The Black Sheep

I’m the black sheep of my family.  That declaratory statement betrays no discernible emotion, so allow me to be clear: I offer the comment with no shame whatsoever.  And I do so in the context of the reality that my father and two of my brothers are ministers, who live very good lives encouraging others and trying to live up to the example of Christ.  They have almost no vices, unless you consider striving to be virtuous a vice in itself.

I, on the other hand, drink too much, swear, carry a pistol and if you mess with my friends or my family I have no compunction about using that instrument to dispatch you to an Intergalactic Timeout—things my family members don’t really understand but which they have each come to accept about me.  My older brother Kim drinks but, unlike me, does so in moderation, tends to shun weapons, and during my last visit didn’t seem prone to profanity at all.  I don’t think it’s that he’s pious; he’s just more mature than I am and controls his words and actions much better than I do.  He’s also very successful—unlike yours truly.  More on that in a moment.

Other than that, I tend to have more in common with him than I do my other siblings—which is strange because he is the offspring of my father’s former wife and we didn’t see him much when I was growing up.  He grew up in a very different environment than I did in a place 1,500 miles away, yet we seem to have a great deal in common regarding the basic approach to life.  I take some comfort in that fact.

This entry, though, has less to do with my relationship to my family and more to do with the living of life as an unemployed writer with an equal number of vices and virtues.  And that’s because I’m fascinated by the fact that my lifestyle tends to be a little different than most of the members of my family.

My father, who is in his late 70s, still works every day of the week running organizations that reintegrate drug addicts and the homeless into society and pastors a church on the weekend.  My brother Kim is the CEO of a construction supply company and has a sizeable nest egg.  My brother Rob is a real estate salesman during the week and pastors a church on the weekend.  My brother Mark runs a center that prepares people to enter the ministry and hosts worship services every Sunday.  My sister Susan cares for a grandchild, who was born out of wedlock from one of my nieces.  My sister Cindy works a fulltime job and is putting herself through school to become a nurse.

I don’t do any of those things.  I sit in my office and when I’m not watching documentaries about the end of civilization on Netflix, I try to write and keep the voices of self loathing at bay.  It can be rather boring and I don’t always succeed at that last part.  The early part of this week was a real challenge in that regard.  At one point I made a careful assessment of my life by doing something different.  I decided to take the dog for a walk and contemplate my current situation.

I stepped out the door, walked 20 minutes to the local park and sat down on the bench in front of the fallen warriors’ memorial.  As I sat there looking at the bronze figures portrayed in fatigues, bearing rifles and a U.S. flag, I remember thinking how much our guys have sacrificed, and then reflected upon my own life.  I’m just a writer; I’ve done nothing even remotely remarkable.  These guys stared down the enemy and lost their lives in the process, some of them as they rescued other men in their unit.  God how I hated myself in that moment.

After some reflection, I took a deep breath, stood up, and began the brief journey back home.  Along the way I argued passionately in my mind with my former friend again (trying very hard not to hate her), returned to my house, and turned on Netflix.  At some point that afternoon I realized several hours had somehow magically dissipated and that it was time to meet the guys for beer.  Yes; that was the highlight of my day up to that point: drinking beer with my friends.  As I stepped out the door, I was greeted by my industrious wife who had been hustling business all day.  It was a real Mr. Mom kind of moment—only without the kids.

“Hi.” she said.

“Hey.  How’d it go?”  I replied.

She talked briefly about her day, how she snagged a new client and had energized several more with a stellar product overview, and engaged in a totally kick-ass tennis match in which she was the victor.  Then she inquired “How was your day?”  I responded “I walked the dog, ate leftover pizza, and watched Netflix.  It was sort of the opposite of awesome.”  Smiling she said “It’ll get better, and I think it’s good that you got some exercise.”  Then she touched the left corner of my mouth and said “Oh; you have a pimple.”

A pimple!  I’m 52 years old and I’m an unemployed writer with a pimple.  Jesus!  Is this really my life?  I kissed Heidi goodbye and headed to Hooters.

I walked in and it was surprisingly quiet.  I waited for about 10 minutes quietly entertaining thoughts of the day when Jeff arrived.  We waited for another five minutes and then Jeff became suddenly impatient.  “Where’s our waitress?” he inquired.  “I don’t know.” I said as I stood up and walked over to the bar.  I spoke to the bartender and she flagged one of the girls down.

Recognizing us, the waitron gestured to each of us in turn and offered “Blue Moon and Johnny Walker for you and unsweetened iced tea for you?”  Jeff replied “Yes—and I’d like some onion rings.”  She rushed off just as Derek walked up to the table.  10 minutes later she arrived with our drinks and took Derek’s drink order: a Miller Light with lime wedges.  She scurried away once more just as Tom and Scott arrived.

Another 10 minutes passed and she arrived with Derek’s beer sans lime.  Taking drink orders for the new arrivals, she left as Derek tried to get her attention to no avail.  Jeff and Derek were becoming agitated.  I finished my first beer and waiting impatiently for the waitress to return, sighed and silently ordered Life to let me off the mat.

We flagged down another waitress who retrieved limes, put in another beer order for me, and went to check on the onion rings.  Our waitress then returned with the drinks for Scott and Tom.  We don’t always have five at the table, and it was a little crowded so, hoping to salvage what was becoming a serious debacle, I tracked her down and asked for a larger table.  I also secretly hoped for a different waitress who could offer better service.  Sorry; I’m funny that way.  Unfortunately we retained the same waitress and it never improved.

The manager then compounded our misery by promoting a local minor league hockey team impromptu: the Texas Stars, who were playing Charlotte.  He turned on the game and set the volume to about 150 decibels—something on the order of a space shuttle launch about 50 yards away.  My mood went from a little down to alternating between anger and despair.  Then, near the shank of the evening, a miracle occurred.

Two of the Stars cheerleaders who had been circulating around the breastaurant autographing photos of themselves and the squad arrived at our table.  One of them, Teresa, approached me and said “Would you like an autographed photo?”  “What would I do with it?” I asked trying desperately to hide my sarcasm.  She cheerfully responded “Give it as a gift!”  “To my wife?”  I asked as I smiled.  “OK.  Suit yourself.” she replied slightly dejected.  Realizing I was being an ass, I indulged in an intense bout of self-hatred.

A few minutes later the second cheerleader approached me.  Her name was Sarah.  Smiling, she got right in my face and in a chipper voice said “Come on.  You want a photo don’t you?”  There was something so innocent and childlike about the look in her wide blue eyes, I became perilously close to succumbing to her charm.  “And what do you suggest I do with it when I get home?”  Bouncing on the balls of her feet she said “Look at it silly.”  Unable to resist I offered begrudgingly “Oh alright.”

The two of them then spent the next 10 minutes talking to us in high-pitched, high-volume chatter that compose the cheer leading lexicon, and you know what?  I wasn’t annoyed.  They were just so damned optimistic about life it was impossible to hate this verbal clutter that would otherwise make my head explode.

My crankiness about the bad service, my unemployment woes, the loss of my friend, and even my pimple simply melted away.

I began to think that perhaps the pimple was a divinely appointed metaphor.  I haven’t had facial blemishes since I was about the age of those two girls standing in front of me who were so excited about what the future held.  The reality gripping me in that moment caused me to think.  “Maybe I should adopt a more youthful, optimistic outlook.  Maybe I should try to think about the potential of life and how it can be something amazing and wondrous.  Maybe I should be more positive and uplifting in both my attitude and my interaction with others.”

Screw that.  I hate that candy-ass crap.  Where’s my scotch?



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Filed under Life or Something Like It, Writerly Travails

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