From Mike Tyson to Choo-Choos, a Lesson in Brain Training

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler.

It was a quarter ’til why-do-they-start-school-so-early on a Monday morning, and I was about to kick Mike Tyson’s ass.

Of course, if history was any indication, what really was about to happen was the separation of my head from my shoulders. That’s what had happened each of the previous 4,182 times Iron Mike and I had thrown fists.

To be fair, he was the unified heavyweight boxing world champion, and I was 12.

Hi there, Skinny Pete

To say I was mildly addicted to Mike Tyson’s Punch Out in 1987 is akin to saying Skinny Pete was mildly addicted to meth in “Breaking Bad.”

Every waking minute my parents would allow me to play video games (and some minutes when they didn’t), I was working my way through the cast of characters who dared step up to my surrogate, Little Mac.

Glass Joe? Broken.

Von Kaiser? Kaput!

King Hippo? Pick your shorts up off the ground, fat boy.

When I finally dispatched Super Macho Man for the first time and advanced to Tyson for the first time, I was on a roll and confident I would end the “0” for the 31-0 Kid Dynamite.

He promptly knocked me into next week.

Ah-ha! But now I had a code! I didn’t have to worry about dodging Don Flamenco’s flamboyant uppercut or Bald Bull’s Bull Rush anymore. I could jump right to Tyson!

For two weeks, I had tried to dethrone the champ. For two weeks, I had failed. The best I had done was survive the second round … once.

“OK Champ. One more time before school,” I said as I punched in the code. (For those who still have an NES and don’t know the code, it’s 007-373-5963.)

The screen lit up: “Let’s keep it clean! Now come out boxing!”

Tyson charged across the ring and immediately threw a massive right uppercut.

Too slow, champ. I dodged to the left and clocked him in the head with a jab followed by a straight right.

That got his attention.

Too slow, Champ.

He immediately fired back with a left uppercut full of evil intentions.

Again, I was too fast. I bobbed left just before his fist crushed my chin and this time threw a powerful right hook with a straight-right chaser.

Boom. Suck on that.

But the champ would not slow down. Uppercut after uppercut came. Uppercut after uppercut missed.

Next were the hooks. With unimaginable ferocity, he threw big, wide punches that met nothing but air. Each time, I shot back with a quick left-right.

I had Tyson teetering when the bell rang to end the first round.

Back in the corner, my trainer, the pudgy and friendly Doc, encouraged me, saying, “Don’t give up, Mac! Fight!!”

I really hadn’t thought about throwing in the towel, considering Tyson had yet to hit me, but yeah, Doc, sure. Thanks for the pep talk.

From across the ring, Tyson taunted me: “Hey! Is this kid a joke? Where’s the real challenger?”

He was about to find out.

“John! The bus is going to be here any minute!”

What the…?

“Get your butt down here!”

It was my mother. And she obviously knew nothing about priorities.

“I’ll be right down!” I said, a truth that relied heavily on a liberal interpretation of the word “right.”

The second round began, and Tyson charged across the ring once again. I was ready. I stopped his onslaught with a flurry of body blows, but the Champ’s defense was impregnable.

Suddenly, I was out of energy! My Little Mac was purple and sucking wind. I couldn’t throw a punch! Surely, this was the end!

The champ reared back and unleashed a massive right uppercut that, if it hit, would pop my head off.

Not so fast.

I dodged quickly to the right, then ducked another punch. I felt a second wind! After stepping away from another face-buster, I connected flush with a right hook to his chin.

He wobbled back, stunned … and crumpled to the mat!

“John! Now!”

“I said I’ll be right down, Mom!”

I had made it into the second round against Mike Freaking Tyson without being touched once, and catching the bus was somehow vital to ending the Cold War all of a sudden?

Tyson slowly rose off the canvas at the count of five.

Now he was mad.

He started throwing hooks again, and I kept up with my magnificent dodging and counterpunching. The Champ was fading. My fingers worked the controller as they never had before. I was a nimble 12-year-old god in the prime of my videogame life.

This time? This time was going to be different. He wasn’t going to laugh at me and flex his bicep while I lay defeated on the mat, seeing stars. Tyson was going down.

But then…

The Champ unleashed a barrage of jabs and straight right hands. I ducked and dodged as best I could, feeling the rhythm perfectly, as punch after punch after punch sought to smash my nose.

But then, with the eighth punch, I was a split-second off. His granite fist slammed into my jaw, and I flew backwards to the mat.

“Dammit!” I said, a little too loud for a 12-year-old whose mom was downstairs.


Oh crap. Had she heard?

“Downstairs. The bus. Now!”


“I’ll be right there!” I replied, mashing the A and B buttons to get my Little Mac back vertical. I could not — would not — let her distract me.

Tyson didn’t wait for me to recover any further. He walked across the ring and threw another one of those nasty right uppercuts, but I was too quick. In return, I used one of my “star” points to throw an equally nasty uppercut. It connected solidly with Iron Mike’s jaw … and he went down again!

This time, he didn’t arise until the count of eight.

The second round ended, and I went back to the corner. There was Doc, lifelong friend, rider of the bicycle in front of my training runs through the city, ready to dispense fresh words of wisdom that would inspire me onward to victory.

“Don’t give up, Mac! Fight!”

Didn’t you just say that? What the hell, Doc?

The bell tolled for the final round, and I knew I was in good shape. Even if Mike connected, I still had a few knockdowns left before mashing those buttons wouldn’t do a thing to keep me in the fight.

So I dodged. I punched. I knocked him down. He got back up. I knocked him down again. He got back up again. I dodged and punch some more.

“John! That’s it! Get down here and out to that bus stop! I am not going to drive you to school!”

For a brief moment, I analyzed the threat. I was now further than I ever had gone against the champ. I had an actual shot to beat him. As I saw it, based on my mother’s warning, there were two options.

  1. Shut off the game like a good son.
  2. Continue the fight and potentially miss the bus, at which point — if Mom was to be believed — I was guaranteed a day off school because she wasn’t going to make we walk to a building that was a half-hour car ride away and she’d already staked out her position on driving.

The fight continued.

The clock was ticking toward the end of the fight, and I wasn’t going to let this go to the judges, who I assumed were Mario, Luigi and Donkey Kong — not exactly a trustworthy bunch.

With a minute left in the fight, I slipped Tyson’s billionth uppercut. My timing was on point that morning, let me tell you.

I stunned him with a counter jab. He stood there, defenseless, mouth agape, just waiting for my fist.

And then with one mighty super uppercut, I knocked Mike Tyson the hell out.

And the NEEEEWWWWWWWW heavyweight champion of the world….!!!!!!!

I threw my hands in the air. The controller flew off the wall.

Hell, yeah!” I screamed, “I did it! I did it! Mom! I did it!”

“Did what? If it’s not ‘I did get my butt out to the bus stop,’ I don’t want to hear it!”

“I beat Mike Tyson! I beat Mike Tyson!” I yelled, running down the stairs and past where she stood with hands on hips. “I did it! I did it! I did it!” I screamed, grabbing my backpack without missing a step and flew out the door, leaving Mom wondering why she didn’t just stop after my older sister — something I was and still am pretty good at making her wonder, I might add. I charged up the driveway and made it just as the stupid little short bus that was dispatched daily to the netherworld of my neighborhood pulled to a stop.

Everyone should feel the exhilaration I felt that day. No, not just that day. That week. That month.

When I met up with my pack of friends at school, I shared my story. A few scoffed. “Yeah, right. Prove it.”

Oh ye of little faith.

But most knew it was true, that truth in videogame accomplishments was part of an unwritten code of boyhood. Beating Mike Tyson mattered in the world of 12-year-old boys back in 1987. It wasn’t something just anyone could do. Even when the game faded from popularity, those who never felt the sweet joy of victory against the Champ outnumbered those of us who did.

Fast-forward 34 years. I’m playing videogames again. And this time, if Mom yells at me, I’ve got a doctor’s note.

I went for a neuropsychological assessment a few weeks back. This Longhaul crap has turned my once-solid memory into something of a garbage dump. Working memory, rote memory — I just don’t have it anymore.

So I’m trying to fix it. The doctor said to try Lumosity. I’d heard of it before because advertising works. It’s an online program consisting of games aimed at improving memory, attention, speed of processing and problem solving.

Once a day, I take a break from work and call up my training. This time, I’m not dodging Mike Tyson uppercuts. I’m trying to come up with as many words as possible that start with “STR,” quickly figuring out which way the center bird is pointing or guiding choo-choo trains to the right station.

Yeah, not quite as intoxicating, but when you sometimes struggle to remember things like your ZIP code, it still can be rewarding.

There’s no Doc to help me in between the six games that make up a daily training session — but, really, what help was he back in the day? There’s just me, my aching brain and a strong desire to feel more like me again.

Some things, I accomplish easily. I’m in the Top 5 percent of all Lumosity users in mental math because that’s evidently a thing I’m good at now.

COVID Teaches Me I’m … Good at Math?

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. There are several truths in my family, among them: When my wife says we’re leaving someplace in 10 minutes, go ahead and get comfortable because she means an hour. At least. My youngest son is biologically unable to close the front door without force he does not have in any other situation, a force that shakes the house’s foundation. I suck at math. I’m not upset that I have the reputation…

Some things hit me like one of Bald Bull’s Bull Rushes and show just how much progress still needs to be made.

Is it working? Well, if “working” is defined as “Helping improve my memory,” I’m not exactly sure yet. I think so, but things still are pretty bad. But if you want to define it as, “Making me feel better because I’m actually doing something about all this stuff instead of just sitting back waiting for things to miraculously get better,” then yeah, it’s working.

As I’ve said, Dr. House ain’t walkin’ through that door, and self-empowerment is a wonderful drug.

Dr. House Isn’t Walking Through That Door

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. I was late to the game for the TV show “House,” but I caught up quickly. I love the concept of the flawed hero, and Dr. Gregory House is definitely one of those. Absolutely brilliant, he is recognized and grudgingly accepted as The Man when it comes to deciphering the most difficult medical mysteries…

When I beat Mike Tyson, I was the shit for weeks. Kids who hadn’t accomplished the task came to me for tips. I gladly gave them. I even went over to a friend’s house to replicate the feat for him so he could see what it was like.

When we have knowledge of how to do something important — even if it’s important only in the world of 12-year-olds — I think we should share it.

Longhaulers know that for every symptom we have, there are at least a hundred suggestions that sometime border on demands from well-meaning people who think they’ve found the cure to this misery. The disturbing thing with this virus is that what works for Mary and Bob doesn’t work for Carrie and Tom. Someday, physicians will know why that is. Or maybe they won’t.

For all of you suffering from brain fog and other neurological issues doctors can’t fix, consider Lumosity. No, I’m not saying that because they’re paying me (though if they’d like to, I’d make a pretty good pitch-man).

I’m saying it because, well, maybe it’ll work. And if it does, awesome.

Would you then kindly and gently spread the word?

More From ‘Longhauler: A COVID Diary’

The Five Things I Did to Kick Longhaul’s Ass

In 2021, I thought I was going to die. And I was pretty much OK with that. It wasn’t that I was hoping for death or particularly wanted to die. It’s that I saw the trajectory Longhaul COVID had me on, and no matter what I had tried, nothing had provided even a momentary reprieve…

First-Quarter List Review! Successes and Oopses and Covid Improvements

Time is a fascinating concept to me. I’ve written about it before, but it just seems so arbitrary sometimes. It amazes me how we can suck at it so badly that we have to add an entire extra day every four years to keep our system going — and no one really bats an eye.…

List Items Achieved! #51: Pants

By the middle of 2021, I was, in a word, fat. Not the cool kind of fat, as in phat, but just plain-old fat. In the middle of my battle with Longhaul Covid and following a course of Hail-Mary high-dose steroids to fix a Longhauler mouth issue that remains to this day, I punished my…

Happy Covidaversary To Me — Nov. 15, 2021

🧩 Today’s Puzzle Pieces 🧩A Year of Hell 😷Where’s Ben? 💔Profiting From Pollution 🏭 Happy Covidaversary to me. On this day one year ago, I had a Q-tip shoved up my nose to confirm what I already knew. Wifey Poo’s sister had been diagnosed with it. Wifey Poo’s mother had been diagnosed with it. Wifey…

Inside the Fight to Be Positive About All This

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. Lindsey is perhaps the most positive person I’e ever met. I worked with her for about six or seven years last decade, and I watched as she smiled her way into a management position. Every single thing was met with an overly enthusiastic smile, and…

Ozone and Ultraviolet Rays? What the Hell?

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. There are times in a person’s life in which he finds himself wondering how he got where he is. I remember feeling that way as I sat in my dorm room before freshman year started at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, more than 1,000…

To Those Who Refuse to Be Vaccinated, Jump Off a Bridge

Hi, my name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. I finally have had enough. I have sat in my workspace and listened to a coworker talk incessantly about why she wouldn’t be vaccinated against COVID despite being in the demographic of people who die most frequently from it. It was always the same twisted…

Why You Shouldn’t Say ‘This Too Shall Pass’

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. To tell someone suffering from a chronic illness such as Longhaul COVID that “This too shall pass” is to invite a punch to the throat. The origins of this phrase are sketchy. Those of the Christian persuasion often like to trot it out in an…

A Look Inside the Uncertainty of a Longhauler’s Fight

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. Saturday was a really, really good day that capped off a really, really good week. Ever since I changed my diet after visiting a functional medicine doctor, I had been feeling so much better than I have since November, when the COVID Fairy visited our…

Longhaulers Are Killing Themselves; Here’s Why — And What You Can Do To Help

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. When the coronavirus epidemic shut down the country in March 2020, Kent Taylor refused to accept his base salary as chief executive officer of Texas Roadhouse restaurants and instead poured that money back into his frontline restaurant workers to help them stay financially afloat. A…

Redefining the Talk About What’s In Our Heads

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. I have never and likely will never meet Jeremy Devine. Nor will most of you. Yet that doesn’t stop me from thinking it wouldn’t be an entirely bad thing were he to stumble into a honey-laden pit and become the object of intense interest for…

Why You Might Want to Give Functional Medicine a Shot

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. It’s an odd thing to one minute be talking about your childhood and the next be telling the same person how many bowel movements you have in the average day. Of course, the field of functional medicine — and its practitioners — are, by many,…

Getting Back to ‘The Stack’

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. I read a book this weekend. Well, more accurately, I read 12 pages of a book. This is neither a monumental accomplishment in the history of the world, nor a monumental accomplishment in the history of me. It is monumental for Me-Right-Now. Prior to becoming…

Into This Crazy Life, We Bring an African Child

Dieudonne became a part of our household amidst chaos, grief and weariness. Objectively speaking, it wasn’t a good time for us to welcome a 4-year-old with medical issues who didn’t speak a word of English. Of course, waiting for a “good time” to tackle that challenge is much like saying, “We’ll have kids when we’re…

(My) Top 10 Ways to Cope With Longhaul COVID

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. I’m quite convinced that most adults have at least one of “those stories.” You know what I’m talking about… the stories that gets rehashed ad nauseum every time the family gathers, no matter how old you are. Of course, never do these stories showcase your…

Five Things Longhaulers Hate to Hear: Number 5!

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. I can do stuff. Some of it, I can do easily all the time. Some of it, I can do easily some of the time. Some of it, I can even do with excellence. Just about every Longhauler has days, hours or minutes when they’re…

When Your World Withers Away

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. Looking back, it’s clear when this little trend started. It was back in January, which, not surprisingly, is when it first hit me that no one knew what the fuck they were talking about with my Longhaul symptoms. It’s also when my father-in-law died. And…

The Bizzaro World of Magic Mouthwash

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. Over in another part of this site, you can meet my California relative, Q.F. Conseco. His branch of the family tree is by far the most interesting to sprout in at least the past 500 years — and as the family genealogist, I should know.…

Here’s What Real Longhaulers Are Saying; Are You Listening?

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. Many people honestly struggle to see the world through anything other than their own filters. People believe the world is a certain way because their world is a certain way. If you want Reason No. 1 for why things suck, there ya have it. The…

The Prednisone Experiment and the Scientific Method

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. It is a fact that I would be a 46-year-old high school junior if not for Amanda Bortz. To put it mildly, me and chemistry did not get along, a byproduct of my inability to grasp math once letters said, “We’d like to play, too!”…

A One-Word Definition for COVID: Isolation

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. Come with me on a journey through time… Way back in the early days of the plague, back when the number of people in the country who had it was in the hundreds and the number of people who had died from it was in…

And Now, An Epic Longhauler Rant

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. And I’m about to lose my shit. Here’s the truth: I am about to break. And the scary thing is, I can feel it. The tiny fissures are becoming spiderweb cracks in my foundation — my brain, my heart, my lungs. Of course, there’s the…

How Does This Ride End?

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. My son talks a big game. The entire two-hour drive from our then-home in extremely rural Missouri to Six Flags near St. Louis, Joey bravely stated how much he was looking forward to going on American Thunder. From the back seat of my sensible sedan,…

The War Against Insomnia — And Longhaul COVID

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. So let’s put this all out there. All of us. Collectively. As Longhaulers. Let’s just list it all. Everything. All the symptoms. Oh, I’ve seen this list: And then I’ve read of about a dozen or two or ten more from fellow Longhaulers. I’ll add…

Six Little Pills Offer One Last Shot

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. Six tiny white pills are piled here on the desk next to me this morning, and I’m going to take them. These pills and their brethren in the safety-capped orange bottle next to them represent what very well might be my last hope to fix…

Hunting Gnome-Took-A-Dump-In-Your-Mouth-itis

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. It was jarring to be back in a doctor’s office waiting room today, to hand over my insurance card and driver’s license to be copied, to fill out the paperwork answering questions that were just going to be asked again by a nurse and then…

The Difference Between Good? and Good.

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. This morning on my 41-minute drive to work, I was a different person. Two people, actually. Bad versions of those two people, to be exact. The year was 1992, and something big was happening for 18-year-old me. High school had just become part of my…

Sometimes You Just Have to Sing

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. Driving down a rain-soaked highway, the morning sun cutting through angry black clouds at a severe angle. Cars flying past me on the left, doing far more than the 7 mph over the speed limit I do because I have one of those insurance company…

COVID Might Have Saved My Life

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. So before we begin, let me set the scene a bit by saying this: Toxic optimism is annoying. Christian toxic optimism is even worse. I have suffered for extended periods of time under more than a few clouds without a lining of any remotely precious…

If You’ve Got a ‘Best,’ You’re a Lucky Longhauler

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. “Your insurance doesn’t cover it, so it’ll be $90 if you want it,” said the kind young woman who would be present as a tooth was ripped from my jaw for the first time since I was a tween, back before “tween” was even a…

When Are You Just … Done?

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. I sat in my car as the late-morning sun warmed the interior, the only sound the soft purr of my Nissan Versa’s unimpressive engine. And I thought: “I think that’s it. I think I’m just … done.” I had spent the past 45 minutes inside…

Please Don’t Shrug Your Shoulders; Just Drill My Tooth

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. I have never wanted so badly to have a cavity. Or an impacted wisdom tooth (whatever that is). Or need a root canal. No sane person ever wants these things. Longhaul COVID has a way of chipping away at a person’s sanity. As I recently…

I Hate My Tongue

HI. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. The most powerful force on the planet has nothing to do with gravity, the ever-changing magnetic poles, love or faith in a deity. Not even close. Rather, the most powerful force on the planet is your tongue’s need to probe any place in your mouth…

Five Things Longhaulers Hate To Hear: Number 4!

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. It takes a lot to get me outwardly, visibly angry. This is not to say that I don’t have a temper or that things don’t piss me off. They do. I’m just fantastic at turning those emotions inward to avoid unnecessary confrontations and to not…

Top 3 Tips for Running a Longhauler Clinic

Hi. My name is John, and I am a COVID Longhauler. By the time the doctor came into the closet-like exam room in a non-descript medical building that is part of an enormous hospital complex, I was done. Fried. Finished. He stood in the doorway for a moment as I sat in a chair with…

Five Things Longhaulers Hate To Hear: Number 3!

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. Her name is Sarah and she lives across an ocean and the only reason I know her at all is because, despite a thousand differences, she now is a lot like me. Or I am a lot like her. Whatever. We are both Longhaulers. Sarah…

What ‘Longhaul-COVID-Tired’ is really like

Hi. My name is John, and I have Longhaul COVID. It’s 4:15 p.m., and I shouldn’t be writing this. I should be resting. My body is screaming at me to rest. But right now? Screw you, body. I’m writing this. One of my Longhaul COVID symptoms is insomnia, so I was awake this morning at…

The Really Nice Woman Who Tried to Kill Me

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. I am blessed to have a really good feel for people. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but I just know someone’s nature instinctively. Rarely … very rarely … am I ever off in my initial impression of someone. I don’t even have…

Beastie Boy Lyrics? Yup. Did I pee? Hmm

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, a white middle class kid in a mostly white school district. And I loved the emerging 1980s East Coast rap scene. Run DMC? Yes please. Beastie Boys? Uh, yes! In this, I was not unlike…

Why exactly am I getting this vaccine?

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. I hate you, CNN. I hate you for many reasons, of course. You pioneered the 24-hour news cycle, which is what kicked off the degradation of journalism because, with all those hours to fill, you turned to people who could squawk the loudest for the…

What should my expectations be of doctors?

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. So this afternoon I go to see an actual doctor at an actual doctor’s office. He will look into my actual eyes, the ones that once were a sparkling and dazzling green (if I do say so meownself) but now are shadowed by dark circles…

Five Things Longhaulers Hate to Hear: Number 2

Hi. My name is John. And I’m a COVID Longhauler. If you missed the first part of this series, well, that’s fine with me, but you might want to read it for a little background. I’ve even made this a hyperlink so you don’t have to do any searching around, because, hey, I’m just that…

The Invasion of the Mouth Sores

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler. My earliest symptom of COVID was this horrible, disgusting, metallic taste in my mouth. Before the exhaustion, before the brain fog, before the positive test, there was this invasion that made me feel like I had some sort of liquid, nasty, blech squishing from my…

Explaining Exhaustion

Hi. My name is John, and I’m a Longhauler. “So there it is. It’s right there on the end table. It’s, like, two feet away from your hand. You know you want it. You know you need it. Just reach out and grab it.” The “it” is a water bottle. And it is mocking me.…

Five Things Longhaulers Hate to Hear: Number 1!

Hi, my name is John, and I’m a Longhauler. Today we’re going to start the list of “Five Things Longhaulers Hate to Hear.” So here’s the deal: People mean well. They do. I’ve been through some pretty bad stuff in my life, and I know that, when confronted with a difficult situation, good people stay…

The COVID Diaries

“It’s inevitable, and it’s not going to be good.” There was a certain moment in October when I remember feeling in my soul that I would get COVID. While I was being safe, wearing a mask, yada yada yada, there were loved ones around me who, since the start of the pandemic, played things anywhere…

Leave a Reply