The Geiger Counter

Matt Geiger is the winner of 12 Wisconsin Newspaper Association awards, including four first prizes for his humor column, "The Geiger Counter."
The stories can also be found in a new book being published by Henschaul Haus. "Raised by Wolves and Other Stories" is slated for release in the fall of 2016. 
For more information, visit the author's website at geigerbooks.com. 
 
Sat
14
Sep
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Toys-R-Us

I was devoutly unenthusiastic when we arrived at the circus. 

The diminutive red and white candy-striped tent stood there, underwhelming me in the forlorn Midwestern parking lot of an out-of-business Toys-R-Us store, with portable bathrooms resting atop weed-dotted and crumbling asphalt. This was the kind of place where the R on the sign, which was always backward before the company became insolvent and shuttered its doors, would inevitably look rusty and sad, as if it were about to fall down and face the correct way. A more depressing, less playful, more down-to-earth letter than it was before the harsh realities of online shopping sunk in.

The atmosphere, there in the wreckage of what had been like a holy shrine to me in my childhood, was decidedly post-apocalyptic. All that had once been was gone; a big, dazzling temple of bright new toys reduced to a collection of gray detritus. I got out of the car and stepped into an apt graveyard for my youth.

Fri
06
Sep
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Nothing New

We rode our bikes as fast as we could, and when the whir of the chain and the wind reached their highest pitch, and the pedals began rotating faster than our legs, we’d slam our feet on the breaks to careen along the gravel road. After each run, we’d measure our skid marks and declare a winner. The longest mark won, and we played forever, or at least until we had to go home and have the pebbles plucked from our knees, watching with horror and fascination as the hydrogen peroxide bubbled and hissed and spat in our open wounds.

This was life before the Internet. A vast world where people were separated by untraversable geographical distance, where children in summer were compelled to engage in the somewhat biblical task of seeing what kind of mark they could leave upon the earth.

Sun
01
Sep
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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. 

Fri
02
Aug
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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. 

Fri
26
Jul
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Slumber

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. 

Thu
18
Jul
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Resterday

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. 

Sat
29
Jun
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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.”

Thu
20
Jun
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4-0!

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.

Sun
16
Jun
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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. 

Fri
07
Jun
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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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