Category Archives: Marriage

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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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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My World and Welcome to It

I am neither a practitioner nor a detractor of religion.  Please don’t ding me because I mentioned God for the second time in as many blog entries.  This entry is not about God or religion, although both figure prominently in this week’s presentation.  Like all of my entries, it’s about life—but guess what?  A significant majority of individuals among the human population believe in something akin to God so it does tend to surface, especially around the holidays.

Religion ruins everything in my opinion, which is not to say there is no God, or that the Christian Bible is invalid.  It’s merely the case that religion was invented by man as a way of approaching God.  When you boil it all down to its essence, religion is a set of beliefs that require a code of conduct; essentially a collection of rules and rules are, of course, ultimately necessary.

What I can’t abide is when people demand that you live according to rules that suit them and which we have not all agreed to.

Example #1: Maybe you don’t like to drink because you think drinking is bad.  Step off.  It’s legal and I like alcohol.

Example #2: Maybe you don’t think people should own guns because you think guns are dangerous unless they are wielded by soldiers or law enforcement agents.  Get stuffed.  It’s Texas and not only do we own guns, a significant minority among us carry a gun on our person while walking around in the general public—so be polite when you come to visit.

Example #3: Maybe you think that drugs are bad.  So do I.  My son is doing time for a meth-induced crime spree.  Bad stuff—but he’s doing time for the stuff he did, not for the meth he consumed.  So why would anybody lump that kind of thing into the same class as someone toking up in the privacy of his or her own home, and why would anybody care?  I don’t and neither should you.

The point: religion tends to be another example of having a behavioral code that casts a judgment on those who do not abide by it.  That doesn’t mean religion has no value, and in my opinion the world would be a poorer place without it because the behavioral code was created with positive intention.  For religious practitioners, religion is uplifting, gives them a purpose greater than themselves, and I hope it inspires them to leave the world better than they found it.  To me that last one is what a belief in God is all about.  However, I do that in ways that don’t involve subscribing to the dogma of a religion.

My wife on the other hand uses religion as a platform for her exploratory spiritual journey she calls life.  She has belonged to several Protestant denominations, was a member of an alleged cult called The Way, has practiced Buddhism, and recently flirted with becoming Catholic.  Now if you are standing on my piece of carpet, you might be asking yourself, “What’s next?”  Excellent question.

This part of the story begins as it typically does.  I had just returned home from an outing with the guys and having crossed the threshold of my front door began looking for people who live with me.  I finally made my way to the den where I found Heidi, Cindy, and grandma watching TV.

“What are you watching?” I asked.

Sister Wives.” replied Heidi.

“Reality TV again?” I inquired blinking in disbelief.

“Yes.  This one is about a Mormon family who practices polygamy.  There are four wives and 13 children and they just moved from Utah to Las Vegas.”

“Las Vegas?  They moved to Las Vegas?”

“Yes.  Sit down and be quiet.”

Now my wife, who approves everyone one of these blog entries has decided that it’s time to make something crystal clear.  Her sister Cindy who lives with us is here primarily to assist with their elderly grandmother who suffers from dementia.  She is in no way my wife, and conversely, the Sister Wives on the TV show at hand are not biological sisters.  I don’t know why that clarification is necessary—but there it is.  I thought the fact that it’s a show about Mormons and the fact that I’m not a Mormon was explicit enough, but OK; whatever.

Sighing, I poured myself a round and sat down on a barstool in front of the fireplace.  Tonight’s drama: guys’ night out for Kody, who doesn’t drink because he’s Mormon, and Girls’ night out on the town for his four wives, who also don’t drink or gamble because they are also Mormon.  A conversation with myself spontaneously erupted in my mind.

“Clever.  I see where this is going.”

“He’s going to field questions from his three best friends whom he met just last week about what it’s like to openly live with four women.   And the girls will be running around Sin City trying to avoid the omnipresent vice.  Yes of course.  It’s about the curiosity surrounding polygamy.  Genius!”

In the next episode (yes we watched two of them) they are invited to Boston by a college professor of religion to address her class on their lifestyle.  This episode contained the only bright spot.  Predictably, at one point a bitter feminist poses a question to one of the wives: “How would your husband feel about you having four brother husbands?”

The wife sitting next to her leaned into the microphone and politely replied “Ma’am, who in their right mind wants to live like that?  No thank you.  I have six children and I value what little privacy I have.  I don’t need three more husbands mucking things up.”  Classic.

You see what’s coming don’t you?

A week later I found a pamphlet at the end of the bar on, you guessed it, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormons.  Of course I am way too dense to put two and two together, let alone come up with four.

Fast forward yet another week.  I was in my office writing and I suddenly realized there were several people talking in the living room, and I didn’t recognize all the voices.  I decided to take a break, refill my scotch glass, and investigate.  I passed the living room on my way to the kitchen and out of the corner of my eye I spotted a blonde woman I didn’t recognize sporting a pony tail.

I filled my glass and walked into the living room to find my wife having a conversation with two 20 year-old girls sitting on the couch.

“Hi.” I quipped.  The two strangers both looked at me and returned my greeting.

Heidi introduced me.  “This is my husband Guy.  Guy this is Sister Bruce and this is Sister Fitzgerald.  They are missionaries of the Mormon church and we’ve been getting to know each other.”

Cold beads of sweat began to ooze out of my forehead.  “Oh; you have.  How uhm nice.” I stammered.  Flummoxed, I spit out “Nice to meet you girls.” and then turned to walk back to my office.

The next evening Heidi was thumbing through what looked like a Bible and some other literature as she sat at the bar with Cindy and Grandma.  “Here; let me read to you guys about the book of Mormon.”  I stifled the groan.

I listened patiently as she talked about plates containing sacred scriptures and some guy whose actual name was Mormon and claimed to be a prophet who foretold the coming of Joseph Smith and Jesus appearing to the Native Americans, and a bunch of other crap I can’t remember.

When she finished I mockingly asked “Are you contemplating becoming a Sister Wife?”  “Maybe.” she replied coyly.

OK; this is going to go down in one of three ways.  1) She’ll forget about becoming Mormon when it loses its novelty the same way she forgot about converting to Catholicism. 2) She’ll convert and leave me for a practicing Mormon to be his fourth wife. 3) She’ll convert and invite a Sister Wife into our home as a permanent resident.

I’m personally pulling for option #3, but only if Megan Fox is available.

Guy-o

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Holiday Cheer

I am not the Grinch.  At one time Christmas was my favorite time of year.  I grew up in a place that received snow every year—many times during the winter holidays.  It seemed kind of magical.  The time off from school, the change of seasons, and—of course—presents.

Then I grew up and had kids of my own and the Holiday season became about making it special for them.  Actually I’m not sure I ever really grew up, but I certainly had children.  Call me crazy but in addition to doing my best to make the holidays special for them, I also made certain they understood what we were celebrating.  At that time political correctness was being invented, but had not yet been integrated with the infrastructure of our culture.

So I actually talked with them about the birth of the Son of God and what that meant to Christians.  Which reminds me: I recently saw Bill Maher’s film Religulous.  I think Bill is a very funny, surprisingly intelligent guy, but in my opinion he has the wrong idea about the Bible.  I don’t want to get into it here; I just wanted to offer a nod to anyone who doesn’t quite buy into the whole Christian aspect of the holiday season.  You’re entitled to that opinion; I don’t care—but if you’re offended that I mentioned the birth of the Son of the Almighty, step off.  It’s freaking Christmas.

Over the years, however, I’ve become a little jaded about the holiday season, which seems to be less about holiness and more about parties and commercialism.  Have you ever noticed that people on the road become absolutely unbearable during the holidays?  Also, I noticed that there are two variables that turn otherwise courteous drivers into road-rage warriors:

Proximity to

  • Christmas Eve

and

  • Your local shopping mall

It seems that the intensity of the rage enjoys a linear relationship to how many calendar days we are from the 25th of December and how many miles you are from the shopping Mecca in your part of town.  Isn’t it great the way people greet the Salvation Army volunteer on the 23rd with a twenty and a Merry Christmas on their way to the car and then offer vulgar gestures if they think you cut them off leaving the parking lot?  Classy.

Then there are all the other unwanted intrusions—like Christmas decorations and incessant holiday music the day after Thanksgiving.  Look; I just don’t want to hear dogs from 1955 singing Jingle Bells because I hit the wrong button on my car radio.  It was a clever trick at the time but how about this?  Archive that crap and bring it out to amaze high school students once each year or as a college exercise in psych 101 when you’re covering Pavlov.

Also, some of the traditional music starts to lose its meaning.  Hark the Herald Angels Sing and Silent Night have been functionally reduced to children’s nursery rhymes.  For those who don’t subscribe to a Christian approach to life it doesn’t mean anything in the first damned place, and for those who do you’ve killed the original meaning when it comes up in rotation as list play 243; for the Faithful it has been reduced to meaningless gibberish.

Next we have the proclivity to run up your credit card balance because of the pressure to artificially make it special to friends and loved ones.  Do your kids really need the latest electronic gaming box or iThingy?  Does your wife or girlfriend really need another piece of jewelry or perfume or some other expensive trinket?  Does your boyfriend or husband really want that shirt, tie or whatever girls buy for guys these days?  Please.  Pick me up a box of practice handgun ammo and be done with it.  It’s 20 bucks and I can buy my own clothes.

This brings me to my own personal holiday burden: the dreaded family Christmas letter.  That unattractive sound you just heard was me groaning as I sit at this sports bar drafting this entry.  Don’t get me wrong I love to write—but this beast is just so unwieldy.    First of all, it’s not even to my family.  It’s to Heidi’s family.

Recently my family has started to become closer—but for a decade and a half it hasn’t been that way.  Heidi’s family, however, is very close and always has been.  They call each other.  They keep in touch.  They know what’s going on in each others’ lives.  And, of course, they have a family Christmas letter.  The purported purpose of the letter is to keep in touch and to know what’s going on in each others’ lives—but wait.  They do that without the Christmas letter, and yet this chore falls to me.  Why?  Because I’m known as the writer in the family.

Now what’s interesting to me is that my wife also wrote and published a book as well.  So why am I the writer who is asked to take on the burden of writing the Christmas letter to her family about what they’ve been doing all year, even though they already know what they’ve been doing all year?  Because she said so; that’s why.

Now this year, I’m not doing anything anyway.  I’m just hanging around waiting for the next thing, and so writing the family Christmas letter isn’t really that big of a deal—but there’s always a catch.  The catch in this case is that my wife is the assigner and I am the assignee.  What that means is that I am working for her, and by extension she has to approve the final product.  It also means that I’m not compensated directly.  Well she does give me an allowance, which I spend on fast food, whiskey, and beer—but you get the point.

As I sat at my desk two weekends ago watching 1,000 Ways to Die, a series on bizarre ways that people have been accidentally killed, she tossed the assignment across my desk to me in the form of a directive.  Heidi often addresses me in this way because, as I’ve already pointed out, she’s in charge of me.

“I need you to write the family Christmas letter.”

“I did that last year and you rewrote it.”

“No; I edited it.”

“I’m pretty sure you rewrote it.”

Raising her voice, she insisted “I edited it!”

“I need talking points for your parents.”  She left my office and returned about two minutes later with a bullet list.  “Pretty impressive.” I thought. “Do I have a deadline?”

“Yes.”

“When is it?”

“This weekend.”

“OK.”  I responded as I turned Netflix back on to watch deathtrap #20: a man crawls into an industrial clothes drier to inspect it and the door closes behind him.  Whoa!  Totally gruesome.  Why the hell am I watching this crap?

I turned it off, reviewed the bullet list from Heidi, pulled up Word, and began to write.  For the next two hours I crafted a beautiful tribute to her father, mother, sister, grandmother, and her, with an honorable mention of myself.  Virtues were extolled.  Tribulations and successes alike were offered.  The living of life was celebrated.  All in Heidi’s voice.

Did I mention that this was an assignment from Heidi’s mother?  No; I didn’t think so.  Her mother always looks to her for this assignment, and Heidi invariably passes it onto me.  It is a labor of love in which I say the things about each family member I think Heidi would say so that her mother will not be disappointed.

Noon o’clock rolled around and I was done.  I walked into our bedroom where she was working diligently on whatever Heidi works on when I’m watching Netflix and YouTube videos.

“I’m done.  Do you want to look at it?”

“Sure!” she replied enthusiastically.

I waited impatiently wanting to head out for time with the guys.  She made a few minor corrections, giggled a couple of times, and seemed truly touched on one or two occasions as she read my sterling copy.  When she was done she looked up at me and smiled.  “That was very nice honey.”  Smugly I inquired “Am I dismissed?”  “Yes.” she replied.  “I just need to tighten it up a bit.”  Off I went for beer and pub-grub.

Fast-forward to the next afternoon.  After wasting most of the day plotting Texas secession from the Union, I wandered into her office and asked “What’s happening?”  She answered “Just working on the Christmas letter.”

“You’ve been working on it for a while.”

“I know.”

Puzzled, I left the room.  A few hours later I overheard her talking to her mother on the phone.  She was dictating the “tightened up” version of the letter I so lovingly crafted.  I entered the room and listened as she read the foreign sounding tome into her high-tech cell phone.  Sometime later she hung up and she looked over at me.  I guess the horror on my face was apparent.  “What?” she inquired.

“You rewrote it.”

“No; I edited it.”

“You portrayed your dad as a former covert agent, running drugs for the CIA.  He was a B52 pilot in the Air Force during the cold war.”

“Right.  It’s a where are they now kind of format.  Mom loved it.”

“You said your sister was interviewed by Entertainment Tonight.“

“Yes.  I thought it would be funny.”

“I thought the point was to inform the rest of the family of what we’ve been doing for the last year.”

“Right.  So I referenced the kind of thing they used to do in an exaggerated way and made it relevant to what they’re doing now.  It’s called creative license; look into it.”

“You said your mother was on a reality TV show flipping houses!”

“Well she did make a lot of money buying old houses in the right neighborhood and fixing them up.”

Nonplussed, I shook my head and offered “I see.”  I then shuffled out of the room, poured a glass of scotch, and put on some traditional Christmas music.

Newsflash: Jesus just cancelled his tickets for the Second Coming.

Merry Christmas,

Guy-o

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The Art of Incompetence

I was sitting at my desk at work sometime ago, back when I actually had a job, and an IM popped up on my monitor.  It was from my work-friend Jen: “Does Heidi have a pet name for you?”  I replied “Yes; why?”  “I’m taking a survey.” she replied.  I responded “She calls me Commander.”

“WTF!!!!?” she exclaimed.  “Are you serious?”  Knowing I had offended her feminist sensibilities, which kind of made me happy, I continued “Yes; but of course I call her Captain.”  “Whatever.”  Her disgust was awesome.  The joke was on her though.  I was in the Coast Guard and they along with the Navy have different officer ranking titles than those in the Army, Marines, and Air Force.

In the air and land forces a Captain is the first rank that commands any real responsibility.  The two ranks below it Second Lieutenant (O1) and First Lieutenant (O2) are really training ranks.  You’re learning to be in charge of people.  When you hold either of those ranks, your Sergeant (a high enlisted rank) is functionally in charge of you even though he has to salute you.  Further, there is no Commander rank in any of these forces; commander is a function.

In the nautical branches, however, Captain is the highest ranking field officer—but that’s not all.  Captain is also a title.  It is possible to hold a different rank and still hold the title of Captain.  The Captain is the Commanding Officer of a ship, regardless of rank and Commander is the rank directly below the rank of Captain.  For the uninitiated it can be a little confusing.

The point: In my house, my wife is in charge of me and everything else in our lives, and I am in charge of the dog and the guns.

Now, it would be very easy for some of you to read many of my entries here and draw the conclusion that I think I’m in some way superior to my wife.  That she is a crystal-gazing, new-age, incantation-chanting hippie and that I think somehow that’s beneath me because I appreciate science as a way to deal with this thing called Life.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Well, it’s sort of true.  She and her sister are both kind of new-age, incantation-chanting peace-nicks and crystals are very important to their approach to the world.

That said, in every way my wife is my superior.  She is better looking, smarter, more competent, more athletic, and she applies her moral integrity with better intuition.  In any pursuit my wife can best me with the exception of drinking and arm wrestling.  When I can get her to the range, she’s even a better shot than I am—but when it comes to drinking she’s a lightweight and I’m much stronger, mostly because of all the 12 oz curls I perform nightly.

Recently she demonstrated this near universally superior capability in a debacle I’m calling the Unsang Postnatal Affair.  I was reminded of this moment of humiliation as I left my office two minutes ago to snag the last cup of coffee from the kitchen.  I glanced at the stack of mail next to the wine rack filled not with wine but bottles of health supplements Heidi and Cindy are selling.

Next to the stack of envelopes containing notices, credit offers, and bills was a sad little box from the U.S. Post Office.  Can I just offer that I hate going to the Post Office almost as much as I hate going to the DPS office?  In Texas we have the Department of Public Safety, which oversees, among other things, the issuance of drivers’ licenses, and it’s no better than the DMV most other states have.

This is one of the few areas in which Texas is no better than any state in the Union.  When we finally do secede, it is my fervent hope that we will create some innovative way to regulate who can and cannot get behind the wheel of an automobile.  They suck in the biggest possible way when it comes to dealing with a public trying to renew that laminated little card.

Anyway, this beat-up little red white and blue, corrugated cardboard package with clearly marked postage had an address label affixed with the address scribbled over.  Accompanying this childish gesture was a big ugly, red finger pointing to the return address preceding the words RETURN TO SENDER in all caps.  It’s a thinly veiled insult that can be loosely translated as “The sender is an idiot.”  Uh, that would be me.

Two weeks ago my wife sent me to the post office with the package, which was addressed to a former colleague and friend: a Korean woman named Unsang.  Unsang recently delivered a baby and my wife wanted to do something nice for her to commemorate the new birth.  So she packed up some baby stuff in the USPS box, put an address on it, and handed it to me with a directive.  “Mail this.”

I was on my way out the door anyway, so I simply said “OK.”  A half hour later I received a call from Heidi.

“Where are you?”

“I’m at Hooters with Jeff.”

“Why didn’t you take my package to the post office?”

“I’m going to drop it off when I’m done here.  Why?  Does the post office close early on Tuesdays?”

Raising her voice she said “I’ve been looking for that package at the post office for 20 minutes.”

“Why?”

“I had Unsang’s old address.  I’ll come by and pick it up.”

“That’s not necessary.  If you’re out just drop off the new address here, or I’ll stop by the house before heading over to drop it off.”

Heidi came by and handed me the new address, neatly penned on a piece of paper.  After finishing my fourth beer I dutifully went to the post office and affixed a new label with the new address on it—or so I thought.

Fast forward to the following week.  I had just returned from Twin Peaks and went to the kitchen to greet Heidi.  Glaring at me she held up a beat-up box and said “Look familiar?”

“What?  I mailed it.”  Pointing to the label she said “It’s the wrong address.”  I tried to read through the scribbles and said “But I watched the postal worker put on the new address label.”  Examining it more closely she said “Wait; it’s the right address, there’s just no apartment number.  Good job.  And do you think you could skip beer and lunch with the guys just once and clean the pool instead?”

Her glare intensified.  Cindy wandered in.  “Why are you upset Heidi?”  Deeply sighing she just tossed the box onto the kitchen island.

I responded to Cindy: “Because I addressed a package wrong, wasting $5.40 on postage and delaying Heidi’s nice gesture to Unsang because the package was returned.  Then I drank beer instead of cleaning the pool.”

As I was writing that, it all sounded so unpleasant—and it was.  However, guess who’s not going to be asked to mail packages anymore?

Mission accomplished.

Guy-o

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