


How did he get to be 24 and a college grad without knowing this stuff?

“Swelling.  Redness.  Pus.”  My nose wrinkles.  “Throbbing.  Pain.”

“It hurts like hell right now.”

“Then go see a doctor.”

“He’ll just tell me it’s no big deal,” our son says.  “I’ll feel stupid.”

Our sons have taught me offering my opinion is as satisfying as slamming my finger in a car door.  Other calls, other days.  My fault, I always wanted them to share.

“Hi, Mom,” the oldest son called from Truckee one brass-monkey-cold January evening.  “How can I tell if I have frostbite?”

He didn’t really want care or prevention tips.  Just diagnostic pointers.  Too busy waxing his skis and honing their edges for the next morning’s first run.

“Hi, Mom,” our son-in-the-middle called from college some years ago.  “I got pitched out of the crew shell over by Redwood Shores this morning.  The other seven guys’ oars bounced off my skull as the boat coasted past me.  Coach says I might have a concussion.”

The Middle Man didn’t need Mom’s words of wisdom.  Just thought I’d enjoy a good laugh.  Oh, he also wanted me to know he’d be leaving campus shortly with a group of friends to go to Santa Cruz for a bonfire.  They might camp out on the beach.

“Neosporin sounds like a smart idea,” I agree, returning what’s left of my mind to the eel bite.  “And maybe a strip of duct tape to hold the gash closed.”

I know he’ll have duct tape.  He’s a guy.  Maybe he’ll even go buy some Neosporin.  It could happen.  Maybe.

“Yeah, OK.”  The youngest son’s voice is calmer now.  Quieter.  “And, Mom?”


“I’m thinking about quitting my job to spend a few months backpacking around Europe.  After the Ultimate season ends, of course.”

Of course.


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