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Friday, April 20 Opinion

A Father's Journal: Tell the Grim Reaper the bathroom is occupied

My wife thinks I am obsessed with death. I am not. I may talk about it a lot, but I am not obsessed. I know I can't predict my own death, and I have just two wishes:

1. I don't want to die in the bathroom.

2. I don't want my death to qualify for the Darwin Awards, which are presented posthumously to people who have proved themselves too stupid to live. Named after Charles Darwin, the awards "commemorate those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it."

I don't know why I have a fear of dying in the bathroom, but I do. I hope when my time comes, I will have the energy to stagger into the bedroom or, fully clothed, back into the dining room of the busy restaurant I'm at and die there.

If the bathroom was good enough for Elvis and Lenny Bruce, why not me? I don't know. I just would rather not.

My other fear is dying by doing something really stupid. And I recently came a little too close to dying by my own stupidity -- twice.

I love those cherry cordials -- the chocolate-covered candies with the odd chemical liquid inside the cherries. I just love them. My daughter Julia knows that and gave me a box for Father's Day. We were at a breakfast place in town, and I immediacy inhaled a few. I literally inhaled them. One went down the wrong pipe, and I started choking.

I had read that, when choking, people will from run from embarrassment into the bathroom. Because no one follows them into the loo, they die there. I already had that fear, so I ran to the exit. No one followed. Family members had gathered to honor me on Father's Day, but not one followed. Not my wife, kids, nephew. No one.

Realizing that nobody was coming to my rescue, I ran back to the door of the restaurant, and, not wanting to disturb the non-dying patrons enjoying bagels and the morning paper, tried to get my wife's attention. I finally did, and she indicated she would be right out.

I couldn't wait. I couldn't breathe. I tried to do a self-Heimlich maneuver by throwing myself against a lamppost. It wasn't working. I was just scratching up the lamp post with my belt buckle.

Eventually, I was able to get about 25 percent of my airway open. Where were my wife and family? Paying the bill? After about a minute with a 25 percent airway, the cordial must have melted and my breathing got better.

Ironically but interestingly, my wife's family grew up near the Heimlichs in Rye, N.Y., and they were friends. We have always imagined that my father-in-law, who ate very fast, was the inspiration for Dr. Heimlich's invention. I imagine Dr. Heimlich wondering out loud how he might save my father-in-law if he choked at dinner.

I can also imagine my Darwin Award headline: "Son-in-law of Heimlich Inspiration Chokes on Cherry Cordial; Town Sues to Recover Cost of Lamp-Post Repair."

In my second brush with death, I was just trying to show off. My 16-year-old nephew is a great swimmer. We were at a pool. I couldn't compete with him in a race, but I remembered back in my glory days I could do quite a few underwater somersaults while holding my breath. My wife pointed out that if somersaults in a pool were my claim to fame in my glory days, it was no wonder I couldn't get a girlfriend.

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I asked my nephew if he had done pool somersaults competitively. He looked at me confused. He didn't know it was an Olympic event. Actually it is not, but it should be. Since he did not know the technique, I announced that I would double whatever he could do.

He performed a few somersaults, and I felt confident that I could double his total. I hadn't really done it in about 30 years and was 50 pounds heavier now, but I felt pretty confident. It was a simple matter of muscle memory, I figured.

I started off pretty good. The muscles remembered. But after eight somersaults, I lost all sense of up and down and started to flail around in the 5-foot-deep pool. I am 6-foot-5. All I needed to do was stand up. But which way was down?

Eventually I hit the side of the pool and escaped with only a scrape and lacerations to my dignity.

I had dodged a Darwin Award. But I could see the headline: "6-foot-5 man drowns in 5-foot pool."

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday.