Alan Zweibel: Livingston

Last Friday I threw my back out when I bent over to pick up my tooth.

I think that sentence bears repeating.

I threw my back out when I bent over to pick up my tooth.

No, this piece is not about the horrors of the advancing age or eroding health this event implies. I'll leave it to others to share tales of how their bodies, despite all dietary and aerobic regiments, are grinding to an inevitable halt. All I know is that while I was down there on our kitchen floor, now eye level with the $3,000 implant that decided it would rather spend time against the molding under the pantry door than embedded in the upper left quadrant of my mouth, the first thought that entered my mind was that I'll just get up and continue with my day. I had a lot to do. There was a script I had to finish.

And then, upon realizing it was simply impossible to get up, the second thought that entered my mind was that I could very well spend the entire weekend on that floor as my wife and two of our children were at the Jersey Shore. A most tempting invitation I reluctantly turned down because I had that script I'd vowed to finish in their absence.

The next order of business? To call for help. 911? A neighbor? Those folks who make Life Alert -- you know, they have that commercial where an old lady is lying on her kitchen floor and says "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up" into something she's wearing around her neck and people come from somewhere to assist her?

All good ideas. Problem was, to make a call, to anyone, I needed to get to my cell phone which was on the couch in my study. Which was on the other side of the dining room. Which may as well have been on the other side of Venus at this point as my legs, at best, were ornamental.

So with no conventional mode of transportation available to me, I started to slither in that direction while cursing our youngest child, Sari, for not going to a local college so she'd be close enough to drop in anytime to have a bite to eat, or do her laundry, or lift a parent should he happen to, let's say, fall to the floor after throwing out his back after a tooth took leave of his mouth. But Sari goes to Ohio State. An estimable university I then started cursing because it's in Ohio.

It was about then that I made an interesting observation. That is, the more one slithers, the more one tends to curse people, places and things. Funny how I'd never noticed it before; very possibly because slithering on one's belly is a form of movement traditionally limited to infantrymen and reptiles and is almost never done during the course of a Semitic comedy writer's workday.

So as I left the smooth, easy-to-glide-upon stained wood floor of our kitchen and, in absolute agony, made my way toward the oh-shit-there's-a-carpeted floor of the dining room, I figured I'd use that time to pad my list of the curse worthy.

Like Dr. Sol Silver, my so-called dentist whose implant didn't exit my mouth because I was eating an apple or corn on the cob or even pudding for that matter. No, what occurred was the following: I was writing in my study, got up, went to the kitchen where I made myself a delicious turkey sandwich, brought it back into my study, then returned to the kitchen to grab a Diet Coke when an unexpected sneeze sent my erstwhile tooth hurtling toward the pantry door. A sneeze! Not a tsunami. Not an explosion. For the love of God, it wasn't even a hardy sneeze -- but rather one of those dainty achoos that I suspect Kitty Carlisle and/or Arlene Francis would've muffled under a doily at a dinner party in Leonard Bernstein's apartment where everyone came back to after a benefit at the Guggenheim.

Next on my list? Our cat. Yep, I now proceeded to curse our cat Livingston for not being a dog.

Unreasonable? Not his fault? Perhaps. Yet all I knew at that moment was that I needed that phone and, when instructed to do so, dogs fetched things. As in, "Hey, Lucky, bring me my phone" followed shortly by, "Atta boy, Lucky. Here's a biscuit." Sort of a pet/pet owner quid pro quo that, in the very least, gives some credence to the "man's best friend" moniker we hear so much about.

But cats? Nope. Not a chance in hell. Whether they're asked, told, prodded, commanded, cajoled or bribed, cats do whatever they want, whenever they want, which puts them right up there among the most unresponsive of God's domestic creatures. And for that millisecond I considered cursing the Almighty himself for creating cats but decided against it because I thought it unwise to alienate any omnipotent being should I eventually need him to turn Livingston into a paramedic.

So I ventured onward.

Into the dining room.

Where, from my chin on the carpet vantage point, I was able to see, through the legs of the dining room chairs in front of me, my cell phone lying on the couch in my study. Alongside the turkey sandwich I now craved more than anything, which was saying a lot, given that I've been to Europe and have had some very good meals there.

I now had a decision to make. Should I go around the table or under it?

I did the math. And recalled from both years I took Geometry I (or was it from both years I took Trigonometry I?) that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line which, in this case, meant to continue slithering forward. Under the table. Between the legs of what seemed like a thousand chairs. None of which had any give when my shoulders failed to follow my head through them. Or when I threw my carcass into reverse in an attempt to reunite my head with my shoulders and all body parts located south of them.

I started rocking to hopefully dislodge. No, that's an exaggeration. Rocking is a motion that requires having a back strong enough to not have been under that table to begin with. So I wasn't rocking. I was nodding. That's right. I was lying on my stomach under a dining room table where I was stuck. Wedged. Essentially incarcerated by the legs of chairs we sat on maybe twice a year and was nodding like an imbecile -- all the while looking straight ahead at Livingston who was now splayed on the couch eating my delicious turkey sandwich.

"God damn you, Livingston!" I yelled. "That's the thanks I get, you ungrateful shit?"

Allow me to explain.

About three years ago our son Adam found a stray kitty in his backyard. And because his wife was pregnant and her doctor advised them against having a cat in the house, we took it in.

We gave Livingston a home. And affection. And one day, when he was still a kitten, after I'd made myself a delicious Boars Head turkey sandwich, I grabbed some of the leftover meat, ripped it into bit size pieces, placed them on the island in our kitchen, then lifted him onto the counter where he proceeded to devour the shredded slices with the ferocity of a kitten who was going to the electric chair the next day.

I continued doing this over the next several months and it escalated to the point that whenever Livingston, who was now the size of, well, a cat, saw me come into the kitchen he'd jump up onto the counter fully expecting that shreds of Boars Head turkey would follow. So I obliged. I kept a stash of it on a shelf in the refrigerator and on a few occasions even drove to our supermarket for no other reason than to buy sliced turkey so not to disappoint the cat who was now removing the top slice of bread from my sandwich, giving him easier access to deli meat he wouldn't even know about if it wasn't for me.

"Jesus, Livingston! You mean to tell me you can slide off the top of a sandwich but you can't lift a fucking phone! Give me break, you fat bastard!"

I then heard a sound from outside. A car pulling up. Yes! I then heard its door open. Yes! Help was only moments away! Up your ass, Livingston. I know humans.

"It's on the table in the foyer," my sister-in-law shouted to my sixteen-year-old nephew, who'd left his tennis racket at our house the night before, as he bounded up our porch steps and came through our front door into our foyer not ten feet from where his favorite uncle Alan was trapped under a table.

Jason's a great kid. Smart. Athletic. Funny. Would probably even find this situation humorous once it's explained to him. That's okay. I guess this episode was sort of funny. The kind of thing I'd laugh at had it happened to someone else. But now it was time for it to end. All I had to do was lift my head and shout loud enough to be heard through the top of the table and around the wall between the dining room and the foyer.


"I got the racket, Uncle Alan! See you later!"

And then was gone. Just like that. A front door slammed, a car door slammed, the car backed away.

God, I hate that kid. A lot. The three people I hate the most?


Bin Laden.

My sixteen-year-old nephew Jason.

So, once again, I was attempting to slither. Forward, backward, this way, that way, any way that could get me out from under that table before I ended up like that guy in 127 Hours who had to cut his arm off in order to...

"Uncle Alan?"


"Livingston was outside so I brought him back in."

He must've run out when Jason opened the door to get his tennis racket.

"It was so cute, Uncle Alan. He jumped up onto the hood of the car and kept looking at us through the windshield."

He probably thought there was a sliced turkey festival in the glove department.

"Uncle Alan?"

"Jason, can you come here a second?"

"Sure. Where are you?"

"In the dining room."

Jason enters to find the top half of his Uncle Alan's body under a table.

"Did you lose something, Uncle Alan?"


"A contact lens?"


"Then what are you looking for?"

"Jason, can you tell your mom to come into the house for a minute?"

"Yeah, but first tell me what you lost."

The little prick.

"I lost my tooth."

"And it's under the table?"

"No... it's in the kitchen."

"Then why aren't you in the kitchen?"

"Because I hurt my back bending over to pick it up and I'm trying to get to my phone."

About ten minutes later, after he stopped laughing, he got his mom and about ten minutes after that, once she stopped laughing, they each grabbed a leg and at the count of three pulled me out from under the table and then tilted me upward like I was a Christmas tree they'd just brought home and were about to decorate.

So, now it's Monday and it's hard to believe that I'm only three days older than I was when this pathetic tale began. I now have an orthopedist, I bought stock in the company that makes Life Alert, and tomorrow I'll be going to a new dentist with every hope it will be the last time that I'll be driving with one of my teeth in a pants pocket.

A silver lining? Well, I'm choosing to believe that Livingston, fully aware of his limitations, purposely ran from the house and jumped onto my sister-in-law's car to get her and Jason inside the house to help me. It's a lot easier to think that than being mad at him. We people over fifty tend to look unattractive when we're mad.

An original Saturday Night Live writer, Alan Zweibel won the 2006 Thurber Prize for his novel "The Other Shulman." His new novel, Lunatics" (co-written with Dave Barry) will be published on January 10. Learn about Alan Zweibel and Dave Barry's forthcoming book, Lunatics.