I don’t eat a lot of barbecue these days. Something about having a migraine induced by beef brisket and the Technicolor painting of downtown trash cans that followed scared me away from going back to barbecue. Sigh. This is a shame because I consider pork shoulder or ribs slathered in a deep red sauce proof that God loves humans and wants them to be happy. Obviously, He has some other higher (and headache free) purpose for my life. Barbecue recipes and techniques perfected over a lifetime and carefully handed down to ensuing generations are among the great gifts that bind a family together. I can’t even commit barbecue infidelity anymore and cheat with a McRib sandwich. The venerable McDonald’s special pork sandwich doesn’t qualify as barbecue any more than Manwich does, but McRib holds its own strange appeal. McRib is just…McRib. Today, I read that most Americans probably won’t get to enjoy another tasty pork mushlet before human history ends in December. Bummer.
According to the legend of the Mayan Calendar, the world will end in some sort of cataclysmic ball of death on December 21, 2012. Conservative pundits will blame this on the 47% of Americans who are left-wing freeloaders. I am not so much worried about the end of time, as I am the fact that McDonald’s Corporation is getting set to announce that the McRib sandwich will not make a return appearance in stores until after the purported apocalypse (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/mcrib-saved-christmas-mcdonalds-delays-173538794.html). I wish this wasn’t so. My only request is to ring out this old existence with a fiery, blinding McRib migraine. There are numerous reasons to choose the McPatty as my final meal. Most self-respecting barbecue joints will probably be closed, but McDonald’s will probably stay open at least three days after the end of the world. There is also just something deeply comforting about McRib sandwiches. Maybe it’s the preservative/smoke mix used in the pork, which is composed of TBHQ, BHA, TLC, BYOB and BOGO. Mmmm…pre-embalmed by a pork sandwich. How reassuring. If you compliment the sandwich with a quart of Dr. Pepper, than you’ve also taken on the blessing of something slightly medical sounding. If the Mayan alarm is a false one, I’ll take up vegetarianism. Maybe I can perfect the McVeggie sandwich. Nah. I’ll take my chances with the mystery patty.
My grandmother, Mrs. Dorothy Robinson, passed away a little over a year ago. She died after a lengthy bout with Alzheimer’s disease, the intense care for which led indirectly to the deaths of my grandfather and their eldest daughter. This is not a sad post, however. I rejoice in the fact that my grandparents led an honorable life and taught future generations to do likewise. Grandma wanted me to go into Christian ministry, but I broke her heart in that regard. I am, for what it’s worth a screw-up. One who was seduced by the dark side of food service work while in the pursuit of a life offered to God. Dort was partially to blame for this, without ever realizing it.
Grandma had a plate in her kitchen featuring a graphic of two rural children kissing and emblazoned with the saying “Kissin’ Don’t Last, Cookery Do.” I accepted the wisdom of this plaque in stages. As a little kid I had no use for kissing or cooking. It was puzzling to look at this chachki, because I knew that the most important thing in life was to run around in circles. During grade school, when I began to eat enough to stock the training table of a football team, the kissing bit sounded lame to me. Kissing seemed irrelevant, because I really just needed Grandma to keep cooking. It was only later that I began to see the value of both. Grandma’s cooking is one of the many reasons I chose to romance the stove burners. I’ve eaten in all kinds of unique venues and learned to make plausible replicas of real food items over the years, but Dort’s cooking is what I relish most about my life in food. Nothing overly complicated, nothing out of the realm of comforting. The food was always just…perfect. The kissing part is trickier. I figured out shortly after developing a passion for simple, quality food that cooking holds a direct link to kissing. More importantly, good cooking often goes hand in hand with relationship building. When you meet the right person, one of the most sincere forms of affection is cooking for them. You might burn the food, but memories are often built over time spent eating things like scorched biscuits together. The food is not necessarily the binding agent, but the time spent at meals is. Grandma, I suspect, was on to this. She grew up during the Depression and would probably tell me to not be so frivolously emotional about the whole kissing and cooking idea. The plaque was, after all, just a plaque. Honestly, though, it was the only thing from her estate that I can imagine hanging onto. The estate was long ago sold off by a Luthern service organization, but I can still picture her kitchen in my mind. Everyone gets their start with an idea and I became a lousy kisser, amateur philosopher and culinary lifer in that kitchen. Sorry about the ministry, Grandma.
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.
A few months back I wrote a blog post offering some reasons for not getting naked, climbing into a fire truck and running over strangers (Naked, posted 2/25/12). Any time you can include a naked individual driving a stolen fire truck, Angelina Jolie and the end times in one tidy little blog, it’s a fun day. This week, most of the major papers and Time magazine picked up on a story from Miami involving a naked individual gnawing the face off of another equally unclothed person near a freeway on-ramp. The man, who could not be swayed from his cannibalistic ritual until fatally shot, was said to be under the influence of Bath Salts. This is a horrible, despicable story and the victim is barely alive as of this writing, but I did want to comment on the whole idea of calling whatever form of LSD/household cleaners the assailant was taking “Bath Salts.” Is there any reason for calling a powerful hallucinogenic agent “Bath Salts”?
When I think of bath salts, I’m reminded of some miserable housewife (of a bygone era. Miserability is really unfashionable these days) throwing up her hands and begging Calgon to take her away. Bath Salts seemed like a nice, quaint product. Of course, as kids we were told not to ingest any bathing products. “Don’t drinkMr. Bubble! For Heavens sake, child! You’ll hear colors!” Why even take a chance on imbibing a substance named after a tub time relaxant? What’s with the zombie apocalypse craze, anyway? Why are people getting naked and biting strangers? Is it because of TV shows like The Walking Dead? If Mad Men gets too popular, are people going to put on wool knit suits and hit secretaries with umbrellas? Are we going to become a nation in which Once Upon ATime is so popular that people dress as Pinocchio and lie to each other for fun? Oh, joy! Siri? Remind me to dress as Pinocchio on Saturday night!
There are certain things that woman can’t stand about men, behaviors that anger them even more than mere philandering or ignorance of the heart. It’s my theory that men careening around stores during the act of male pattern shopping is what really causes the rift between the sexes. I noticed this when I was out this morning procuring the goods for a batch of cheese bisque. My cooking life began at 11 years old and I have no problem finding what I need in supermarkets after years of shopping. Still, sometimes it’s better to go on a sleepy, early Sunday morning. The chance that I’ll get into a cart battle with another shopper is less likely at that hour.
This following isn’t a sexist statement, but merely an observation on the different ways shopping is affected by chromosomal differences. I observe that many woman in supermarkets shop with care and in an orderly way, cruising their carts close to the shelves. I shop in a kamikaze fashion, which I suspect many of my kind do as well. The items I want are someplace in the store and I position the cart in death dive when those items come into view. All or nothing! Other shoppers get out-of-the-way when the scream of basket wheels rushes toward them. It’s not selfishness, but a way of getting the heck out of the store faster. Modern stores, I fear, were designed by the same rocket surgeons responsible for clover leaf freeway interchanges and Banquet pot pies. What you want is always in the middle, but once you get there you realize that the middle isn’t that great either.
A grocery clerk once walked up to my mom with a handwritten list he found on the floor and asked my mom if she’d dropped it. “No, I’m too screwed up for lists.” she replied and wandered off. I’m not that bad off, but I see her point. Sometimes you just aim the cart and go. Thanks mom (maybe it’s not a male thing 🙂 ).
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.
The life and times of an unabashedly stupid blogger are never easy. The pattern leading to posts on this blog is one in which I either commit an act of genuinely asinine, reckless behavior, or am about to, and then follow-up by writing about it. I’m thinking of changing the name of the site to “Unteachable”, or “Don’t Try This At Home Kids.” Soooo…remember that bit from about a week ago about not reading instructions? Yeah. Read package instructions. They’re neat. Not only do the warning instructions that come with heavy machinery and industrial chemicals make great coasters, they are full of tips on how to accomplish tasks without bodily injury. I managed to burn the skin off of my hands using chemicals designed to eat anything in their path. Which is probably why their called solvents. They solve problems by eating them.
This post, of course, is not a sermon on the virtues of proper chemical handling, or reading MSDS sheets. Nah. I am about as unrepentant as a person can be. Despite the obvious lesson learned here (i.e., don’t stick my hand in an acid bath), I’ll probably find something purposefully dangerous to occupy myself with next week. Not to generalize and lump all men into one category, but I know as a man that there is always something to be conquered in life. It starts when we’re young. Yesterday, I spent an hour with my three-year old nephew. In the space of that hour he kept extremely busy and conquered many jobs. He put marshmallows through the floorboards on his porch, went through the dog door to put a flashlight in the backyard and then came back the same way, Beat down Buzz Lightyear with a wiffle ball bat, taunted monsters in the floor registers with the dog’s rope, and scrubbed the walls with the dog’s brush. I’m not making fun of the little guy, because he’s actually pretty well-behaved compared to many kids his age. In fact, I’m probably good compared to many 39 year olds. Just reckless. The doctor prescribed some nice antibiotics and my hands don’t look so “Cabbage Patchy” any more. I’ll tackle more home projects in the coming week, I’m sure. None with chemicals, or course. Actually, the couch looks off-balance and I may have to test it out and work on some fixes.
One of the gray areas of my depression that I’ve never understood has to be letting other people get away with rotten social behavior and poor manners. People often behave badly for no other reason than the fact that they can and I’d let them because I’m a mere can’t-do. In the new world Beatitudes, the fastest have the unshaken belief that they’ll inherit the earth. It was always easier to quit than fight, to let jackassery have its way. I am starting to see light and not just shade with depression. Bits of sunlight get through the mental curtains now. In the brightness of day, I’ve begun to not accept the whims of others, or bend to the will of stupidity. There is a feeling that I haven’t had for a long time. It starts when somebody does something that even chimps would find repulsive. I hear drums like Jim Carey’s character in Me, Myself and Irene. Stupidity doesn’t stand in the way anymore. Today was a case in point. I was sitting in a parking lot when another driver pulled up over the line into my space, slammed my car with her door and schlumphed off. I got out and said my peace. She mumbled that I should be more careful. I said more and went away. In a way I was wrong, but there is a righteousness in giving up false humility and dealing with piss-poor judgment. In these cases, the car door isn’t the part that bothers me. The cut off in traffic doesn’t make the difference. Even the occasional line jumper is not at issue. No, what is it stake is the perpetuation of humanity. Future generations of clueless hordes making emotionally stunted offspring who have no idea how to behave around others. Worse is the fact that future generations will be indifferent to the preposterous idea that other people even exist in the world. I feel like I’m finding my voice after it had been silent for years and my heart which was lost along with it. My heart beats like a drum against indifference.
In the dreams of my sordid youth, I believed that one day the campuses of the University of Michigan would feel like home to me because I’d attended classes there. Never did I think that familiarity would have come from travelling a quarter of the way to the moon while driving back and forth to doctor’s appointments with my daughter over the years. Anna, the daughter whom I’ve been driving with to U of M since she was a baby, actually pointed out this distance the other day in an essay she was writing. She’s 10 now and working to process her life and place in the world. Anna is very shrug-ish when it comes to visits to the university. People and places are so familiar she shrugs them off as the common occurrences of an uncommon life. Anna visits various clinics in order to deal with the vagaries of Crouzon Syndrome, which means she might travel to the dental clinic one week, hearing specialists another and then the Big Kahuna: the pediatric craniofacial surgeon. This past week she saw her cranial surgeon and was, for what might have been the first time, given a chance to voice her own opinions on her surgical future. Heavy stuff for a 10-year-old, but Anna handled it with shrugs and appropriate questions. She didn’t freak out, she simply spoke her wishes, stood for pictures that will be entered into her progressive chart, and then got back into the car. After all, no matter how attuned and mature a kid is about her health care directives, the immediacy of going to Burger King is a bigger deal.
As we walked through the clinic, it was like old home week. One of the nurses joke with Anna about how she used to get so mad when several people had to hold her down to treat her wounds in the aftermath of having had a titanium halo bolted to her skull. “You like me now? Hmmm…you used to not want anything to do with me.” When the surgeon came in, he laid out what might eventually be done, but that the procedures could wait until after she’d finished growing. He also talked about the invasive nature of the surgery, and was straight about it being lengthy and that it would be the last in the course of major operations. The doctor asked Anna several times whether she was unhappy with her life now and if there were surgical concerns that need to be addressed now. Shrug. We asked her to verballize beyond the shrug and she stated that things are fine. That settled it. Unless anything drastically changes during over the next few years, surgery can wait. Anna, in talking to us later, did not want to entertain the idea of major surgery. She hates the stares of strangers and the “pity gifts” she receives from well-meaning people, but skull surgery is worse. When the doctor started mentioning opening up her brain case, that sealed the deal. I get it. Life is good for her now. She’s got school and plays and enough pre-adolescent stress. Why invite the old surgical recovery demons back in? Not to mention the fact that Anna much more enjoys the familiarity of home, school and church life to that of U of M. The kid has spoken.
Thanks for reading and listening to Mostly Teachable. This week’s podcast is a nugget of joy about the end of the world through health care, the end of Camelot with Tom and Katie, and (hopefully) the end of people eating strangers. Have a great weekend, and have a peaceful and joyous whatever it is that you do!
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Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race until the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In you love, you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal-it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1997, as Reprinted in Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2012)
In marriage, many statements that begin with “we” are precious. “We’re going to have a baby!” is a welcome sort of moment of we-ness in a couple’s life. “We get the keys on Friday.” was one of those good, moments for team Andy and Lori when we bought our house. “We” sometimes leads to those details in life that make my brain shut down and shrivel away, though. I got in trouble tonight, in fact, because I said the dreaded anti-we phrase to my wife:
What’s this we stuff?
When confronted with the “you know, we should…” ideas from anyone, my mind tunes out. I go to a lonely forest, where there is no “we.” In the lonely, empty path down the center of my mind, I leave behind all of the stimuli forced on me about the meaning of couplehood. The relationship of a true, loving couple apparently has a lot to do with cleaning the basement and finding mystery smells in the sink drain. “We should clean the basement” is code for “Go clean the basement, devil man.” I’d rather travel down the empty path, but it isn’t to be. I’ll end up in the basement, attempting to clean, or reading old Mad magazines. Part of the “We” relationship is knowing when to give in to it. You don’t get the good moments, the one’s where you’re both laughing at the world’s stupidity, unless you give a little back to the couple fund. The we bank has to be filled for the lean times. So, I’ll help out. Sometimes, out of the blue, “we” actually means what it says and we end up accomplishing tasks together as a couple. We’ll knock out the Saturday morning house fix-up jobs, and then I’ll use the fine art of distraction to get us out of work and to Taco Bell. We love each other and we love our time when “we” means “we’re together and that’s what matters.” Of course, Lori and I love crappy tacos, even more.
Yesterday I posted a bit of verbal nonsense about what its like to find ways to kindle (and rekindle) romance in the midst of marriage. My wife didn’t really let me off the hook. She hasn’t heard the podcast yet (shhh). Date nights are a wonderful, cherished occasion rarely enjoyed during our workaday lives. The times we get to go out and have a laugh (or three) are a relief and a reminder of the days when we were going out. In those days, I either cut out early for home, or pretended that I didn’t notice her father’s quizzical looks if I was still hanging out when he was going off to bed. Nowadays, Lori and I both enjoy our laughs, check on our daughter and then fall asleep, because the sheer excitement of being alone together wears us out.
This week, I helped put together nearly 400 date night kits. Despite my caveman ways (“I’m a simple caveman. I don’t understand your modern romance), I try to help out with encouraging and helping local married couples. We put in three suggested dates, along with a lot of incentives to try local restaurants. The idea seems both absurd and novel at the same time. Many couples, when they find out what’s included in the date night boxes, ask why they need any such motivation. The argument we get is that they’re already married, so there really isn’t any need for our box of goodies. What gets forgotten in the business of being married, and the business of raising kids while working, is that we need to make time to date our spouses. After all, we didn’t marry each other and forfeit our souls. Sometimes, it takes a box full of funny sounding, old-fashioned suggestions to remind us that being alone with our marriage partners was (and is) fun. We live and breathe every moment in support of our families, yet often forget to communicate with our own partners. I’m a little proud of having worked on the date night kits. We distributed, by the Grace of God, nearly 300 of them today. Older couples told us things like “We’ve been married 45 years, and it’s been a long time since we dated.” Which is exactly the point. The idea of the date isn’t just time alone. It’s about time alone together.
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This is podcast episode 19(ish). In this week’s episode, I goof on all things Valentine’s day including gift buying, romance and sex. This podcast also snapshots a little bit more about depression. For information on “stuff” heard on the podcast, please feel free to ask away. Also, check out our car and travel friendly i-tunes podcast (which is absolutely free).
One of the signs of maturity is concern for the well-being of others. What this really means is that the mature person is concerned for the well-being of others even when they don't offer cookies first.
One night recently I was sitting through a lecture that dealt heavily with emotional maturity. The strange part of it was that the lecture was part of a class I’d signed up for. Usually, if there is any discussion of emotional (or intellectual) maturity, the talk is given to me by cashiers at Burger King. The counter personnel at B.K. don’t take kindly to being called “weasel chin” and often lecture me about keeping my immature yapper shut. This particular talk about emotional maturity came as part of a marriage class I help lead. “Lead” is too strong a word for my role. I test the snacks at the refreshment table for imperfections and loll around in my chair until my wife Lori drives me home. Emotional maturity, according to the speaker, is one of the key components of a healthy marriage. “Why did he have to bring that into marriage?” I moaned as well as one can with a mouth full of cookies and then fell off of my seat as part of a fake medical emergency. My body has matured into a state of relaxed obsolescence in which it can fake its way out of uncomfortable situations with well-timed eye rolling. Strangers can’t tell if I’m sick or Pentecostal. Friends don’t care. My emotional being hasn’t quiet caught up with this high level of physically mature behavior, however.
One of the basic definitions of emotional maturity is that a person possesses an emotional range in line with their actual age. This is difficult for me to grasp. My chronological age, judging by the shape of my body, is that of a rotten pear. In dog years, I’d be the old hound that lives under the porch. The one nobody remembers except when he howls because the house has collapsed on him. Emotionally, though, I haven’t gotten a handle on life. One of the signs of maturity is concern for the well-being of others. What this really means is that the mature person is concerned for the well-being of others even when they don’t offer cookies first. Eye contact is another sign of growing emotional control. I’ve tried, but find myself always scanning the eyes of others for ocular diseases. It’s never too early to point out someone’s cataracts. Emotional maturity means denying one’s self when it comes to flipping others off. This has led to a lot of sitting on my hands. So, I try to be as mature and age appropriate as possible. Rocking back and forth on my hands while looking at the ceiling and wishing someone had cookies. Hence, I stay home much of the time. Mature, or not, the snacks are better and there aren’t any heartstrings attached.
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.