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Is There Oxygen Where You Live?
by P.L. Byrd • Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The oldest daughter of Gypsy Marine and his good-looking but bony wife, PL Byrd was addicted to chocolate by the age of seven months. Listening to be-bop, she moved gracefully into a supreme space of rhythmic dancing with her hip, bony mother and other fine women. She had a custom-made bridal gown by age five and was married four times by age seven—three times to the same boy.

Byrd has recently been published as a contributing writer in the non-fiction work entitled America The Good, Volume One. She also authored Mr. Tony’s Lessons of La Famiglia. She is currently grant-writing in sublimation to her first fiction novel, Love in the Fourth Dimension, and second fictional work, Notes to Saint Maniac. There is no Web site—at least not yet.

Let’s play a game. Let’s call it Dysfunctionality. Let’s put the funk back in dysfunction! Ready? Here are the rules. Just kidding - there are no rules.

I’m putting on my glasses, pretending to be a therapist. Here is what I say next in my best Julia Child imitation. (Okay, so she isn’t a therapist. Her voice is still my choice for a play role, any play role but maybe policeman. Then you may want to conjure Denzel Washington.)

Now, listen: the common thread that binds all dysfunctional behaviour is a tendency toward self-destruction. Did you notice the spelling of behaviour? That’s in honor of Julia Child. She’s British, you know. Well, so what if she isn’t. She pretends to be and that’s what matters in this game.

The game Dysfunctionality encourages players to reach a level of stability that transcends self-destructive behaviour. Remember, stability can exist without anti-depressants. You can have a real prescription for little blue pills, but not for marijuana. Who wants to participate in America’s sad excuse for a health care system? Excuse me, but I’ll just call Dr. Feelgood. I only go to the doctor when my leg is broken. Where’s the function in that? Dysfunctionality, the game, provides a psychiatrist who will prescribe any kind of little pill that is currently on the legal market, except opiates. He keeps those for himself.

Developing a sense of fairness and compassion toward others is the ultimate goal of the game. Kum ba yah, my lord. Que sera. Take a trip on the fantasy ship. Hush, now. No more cynicism. Remember: if this were a perfect world, none of us would be here. We must all continue to strive for positive personal development. Dysfunctionality, the game, allows you to hone your strengths, spot your weaknesses, and spit-shine your inner you.

Follow closely, now. According to Casey Trimble, a fundamentalist Christian spreading what she considers to be the good word, we better enjoy this place because we’re not getting in upstairs. The gates to Heaven are very narrow, she says. She says we’re going to Hell because we don’t believe in God the right way. She doesn’t know that I’ve seen Heaven with my own two eyes or that My Aunt Agnes has a direct link to Saint Peter. (I think they are second cousins.) I personally find it hard to believe that a woman weaving wicked tales and barring God’s children from Heaven would gain entrance to the loft. She may wear a dog collar, have three heads, and guard the gates of Hell, but from the ethereal perspective of her personal tribe, Casey will go to Heaven.

 I will not advance through the game until I build a broader base of compassion toward fundamentalist Christians and their thoughts and deeds. See? The game is tough.

A player wins when she is the first to successfully navigate through a series of situations relating to six major dysfunctional personality types addressed in this game, and, along the way, collecting four gold stars in each category. Yes, it’s obvious there could be at least fourteen categories. This game is under construction, don’t you see? This is only the first edition. Let it ride, Sally. We’re sticking with six categories, at least for today.

The six major dysfunctional categories recognized in The Game, Volume One are as follows: Substance Abuse and Addictions; Psychoses, Neuroses and Phobias; Delusional Behavior; Fixations and Obsessions; Sexual Deviation; and a personal favorite, My Aunt Agnes. Aunt Agnes is a healthy, happy woman who bakes cookies for the agoraphobic boy down the street. She looks a lot like Julia Child. Not that the boy’s mother would let him eat Aunt Agnes’s cookies. They might contain arsenic. Mom’s heard of Blanche Moore, you know, The Black Widow. Aunt Agnes may be related. There is a slight resemblance, you know, in the way they dress. The little boy’s dog gets the cookies because the mom secretly wants the dog to die - too hairy, too expensive, too whiny. The kid won’t go outside and play with the dog anymore. And the kid’s driving her crazy, in the house all day, following her every footstep, begging for his daddy to come home, as if it’s her fault he left. Makes her crazy! The mom clutches a  sacred holy- water-filled, glow-in-the-dark icon to her breast, admitting her darkest thoughts to Saint Maniac, asking for a road map to her many hidden vodkas bottles. The mom knows that she’s going to have to buy the dog a steak and lace it with arsenic herself if she wants it to die. Still, no cookies for her son. They might be tainted. Not that she hasn’t thought about it. “Here, honey, have another cookie.” Aunt Agnes represents the ‘other’ category, the one that receives and lovingly accepts the deranged mother of the only son.

Now, stars are earned at way stations. For instance, a player collects stars when he or she goes to AA meetings, does really sincere community service, completes marriage counseling, is released from the state mental health ward, or succeeds in kicking a drug habit at Eric Clapton’s rehabilitation clinic in Antigua--a lovely vacation destination for wealthy addicts who enjoy a good groove. Anyway, collecting stars is the key to progressing through the game of Dysfunctionality.

Some situations may penalize a player and remove valuable stars from his possession - maybe an illicit affair with a married man, having a panic attack in a public place, or getting arrested for shoplifting. Some situations may earn or penalize a player double stars. Earn double stars for calling 911 when you find your neighbor crawling around her back yard in her nightgown, dragging an empty vodka bottle with her, yelling that she has eaten fifty aspirin.  A player may suffer the penalty of having four stars deducted from your total when you stand at your fence and gawk at your sick, although entertaining neighbor, while pointing out to your husband that her feet are dirty.

So, what if you fake it? Any professional alcoholic can talk his way through the question and answer period. What if you’ve been slipping Valium into the chewy center of a gooey chocolate? Who’s to know? Certainly not the Queen of Denial, and she falls into a category, but not the same one as Drag Queen or Drama Queen. Are you getting it?

Just remember this advice: the game is not to be used as a hurtful family tool. If dark humor is kept in the same dusty attic trunk as a Nazi flag, burned Maya Angelou books, mangled copies of Ku Klux Klan literature and a bottle of Eva Braun perfume, you may want to play this game with your friends, or better yet, casual acquaintances. Yes, blood is thicker than water, but water is easier to swallow. Dark humor, while considered by most to be an intelligent thought process, can easily become the prelude to blame, insults, miscommunication, shock and guilt. You may choose to play Risk with your family instead, as you do every time someone opens that dusty attic trunk.

Some categories of dysfunctional behavior will not be dignified within the confines of the game--for example, seriously criminal behavior. No Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson or child molesters. Maybe a Jimmy Hoffa reference or two. You know, public domain. Look, if you have a thing about serial killers, watch television. Turn on Fox TV and watch their serial killer specials. Become the world’s most renowned Lazy Boy authority on serial killers. Imagine. Someone calls the library with this question: “Who killed the most people, Jack Sprat or Lizzie Borden?” Librarian says, “Gee I don’t know. But, call Phil Swilling. He’s our resident expert on serial killers. He watches Fox TV.”  Your question is nothing but net for old Phil.

The game Dysfunctionality is played on a spiral, or vortex-shaped board. You know, for circling the drain purposes. Each dysfunction is represented by several color-coded spaces on the board. And each dysfunction has its own deck of cards with questions pertaining to different situations. For example, sexual deviation may be color-coded pink. A player rolls a six-sided, color-coded die. It lands on pink. The player picks a card from the pink deck. Here’s the question: you’ve just discovered that your brother is a cross dresser. Do you a) get on the phone immediately to your relatives, spill the beans and make everybody’s life a living hell; b) get his bra size and buy him a special Victoria’s Secret gift; or c) schedule an interview with Jerry Springer?

You think the humane answer is ‘b,’ but you’ve resented your brother for years. You’ve never forgiven him for taping your pet frog to the swing set, for sending that poor green bastard around and around the bar until he was too dizzy to hop, then squishing his innards out with a cinder block. Absolutely, you will call your sister-in-law. Without a doubt, your mother will hear about perfect Ronnie’s preference for lace and nylon. Heck yeah, you will gladly spend time in a way station, forfeit all your stars and lose the game, simply because, in your eyes, it’s time for the big payback.

 Then everybody gets into a big fight.  Somebody turns the table over, beer spills on the board game, Aunt Agnes starts crying because nobody will touch her cookies and you have to order another game from the Internet because this one is ruined. Do you see why you must carefully choose your playmates in Dysfunctionality, the board game?

Moving on now to another category - Substance Abuse. Here we go: the movie Valley of the Dolls is about a) collecting Barbies; b) Valley Girls; c) pills; d) I’ve never heard of Valley of the Dolls, therefore I am not old enough to play this round. I forfeit one star.

Someone at your game table, I guarantee it, will say, “I saw that movie at the drive-in. We had three people hidden in the trunk, snuck them in. We brought a milk gallon jug filled with strong lime daiquiris and smoked lots of pot. I think it was about pills, but I passed out early, so I’m not absolutely sure. This may be a trick question because it was set in California, right? So the answer may be b and c. Is that an option? I do know that Suzanne Somers wrote the book. Can I get extra credit for that?”

Oh, you won’t believe the stories people tell on themselves when you play Dysfunctionality, the board game.

Hook up to the Internet. Type in Send in your questions and comments. Unfortunately, Julia won’t be there, but neither will Dahmer or Manson. Meet Aunt Agnes in person. She’s just a simple woman with simple needs. She has built one heck of a shrine to Saint Maniac. Loves good Italian red heads. Always wanted a tattoo of a ladybug on her breast. But she doesn’t like mutilation of any kind and would never consider sporting a ladybug tattoo unless it is guaranteed to never fade.
Mental Contagion
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