My mind sometimes wanders. The chemical reactions and nervous impulses that form my thoughts take a hike and leave me with the crumbs of coherence. This weekend, my mind wandered off, and left only the vapor trail of a question. The question in question was “What do families in cultures that don’t screw around with the ritual of Christmas tree decoration due to stress themselves out instead?” Maybe, they just go outdoors and play lawn dart roulette, or redecorate their streets with Molotov cocktails. This weekend marked the first of December and I wasn’t really given time to ponder the great traditions of many nations. I had a tree to decorate.
Our family had this sort of joyous opportunity to take part in the full Christmas tree experience yesterday. The idea was that we’d drive to a farm just outside of town (because the farms in town suck. The neighbors constantly complain about the smell of livestock and it’s difficult to raise anything but pigeons). Once at said farm, we’d board a magical tractor and ride around drinking cocoa until we spotted the perfect Blue Spruce. I believe the name of the farm was Handover Yourwallet. Nothing doing. I’m a practical man and practical men go to the Homer Depot for most of life’s necessities. First Aid Kit? They’re on isle 7? Christmas trees? In the garden section, along with a live assortment of weasels, raccoon and escaped pigeons from inner-city farms. The kids working in Garden at the Depot are pretty genial for spending weeks outdoors answering stupid questions (“is the squirrel extra?”). Every local high schooler has morphed into Seth Macfarlane. Some mutation along the road of modern life made every young person look and sound like the creator Family Guy. The girls at least have Carly Rae Jepsen hair styles, but on Seth Macfarlane clones it makes for a scary world.
The lone, young Seth in the Garden area assisted us with tree selection, but couldn’t finish the sale. They’re supposed to cut an inch off of the bottom of each tree, but the boy wasn’t allowed to use a saw. “I’ll go get one, they’re next to the First Aid kits.” I assured him. We sawed and trussed the tree and then I shoved it (while shrieking like a banshee) with my backside into our ancient Honda. Once home, I discovered more fun to be had while bruising my butt with this tree. Using wood shims, I centered the 8-foot beast in its stand, only to discover it leans. My dad would call this a “Detroit Lean.” He may have been talking about the Lions all those years and slurring his words. The mother-of-a-tree has a distinct tilt. You know what? It’s ours. tomorrow, or maybe in January, I’ll prop the tree up properly. For now, it’s a Thompson tree. Lazy, and crooked in a way that says “What are you looking at? Glasses are at Home Depot. Isle 9” We’ll worry about chiropractic treatment for neck injuries caused by decorating an off-kilter tree after the holidays.
This is the Mostly Teachable Podcast for the second week of January, 2013. In this episode I (probably) offend Notre Dame Nation as the podcast continues to speed toward irrelevance. This podcast is about as much fun as one can have with a Michigan fan and still be clothed, sober and not named Gerald R. Ford. Catch past episodes and subscribe to all the poddy rockin’ goodness on itunes-just search Mostly Teachable. Yes, those really are my b.c. portholes in the picture-the glasses I had when I got kicked out of the service. Keep calm and cookie on.
I’ve watched a couple of baseball games this week in which pitchers have gotten out of bases loaded jams without giving up a run. It takes a supreme amount of ability to be one of the few people on earth who make it far enough in professional sports to put three runners on base. That skill is ratcheted up to Olympian heights when a pitcher can get out of those jams unscathed. Not that I have personal experience breathing at the peak of Olympus. My athletic career was cut mercifully short by my obvious lack of talentcoordination anything resembling ability.
When it came to baseball, I had a strategy that required more heart than understanding of the fundamentals. No matter what I hit, even the weak grounder that didn’t even roll to the mound, I ran around all the bases like a rabid lunatic at a buffet. Screaming obscenities and waving my arms got me well into high school p.e. My other skill was a profound understanding of how to hit a line drive right into the pitcher’s jock strap. When I wasn’t weakly bunting, I could nail the opposing guy on command. Standing at the plate and foaming at the mouth while leering at the pitcher was self-preservation for me. Self preservation skills were much more important to me than mere athletic prowess. Basketball was a little trickier. I had to play with exceptional heart. At the end of two scoreless seasons of pee-wee league, which sorted me out as a ponderer and not a player, the refs awarded me a shot. The ball got stuck between the backboard and the hoop during the final seconds of my last game. The refs pushed it out and through the basket with a broom and called it mine. Heart is the thing. Yell, scream, run in circles, but always show heart in whatever you do.
I was born a poor, rhythmically challenged child. There has been a distinct lack of dancing during my life. Not that those who love me haven’t tried to coax out a few halting steps over the years. To her credit, my wife Lori stopped asking me to dance when I started to embarrass her with spastic, over emotional dancing to “In Da Club.” Those were the Dance or Die Tryin’ years, which are a traumatic, repressed memory, at best. My floor skills, honed after years of trying to be sociable at weddings and prison gospel singalongs, are toxic. Take one part Robert Hays in Airplane!, two parts 500 Miles by The Proclaimers and throw in a lifetime of listening to Muzak versions of Kingston Trio classics, and what comes out the burping colon of talent is my dancing style. Despite all this self-criticism and trying to be cool with ten-year old 50 Cent references, I am enthusiastically giving my tappy toes one more shot at dancing greatness.
I signed up to be a singing and worship leader for a kids church summer program. What could be more entertaining for little kids than watching a grown man stagger around like Otis the Mayberry lush? A friend joked about moves like Jagger. Sure, I’ll go with that. He’s got 30 years on me, so our moves are similar. When he toddles around in the middle of the night on his fourth trip to the loo, Mick Jagger probably says to himself “Ahh got moves like Thompson.” The dancing is proving fun. I am channeling all that dancing (circa 1993) taught me and pogoing up and down, while singing I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) in my head. I really am getting into it though. The moves are put up on big screen (for the kids, of course) and I happily hop along to them like a demented gerbil. Beware, by the way, of non-demented gerbils. They just haven’t got the moves to back up all of their chatter.
After all of last weekend’s running into walls and doors, I decided it was time to see an eye doctor. A professional one, at that. At this point in life, it feels right to go to actual physicians and care providers. No longer do I have to patronize the guy behind the dollar store who claims to be an eye-doctor. Sure, the inside of his van is nice, but his service is too hands on. Going to the optometrist is also one more stop on my headache tour. In the of name of getting rid of headaches, I’ve seen too many doctors, taken too many prescriptions. Sure, there may have been a few dollar store doctors along the way. When you’ve had a migraine since 1978, this starts to sound reasonable.
The optometrist explained all of the ways in which my eyes are over-working and the need at my age for reading glasses. At almost 40 years of age, he explained, I’m fortunate to have the remaining vision left in me. The almost 40 speech is one of my favorites. Doctors started reminding me I was almost 40 in 1994. The optometrist prescribed me reading glasses, with the idea in mind that I’d actually read something. Great. There are tons of you’re almost 40 and incontinent pamphlets I’ve been dying to check out. Later I was escorted to the wall of frames. This was the best part. I picked out some super stylish Sally Jessie Raphael frames. The key with reading glasses is to look as startled as possible all the time, as if wearing removable Botox. I purchased the optional chain to hang the readers on. Now I just walk around greeting people like Abe Vigoda on Red Bull (7 to 8 words per minute) and trying to be cool with my new “serious” specs. It’s going to take more than glasses and advanced age to make me be serious. The glasses are a start, though.
“When are you due?” is one of those questions that should be reserved for pregnant women and those carrying embryonic aliens. Every now and then I’ll get the due date question because of my general body shape. Thanks to a genetically imposed endomorphic shape, which resembles the result of cross breeding between E.T. and an ice-cream truck (ewww… don’t picture how that works. Too late), my super hero name should be Pregnant Boy (as opposed to Ice Cream Truck Boy). When I start to look “pleasantly plump,” as the euphemism for watermelon smuggling goes, I turn back to the three basics: exercise, diet and my one really good-looking article of clothing.
Several years ago (maybe more. I can’t count very high) I bought a shirt that I had no business purchasing. I only wandered into the store, because I thought the sign said “Holster” and I really like cowboy outfits. The store smelled pretty in a way that might indicate it formerly sold whips and handcuffs. They weren’t thrilled with my savvy questions, such as “If I just want the tag, how much would that be?” Every salesman (no women. The cowboys have an unusual hiring policy) looked emaciated and I fretted over the hunger crisis in America. Taking a shirt (plus the ones I’d cut tags from), I sauntered up to the counter all John Wayne-y. The clerk gave me the once over. Then the twice. I figured if he sang “Three Times A Lady” I’d elbow him in the forehead. He actually asked if the shirt was going to work on my body. Of course it wouldn’t. It was fitted for a 6 foot tall banana, but I wasn’t going to give Scrawny Lad the satisfaction. I took my shirt home and it’s been an anti-male pregnancy motivator ever since. When it fits, that shirt looks awesome. When it doesn’t, I know not to even try. Somewhere, I remind myself, there’s a shop clerk wishing he had my shape (or an ice cream truck).
There was a time when my expectations far exceed my reality. As a child of the 70’s, I was raised with the expectation that the future would be far out and futuristic. Somewhere along the line of time future became present. I grew up and stopped expecting to be entertained by the world. Life without expectations is surprisingly easy, it turns out. I am now content to sit quietly and watch TV shows in which skeevy singers perform nearly discernible music while Jennifer Lopez weeps and Steven Tyler removes his pants. He’s Steven Tyler. There doesn’t have to be a reason. Life without massive expectations of external fulfillment means that I can wear my pajamas everywhere. Thank you, brave new world, for that.
There was a time when I’d see people in the supermarket or the movies in pajamas and I’d want to rattle their brain pans and shout “Don’t you even care about your appearance?” These days I don’t get so uptight. I now go out in p.j.’s. Retailers don’t even call the apparel pajamas any more. Now the clothes are referred to as lounge wear. Saying lounge wear evokes the image of a fun place to be with a clubby, convivial atmosphere. The lights are low, the music is tolerable. We’ve eaten entire tins of Altoids because lounge wear clad party goers have told us about the buzz that comes from breath mints. Lounge wear fits right into this ethic. We work hard and then lounge harder. If we call lounge wear, the uniform of lost expectations, pajamas then we’ve given in to the reality that we can’t be bothered to put on real clothes. I do harbor one expectation for the future that won’t go away, though. When the world ends I’d like to be wearing clean pajamas at least. It’s just good manners
I found myself eating an American cheese slice (Good Heavens. I can get a blog out of flippin’ cheese slices?). Lori and I were trying to feed Grace the wayward beagle pain medication (yeah, I buried the lead story. Grace is fine. Old, stinky, expensive, but essentially fine) by hiding the tablets in “cheese food product.” Eating a slice of individually wrapped American cheese always reminds me that this rubbery product really is the unwelcome offspring of an unholy union between food and science. This is how bad relationships often end. You know, food and science met in some dark place, there were chemicals involved and numbers exchanged. Nothing meaningful could ever come from the hook-up. The results were mind-boggling products like processed cheese, near-beer and fat-free mayonnaise.
For the most part, I’m not a food snob. There are certain foods that would not exist in their present form if not for the help of scientists and research chefs. For there to be McDonald’s French Fries, someone had to invent the Lamb Weston Water Gun Knife. The device shoots potatoes at great velocity through a series of blades, using high pressure streams of water. Even renowned chef James Beard was an ardent fan of the McFry. For every better French Fry through science, there are too many ideas like pasteurized, processed cheese slices, though. Spam is another one of these, the meat equivalent of processed cheese. I have great memories of my mom frying up spam while I explained to her not to even discuss what Spam might actually be. I think Spam was one of the foods that made me try to reverse engineer beef jerky as kid. I put it in a jar of water over one summer, taking notes and hoping it would turn back into a steak. I ate my soggy jerky in September and let the mystery be.