There is a part of me that doesn’t like to be rushed or hurried. This is the part that I refer to as “my entire body.” On Monday afternoons, I hurry and rush to ready the house for the arrival of my daughter Anna’s piano teacher. My wife and I aren’t terribly extravagant people, but we shell out to have someone come to the house and make our kid sit up straight and speak in sentences. We pay him in chickens, thanks largely to our budget plan which is taken from reruns of Little House on The Prairie. Cleaning up for the piano instructor is always a challenge. The only time we’re actually at home during any given week is during the same hour that the piano lesson takes place. Somehow, the house is always a wreck, despite the fact that our family only sleeps and brushes our teeth here. Each Monday I come home and accuse unseen burglars of wrecking our little sanctuary. There are a lot of screamed queries to the heavens (“Why? Why would someone break in and leave dishes in the sink? Couldn’t they have at least cleaned the bathroom?”). The biggest step is getting the moving mountain of unfolded laundry to take a hike and glacially slide its mass to another room. I find myself, Moses-like, standing before the clothing pile shouting
Move laundry! Allow my people to get around your ponderous bulk!
Once the laundry is sufficiently stowed, or stuffed into a closet, there is the matter of the household smell. Grace, the spontaneously exploding beagle, has her own funk. She snuggles with her stink, cuddling it close to her. Unfortunately, Stinky the Wonder Dog also shares her tremendous gravitational field of malodorous misanthropy with the rest of the house. We were out of any kind of air freshening Fabreeze today, and I got nervous. No Fabreeze spray for boating accidents, nuclear disasters, or elderly, rancid beagles. I turned to the only thing sure to mask the stink. Deep Woods Off. I bug sprayed the blazes out of my house. It worked. The house took on the smell of summer camp and reminded me of …I’m not sure. I accidentally sprayed Off in my face and everything is foggy.
Our piano is a strange beast. As newlyweds, Lori and I gladly accepted the offer that if we agreed to take in the piano it was ours to keep. Huh. That’s how we got Grace, too. Several days after we said “yippeee!” to the offer ( or whatever newlyweds back then said), a group of Hobbit movers showed up at our house with a 1960 Wurlitzer baby grand in tow. There it sits, waiting to help our child with lessons in maturity and culture, and help us not purchase any other furniture because the daggone thing takes up our entire living room. Most years we end up putting the Christmas tree on top of it. Grace sleeps under the piano, her stench eating away at the finish. Like Grace, it’s ours. Part of our family story. Even if I do have to keep shouting, Moses-like, at the laundry pile “Don’t eat the piano!”
One of my early jobs was working in a parking lot. When you start down the path of adult careerhood by wandering a quarter-mile strip of pavement, it really does motivate one to work toward upward mobility. Every four hours, I was required to go inside the supermarket that owned the lot and tell them that their investment was safe and that the parking lot was still there. Not a bad job, really. I’d stand in my lot and chat with the working women who’d also had chosen a career path that involved walking the pavement. Needless to say, the ladies had better uniforms. There was another kid the supermarket employed who’d memorized Robin Williams: At The Met album and would recite whole sides for my entertainment. He didn’t have the timing down, but his recall was impressive. At The Met was one of those concerts that I still think informed my sensibilities. Met encapsulated the 80’s and doesn’t represent the present, but I claim it as a voice you can faintly hear in my speech and writing. There is a lot of material that coalesced to make up my mojo. Every once in a while I like to come up with lists of the pieces that produced my screwed-upness, material that represents the parts of whatever sum resembles me. Everybody has one of these lists, here’s my list of completely unrelated, in-no-particular order influences:
George Carlin-Son of WINO
Bill Cosby-To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With
De La Soul-Three Feet High and Rising
The Monty Python Instant Record Collection
Clint Eastwood-The Outlaw Josey Wales
Doc Watson-Going Down This Road Feeling Bad
Bob Dylan-Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
Miles Davis-Concierto De Aranjuez
Jazz On A Summer’s Day
Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (not really a good basis for confident style, but I was a confused, parking lot wandering youngster).
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.
I read recently that commenting on blogs is a good way to introduce people to your own writing. As a reclusive nut case, I mostly sneak around blogs I admire and retreat back to this particular whateveritis after reading them. If you’ve commented here, or followed, I’ve read your work and enjoyed it before going back into the cave of Mostly Teachable. There is a reason that I don’t comment much, and that reason is the fear of sounding like an argument I read today between two braniacs about whether Mr. T. is pro or anti-Nietzsche in his personal philosophy. Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who died in 1900 after battling drug addiction, mental illness and syphilis. What a joy he must have been at parties. “Let me get this straight, Fred. God is dead? Geez, you don’t look that good yourself.”
The argument over which side of the Nietzsche school Mr. T errs on is ludicrous. There’s a reason that a group of Hollywood character actors rode around in the A-Team van and not the great philosophers of the last three centuries. The reason is that the philosophers would have never made it out of the van. What a weird scene that would have been if NBC had made an action series in which Nietzsche, Kant, Camus, and Kierkegaard had formed a band of vigilantes who weekly were charged with bringing down banana republics. There’d have been thrilling arguments over the nature of existence and God, of science and reality. Not so much the throwing of hand grenades, but the dialogue would have been something else. Is is possible that Mr. T. is a great philosopher on his own terms? I saw him at Burger King once in Chicago, and he was an imposing figure, but very kind to his fans. That’s really all I ask out of my heroes. That, and an explanation of free will.
On the job, I’m a model of concentration. For the most part what I do is interesting, if only to me. The work involves staring for long periods at chromatic, pulsating lights and trying not to convulse, or pass out. My concentration is like that of a three-year old repeatedly smacking a cinder block with a butter knife. Intense, purposeful, not useful to society at large. When the sun sets on each day of work (which I wouldn’t realize, because we don’t have windows in the basement), my mind wanders. Not necessarily to the novel I’ve been bragging about not working on, or family activities about to take place. Nope. My automatic go-to daydream, my raison d’Walter Mitty, starts with the Waltons. More specifically, what would the Waltons do if you took them out of the Great Depression and plunked the entire shoeless family down in Mid-town Manhattan.
The Waltons was a 1970’s TV show depicting the life and hard times of a rural Virginia family during the Depression and World War II. The show was the creation of Earl Hamner Jr., the man also responsible for the 1963 Henry Fonda cinematic chestnut, Spencer’s Mountain. Basically, the Walton clan couldn’t get out tragedy’s way and weekly would experience a house fire, barn fire, general store fire, mattress fire, or some combination of all of the above along with the family cow spontaneously combusting like a Spinal Tap drummer. My mind, like aggravated gelatine, constantly goes back to “What would the Waltons think?” Sometimes at work, griping about DOS programs, I’ll say to myself “Well, at least this software would blow John Boy’s mind.” Okay, my thoughts wander a little at work. You can’t just apply this time machine game to any old TV show. Every “What would they have done on Little House on the Prairie?” question, for instance, ends up with Nelly Olson being mowed down by a car. I try not to play this game very often, resting in the knowledge that they’d end up like everybody else. Wearing shoes and constantly on Facebook saying good night to each other.
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.
Much of what is written on this blog is a self-absorbed salute to the personal pronoun. I write about the struggles of attempting to be human, and over-dramatize events that are common to the experience of much of humanity. Fun stuff, but my life outside of that struggle is devoted to faith and family. I am a dad, and that’s more fun than any amount of the hang-ups I prattle about. My daughter Anna, mentioned here at least once a week, is 10 years old. She’s a bright, insightful kid. Anna is an aspiring writer and actress and (in my biased opinion) the girl is pretty good at whatever she sets her mind to. One of the traits I notice in Anna when talking to her one-on-one is that she has a complete lack of confidence. I suspect that we live in a society full of girls and young women for whom confidence is in short supply. Girls Anna’s age live at a time when women should have historic amounts of bravado. Don’t hate me until after you finish the next statement: Anna lives in a time when the women’s equality movement is fading into the history books, because modern woman have surpassed the arcane ideal of just being equals with their male counterparts. The glass ceiling is fast becoming a thing of the past. The thing Anna lacks is confidence in her own ability and good ideas, despite the changing fabric of American life.
In talking to my wife about what to give Anna as a Christmas present, I started to think beyond the ideal of presents. Kids are bombarded with toys and plastic crap. I’m all for commerce in this economy, but there is more to life than just buying people material they don’t need. This kid, like many girls, is desperately in need of home run in life.
What I can’t buy Anna is the courage to forge her own identity.
This is what started the inspiration campaign. I began a campaign of seeking out words of inspiration from women of all walks of life to put in a book for Anna. Something that she can keep for her entire life and add letters to. The project has started by seeking out stories and messages of friends and women that Anna looks up to in her daily walk, from those that daily hold out a hand for her to hold. The great big project of craziness will take on a life of its own, I hope. My great wish is that there will be lots of messages of hope and courage from women who’ve scaled the mountaintop of success in all walks of life and can give back a few words of inspiration. Hmmm…I should have this done by December of 2019.
If you’ve got a few thoughts, life stories or inspiring words for a 10-year-old girl on the cusp of young adulthood in a world that drags down women before they even start to achieve, please feel free to drop a line. (No haters, because that kind of defeats the purpose of this project)
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.
Podcast Episode 12: Favorite Things. This is the return of the little podcast that could (or would, but usually doesn’t). Lots of Olympics riffing, and funny voices included to describe the voyage of the Curiosity Mars Rover. Have fun, enjoy some of your own favorite things and try not to fall off the couch watching the end of the London Olympic games this week!
I was out buying bed sheets tonight. To you this might seem ultra trivial and mundane, but in my case it always becomes an exercise in an area of domestic life I want no part of. My bedding requirements are simple and are as follows:
Is there a bed? No? I’ve slept on floors, couches, beaches, friend’s kitchens, acquaintances doorsteps. I’m glad for the bed, but it isn’t a deal breaker.
What is sleeping with me, or in my vicinity? Dogs are okay, but seeing-eye ponies, domesticated rodents and undomesticated persons (or rodents) are deal breakers.
There are things about buying sheets that I get, but don’t want to get into. Thread count seems to be a big deal. Suddenly I have to become Count Threadula, Emperor of Bedding in order to buy sheets. I’m in the store, squinting to see if I can count the threads. “There’s one! Wah ha ha! One thread!” I get distracted too easily to buy home products, anyway. A classic Z.Z. Top song came on over the store’s p.a. system and I stopped counting threads and listened more carefully than I’d ever to what my wife had explained to me about sheets. Cheap Sunglasses started to play and all thoughts of domestic tranquility fled my slipping mind. Instead, I began to envision a summer project. Each June I give in to the urge to tackle improvement (my own, or someone else’s). This year, instead of losing weight, or cutting my cholesterol, I decided while Sunglasses was rockin’ that I’d grow an awesome beard like the one Z.Z. Top’s Billy Gibbons wears. Sure it’ll be tough to hide the beard around the office. Maybe if I go all out for the boogie and blues, the beard will just look less crazy and more a natural extension of whatever personality is trying to get out of me. Oh, and the sheets? I bought black. Rock, roll and common sense, because they hide dirt in their many black threads.
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 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.