I often share overly personal information about my family on Mostly Teachable, but neglect to share some of the honest to goodness details of my happy life here in the wilds of Southern Michigan. This year I plan to post my photo collection from each Week That Was. To kick off 2013, I thought I’d go back into my vault and share some of what turned out be a really nice 2012. Here are some of the pictures from the last 12 months:
I know just enough to be dangerous.
Maybe this is just a Michigan way of being offhanded, but when asked about unfamiliar portions of their jobs, I often hear people answer with this weird throwaway phrase. Knowing just enough about any task to cause ruin and destruction is somewhat disturbing. Yes, I laugh at the phrase, but it’s the nervous laughter of a slang observer. In a perfect world, we’d all know tons about every facet of our life’s work and walk confidently through the decades unscathed. The world is not perfect, unfortunately, and there are lots of deluded wanderers tripping dangerously among us.
“I know just enough to be dangerous” would be much funnier if it weren’t always applied to people who know just enough to be dangerous. Just once it would be fun to hear someone ask a complete boob how much he knew about driving a truckload of dynamite down a jagged mountainside. “Well…first I open the truck door and then I slam it like thi…” Boom. I’ve never heard a neurosurgeon admit that he or she knows just enough to be dangerous. You know how it is with brain surgery. A liver, or a brain, or some haggis. They’re all relative. I’ll admit that it is sort of reassuring to hear the knife sharpening expert who mans the table outside our local supermarket say that he knows just enough to be dangerous. Oh, that makes everything better. In case a bayonet fight breaks out in the grocery store parking lot, I’ll know just whom to call on. “Hey! Crazy knife guy! There’s an angry mob stealing mini vans out here!” That, or if a production of West Side Story flash mobs into existence and knife sharpening is put on hold in favor of spontaneous musical theater.
I know (possibly) just enough to dangerous about most things in life. My grasp on the basics of the nature of God, the universe, women and volleyball is so finite as to make me a minor threat. Usually, I just walk into walls, so there is the ever-present danger to drywall and door frames. The thing to do, I suppose, is to be prepared for anything rather than a danger to life and wall coverings. To develop a degree of learning in the ways of God, the workings of time and space, and the thinking of women is the best defense against danger. Volleyball, I’m afraid, will always elude me.
I’ve held a certain idyllic image of Father’s Day in my scrambled brain for many years. As the holiday approaches each year, visions of grilled bratwurst and sitting around in a lawn chair dance through my head. I am a simple man and for the most part the perfect holiday involves not so much as…anything. A chair, some charcoal poisoned meat and the quiet of a mind on holiday. Is this typical, or some general behavior of all man-kind? I may have to wonder forever.
This morning, I was dumped from the lawn chair and bundled into the family car for our celebration of Father’s Day. It seems that in our society, when a man has proven himself to be an adequate parent and patient provider, he’s feted with a trip to an exotic restaurant and a greeting card featuring bratwurst. Our food foray was to a Pan-Asian buffet eatery located in a converted roller rink. Pan-Asian is a way of getting round saying that many of the food offering are exquisitely prepared dishes featuring legs and heads sticking out of them. I’ve worked in the food industry long enough to approximate most of the items, but am still surprised and mystified by the way the big buffets produce them. Steam pans of corn starch thickened gooeyness. I, however, as previously noted, am a simple guy. The sauce covered squid and tempura battered nuggets of fish/foul are of less interest to me than the faux Chinese takes on American classics like fried chicken, or macaroni and cheese. If I’m to be dumped from my yard throne, give me phony home cooking, at least.
I shambled through the forty acre buffet in search of macaroni and cheese. The type Mom used to make, or at least mom’s friends at the Stouffer company. Finally, I came across a bright, yellow, steaming pan of congealed goop with caramelized cheese crusting its outer edges. The greasy, laminated placard on the sneeze guard read:
macaroni w. cheese
Macaroni w. cheese? Was this the President’s idiot brother or my sought after casserole? My joy was beyond words. While there was to be no lawn chair nap, at least I’d get to enjoy some good ‘ol Pan-Asian mac & cheese. First, though, I’d have to get the plate safely back to my table and not get tripped up by angry, desperate and lovelorn rural dwellers. Several busses had arrived ferrying a social outing of Farmers Only dating club member and their goats, squirrels and cousins. I should have stayed at home and enjoyed a metal chair in the yard. These boys meant business and they could eat. What could I do, but save a little macaroni and cheese in my wife’s purse and get the heck out of the buffet? Not that I was afraid. No, merely seeking a quiet place to have my dinner. A bunch of old men looking for love in the wrong places and fulfilling their deepest needs with Cantonese Tuna Helper was too far beyond my ideal Father’s Day.
Eventually I shuffled back to the car and was whisked homeward. Dreaming, all the while of burnt sausages and macaroni w. cheese. Maybe, just possibly, I really was a good dad this year. Later, I’ll fish dinner from the bottom of Mrs. Thompson’s purse and smile at a year well lived.
There is a special kind of weird behavior that humans engage in during civil and religious holidays. Especially, it seems American humans. We develop the need to put each other through a particularly self-centered sort of torture in order to enjoy our sunshiny little window of hope known as the “three-day weekend.” Nowhere is this more true than at the big box supermarket. I had to make the short trek out to the giant grocery warehouse of doom today, knowing full well that I’d have to have sharp elbows at the ready. Thankfully, I came back in one (or less) pieces.
Most weekends, I enjoy the getting of groceries. On Saturday afternoons, my daughter and I go out and get the various foods that will sustain our lives until the cholesterol and sodium they contain kill us. Anna, ever the one to entertain herself, likes to walk around repeating bits from The Brady Bunch. A fun hour or so of hearing her repeat “pork chops and applesauce” near dismayed strangers. Today, I wisely chose not to bring Anna along. There wasn’t any need to have her heels ground off by wicked old ladies on wicked old scooters. No, I went alone to score deals on butter, cheese and marshmallows. My family can’t go a week without our beloved butter, cheese and marshmallow casserole. A shopper must provide for his family.
The strangest aspect of my pre-holiday descent into the inferno of savings is the interaction, or sad lack of such, with teenage shoppers. I kept running into young grocery buyers in the most literal way. These people just don’t move in the same way that the motivated 39-year old does. The kids just shuffle along like a generation of work and war-weary citizens. The cares of life have fallen hard on the shoulders of our nation’s youth, I imagine. What strange creatures teenagers are. They don’t speak, but shuffle up and down the isles staring vacantly. These vacant souls aren’t even bothered by having their heels crushed at the hands of spinster scooter drivers. I started to wonder if all the local high schools had prescribed Thorazine as a way of coping with exam season.
I try to understand each person I come into contact with and empathize with their unique struggles. It’s hard to imagine being a teenager in today’s world. Equally difficult to imagine is having to deal with jumpy, cart-wielding shoppers like myself. The store really creeped me out more than normal and there was great relief in paying for my marshmallows and lard (and making like Moses i.e., getting the flock out of there). I ran into an old friend at the door and shared a smile. Ah, the pure joy of conversation and a friendly face. Never mind that the friendly face rammed me with a cart and stole the wallet out of my pocket. The smile and humanity made the world as sunshiny as any 3 day weekend.
Hi. I don’t belong anywhere near an Abercrombie & Fitch store. The clothing retailer’s CEO Mike Jeffries has told the media for a number of years that A&F is there for the “cool kids.” With the temperature controlled youth market in mind, Jeffries and company do not stock clothing over a size large. I wear a large, but don’t really fall into the “cool” category. For starters, my kid days are over. Couple that with the fact that I’m a lumpy sort of large, and I really don’t fit the demographic. Oh, and I’ve grown hot with age. The cool days are long gone.
No. A&F is not the store for me. What, however, if you like to shop at Abercrombie and the company has offensively dismissed your loyalty based on body shape or appearance? What if your aspiration has been to work with the air-conditioned children of the cotton? Maybe it’s time us beautifully shaped people of the world protested. In store. Without a stitch of A&F fashion on our not-good-enough for cool retail bodies.
I am a modest man, and not given to any spate of craziness or perversion. While thinking of ways to stick it to the man (you know, the man. The guy who decides what perfectly beautiful women and plainspoken men should wear. This season we’ll all gear up in Uncle Si tank tops, apparently), I came up some conventional ideas. Purchase the clothes at thrift stores, for instance, and ship them to mission organizations. Another Idea was to sew them together and make horse blankets. Ah, but these are fairly mundane. The Man expects these kind of measures as a feeble form of protest. No, no, no. We need to populate the cool, Abercrombie & Fitch world with more gorgeous people like ourselves. For this reason I’m declaring June 2013 “Make a Baby at A&F Month.”
The protest is simple and elegant. During the month of June, protest the treatment of normal healthy individuals by narcissistic clothing outlets by disrobing and procreating within the confines of their stores. Yes, I guarantee that arrests will follow. Babies will also follow, and unfortunately that helps A&F. Infants and toddlers are the only people these clothes fit. What a nice way, though, to say
Abercrombie & Fitch: Here is the glorious body your stores rejected!
I don’t advocate lawlessness. Sometimes it takes a disturbingly sweaty and distracted couple of hot people to get the message across to the man. Then again…no. I’m not going to be the first protester. Maybe I’ll just box up A&F goodies from yard sales and give it to folks in need. Responsible parenting, I suppose, doesn’t start on the sales floor at Abercrombie & Fitch.
The first paragraph of this bit of material has been sitting in the draft bin since 4/9/13. In response to a Cheri Lucas challenge at dailypost.wordpress.com, I decided to finish the thought and send this piece of lingering sarcasm on its way. Also, I finally get to admit my lifelong crush on Jane Goodall. No wonder this post has been in the bin so long.
This post is called is titled “Doing.” Now, if you’d rather, go ahead and think of it as doing! and crack yourself up by making that sound. Onomatopoeia in action. The great, arch-enemy in my life, the nameless nemesis of my existence, has always been things that do other things. Slippers are a good example of this. There isn’t any earthly need for slippers, but they serve a purpose beyond necessity. They are simple foot covering that keeps out the chill and allows dumbbells like me to maintain slightly dry feet while travelling to and from the mailbox. Tonight I saw an ad for children’s slippers that do things not called for by ordinary slippers. The new slippers talk, wink, flap, burp, sing lullabies. Sleep with them, cuddle them, light up the evil darkness with their delightful slippery-ness. What a pleasant idea! Do they function as slippers? It doesn’t matter, because the products are busy with so many other functions. Flap away, oh slippers of joy, because keeping out the cold is so old-fashioned and secondary on the hierarchy of footwear needs.
Chimpanzees have the worst of the lot as far as doing non-essential functions is concerned. The chimps lived their lives with chimp families and chimp jobs for eons, before the industrious upright dorks tried to mold their species into smaller upright dorks. Daddy would go out each day and work at the anthill. He’d collect tasty bugs on a stick. Good ‘Ol Jane Goodall taught us this, because she was content to live among the chimpanzees and remain observant. This of course is not so satisfying to the ever-industrious upright dorks. Our species, full of commercially opportune wisdom, thought chimps might look better with hats. Hence, a greeting card sub-industry all its own was born. Monkeys that do things, it seems, are far more interesting than wild, happy, ants-on-a-log gathering monkeys. I’m guilty of patronizing the dressed up chimpanzee culture. My avatar on numerous sites was a chimp seated at a typewriter. Never once did I consider that behind the chimp’s eyes was the spark of sentient feeling directing him in the primal desire to bring a stick full of ants home to the family. He doesn’t like wearing a tie any more than I do. Now that I think about it, I may drop off of the grid and leave upright dork culture behind. I can dig the idea of not doing anything but what natural instinct tells me. I may let my fur grow and eat Eskimo Pies. The ants are a little too much wild freedom for me.
When I was a strapping, long-haired hippy boy of 25, I was pretty smug about the aging process. At that time, I worked with a muscle-bound gentleman who attributed his physique to dietary supplements. One night, he turned to me and mentioned that he was, in fact 51 years old. Prior to that I had no idea.
“You know what keeps me fit?” he asked, in a way that indicated he was also hawking supplements as a sideline. Before I could answer, he held up a canister of bee pollen and told me how much he put on his shredded wheat every day. I read the canister and managed a “Wow! Well you’re really well-preserved. Keep that up!” The guy rolled his eyes and muttered “Well preserved, my a**.” Life went on and I finally now get the inappropriateness of my response.
I started to go gray late last year and my Pauly Walnut hair wings are starting to sport a kind of nice, even pewter tint. The term I’ve always heard to describe the gray-haired man is “distinguished.” This might be true if one was Roger Sterling, rich and able to do…the things that fictional character Roger Sterling does. There are great perks to the arrival of the gray age and the change in my appearance. For instance, Cialis ads are starting to make sense. I’ve asked my wife if we can get a couple of claw foot bathtubs for the backyard. Those commercials are shot through the cracked lens of societal expectations, though. Cialis is built on the 55/35 myth. The ads feature a man of middle age with a much younger woman. Not that I care, because I just really wants some indoor style antique plumbing for sitting around outside in. The Viagra man is an even less realistic expectation for the aging male. Those ads don’t even feature women. What are we now, the Marlboro Man? We ride, we rope, we start fires with rocks. There is the idea of companionship at the end of each commercial, but the time before that is spent alone with animals and cars. This is what it means to be the distinguished man. We can start fires and then go home and…I don’t know. The commercials haven’t explained that part. I may be older, and supposedly distinguished, but the virility supplement and pharmaceutical industries need to really paint by numbers for me. Distinguished my a**.
Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?
When I was 14, my dad bought a copy of It’s a Wonderful Life on video tape. To this day, there are things that still make me sentimental about not only the movie itself, but that particular version of the 1946 holiday chestnut. Dad purchased a colorized edition of the picture, in part because it was severely discounted. The Jimmy Stewart classic, in gloriously grotesque shades of pale pink and aqua green, could be found in department store bargain bins due to the fact that film preservation purists had been extremely vocal in their displeasure over the colorization of bygone Hollywood screen gems. I agree with this now, but because I fell in love with the hideously over-corrected version, that’s the way the movie looks and feels right to me. Another odd personal hang-up of mine is that because Dad first had me watch Life in August, I can’t go a summer without sitting down to re-watch it. There is a moment during It’s a Wonderful Life that still tugs at my decidedly tough, normally unsentimental heartstrings. Clarence the angel, played by Henry Travers, reminds Stewart’s George Baily about the value of his life and the role his very existence has played in the lives of everyone he’s ever come in contact with. The line from Clarence that I opened this post with always rings true with me and I hold on to it during the times when depression threatens to knock me down. To say that my life reaches beyond the interior walls of my mind and touches people in good in positive ways makes all the difference to me. I can live down the cliché about life’s glass being half empty, because life is lived to the fullest potential while I cut through the clutter of doubt by being optimistic and helping others live their lives.
I never liked the whole bit about whether life is a half empty glass or one that is half full. Life is full of opportunity no matter which way we look at it. Glasses are for sipping, but you might as well drink from the fire hose (as long as we’re coining clichés here). The thing to do is take Clarence, or whomever is giving you greeting card style advice, and reach into the lives of everyone you meet. If the “glass” is truly half empty, the only thing to do is fill it all the way to the top. I have depression and one of the signs that the disease has pushed my brain into a corner is the moment when I start thinking of life as half full. One of the mighty snap outs is to stop staring into the proverbial glass and fill my life with meaning through love and service to others. Thank you, old colorized pink and green Clarence. You gave me a line to keep life’s glass full.
Last year I wrote something about the local bikini mom brigade and the sub-suburban bathing suit top dress code. There seemed, at that time, to be something distinctly un-sexy about the fortysomething middle school chauffeur crowd sporting bathing suits as everyday casual wear in every situation. Times change, and with changes come different and more unique modes of dress. This year, possibly due to the miserably cold Spring in Southern Michigan, muumuus seem to be the local fashion. In a weird way, the muumuu is kind of a turn-on. When a woman wears a giant, formless article of clothing in public, it leaves everything to the imagination. I know that nine times out of ten there is a person under that ginormous house dress and I’m curious about who they are. A man doesn’t have anything in his wardrobe like a muumuu. We have hunting gear, but don’t normally wear that around town. There isn’t any great, big sack we can wear/hide in.
Other industries ought to defer to the muumuu dress, because it will one day be the prevalent fashion for American women. The auto companies should make muumuu friendly cars with seats designed so one’s over-sized canvas dresses don’t ride up. They might also be considerate enough to make pedals in cars sensitive to flip-flops, or fuzzy slippers, because these seem to be the most often paired footwear with muumuus. Wal-Mart needs to be considerate enough to make muumuu-wide isles. A narrow corridor, a muumuu mamma and an unsuspecting male shopper is a recipe for trouble. If a man is unlucky enough to be caught in this situation, he’s going to be blinded by unnaturally colored cotton fabric and the acrid smell of old French fries caught in the folds. I don’t have any really good stories about my life experiences, but I know about old fries and impossibly enormous, all-too-thin dresses. On the occasions when this has happened to me, I’ve managed to greet the ladies with a hearty
How you doin’?
What else could I say? Rather than be smothered by a giant dress while shopping for spark plugs or sink parts, I give a friendly nod and then get the heck out the way. Sure, the Michigan no-tan bikini fashion isn’t exactly appropriate for running errands, but at least innocent bystanders aren’t often suffocated by waves of excess material.
There is a part of me that longs to be serious, or,more precisely, to be taken seriously. That, however, is the part of me that I shipped off to Siberia in return for a mail-order bride.* Seriousness has always been difficult for me. Last week, I happened across a pretty profound book passage about growing up and being a responsible man. Unfortunately (or, fortunately, in my case), I was using the book as a pot holder for my ramen noodles and spilled them all over the pages. It would have been nice to find out more about the subject, but at least I was able to save the ramen dinner.
Today was an example of “office serious.” I’ve been required by an outside review to produce a manual on how a certain aspect of my job is done. Producing the manual didn’t faze me. No, it’s the idea that was planted by the reviewer that at some point I might go away and have to leave behind instructions for my replacement. I really started to protest when the review mentioned the whole “going away” concept.
I don’t want to leave! The snacks are good here and my desk is right next to the fire alarm!
In any case, I wrote the going-away manual as a power point presentation and filled it with pictures of Despicable Me minions doing various jobs that resemble things I might do. Was this professional? Not really? Serious and business applicable? No, again. The thing is that if batteries of psychological tests didn’t single me out as someone who can’t cope with office work, then neither will a power point full of bright, yellow, grinning tater tots. The manual itself was okay. The words surrounding the cartoon pictures make it sound like I know what I’m doing.
My wife Lori and I spent from 10:30 on Saturday night until about 4:00 a.m. on Sunday morning in the E.R. with our daughter. She’d spiked a fever that had jumped up to 103° by the time we got to the hospital. Toward the end of our time in health care land, her temperature had lowered considerably and she was taking on fluids. She asked me if there was something we could watch on my phone and I pulled up the minions doing the banana song. The nurse walked in and just shook his head at us. The kid, however, smiled and drifted off to sleep. So much for serious living. Sometimes you need cartoon tater tots messing up old Beach Boys tunes to really get things done. *Don’t hate me for that one. Her name was Edgar and she came in one box. I loved her even before she shaved her arms.