Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Parents' Good Friends, the Ratzlaffs *

* names have been altered to protect me

My Parents' Friends

Part One in an "I don't know how many part" series

(Dad, I'll gladly change my topic if the price is right.)

Among my parents' friends are a couple with a marginally preadolescent son. For the sake of convenience, I will refer to this family as the Ratzlaffs. Dr. Ratzlaff is a neurosurgeon at one of the hospitals at which my father does research and holds privileges. Mrs. Ratzlaff teaches higher-level mathematics courses at a local secondary school. Baby Boy Ratzlaff will begin eighth grade at a local public school next week.

Dr. Ratzlaff is the sort of neurosurgeon who causes me to utter a prayer of thanks each day that I am presently not in need of neurosurgery and am unlikely to require such a procedure in the immediate future. Once, while visiting our home, he was in need of a bathroom for one function or another. My brother told him that the nearest bathroom was the second door to the right in the downstairs hallway. Dr. Ratzlaff must be a visionary sort of person, seeing doors where actually there are none, because instead of the second door, he opened the first door on the right. It's clear that the issue must have been one of seeing nonexistent doors because the man could not have completed the rigorous coursework and residency to be a neurosurgeoun without the ability to count doors with one-to-one correspondence at least to two. Anyway, he opened door number one and went inside a closet where we store sports equipment. My brother and I assumed that Dr. Ratzlaff would exit immediately upon discovering that the all-important feature of most bathrooms -- a toilet --- was not in this closet. My brother and I were wrong.

About one minute after Dr. Ratzlaff had walked into the closet and still hadn't emerged, I began to grow concerned. I told my brother to go get Dr. Ratzlaff and direct him to the actual bathroom. "Hell, no!" my brother answered. "What if he's already partly undressed and is taking care of his business?"

"He wouldn't do that," I insisted.

"He might," interjected Baby Boy Ratzlaff. "He's done stranger things than that." Despite having been spawned and reared by a couple of the looniest creatures on the planet, Baby Boy Ratzlaff was and continues to be comparatively lucid, which throws both "nature" and "nurture" theories out the window.

"What if he pees?" my brother asked.

"What if he poops?" I asked.

"I'm not worried," my brother concluded. "Mom and Dad will assume you played a trick on him and told him the wrong way to the bathroom, and you'll have to clean it up."

"But why would they blame me for a presumably intelligent adult mistaking a sports equipment closet for a bathroom?" I countered.

As my brother was answering, "They've blamed you for worse on weaker grounds than that," Dr. Ratzlaff exited the sports equipment closet.
He smiled at the three young people seated in the family room, took a turn to the right, went down to the next door, walked in, and presumably did what it was that he had intended to do in the first place. Later that evening, just to be safe, I opened the door to the sports equipment closet. I turned on the light and did a cursory visual scan of the closet, along with an equally quick sniff test. Nothing seemed amiss. I did not go to the trouble of checking inside batting helmets with the rationale that if my brother ever put on a helmet before going to bat and received a pleasant surprise, it would be Karma at work.

My Uncle Steve, too, was at our house that night. My Uncle Steve is a doctor and also has privileges at the hospital where Dr. Ratzlaff and my dad work together. Uncle Steve, however, is a pediatrician. Dr. Ratzlaff doesn't ordinarily go out of his way to extend common courtesy to pediatricians, even though Uncle Steve is Baby Boy Ratzlaff's pediatrician, because he considers pediatricians the equivalent to veterinarians, according to my Uncle Steve. (Why one wouldn't extend common courtesy to a veterinarian is a mystery to me, but for the moment, I'll let it go and remain fixated upon the topic at hand.) My brother told Uncle Steve about Dr. Ratzlaff's slightly abnormal bathroom visit. Uncle Steve observed, fully knowing that the Ratzlaff offspring was seated among us, that most neurosurgeons are a few centimeters closer to the Twilight Zone than are the rest of us. "That's probably one of the more normal things he's done today," he added. Baby Boy  Ratzlaff nodded his assent.

Mrs. Ratzlaff teaches at the high school I attend. She was my pre-calculus teacher my sophomore year. She clearly understands mathematics but doesn't excel at explaining mathematical concepts in language understood by students who aren't themselves gifted mathematicians -- a characteristic that is far from rare among math teachers. Her classes are basically well controlled, but because she doesn't possess either a sense of humor or a grasp of the figurative aspect of language, it is easy for students to civilly aim insults at one another throughout an entire class period without Mrs. Ratzlaff ever being aware that it is happening. This practice is particularly prevalent during any sort of student presentation session. Curiously enough, Mrs. Ratzlaff is never the target of the politely voiced subterfugal insults. There are levels to which high school students in possession of consciences will not stoop. We don't harass the severely handicapped students on campus, and we leave Mrs. Ratzlaff alone for the most part.

Mrs. Ratzlaff has her own fashion style, because she makes all of her own clothing. Rumor has it that she even sews her own bras and underwear, although unless she told someone, I don't know how anyone could verify this piece of information. I've been told that she doesn't use patterns when she sews her clothing. That is not one bit hard to believe, as it would be virtually impossible to find patterns for the clothing she makes and wears. She's partial to bold-colored paisleys, calicos, and plaids. (Baby Boy Ratzlaff was almost given "paisley" as a first name, which would have surprised hardly anyone, as that's just the sort of thing Dr. and Mrs. Ratzlaff would have done, but that will be discussed in greater detail later.) Two boys in my class nominated Mrs. Ratzlaff to be a participant on the television show "What Not to Wear." (I'm not contradicting what I said earlier about students not picking on Mrs. Ratzlaff. I honestly believe they thought they were doing her a favor when they filled out the online form.) I don't know whether she declined the invitation, whether the show has such a colossal number of nominees that production staff either hasn't gotten to her yet or had to randomly elimate her because of the sheer numbers, or if they took one look at the scanned photographs of her and determined that she was beyond help.

Baby Boy Ratzlaff is referred to as such because that's what his name was until a week before kindergarten registration. It took his parents that long -- four years and six months -- to decide on a name for their child. I mentioned earlier that "Paisley" was one name considered. Also under consideration were "Motor Neuron," "Hypotenuse," amd "Cincinnati. " (No one knows how Cincinnati made it onto the list. As far as anyone who would know such things knows, he was neither physically conceived, mentally conceived, born, baptized, or anything else of significance in Cincinnati, Ohio, or any other place named Cincinnati. To the best of the knowledge of Dr. Ratzlaff's only brother, who owns a tattoo parlor in our city, the Ratzlaff family has never even been to Cincinnati.) In any event, the kid had to have a name to begin kindergarten. I don't know if this is an absolute requirement or state law, or if the combined Ratzlaff weirdness has its limits, as in even they understand that a child can't be expected to be called "Baby Boy Ratzlaff" by his kindergarten teacher and peers. (His aunt babysat him before he entered kindergarten, so it was not an issue for preschool.) They ended up naming him Michael. "Michael" is a name that's been on top-twenty lists of names for male children roughly since the reign of King Solomon, so only God knows why it took the Ratzlaffs roughly four-and-one-half years to think of it, but it was fortunate for Michael that they did. Michael receives mention in this blog only because he is a part of their family. He's otherwise too normal to merit the space.

I've been told by both of my parents countless times that I have no qualifications to practice either conventional medicine or psychology/psychiatry, and so I won't. Let me say, though, that were one to look in the second-to-last edition of the Diagnosis and Statistics Manual, which is considered a Bible of sorts for mental health professionals, (the reason for looking in the next-to-last edition is that the condition has been elimitated from the most recent edition of the manual), and one thumbed through the a's until one arrived at a particular syndrome that sounds a whole lot like "ass burger," one would very likely find a photograph of Dr. and Mrs. Ratzlaff posted prominently next to a description of the syndrome. My parents are the open-minded and non-discriminating sort. Little things like mental health diagnoses do not deter them from befriending and socializing with people.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Alexis, this is by far the most brilliant thing you've ever written, and possibly the best piece of writing I've read all year. You and I share many of the same feelings about "the Ratzlaffs." If anyone in your family gives you trouble about the contents of this post, call me. I'll come to your defense. I would have written everything here except that I could never have nailed it as you did.
    Uncle Steve

  3. You had me ROLLING! Your descriptive ability is astounding!

  4. Thanks, Tina. This is actually one of my personal favorites of my blogs. Additionally, the teacher who was grading me knew of whom I wrote even with the name change and gave me credit for extra blogs because she liked it so much, and my dad paid me twenty bucks not to write about any more of his friends.