My nine-year old daughter Anna pronounced me to be “weird” the other day, uttering the phrase with exaggerated eye rolling and put upon sighing. I didn’t take any offense to being called weird. On the contrary, when she sticks me in the weird old dads home, I’ll be in charge of raising the weirdo flag each morning. Its a blessing that the kid has decided I’m too odd to dignify. It means that Anna’s not buying into b.s., just because much of the world is pedaling it. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that calling me weird is another moment of validation for me. At every stage of my life I’ve been weird. There is consistency in the universe.
I remember meeting my daughter for the first time about 15 minutes after she was born. She’d gotten Apgar scores that should have gone on the refrigerator, and I was then allowed to hold her. What a strange afternoon. I was watching either a Utah college football game, or women’s aquatic curling. The t.v. was a blurry mess. To compound the problem, there were several people in the room screaming. A normal Saturday afternoon, to be sure, except that we’d been at the hospital for hours. My wife was yelling something at me and I had the presence of mind to walk over and do a Benny Hinn “Be Healed!” tap on her forehead. At some point the screaming ended and the room cleared. A nurse handed me Anna and then left. Not fair. Despite having seen numerous after-school specials, I had no idea what to do with a baby. So I sat and rocked and talked to the child. “Well, I guess we’re in it for life, kid.” I said, and Anna just kind of pursed her newborn face and wrinkled her brow. “Yeah dad, and you’ll be weird for life, too.” She said in no words at all.
One of the wonderful things my wife did when we got married was that she made me stop dating. Okay, I honestly wanted to stop. I love Lori more than any other person on earth. Thank God for not having to go through the sham ritual of courtship anymore, though. I was never any good at relationships. Or personal interaction. Or speaking to people without gibbering and flapping my arms. Flirting was impossible. I just never got it. Maybe it was because everything I tried to say came out in 452 word bursts. Some people have a gift for nonchalant flirtation, some only manage to catch fire from zipper friction, because they wear cheap pants. I don’t flirt. There are times when I make the vain attempt at speaking casually and end up paying for it (and having to purchase new pants when the old ones burn up).
I went for a haircut. This is always a mistake, because hair stylists often are the best at making therapeutic small talk. They know nearly everything, because they’ve heard nearly every story conceivable. Once in the chair, I began to babble about how my hair always ends up looking like that of Sopranos tough guy Pauly Walnuts. The side wings just say I should put on a jogging suit and a Members Only jacket. The patient stylist asked me lots of questions about myself and I babbled. And babbled some more. The problem, I noticed after returning home, was that one side of my head is cut differently than the other. This always happens when I try to be funny and light. The rule before each trip out of the house should be: “continue to be a jerk, Andrew.” This is not my first brush with small talk induced failure. A few years before meeting Lori, I tried to practice being fun and flirty at a blood drive. When asked to choose between an older, veteran Red Cross associate to draw my blood, or a cute girl, I went for small talk and jokes. Unfortunately, practice outweighs pretty. I have veins that show like the Mississippi River on a map, but she missed on a half-dozen attempts. Signaling for the seasoned vet and another guy my age, nurse vampire had the three of them sit on my arm in an attempt to get blood from the part of my ulna the needle was bent and wedged into. My arm should hurt as much as it did that night every time that I think about trying to be friendly. It’s good to be married to a beautiful woman who doesn’t pay attention to my dumb attempts at small talk. Hopefully, she won’t ask about my weird haircut.
When I was seven years old the neighbor kid fell out of his upstairs window while in the throes of laughter about something long forgotten. He survived, and went on to a full life of falling down. To be sure, there was some bouncing around on the sidewalk. Tests couldn’t determine head injury, but his intelligence was negligible to start. I often wonder if he made it out of childhood. Those who did can look back and say “Wow. We dodged a lot of open windows.”
My wife Lori turns 40 on Sunday, and the family threw an upbeat surprise party for her. There were none of the standard “over the hill” jokes trotted out, and I’m glad. Making it to her advanced age (I’m a younger man still in his 30’s) has nothing to do with being on the decline, or over the hill. It’s a campaign medal of sorts, earned by staying away from windows. Lori has lived through the end of the Apollo program and of the Vietnam War, Watergate, 5 recessions, Disco, the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, the AIDS epidemic, ethnic genocide, 9/11…the more stuff I list, the more I risk sounding like Billy Joel. The reality is what old folks always used to warn us about: One day you wake up and you’re 40. I’m glad to have the opportunity, though. Sure, you blink and miss a lot of excitement as you’re busy living. All that trying to dodge neighbor kids falling from the sky doesn’t leave time to savor life. A lot of my reminiscing about the life I’ve led is about stuff that was as unimportant then as is now (“I remember the Jackson’s Victory Tour. ‘Even got the poster”). It’s just enough to have beaten circumstance and be around to tell about it. Congratulations, Love and Best Wishes, Lori.
Now I sit by my window And I watch the cars I fear I’ll do some damage One fine day But I would not be convicted By a jury of my peers Still crazy after all these years-Paul Simon Still Crazy After All These Years
Today the doctor told me that I can start a regular running program again. This announcement hit in much the same way that the news of pitchers and catchers reporting to baseball training camps does each winter. I looked out the window at the wind blowing snow through the tree branches and clucked “Reeeaaallly?” It didn’t take long to start to embrace the idea of running. The current temperature may be a whopping 7° degrees, but in my mind it’s always summer and I’m perpetually careening across people’s lawns with my tongue hanging out. On some those occasions I’m actually running, as well. Heading back to work, I was in pretty good spirits. Never mind the weather, I was planning core strengthening and treadmill workouts. I basically returned to work from the doctor’s office with the car travelling sideways, because of the wind, but…whoo hoo, running! The car has a nifty feature in which the back hatch doesn’t close. In high wind the hatch acts as a sail and propels the car in unusual directions. Merrily I sailed to work, clouds of exhaust fumes making snowflakes dance around the car. The magic of winter in Michigan mixed with the early stages of asphyxia.
Returning to work was a good Up-With-People training for my not-always positive self. The furnace that heats our kitchen and offices had blown the last of its furnace-y cache of good will and left the staff cold. Even Blodgett ovens aren’t enough to heat a subterranean hash house during the single digit days of January. I, like most of my ancestors before me, dress for work in the traditional garb of the ancient clan of Poindexter. This means that even if the outdoor temperature is in the low nothings, I wear a short-sleeved, pocketed dress shirt. That’s okay, ‘cuz their snazzy. I may freeze at my desk, but it will have been done proudly in the garb of a food service accounts payable nerd. Alas, all of this will one day lead to running. Fresh air, sunshine, freedom. A time when I can ascend the stairwell from my basement office, remove my short-sleeved dress shirt and run. Or at least wallow in the sun. If my predictions are right, this could happen as soon as six months from now. Yippee!
Watching tonight’s episode of Downton Abbey, I was reminded of how much it takes for a wedding to actually take place. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil any of the salient plot points. The episode got me thinking about my own wedding day. I remember waking up on the day Lori and I were married and wondering why everything seemed so calm. Almost surreal. I’d stayed the night before in the hotel where we’d spend our wedding night. This added to the unreal quality of the situation. It was a little weird to be alone in a room with a heart-shaped hot tub. Of course, I’d rigorously tested the tub out. You know the drill. Washed my socks in it, made bubbles, pretended to be the captain of a very small, awkwardly designed boat. Getting to the wedding venue was about like driving the hot tub. I really wanted to eat fried chicken. That morning I awoke in a very clear frame of mind. There were two things I wanted for my future. Fried chicken and to pilot the hot tub some more. First, chicken. I got in the car and drove off in the general direction that chicken might be found and purchased. After a nice winding drive along some tree-lined roads, I noticed that the road narrowed. Eventually the pavement ended and I was just bouncing along a dirt road in the forest. The day was one in which you could positively savor the sunny, early fall weather and not pay any attention to pressing responsibilities. Like getting married.
The road ended at a padlocked gate and I was forced to quit bouncing along and turn around. Back then, I drove a vehicle with a sun roof and could climb half-way out of the car and get some perspective on the world. Looking at the world from the top of my Buick, I realized a great truth about my wedding day: poultry might have to wait. Responsibility kicked into my chicken-fried mind and a second truth occurred to me: my socks were still at the bottom of the hot tub. Now, I’d need to get socks and find chicken. Then I thought about my fiance Lori and reality forced me to sit back down in the driver’s seat and point the car back toward town. I really loved her more than anything in the world and still do to this day. I needed to be at our wedding on time. Love may mean never having to say you’re sorry, at least according to the movies. Arriving late for one’s own wedding is something for which a man will apologize forever. Driving in dust cloud (inside the car, because the roof was open), I made my way to the wedding in time for pictures. On the way I’d found a Popeye’s. When they asked me at the drive-through what I wanted, I was giddy. “You’d better give me two thighs. Today’s my wedding day.” I don’t know what that means, either.
One of the parts about parenting that I never really get used to is the amount of structure required in children’s lives. My pre-teenage daughter is starting a second week of musical theatre camp tomorrow, an activity that follows a summer of other meaningful childhood activity. This is the case with many of my friends kids. We pay to keep them on the road, year-round, like a worn out rock band. This may have been common when I was a kid, but I have no recollection of much wholesome activity. I was a fairly unsophisticated kid. My friends and I would go outdoors and play something called “Funny People” for hours on end. The object of the game was…well there wasn’t an object, because the game was just stupid. One participant would punch the other. The puncher would fall down and writhe on the ground while the punchee would stand and laugh, while showing no effects of having been hit. There were several aspects of Funny People that puzzle me to this day:
Parents and educators would encourage us to go outdoors and punch each other in the head (“Why don’t you go find your friends and punch each other in the head?”)
For all of the blows to the skull, many of us managed to grow into responsible, caring adults. There are those in every group of friends who wind up in jail, or with uncontrollable twitching, I imagine. I’d speculate more, but my left leg keeps independently kicking the right one.
My parents would tire of all the whining about skull fractures toward mid-summer and shell out $15 dollars to send me for a week at sleep-away camp. This was about as structured as life got, because my friends and I would spend our daylight hours making wallets and license plates in a makeshift compound, deep in the north woods of Michigan. My favorite project was making knife holsters. What 8-year old boy doesn’t want a carrier for his homemade shank? Each morning started with some old geezer sidling up to me in the chow line, asking “der yer warnt ah wiskerr ruub?” My love of the marathon began right there, because I learned to run from unshaven camp geezers. Yeah, now that I’ve purged those memories, maybe driving my child around to her sophisticated activities is a good thing. Let me go get my camp wallet so I can pay whatever amount structure requires.
I am often shocked by what an old fart I am. Saturdays tend to illustrate the depth of ancient flatulence in my heart. The day starts with making fun of all that the pleasantly scented future has to offer. As has been my Saturday ritual for eons, I watch music videos and coffee-away whatever I did on Friday night. There was one this morning in which Britney Spears kicks this guy in the crotch followed by a moldy oldey in which Ke$ha shoots a unicorn in the head. Having missed out on whatever the recording industry is trying to sell me at a discount, I went off to do what feels right: Play interesting music and make soup.
In Jr. High (oh, here comes a dusty story) we used to make fun of the d.j’s at dances for playing elderly music. One time the shop teacher tried to play Bob Seeger’s Old Time Rock and Roll and we tossed so many objects at him (shoes, table saws) that he retreated and never played another dance. I’d like to formally apologize to him now: Sorry, you old bastard. It’s become clear how you felt. We play the familiar songs, the one’s that mean something to us over the decades. Of course, I still hate Old Time Rock and Roll. Every time Pandora tries to sneak that piece of crap into my playlist, I look around for a Skil-Saw to chuck at someone. Maybe, just maybe, I still have enough command of my faculties to embrace the reinvented familiar. Today I’m playing Adele’s 21 on a loop and making clam chowder in a bright new way. All that’s familiar as my street on a snowy afternoon, with a little bit of new soul. If the soup works, I’ll put the recipe and playlist in the new glossary page this week.
When I was a young guy (not when I was a young girl. We don’t talk about that part of my life) I received a magical sort of self-help book (more than one. I was really screwed up) which contained some sage advice on self-worth. My worth, said magical, sage helpy-book, was not tied to job, or marriage partner or any sort of “thing.” Things, book pointed out, were just things. I know now, in my wise, older state of being, that this is not true. Self worth, I’ve learned, has a lot to do with the way my lawn looks. When my yard is having a bad year, I’m having a bad year. The wife I love and adore may speak of how fond she is of me, but if my grass has withered and turned brown I’m inconsolable.
My front lawn is on a pronounced slope. I find myself jogging behind the mower as it takes off down toward the neighbor’s house. The people who inhabit my little street, hobbit-like in the way they poke their heads out to see what I’m doing, all think I mow three sheets to the wind. I end up with crooked crop circles in the grass. If M. Night Shyamalan ever saw my freshly mown yard he’d make movie in which some kid sees dead people just before he gets abducted by aliens. This year the yard looks very presentable. I used Scotts Insecure Homeowner 12-Step Program on it. The green won’t last, but the hope of spring remains eternal. I put cooking whiskey in the mole’s holes so they’ll hibernate longer and I sit up at night waiting for people to walk over the grass so I can go all Clint Eastwood on them (“Get off my lawn”). I forgive those who trespass as they would forgive me my trespassing. As long as they say something nice about the yard.
I would like to start seeing a new phone. Siri, the voice recognition software that came with the iPhone 4S and I are having problems as a couple. My wife, the actual, living, animate being I chose to spend life with, refers to Siri as “Karen,” an homage to a character on the children’s TV program Spongebob Squarepants. Karen is the computer one of the show’s maniacal sea creatures treats as his spouse. I started out with the same kind of emotional attachment to my Siri/Karen. All day long, I’d ask the device treacle filled, lovey-dovey questions a man asks only of a woman he’s in love with such as “Siri, how do I treat trichinosis caused by bad Spam?” You know the type of getting-to-know you questions asked when a relationship is in its first bloom. “Siri? What kind of satanic messages would I hear by playing ‘Call Me Maybe’ backwards?” You know, the deeply thoughtful in-love type of questions. I never thought until now to ask Siri what messages I’d hear if I played the song forward. Alas, Siri stopped answering my asinine questions. The standard answer became “look it up yourself. Maybe.” So, with the arrival of the iPhone 5 there is excitement again in the telephonic world. My old computer wife Siri has packed up and moved to the South of France, asking only a final “Would you like me to shut the door. Okay, I’ll do that.” and I’m hanging around the phone store waiting until I qualify for a contract upgrade.
The line at our local Verizon store was pretty typical of the first rush of iPhone mania. I wish that I’d had time to ride up and down the queue on a bicycle with a rotary phone on the handle bars, offering to let people make free calls. Oh well, maybe Siri, the solid, reliable iPhone 4S and I can get some couple’s therapy. I’d ask Siri to find a local counselor, but it isn’t to be. My computer wife has taken up with a swarthy, French Droid. Ainsi soit-il.
Are people defined by their “isms?” As much as the look on our faces shows the world the way to our souls, it might be the little idio(t)syncrasies that are the real indicators of just who we are. Take for instance the tuneless tunes we choose to sing, or hum when happy. Sure, some people don’t ever have a go-to song. Many of those same people are generally unhappy tools, or they’re mannequins. When I’m truly at peace with the world, I become more annoying than usual. One of my little tells is that I sing the closing sting from ESPN’s Sports Center theme. The tune is literally just “duh na na duh na na Sports Center.” ESPN ( The Exaggerated Sports Pimping Network) has been using variations of the theme for over twenty years and it’s one of those ubiquitous riffs that just gets lodged in one’s gray matter. In our house, at least on most sunny Saturday mornings, every question asked of me is answered with this ism sliver. If someone asks for scrambled eggs, they get them served with “duh na na…” For some reason, I always end by announcing Sports Center like one of the public address announcers from Half Life. The nonsensical use of my musical ism became so out of control that I caught myself mindlessly duh na na-ing at work one day. “What that your humming? Maybe you should go back and sit in your cubicle and have some time alone to hum the batman theme.”
Leave it to the intuitively designed iPhone to be the buzz killer. The Sports Center app for iOS plays the show’s beloved sting at certain user ordained times. I set the app up to notify me during key points in baseball and football games as well as at their start and end times. The phone did so much “duh na na” over the first few months that I now keep it silent for the majority of the time. Certain moments in life don’t need the Sports Center theme, either from me or the phone. So, I have to break the ESPNism and find new ways to enjoy my happiness. The other night I found that I could “duh nuh” the entire Monday Night Football theme. Thus, a new ism was born.
The other day (I just auto-post “the other day” into every blog entry. Fill it in any way you want. For example, “The other day I gave up self-loathing for Lent”)…eh hem…The other day I was filling out the personal information on a website and one of the questions was whether I appreciated “Geek Culture.” I didn’t even know we had a culture. Apparently owning the collected works of J.J. Abrams and wearing a Doctor Who scarf to one’s wedding are now considered acceptable behaviors and people who do these things represent a culture. It’s okay to rock an Enterprise ensign’s uniform ( circa 1966, naturally) at work now, because it’s part of the geek societal fabric. Star Wars is the lingua franca of our geeky times. Right. I’ll believe it when it happens. Even a minor geek like me is embarrassed by some of the behavior that rules geekdom. I do however get all geeked up when I manage to save up enough Republic Credits in order to buy cool technology*.
The other day I broke down and upgraded to an iPhone 4S. I had the original Droid, which had taken to moaning “rooiid” at odd moments. The 4S has Siri, the voice command gimmick which has caused me to rename the phone “Karen, My Computer Wife” after a character on Spongebob Squarepants (geek). I find myself constantly asking computer wife to do irrelevant tasks a phone can’t possibly do. The phone, to it’s credit, has stopped honoring my commands after just a few days. It seems you can’t just tell a phone to make you some Ramen Noodles (“Here are three faux Asian restaurants in your neighborhood. Get bent”). The phone does give me a personalized wake-up call on command (“Geek boy? Are you talking to me in your sleep. Stop dreaming about Inception and get up for work. Oh, and get bent”). The wedding is in June, so save the date. I’ll have the iPhone send out invitations.
*Yes, I waved my hand in front of the clerk and said “Republic Credits will do.”
For the most part, I ignore the things in day-to-day life that require attention. This is part of a holistic approach to procrastination. Well, it would be an approach, but I’m waiting until next week to begin. One of the things I’ve been ignoring is the fact that my cellular phone has been calling people of its own volition. Not butt dialing, either. Butt dialing, or (heaven forbid) drunk dialing, would mean that I’d have to accidentally initiate the call. No, my celly is just calling random parties on its own. This supposedly smart phone is making bad choices. At 18 months old, it’s almost eligible for replacement. The phone is probably showing out a little bit. Really, who among us didn’t make bad choices at a year and a half old?
The calling started quietly. There were short calls to my wife’s office. When the receptionist asked who was calling, all she got was a plaintive “Drooiid.” I could explain my way out of this with “Sorry, the phone got it’s number from me.” Not so easy was the issue of the phone calling every woman I’d ever met. Girls I hadn’t talked to since Junior High were suddenly asking what I wanted and why I hadn’t called since 1987. As I’d explain that my phone has a glitch, the phone would be miserably moaning in the background “Drrroooiid.” I really am a bad phone owner and am now paying for the price. There were the months of Angry Birding the screen too forcefully. The weeks of leaving it half-naked on the counter, because I couldn’t get the cheap, plastic cover to fit correctly. The celly is making me pay by calling my coworkers and dishing on me. Deep into the night I hear “Droid.” I’m definitely trading for an iPhone.