We’ve Moved

I’m moving on up.  Now that I have two publicists, I had to move to my own domain.  They made me.  I want to hate them both but they’re helpful and, besides, they’re both really hot–so I’ve  decided that it’s best just to be compliant and not rock the boat.

You can now find me here:

http://www.guyoliverspeaks.com/

I also posted a new entry, which is available(conveniently) on my new domain here:

http://www.guyoliverspeaks.com/hearts-and-flowers/

It’s about Valentine’s Day.  I hate Valentine’s Day.  Hate it with me.  Go there.  Go there now.  Oh yeah; and subscribe.  And buy my book.  Do it.  Do it now.

Guy-o

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My Life with You

I am a walking dichotomy.

I profess a belief in God, yet I sometimes take his name in vain.  I self-identify as a Christian, but I frequently break nearly every rule in Christian doctrine.  I want to be loved in a way that reeks of desperation, yet I revel in shocking you with a coarse comment, and I think doing so is amusing.  I want you to heap fawning praise upon me as you read my work, yet I go out of my way to make sure you cringe at least once in everything I write.  I am filled with self loathing, yet—or perhaps because of that fact—I have the most fragile ego of any person in all of Humankind.  Your words can shatter the frail veneer of my sense of self, yet I invite your scolding reprimand with my words.

Writer's BrainI’ve always known this about myself, but I never really reflected on it consciously until a moment ago as I considered a recent conversation with one of my publicistsDanielle Hartman.  That’s right; I have two publicists.  My inclination toward polygamy is not limited to a marital or social bent.  I need two publicists just like I need at least two of everything else in my life.  Yes; I need two.  One simply isn’t enough, and so I also hired Phillis Benson who has been educating me in the art of social media, and I need her because I hate social media, FaceBook especially.  

My need for two publicists is driven not only by my proclivity for multiple partners in every endeavor, but also by my tendency to ignore the promotion of my work in favor of the creation of it.

To the point, Danielle and I were IMing.  Wait; another pause.  I hate with every fiber of my being that the word message is now a verb, but enough of these admittedly annoying parenthetical jaunts.  Where was I?

Oh yes.  Danielle and I were talking about how awesome my book is not.

“Could you please post a review of my Book?”

“Well actually Guy, I’m afraid a review from me wouldn’t be very flattering.  The first chapter is quite rough. You’re writing is spot on, Guy. Lots of voice, lots of humor, lots of heart.  But the content and message was—well—awful.”

“How so?”

“Uhm; I hated it.”

“Why?”

“I felt objectified.  You were talking about Ginger and Mary Ann, and there was all this sexual innuendo and—I don’t know.  I didn’t warm up to any of it until I got to know you a little better.”

“That’s OK; my wife hated it too.  Can you post a review on Amazon to that effect?”

“You want me to post a review that I hate your book?”

“You don’t hate my book.  You love my book; you just didn’t love it right away.”

“Guy, I hope this doesn’t hurt your feelings—but my friends and I laughed at your archaic views.”

“Really?  You actually shared it with your friends?  That’s awesome!  Thank you.”

“But, Guy, it wasn’t in a good way.”

“It doesn’t matter.  It made you feel something.  That’s all I care about.”

“You want to anger your reader?”

“I want to inspire passion.  I want to reach in, grab that thing you care so much about, pull it from your gullet and force you to say it aloud and unabashedly.  Otherwise, what’s the point of writing—or even reading for that matter?  Now please post an honest review of my book.”

OK.  You asked for it.”

What follows is the result of my earnest request:

“Quite honestly, the first few chapters made me cringe, as a feminist. His mid-century views on how women “should” use their sexual prowess to get what they want is offensive and appalling, but I do have to say, Guy ends up being very lovable and very pro-woman. When you look at the book as a whole, you realize Mr. Oliver is trying to empower women in the only way he knows how.

I respect his ideals but disagree with him in some instances on how he arrives to his big picture. He recognizes the strength in women’s minds and their character but does generalize and place too much importance on sex, but his intentions are what count for me. I look forward to seeing an interview on how this book affects Mr. Oliver’s relationships with women in the future.

As for the writing style, it is full of voice, humor and heart.”

Perfect—and a three-star rating to boot.

I’m reminded of a recent birthday wish from my friend Laura who offered the following, which I’m paraphrasing because FaceBook apparently dropped it (just one more reason to hate social media):

“Guy, you’re one of the few reasons I put up with FaceBook.  I’ve come to know you so much better here than when we worked together.  Here, you’ve made me laugh, you’ve made me cry, and you’ve made me think.  Thank you for that.  I hope you have a wonderful birthday.”

And that sentiment is really the point of this particular entry.  I love fawning praise, but more than that I love to move you.  As much as I immerse myself and revel in the five-star ratings, meager though they are, my book specifically, and my writing in general, isn’t suitable for everyone.  To some it’s boring.  To others it’s pointless.  To a few it’s infuriating.  And to that I say good, good, and good.

To me, this blog spot is just one more manifestation of my inclination toward polygamy.  I love you and want to have a relationship with you, and I can only have that if we are suited to be together.  I also want that relationship to be intimate, and as in any intimate relationship there will be times when I bore you.  There will be times when I anger you.  There will be times when I make you hate me.  But if you follow me, there will be moments when you love me—and that is why you will follow me.

Does my ego offend you?  Are you squirming as I unapologetically offer a moment of honesty about what I want from you?  Has my obvious lack of humility made you cringe?

Good.  I’m doing it right.

Guy-o

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A Modest Proposal

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with Heidi.  I looked up from brushing my teeth to find her standing in the doorway of my bathroom clad only in toe-nail polish and holding a bottle of my favorite beer.

Love, it seems to me, is fraught with perilous events, things over which we feel we have very little control, but are somehow propelled toward, which is why I think men try so hard to avoid it.  I learned this first-hand when I became engaged to Heidi some 14 years ago.  My decision to become engaged was actually brought on by a “discussion” that occurred the night before I proposed.  Heidi and I don’t have fights; we have “discussions”—and the discourse to which I refer was our first since I started seeing her.

Our discussion revolved around her insistence that I buy a dresser.  Being a bachelor at the time, I saw absolutely no need for a dresser.  I was perfectly happy with my system for storing clothes: when I ran out of hangers I piled them “neatly” on the floor next to my bed—unless I was hosting company, in which case I stuffed them in my closet.  For some reason, this arrangement bothered her, and she applied some convincing logic, explaining that “you can’t live this way”.  Now while I didn’t really buy her reasoning, I did decide that in the interest of domestic tranquility I should look into buying a dresser, and promised to do so the next day.

The next day at lunch I was scouring furniture stores feeling completely ill-equipped, which must have been obvious to the astute in my proximity because at one point a nice lady wearing too much perfume approached me and asked whether I needed help.

“I’m looking for a dresser.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I mean what style suits you?  What sort of décor do you have now?”

“I have a small, one bedroom apartment, so something not too big I suppose.”

“I mean your current furnishings.  Contemporary?”  Pause.  “Metro modern?”  Nothing.  “Vintage casual perhaps?”

I continued to stare at her, my mind devoid of any data whatsoever.

“Sir?”

“Thank you.  I’m just looking for now.”

Clearly out of my element, I punted.  I turned and headed back to my car as I began to invent excuses about why I didn’t get a dresser, racking my brain for a suitable, believable alibi that would absolve my neglect of this critical problem of my improperly stowed clean attire.

And then it struck me: what I needed was a surrogate gift.  Some token of my sincerity, which I could present as a down payment on my good intention.  As I walked toward my car I spotted a jewelry store.  Jewelry.  Yes.  Small package; big pay-off.  Of course.  A delicate gold necklace with an opal pendant, perhaps.  Precious, yet not too expensive.  Viola; mission accomplished.

As I entered the jewelry store, I was immediately assaulted by a sign clearly designed to up the ante: “Show her how much you love her.”  Recalling my recent epiphany in the bathroom, I began to think about my relationship with Heidi in more serious terms.  Heidi is a really amazing woman—smart as a whip; an athlete with no equal on the tennis court; a woman with model good looks arrayed with a thick mane of long blond hair.  She seemed perfect to me at the time.  Besides, I had this nagging feeling that if I didn’t start getting serious about this relationship soon, I might never have my beer delivered in quite the same way again.

For the next half-hour, my thoughts wandered as I began to contemplate what was previously unfathomable.  I was officially divorced a mere four months prior.  Yet as I stood there looking at the glitter of romance within the crystal showcases, I was seriously considering a second foray into the land of until death do us part or until I can’t stand you anymore.  And this is the peril of my first reference.  We say until death do us part, but the fact is that we are all too comfortable with until I can’t stand you anymore.  But not to preach; I’m just a writer.

I was next accosted by a stunning vision who identified herself as Linnea.

“May I help you?”  A sense of déjà vu overtook me.

I’m looking for an engagement ring.” I replied with significant trepidation.

“See anything you like?”

My mind was again reeling—repeatedly asking a host of questions: “Is this what I want to do with my remaining years on Earth? What sort of setting would she really like? Can I really afford this?” and, much to my surprise, the most terrifying question of all: “Would she say yes?”.  As I contemplated the rest of my life, I wasn’t sure which possibility was scariest: a polite reply of “no; not now” or an enthusiastic “yes”.  I mean the proposition of forever is frightening on its own merit—with or without the one you love.

I looked up and the clerk repeated her question: “What sort of set did you have in mind?”  I stared at her, unable to speak.  Sensing my uncertainty, she reached down, unlocked the case, and pulled out a simple diamond trio setting.  “I think this is beautiful.”  I replied simply “OK; I’ll take it.”

I returned to the office cash poor and unable to work, distracted by what had now become an obsession for me.  I decided to make good use of the time and make the necessary plans for the evening, putting off actual work for the moment.  I made reservations at a local restaurant, and on the way home I stopped at the store to pick up some flowers and a card.  I wanted to set a romantic mood for the evening; she, of course, thought I was merely trying to make up for the previous night.

On the way to dinner, I was thinking about the evening ahead.  The restaurant was unique to Austin and had incredible romantic potential, perfect for asking the question at hand.  Sure that I was about to present her with a unique culinary and romantic experience, I asked “Have you ever been to Hudson’s on the Bend?”  “Once, about five years ago.”  she replied.  “It’s where I got engaged.”

Aghast, my lower jaw dropped, like one of those cartoon characters who suddenly realizes they just stepped off a cliff with nothing beneath them but air.  I frantically searched for an appropriate reply.  “You got engaged there?”  I asked, incredulous.  To which she replied “Yes silly.  I told you; Zeke proposed to me there.”  “He did?” was all I could muster.

“Will this bring up any bad memories?” I asked as I desperately tried to recover.  “Oh no.” she said.  “That was a long time ago.  It’s fine.”  Horribly disappointed, I briefly considered delaying my proposal, but I was already committed and at this point I doubt God Himself could change my mind.

Later at the restaurant, when I was halfway through my second glass of wine as we waited for dinner, I knew that it was now-or-never.  Looking at Heidi across the table, my breathing increased and I felt beads of perspiration forming on my forehead.  I nervously asked her to take my hand.  Unable to muster any creativity whatsoever, I recited the script most men utter in these situations.  I think it must come from the movies and TV shows our girlfriends force us to watch when we first begin dating.

“I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” I began.  Uncertainty momentarily seized me as I tried to continue.  “Will you—will you marry me?”  I stammered.  Then, as if in slow motion, I reached into my pocket to retrieve the box with the gold and diamond token.  Fumbling as I opened it, I knocked my fork off the table, wincing as it unceremoniously crashed to the ground.

Somehow I managed to present the ring to Heidi without any further mishap.  Becoming a bit emotional, she wiped her eyes, smiled at me, and simply said “Yes.”  I breathed a thankful sigh of relief, took the ring from the box, and placed it on the third finger of her left hand.  I then looked deep into her eyes and contemplated all the wonderful things ahead for the two of us.

She returned my gaze, smiled, and softly said “Thank you for a wonderful evening honey.”

She continued “Oh; I meant to ask you: did you get a dresser today?”

Guy-o

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What Things Have Come

On May 7th 1995, my life was forever altered.

Life altering events happen every day, but we are typically unaware of them.  It seems they always happen to others as we read about them in the paper or watch them on the news.

Individually, we spend most of life engaging in the grind of it.  We get out of bed.  We go to work.  We go to school.  We raise children.  We cook.  We clean.  We sit down to dinner.  We entertain ourselves with mindless television to escape the ever-present drudgery that life all too often connotes for us.  And then, once in a great while, it confronts us with the reality of something that leaves an indelible mark on our souls.

Some life-altering events are universal.

For my grandparents’ generation it was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  For my parents’ generation it was the Kennedy assassination.  For my generation and that of my children it was the terror attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.  Most life-altering events, however, are individual.

The individual life altering event to which I referred in the opening text of this entry was a right hook that came in the form of a phone call from my manager on a Saturday morning at 10:00.  Its inception, however, occurred at 4:00 on the Friday afternoon prior.

I was sitting on the steps of the office building where I worked as I nursed a New Castle Brown Ale.  My friend Pat walked over to my stoop after entertaining a conversation with another woman, whose name and image I can’t recall.  Pat was known as the office mom at work.  She was the receptionist, office manager, and general caretaker of us all, and she was loved by everyone.

She took a seat beside me and raised a long neck Corona to her lips.

“Weekend plans?”  I inquired.

The Eagles.” she replied.

“The Eagles are in town?”

“Yeah; the Hell Freezes Over tour.”

“Wow.  I’m jealous.”

“And I hired a divorce attorney.”

“Really?  You’re done?  That’s it?”

“Yeah.“

“You OK?  Any regrets?”

“I’m fine.  I told you; I have Eagles tickets.”  She smiled and took another swig.  I turned to look at her profile.  I remember that she seemed so pretty in that moment.

I continued.  “Well I gotta pick up the kids.  My wife is outta town.”

“Yeah; I need to go too.”

We tossed our bottles into the trash bin in a single unified motion and headed to the elevator.  I went back to my office and collected my things, and then I left the office area and headed to the common hallway to use the mens’ room.  I looked to my right just as she entered the ladies’ room.

“See you Monday” I called out as I waved.  “Later.” came the reply.

10 minutes later she died in a freak one-car accident.

I, frankly, never recovered.

Present day.  My wife and her sister have been caring for their grandmother, Maxine, who has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  Day in and day out; night in and night out; they have cared for her, meeting every need.  The drudgery of life asserts itself.

Then last Wednesday.  I made my regular afternoon call to Heidi.  She seemed distracted.  “What’s wrong?” I inquired.  “Nothing; I’m just dealing with grandma.”

“Everything OK?”

“Yes.  I’ll call you back.”

As I hung up the phone a sense of foreboding gripped me.  A quiet voice deep inside whispered to me that something was desperately wrong and a sudden urgency overtook me.  I shut down my computer, informed my manager that I needed to leave, and walked out to my car.  The sound of the car door slamming closed seemed poignant in a way I can’t quite describe.

As I crossed the threshold of the front door I was confronted by a familiar unpleasant aroma I couldn’t place but I instinctively knew.  An odor that took me to another place I couldn’t quite remember; a sudden Deja Vu.  Inside the air was still and the silence overwhelming.

I made my way to the bedroom where Heidi’s grandmother, Maxine, slept.  Maxine was in bed and Heidi was kneeling at her side.

“How is she?”

“She’s tired.”

“Can I help?”

“No.  She had a bad nose bleed.  I was afraid she was leaving us, but I guess she’s OK.  I just need to watch her.”

Heidi stood up, and then I saw it in her eyes: the terrible fear that only appears when the end seems certain and immutable.  I held her for a moment as she sobbed.  When I released her she wiped her eyes and simply said “I love you.”  We left the room just as I heard the front door open.  Unannounced, her friend Sherry arrived greeting Heidi with a heartfelt embrace.

“I asked Sherry to stop by.  She wanted to help.”

I looked at the time.  It was 5:00 and Wednesday is when I typically meet the guys for Happy Hour.

“So I was thinking about meeting up with the guys.”

“Go ahead honey.  Everything’s under control.”

I kissed her and said goodbye relieved that the situation was not nearly as dire as I thought.  Little did I know.

I returned home at about 7:45 and was again confronted with the same fetid odor that greeted me earlier.  And then in a moment of violent recall, I knew the smell.  It was the stench from the scene of Pat’s accident, which I had visited the Saturday afternoon after her death.  It’s funny how these things pervade our senses and linger without permission.

I heard soft whispers coming from Maxine’s room.  I made my way to the threshold to find Sherry wiping blood from Maxine’s face as Heidi lay next to her weeping softly.  It was a nose-bleed—an otherwise simple condition—but the flow was so profuse it was alarming.  It was then that I embraced the truth, and the truth was that Maxine was dying.

I quietly entered the room and sat in the chair near the foot of the bed.  I looked on for the next four hours as they took turns holding her, caressing  her brow, wiping blood from her face, and offering comfort as she begged to go—to see family members who were no longer on this plane of existence.  It’s never easy—dying.  We fight it, sometimes fiercely, but despite our best efforts it always ends the same.

I watched as she closed her eyes to sleep and then opened them again begging to go.  Over and over like a broken vinyl record that skipped unendingly, she alternated between dead sleep and anxious agitation until she finally succumbed to the sleeping meds Heidi gave her.

Heidi’s mother and sister arrived at about that time and thankful for a respite we left the room as I listened to Maxine’s labored breathing and the hushed conversation among the women.

It was 5:25 the next morning when Heidi’s mother knocked on our bedroom door and ushered in Heidi’s life altering experience.  “Mother passed.”

I walked with her to the room where Maxine lay and looked on as Heidi held the cold shell that was once her grandmother and tearfully said goodbye.  On November 29th 2012, in a fleeting moment, life changed for Heidi, never to be the same.

Guy-o

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Of Vice and Virtue

“It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.” This maxim from Abraham Lincoln has a ringing truth but the ring is hollow.  A comment about human nature that lacks commentary.  A sound-bite that is easily remembered, but does not speak to the whole truth.

I, myself have a number of vices.  Some suggest they are harmless, near typical activities for an adult male my age.  Others find them repugnant and offer a scolding rebuke behind my back.  I drink too much.  I carry a pistol.  I frequently discuss so-called unpatriotic ideals such as Texas secession from the union.  Admittedly, such things can hardly be compared to other less socially acceptable activities such as using heroin—but they certainly can promote antisocial and unlawful behavior when they are not properly controlled by the practitioner.

I once knew someone who apparently had no vices.  He was a man—a native Texan in his 50s mind you—who shunned weapons, didn’t drink, drove a hybrid automobile, and generally lived a quiet life of reading books.  This despite his job, in which he entertained scores of calls each day assisting finance managers at GM auto dealerships with the endless maze of financial software and paperwork they were required to use.

Now I suppose reading could be considered a vice, depending on the content.  And I further suppose that avoiding weapons while caring about the environment is considered socially conscientious.  But the apparent lack of any discernible relief valve is disconcerting from my vantage point.  I fear he might one day snap and go on a shooting spree or fly a plane into a building.

The opposite side of that coin, however, is that vice without virtue has no value; if you accept the first premise, (in my opinion) you must own the other, and while vice is tolerated and notable, it is always the unnoticed virtue that wins the day.  That virtue is not an act, but virtuous behavior is born out of a desire for decency—a drive to leave the world better than you found it.  Most of us embody both.

Witness my oldest progeny and only son.  I didn’t know quite what to make of his travels as I watched him grow into manhood, always seeming to choose the road to perdition.  He was just released from prison on parole from a 10-year sentence, for a meth-induced crime spree.  A convicted felon multiple times over, I simply breathed a sigh of relief that his crimes were not violent and that his life was spared.  Instead of college and a job, or military service he chose drugs, debauchery, and crime.  The stranglehold of drugs tragically asserted the outcome.

Vice.

Yet as a child he was profoundly sensitive and frequently put his younger sisters’ welfare ahead of his own.  I still recall a particular day when his mother told me that she took the three of them to a McDonald’s drive-through for lunch, an exceedingly rare treat at that time because we were poor.

When they made it home his mother realized they had shorted the order by mistake, and in that circumstance he gave up his burger to his sisters without hesitation.

Virtue.

I have a very dear friend for whom I worked about three years before her manager fired me.  For most of that time she was a punitive tyrant during work hours and I was frankly a little relieved when I lost my job because walking the line between friendship and work was nearly impossible.  Only one of many casualties of her wrath, the terrible jaws of obsession with a thing being done “the right way” compounded by the need to punish offenders tested our friendship to its limits.

Vice.

Juxtapose that reality, however, with a poignant moment of loss—the death of a loved one.  Last December this same friend escorted her Jack Russell Terrier to Rainbow Bridge.  She talked at some length about the difficulty of making that decision, and how she felt like she was playing God, and the heartbreak of watching her beloved pooch take her last breath.  Last Monday at lunch she sat across a table from me and grieved yet again a year later—but she never left her companion’s side seeing her through to the very end.

Virtue.

Then there’s my friend Tom who mentioned some time ago that his kid brother Frank who suffers from multiple sclerosis was admitted to hospice.  He spent Thanksgiving with distant family members entertaining repeated questions about Frank’s well-being as they trickled in one at a time.  Over and over he was asked the same question: “How’s Frank?”  And over and over he had to explain that his brother was dying.

Last Saturday he was supposed to meet my friends and me for brew and pub grub.  He chose instead to spend the day and the subsequent evening with his two Border Collies, while he drank to stuff the pain.  He succumbed to the temptation to temporarily anesthetize the pain of the impending separation from a loved one, which ultimately and cruelly prolongs the suffering.

Vice.

And then there is the matter of my wife’s 96 year-old grandmother, Maxine, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and is functionally blind and deaf.  I’m told that Maxine is coming to the end of her journey here on Earth.  That although no one is willing to say how much time she has left with us, she is winding down at an ever-accelerating pace.  A metaphorical tailspin, if you will, from which there is no escape and is ushering in both certain and swift demise.

My sister-in-law who lives with us has spent countless nights with Maxine in her bed, many of them ending any hope of blissful slumber, being awakened by her at 3:00 a.m.  My wife has tirelessly changed countless diapers and ministers to her though unending trips to the bathroom, nearly a thousand baths, and even more questions as Maxine tries in vain to ascertain her current circumstance.

Virtue.

I watch as my wife and sister-in-law lose their patience with her, an adult child who is no longer capable of being responsible for even the most basic tasks of eating, bathing, and using the restroom.  I listen as they each raise a voice while speaking to her in part to overcome her hearing impairment and in part out of frustration.

I sigh and respond with annoyance as she unendingly interrupts conversations with family over morning coffee, attempting to comprehend the most basic of information such as where she is and what she is supposed to be doing.  These are the moments of fierce impatience that prevent charity when it is most needed by a loved one.

Vice.

One weekend not long ago, after my friends and I disbanded our weekly Saturday outing with beer and bar food, one of them, Fran, followed me to my house.  Three women had gathered with my wife and sister-in-law to spend a few hours with Maxine as she continues her journey into the unknown, believing that the end is at hand.

We sat in the living room and listened as Maxine complained of a sore lip from a fall two nights ago, cramping joints, and a general discomfort caused by a near-century of time here on this spinning, blue orb.  And then, without any apparent context, my sister-in-law began to speak.  With a sense of the inevitable nature of Maxine’s circumstance, she began to talk about how she awoke early that morning to find Maxine crawling on her hands and knees toward her bed.

I watched as her eyes became glassy and she tried in vain to hold in the grief as reality once again overtook her like a swelling tsunami.  I placed my glass of Maker’s Mark on the table top next to my chair and crossed the room to sit with her.  I placed my hand on her back as she briefly wept, unable to contain the emotion any longer.

The moment passed and I returned to my seat as Maxine began to speak again:

“My feet are cold.”  From across the room Fran replied “Your feet are cold?”  Maxine repeated her assertion: “My feet are cold.”  He set his beer down and stood up.  With a sense of purpose he crossed the room, knelt at her feet and began massaging them through her terrycloth slippers.

“That feels good; your hands are warm.”  Fran silently continued.

The symbolism was blinding.  Emblematic of the good in each of us, an able-bodied man bowed at the feet of an elderly woman and ministered to her comfort as her season was drawing to a close.  A simple act of kindness that cost him nothing but that did require humility.  Maxine smiled.

Virtue.

Guy-o

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Freya’s Concerto

There have been times in my life when things have worked in my favor with no effort on my part.  Such has been the case over the last few weeks, and I lay this good fortune squarely at the feet of my muse, Freya.  My writing has been on hold lately because she’s been on vacation—at least that’s the story she told me.  I’m pretty sure she was actually cheating on me, a suspicion I find very upsetting.  Relationships in my experience are based on three things: trust, common interest, and mutual attraction.

Until now my relationship with her has engendered all three, although I’m starting to rethink that first and most important item because of her absence lately.  However, I still find her stunningly attractive, so I’m not ready to break up with her just yet.

You, of course, know nothing about my muse, because inspiration, like making love, is a very personal thing and you don’t know me.  I’m just a writer—someone you will probably never meet and my life to you is nothing.  But what I will tell you is that she’s tall, Scandinavian, athletic, and boisterous.  In fact, rather than greeting me with a kiss, she just goes straight for the full body check—and these are all very attractive qualities to me.

She and I have several things in common.

First, she’s very fond of alcohol.  I know this to be an undeniable fact because she only shows up when I’ve been drinking.  There are countless times I’ve been enjoying a cold brew when, from out of nowhere, she shows up and announces her presence by playfully knocking me off my bar stool.

Then of course there’s the writing, the very reason you’re reading this piece today.  I listen carefully as she whispers soft words of encouragement to share my secrets with you—the good, the bad, and the ugly.  All the things I try so desperately to hide but that inevitably find their way to the surface under her commanding, yet gentle direction.

Finally, my wife is the muse of my muse.  If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that at least half of my writing is conceived by something my wife has said or done—and my muse invariably whispers “That would make a great story.  Follow me.”  And, of course, I always do.

And here is the path to which she led me today.

In the last two months my wife, Heidi, has entertained several suitors—among them a former boyfriend and an ex-fiancée.  Now the cultural definition of a suitor is someone who courts a woman in the romantic sense.  A suitor, however, can also be someone who is simply petitioning or vying for something from another individual or collective.  In this case these men seem to simply want her attention for one reason or another.  Now here I must add that I am, in fact, the jealous type—and this sudden popularity of my wife among these men got annoyingly under my skin.

Trust being a necessary component of marriage, though, I’ve adjusted to this current state of affairs and am convinced there’s no reason for concern.  That said it’s also true that I’m a self-doubting, self-loathing, drunk who believes deep down inside that I don’t deserve what I have and that somehow life’s been unjustifiably good to me.  I actually believe in these moments that it was just dumb luck that I somehow convinced the best woman living on the planet to marry me.

So when I see these guys posting notes on her FaceBook page, my  first thought  is “I’m totally screwed;” that I don’t stand a chance in Hell of hanging onto her.  But then this other guy surfaces from a hidden crevasse deep within my soul, and my eyes involuntarily narrow and a growl spontaneously erupts.  I am then inspired (no-doubt by Freya herself) to post a passive aggressive reply, have a drink, and chuckle because in that moment I think I’m clever.  This bravado then produces a feeling of euphoria in which I convince myself that I also happen to be the most charming and devastatingly good looking guy alive.

Such was the case on a Monday, four weeks ago.

Freya knowingly looked on.

It was the morning after said event and I was ruminating about my clever FaceBook reply to one of these gentlemen the evening before.  I was just out of the shower and stepped up to the mirror to shave when I heard the familiar voice of inspiration from behind me:

“You’re fat.”  She whispered.  I instinctively began scanning my reflection from the neck down.  I’ll spare you the image that confronted me, and instead offer the fact that I actually winced.

“Dear God.” I whispered.  “I’ve become Kool-Aid.”

My thoughts immediately returned to the guys courting my wife for her attention; panic ensued and only one thought came to mind.  At the top of my lungs I bellowed: “Heidi!  Can you come in here please?”

Opening the bathroom door my wife shushed me.   “Quiet!  Cindy and grandma are still sleeping.”  I looked at her for a moment.  She was holding a pillow with a half-donned pillow case and morning hair, wearing a tee-shirt that read “Got Sleep?” and a pair of flannel pants adorned with kittens. Funny; she never really looked as pretty to me before as she did right then.

“What do you want?” she inquired in a hushed tone.

“I uh—I want to join a gym.”

“You do?” she replied in a cheery tone while sporting a toothy grin.  “Yeah.  I’m fat.  I need to join a gym.”

Laughing she simply replied “Who are you?”

Freya smiled.

Fast forward to last Wednesday.  I was three weeks into a low-carb diet and exercise program.  No beer, no pasta, no pizza—and I’m in the gym three times a week.  It’s a total 180 situation.

Enter my personal trainer, Michel.  A young, good-looking, muscular kid who has been kicking my ass on Mondays and Wednesdays over the course of this awakening.  I have to admit I’m kind of getting into it—but this cross-training crap is BS.  I hate cardio.

Now these sessions are only 30 minutes so when I go in I’m a total clock-watcher.  I’m just counting down the minutes until I can go back to the office and scarf some tuna and collapse at my desk.  On this particular day, though, I was late, a fact which my trainer did not appreciate.  And he made that fact crystal clear after I suited up.  I approached him and he just kind of stared at me and said “You’re late.”

“Yeah man; sorry.  I just had some things going on at work and I forgot my gym bag.”

Suddenly I was back in boot camp.  Annoyed, he barked at me with a scolding tone: “When you first got here you said you wanted a change; you said that you had let yourself go, and you admitted you were fat.  I can’t help you if you don’t take this seriously.  Now let’s go.”

For the next 20 minutes he tore me to pieces.  At the top of the hour, I attempted to disarm him with humor:

“OK, so this has been good.  Great job.” I puffed while attempting to initiate a fist bump.

“You were late.”  He replied again sternly.

“Yeah; I know man.  You know; life gets in the way.”

“Outside.”  His stoic and commanding demeanor reminded me of when I’m in trouble with Heidi.

“What now?” I inquired.

“Running.”

An expletive crossed my mind.

Here’s the thing: you can’t negotiate with your trainer.  You’re paying him for results—but the thing is I got out of the damned service more than 30 years ago and now here I am taking orders from this kid half my age.

He led me to the parking lot and barked “Let’s go.”  I limped along exhausted and he continued: “Get ahead of me.”  Another expletive.

75 yards around the facility later and I slowed to a pause, which inspired his repeated command: “Move it!”

I obediently picked up the pace and pathetically “ran” the next 25 yards to the designated finish line.  I bent over with my head between my legs and he barked another order: “Stand up; hands over your head!”

More expletives.

“Dude!  You’re killin’ me here.”

“No growth without pain man.  Now let’s finish it; turn around and run backwards.”

“Who are you, freaking Nietzsche?” I exclaimed.

“Who’s Nietzsche?”

“Friedrich Nietzsche.  You know; ‘that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger?”

“Hit it!” came the stern reply.

I somehow made it to the second finish line—pathetic though my performance was.  And it was in that moment I began to suspect that all of this was somehow divinely orchestrated.  That I was on a path set by forces beyond me.  As I stumbled back into the facility I realized that as a grandfather, I owed it to my kids and to their kids to take my health seriously.  I suddenly understood the importance of ensuring the longevity of my life so that my kids won’t have to tell their kids about me in my absence while pointing to a tombstone.  That I need to live a long and healthy life—not just for me–but for them as well.

Do you see how she did that.  First she made me jealous, then she called me fat, and then she assigned me a cross-trainer—“all for my own good.”

Freya giggled.

 

Guy-o

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Filed under Life or Something Like It

A Letter in My Absence

I can’t believe I’m posting this the day before Memorial Day.  That’s because this entry is not about Memorial Day.  Yet as we are so temporally close to the moment when we, a grateful nation, bow our collective head in memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, I am compelled to offer an acknowledgement.

My wife, who is my greatest critic (other than me), frequently complains that I do not come to the point quickly enough—kind of like I’m doing right now.  While I believe I am a master of the parenthetical, wielding it as a Samurai wields a sword, my wife believes that I waste her time with unnecessary verbal clutter.  To you, dear one, I say, a) be patient and b) what follows is more of an obligatory nod to those we honor tomorrow than a paragraph flanked by parentheses.

If you have a loved one who served and was lost in the line of duty, I salute his or her sacrifice with all the sincerity I can muster.  Please know that the smart-ass who sits behind this desk and uses a keyboard to express opinions and tell stories is also someone who deeply respects and greatly admires the sacrifice of your loved one.  God bless you both.

In addition to Memorial Day, I have also been thinking a lot about two other things that happen at about this same time every year: graduations and class reunions.

In June, my high school class is hosting its 35th class reunion.  I will not be attending, but my FaceBook feed has been rife with buzz about the upcoming event.  The coordinator, Mary Jane, has been hounding people to RSVP to the invitations she sent out.  She has also been heavily promoting the event by posting high school portraits of my classmates.  I sit by, lurking in the shadows and watch the comments, occasionally making an appearance to offer a trivial but thoughtful tidbit about some interaction I had with a few of these individuals.

This behavior is fitting, because it is emblematic of my high school experience.  My dad moved us to the tiny berg of Mineral Wells, Texas when I was 15, during the first semester of my sophomore year.  Here’s the thing about small towns in the South: they are a living dichotomy.  Southern gentility requires a soft politeness that embraces you and makes you feel welcome, which is at odds with their organic mistrust of outsiders.

I was speaking with a high school friend named Danny who had recently become reacquainted with another mutual friend.  He sent me a photo by text message and I replied “Who’s that?”  He refused to tell me so I called him.  We talked for a few minutes before he spilled his guts explaining that the photo he sent me was our hot-rod buddy, Terry.   Hot rods.  You never hear that term anymore.  If you’re in your 20s you might not know that hot rod is a term for a car that has been tuned for high performance.

Now Danny and I did not own anything that could be called a “hot rod.”  We each owned a Mustang, but were also broke and could not afford to tune anything except an old guitar.  Terry on the other hand was the son of a mechanic who restored vintage cars, and that proverbial apple did not fall far from the tree.  The point is we were close friends because of a common interest.

Danny and I spoke for a few minutes and then he broached the subject of the upcoming reunion, wondering if I was coming.  I responded: “The thing  is Danny, I don’t have the attachment that you do to our high school class.  You grew up with these people.  You’ve known them since you were very young.  I didn’t.  I spent two and a half years there, and it was really impossible to get to know most of them in the way that you do.”  “Yeah; I get that.  I just thought you might want to see Terry.” he replied.  “I’ll pass man; have fun.”

I hung up and thought about high school and how different my experience was from my classmates.  In that moment it occurred to me that, like small Texas towns, your teenage years are also a living dichotomy.  At that age we had insecurities and low self esteem, but we covered them up with bravado or an attempt to insert ourselves into situations that would buy us the precious currency of popularity.  As it turns out, high school is just a continual quest for social capital.  Even the most beautiful girls and the most braggadocios boys are victims of this phenomenon.  The most popular people at every high school face the same insecurities and self doubt as those at the bottom of the social ladder—and that is exactly how I perceived myself at that time.

I dated a very pretty underclassman named Linda during my senior year.  About ten years ago she found me through classmates.com, and I was surprised when I discovered over the course of our correspondence how differently she perceived me than I perceived myself.  She described me as gregarious, courageous, and socially deft, while I saw myself as shy, frightened, and socially awkward.  I suppose somewhere between those two extremes lies objective truth—but we will never know.

With that in mind I’ve been following the FaceBook page dedicated to the Mineral Wells High School Class of 1977.  Yes; I’m that ancient.

I look at the photos and read the comments, and with each new post, I have begun to see these people in a new way.  The veneer of their high school brand has been stripped away and I think I see them for who they really are or, rather, who I believe they have become—and you know what?  They’re really nice people, who love, care, and support each other as they attend college graduation ceremonies and announce weddings of their own children, and post photos of their grandchildren.

I now see them in a way I never did before, and although their high school experience and mine were vastly different, I find myself wanting to celebrate what this upcoming event means to them.

Schools are fertile grounds for cliques, and all schools have them; my school was no different.  They begin with common interest, evolve to account for mutual social and physical attraction, and plateau as a galvanized playmate collective.

In that sense Terry, Danny, and I had our own clique of which we were very protective—but we didn’t perceive our collective as a clique at all.  I’m guessing neither did the cheerleading/athletic clique, the Z club, the drama club, and countless other segments of my high school population.  Everyone was simply trying to get an education and learn good social graces while trying desperately to fit in with everyone else; I doubt anyone was really trying to shun anyone else.

Still, because of my late foray into that small Texas town, I never felt as though I was really embraced in quite the way the other kids embraced each other.

No; I’m not attending my high school reunion.  There’s just really nothing there for me, but I think I would like to write a letter of appreciation to those attending:

“Dear Class of ‘77,

Remember how you tried to hide your insecurities in high school?  Remember how, as you grew and matured and experienced life, you began to cope with them and to teach yourself that you really did have value?  Remember that pivotal moment when you finally began to sense your own worth?  Congratulations; you finally graduated from the school of life.  You’re all grown-ups now and the curve of your evolving emotional and mental maturity has become asymptotic.  Every day you learn and evolve a little more, but at an ever-slowing pace.

I, on the other hand, am still as infantile and as stuck in my teenage angst as I was my sophomore year.  Fortunately, I have the luxury of scotch and therapy.

Have a blast!  I’m celebrating for you in abstentia.”

Guy-o

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Filed under Life or Something Like It, Marriage