The Great Pretender

I’m a fraud.  I have been posing as a writer for 20 years and somehow, so far, nobody has caught onto the fact that I simply fake my so called writing talent—that is until the waning months of my last job.

When applying for work I’m often asked the question “What’s your greatest strength?”  I always reply “My writing.  If you ask about me, anyone who knows me will invariably say ‘He’s a good writer; wears a lot of black.’”

Yet, what these well meaning souls (precious though they are to me) don’t know is the deceit in my heart.  Even as I attempt to fool everyone in my presence—including myself—into thinking that I am a talented writer with no equal, in the evening, at my bar, under the initial influence of beer and whiskey the voices whisper what I know deep in my heart and try desperately to  ignore.  I believe the phrase is vino veritas, which is to say “In the wine there is truth.”  It’s just one more reason I don’t stop at two rounds.  Soon after the vino liberates the voices of veritas they begin to taunt me, and another dose is required to quiet them.

This brings me to the second major and recent event in my life, which I mentioned in my last entry.  I’m now gainfully employed, finally closing this latest chapter of my life.  It all began in July 2011 when I announced to the company that employed me at the time that I was leaving to promote my book in an attempt to seduce a publisher.  In the meantime I planned to restart my formerly lucrative freelance business.

Now this announcement was true in the sense that I was, in fact, planning to do exactly that and, so far, the promotional part has been happening in the form of my column in the local paper and my blog, which you are now reading.  What is not true is the part where I intentionally deceived my colleagues by suggesting that I had a say in the matter of my departure.  I did not.  What follows is a more accurate telling of the tale, or said another way, the whole truth.

I remember very clearly collecting my laptop and following my friend and manager, Karoline, into one of the team rooms on a Tuesday for our weekly one-on-one.  Our new VP of Marketing, Bob, was sitting on the other side of the room, with his typical goofy grin watching the two of us find a place at the table.  As I set my laptop down Karoline said “Bob would like to sit in on our meeting.”  “OK; hi Bob.” I quipped glibly.

I was about to close the door when our HR manager also slipped in behind me, holding some forms, a note pad, and a pen.  I sat down in front of my laptop, and Karoline looked at me and said “Cindy will also be joining us.”  Unfazed I simply closed my laptop and said “Well I guess I won’t be needing this, will I?”  Bob looked at me, the grin abating, and uttered a single syllable: “No.”

It’s funny.  These conversations are never quite as direct as I would prefer.  Karoline sat silently, avoiding eye contact with me as Bob talked for about seven minutes regarding the need for a change on the team, without ever really coming to the point.  When there was a pause I smiled knowingly and said “What kind of change did you have in mind Bob?”  Bob returned the smile and said “Here’s what we can do for you: two weeks notice, two weeks severance, and you can announce your own departure.”

“Well that’s very generous Bob.” I said trying to hide the sarcasm.

“Thank you.” Bob replied disingenuously.

I continued: “Last Friday you pulled me aside and thanked me for graciously accepting the new role you had carved out for me when you hired someone to replace me as the team writer.  You said I was the only one that could operate in this new position you created for me, Assistant Campaign Manager.  That was two business days ago.  What’s changed?”

Raising his voice he emphatically shot back “I meant that you were the only one who might be able to do that job assuming that you actually could do that job.”  Karoline and I simply stared at Bob in silence while he took a breath and regained his composure.  Softening slightly, he continued “You’re not that guy.  You’ve never been that guy, and you’ll never be that guy.  You’re a writer; that’s what you should be doing.”

My brain immediately leapt to the obvious rhetorical question, “Well if I’m a writer, why did you yank me off the only writing position on the team?”  Of course I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut.  No point in poking the tiger.  The truth is Bob hated my business writing and had been complaining about it to Karoline since he arrived. C’est la guerre.

Dutifully, I broadcast my departure by e-mail, wishing everyone well and explaining my plans.  Colleagues returned my well-wishes.  Karoline offered support.  Women actually wept.  And all I could think was “If only they knew.”  Knew the failure that I was.  Knew the fraud I had perpetuated for the last two decades.  Knew the depth of my deceit when I presented myself as a writer.  My last day came and went and for 252 days I diligently worked on my blog, applied for work, networked, sought out partnerships and clients—all to no avail.

And with each passing day, the voices of doubt grew louder, the self-loathing more intense, and the whiskey more frequent.  Until I finally came to be comfortable with the fact that I would never work again.  It was, ironically, another Tuesday morning when I embraced this epiphany over morning coffee with my housemates.

I didn’t write that day, and I didn’t apply for work.  I simply sat down and began watching Netflix non-stop.  Every 30 minutes or so I would find a reason to pause what I was watching and shuffle out of my office with the emotional acquiescence of my new-found career: Professional Time Killer.

Visits to the break room for a cup of coffee and innocuous chit-chat with my colleagues were now officially replaced by trips to the coffee maker and incessant inquiries directed at my wife: “So Heidi; what’s happening?”  And then, as if by divine appointment, a miracle occurred.  I was returning from the bathroom for the 12th time, thinking about whether to spend happy hour at a sports bar or at my bar, and I decided to check my e-mail.

In my inbox among the meaningless spam, and advertisements for online dating sites and Viagra, was a message inviting me to interview for a position as a technical writer.  The company, TOPAZ Technologies, is located right here in Pflugerville, Texas, 4 miles from my home—and they’ve been in business for 30 years and are still privately held.

Think of it: No venture capitalists to push the company around instead of allowing the visionaries to do what they do best.  No Company Board to throttle management when we miss a quarter, while we, the common worker bees, tremble as the landslide of proverbial crap rolls downhill.  And best of all, no commute.

As you’ve probably surmised, I got the job.  It was April 16, 2012: the day the Earth stood still.  As I crossed the threshold of my corner office, I thought of Bob and how he discovered the dark secret I had tried so desperately to hide.  I wondered almost aloud “How long before they find out this time?”

Let the games begin.

Guy-o

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Crow’s Feet

I owe all of you an apology.   This is my second hiatus from my blog-spot since I established it in August of last year.  I’m going to rely once again on the excuse that my life is complicated and I often succumb to distraction, never mind that were you a proverbial fly on the wall of my life you would no-doubt blame my absence on whiskey.  However, you would be wrong.

Like a loving wife, I hope you will once again receive me back into your good graces and sit with me while I offer a few recent events that will explain my momentary exodus.  In addition to receiving a job offer after 252 days of unemployment, a week ago last Friday, I became a grandfather.  A grandfather.  Hmmm.

I’ve been pondering this notion as I prepare to re-enter the work force, because I’ve never thought of myself as old—and grandfathers are old.  This in spite of the fact that I’ve been trying to embrace the idea since my oldest daughter, Rachel, gave me the news last October.  Everyone else around me seems to be accepting their incremental aging quite gracefully.

My friend Fran frequently speaks about his need for reading glasses.  Karoline talks about her granddaughter with great fondness.  Tom talks incessantly about all his medications.  Jeff talks about his late onset diabetes.  The lives of my brother Mark and sister Suzan seem to revolve around their grandchildren.  I, on the other hand, tend to sit in my office and wonder how I went from disaffected youth to cranky old man—and the answer is of course, I have no idea.

No amount of meditation or whiskey can reconcile the perception of ourselves as time passes compared to the way we are perceived by others.  Allow me an illustrative moment.

About three weeks ago, back when the possibility of becoming a grandfather was still an abstract concept to me, several members of my immediate family came to town for Rachel’s baby shower.  Heidi, Cindy, Maxine, and I all met my father, mother, sister, and my sister’s granddaughter, Ari, for an attendee swap in the parking lot of one of the local HEBs.  The women got out of my car and transferred to my Dad’s car, while my Dad swiftly moved from his car to mine.

Neither my dad nor I had any intention of going to a baby shower, and we were about to head over for a beer at my favorite sports bar.  Protocol being what it is, though, I stepped out of the car to greet my family.  Suzan was the first to offer salutations:

Suzan: “Wow; it’s Guy with white hair!”

Me: “Hi Suzan; how are you.”

Mom: “My goodness Guy.  You’re hair really is white.”

Me: “Hi mom.  Thanks for noticing.”

Mom: “No seriously; your hair used to be so dark.  I can’t believe you’re 53, your hair has turned completely white, and you’re going to be a grandfather.”

Me: “Well you know mom, time marches on.”

Suzan: “Yeah; it’s just such a shock.  I was just looking at photos of Ashley’s wedding and you still had color in your hair.  I can’t believe how much it’s lightened since then.”

Me: “Well, Dad and I need to be going.  We’re meeting the guys.”

Brief hugs, a kiss goodbye for Heidi, and then dad and I got in the car at which point I simply sighed.  Politely, my dad asked “Everything OK?”  “Everything’s fine dad.” I replied.

Here’s the thing: When I look at my hair in the mirror, I see sort of a light salt and pepper—a kind of silver cast to what was admittedly a head of hair that was nearly jet at one time but is no longer.  I can actually see the black hairs that still have color in them blending in with those devoid of color.  Yet anytime someone describes me, I am known among other things as “the white-haired dude.”  This is but one example.

Several weeks before this charming incident I was having lunch with my friend Jen, who is herself a recent mother.  She began the conversation:

Jen: “So you’re going to be a grandfather.  How do you feel?”

Me: “I have mixed feelings.”

Jen: “How so?”

Me: “Well Grandfathers are old, and I’m trying to come to grips with that aspect of my mortality.”

Jen: “But you are old.”

I stared at her for a moment, my mouth agape and then changed the subject as she laughed aloud, claiming she was just teasing.

If these two incidents weren’t enough to convince me of how subjectively I perceive myself, I naively moved the ball forwarded toward the “oldsville goalpost” by posting a high school photo of myself on FaceBook.  Bad idea—or maybe not.

About a week ago, someone I attended high school with (an actual beauty queen in the Miss USA pageant mind you) posted an unflattering photo of herself from grade school, with a self deprecating remark as a joke.  Sensing a competition unfolding, I posted an equally unflattering high school photo of myself.

Now I viewed this image as either a bad photo, or a photo of someone having a bad day.  I had this image in my mind of myself in high school as a loner with devastating good looks, a poor self image, and a unique fashion sense.  The image the photo presents, on the other hand, is one of a sad, shy, lonely person who didn’t have a friend in the world.  And guess what happened next?  A groundswell of comments poured in from my former classmates.  To a person, they all said essentially the same thing: “Now that’s the Guy I remember.”

I was frankly floored, but I shouldn’t have been.  This is how I was perceived by others—and this is exactly the affect the march of time has had on my current self esteem.  I know this because last night my daughter posted a photo of me holding her son.  I hardly recognized myself.

There were creases next to my eyes, known as “crow’s feet” by women when they are critiquing themselves.  My hair, while not entirely white was thinning and missing much of the vibrancy it held in my youth.  My ears and nose seemed a little larger, and my unshaven whiskers were also dotted with white specks.  The only remaining sign of youth I could find was the color in my eyes—and all of this juxtaposed with the three-day-old infant, Roy, I held in my arms.

Maybe it was simply the camera, or the angle of the photo, or maybe I was buying into the voices of self-loathing once again but, whatever the reason, I felt as though I was seeing myself as others see me for the first time.

Somewhere in our minds, most of us see ourselves as youthful, kind, generous, and attractive—and the first three are typically true of the people I’ve known throughout my life.  That’s because they are the result of a state of mind.  That last item, however, is largely beyond our control.

Father Time is relentless, and no amount of wishing will keep us looking the way we remember ourselves in our 20s or 30s or even our 40s.  So now, how to be gracious and accept the crow’s feet as badges of dignity and wisdom?

I’m not sure—but I think it involves spending time with your grandson, watching him grow, and patiently answering all those inevitable questions.  Questions like “Why is grass green?“ and “Why is the sky blue?” or most importantly “Papa, why do you drink whiskey and carry a gun?”

The answer to all those questions given the fact that I’m neither a science teacher nor a psychologist is, of course, “Because.  What do you say?  Wanna go for ice cream?”

Guy-o

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A Dog’s Best Friend

People suck.  OK; that’s not entirely true; I’m just feeling a little misanthropic. That’s because I’m sitting at a sports bar nursing a beer, having just returned from the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter.  Allow me a moment to provide some context.

Two weeks ago I was having lunch with my friend Karoline at Rudy’s BAR-B-Q in Round Rock.  She had taken the morning off to pick up some furniture at the Ikea there and invited me to lunch. I’ve known her for more than 15 years.  We’ve seen each other through a divorce and two marriages each.  I’ve worked with her, for her, and near her, and although I’m three or four years her senior, she’s like a big sister to me.

She frequently offers sage advice and tells me when I’m wrong (sometimes with significant verbal force), but always with the back-drop of the maternal nurturing I never received as a child but always craved.  It’s therefore unusual that I have the opportunity to offer advice to her.

She was talking about her weekend getaway to Dallas with her husband Dan while I worked on my brisket sandwich.  And then an unusual lull in the conversation pressed itself upon us.

I raised my head and saw her looking up and to the left, with glassy eyes.  “K?  What’s wrong?”  “Nothing.” she whispered quietly.  “What?”  She turned to me and with a haunting sadness in her voice said “I was just thinking about Tater.”  Tater was a Jack Russell Terrier she had raised from a puppy and who found her way to Rainbow Bridge the day before New Year’s Eve 2011.

This was Karoline’s first experience with losing a family member, which—if you’re a dog lover—is exactly how it feels.  I attempted to assuage her grief: “You know K, you’re going to feel this way less and less often and each bout will be less intense over time, but in the meantime what you’re feeling is normal.”  Soberly she replied “I know.”

I continued: “You gave Tater a very long, happy life.  The average life span of a canine is only about three or four years in the wild.  They endure the harsh elements of weather, hunger, and predatory attacks.  You not only gave her a very long life, you gave her a really good life.  In return she gave you a life of loving companionship.”

She responded with a gentle thank you and we moved on to another topic.

Fast forward one week to last Thursday.  I received a text message from her.  “Got a lead on a rescue Jack Russell at the Williamson County shelter, very unusual.  Heading over Saturday.  Want to join us?”  A truly awesome compromise.  She found a potential companion that suited her and it was a rescue dog.  Brimming with excitement I replied “You bet!”

What happened next falls squarely in the category of feast or famine.  The following day she got a lead on two rescue puppies—something as rare as platinum.  So now she’ll not only have the breed she wants and the opportunity to effect a rescue, they’re also puppies; exactly what she wanted, rendering a trip to the animal shelter unnecessary.

Later that afternoon, someone posted a heartwrenching video on FaceBook, which documented the rescue of two dogs living in a landfill foraging for food and water among the filth.  Now here’s the thing: I can’t get crap like this out of my mind.  It gets stuck up there and I can’t seem to exorcise it, which is reason #25 why I drink.  Compulsively, I began researching the Williamson County shelter Web site.

All weekend that video and the shelter remained on my mind—so Monday I arranged a visit to the shelter with the director Cheryl Schneider.  Some time ago I visited the Austin Humane Society where my friend Fran volunteers every Saturday just to see what he did exactly.  His experience of walking dogs and training other volunteers is truly a labor of love, but it didn’t satisfy my desire to understand what we (humans) are doing for strays more generally.  I hoped my trip to the WilCo shelter would set my mind at ease.

I entered the shelter and saw a woman in an office around the corner to my right.  “You must be Guy.” she said.  “And you must be Cheryl.” I replied.  “Yes, and this is Daisie.” she offered, gesturing to her foster dog, who was dropped off after the owner adopted her and then decided she was too much trouble.  She was a German Shepherd mix with a very sweet disposition who stuck by us through the entire tour.  Daisie’s insecurity was palpable as she stared up at Cheryl each time we made a stop.

We paused briefly by the operating room to see a vet who was about to spay two kittens.  She then showed me the isolation rooms, including one that was specifically designated for rabies observation.

Finally, there were all the housing kennels.  We walked by kennel after kennel of dogs who had either been dropped off by disaffected owners or picked up as strays and placed here with the hope that the shelter could find them homes.  I read the names: Chuck, a quiet Pit Bull, a Black Lab named Onyx, and a beautiful German Shepherd named Geneva.  As we passed each one, they made eye contact.  Some, like Onyx, would jump up and beg for affection.  Others, like Chuck, just sat quietly and asked to be held with a longing look.

We both offered a single finger through the cage and let them lick the digit that offered the only human contact they would receive that day—contact they were genetically programmed to crave.  The one exception was Geneva.  She just laid there gazing up at us casually with a distant look in her eyes.

As we left the room Cheryl said “The most common reason for euthanizing these animals is aggression toward humans or other animals.  That’s why Geneva is here.”

“Really?  She attacked another dog?”

“No; she bit someone.”

“Was she abused?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.  We don’t know her history.”

“Do you think you’ll have to—I mean will you; is she going to make it?” I asked, as a painful lump formed in my throat.

“I don’t know.” was all Cheryl would offer.

Here’s the thing.  I’m thinking as I sit here drinking beer and craving whiskey because of what I saw at the shelter and what I heard from Cheryl, that we invented these creatures.  Breeds have been created for their appearance, their speed, their ability to herd, and for their disposition—and that last one is huge.  We bred them above all for companionship, which means that being with, spoken to, and touched by a human is hard-wired into their DNA.  And yet we do this to them.

We decide it’s just too much trouble to support a creature whose only crime is loving us unconditionally.  And then we lock them away in a cage, and make it someone else’s problem.  Yeah.  Some people really do suck, but some people make up for those folks by donating the only thing any of us really own: their time.

Here’s to Fran, Cheryl and anyone else out there who redeem the rest of us with selfless acts of kindness.  You really do make the world a better place, and you are truly a dog’s best friend.

Guy-o

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Cat-atonic

I’m exhausted.  It’s funny; if you’re in the dwindling majority who remain gainfully employed, you must be wondering what is so fatiguing about my life.  I practically brag about the relaxed pace of my so-called schedule: get up, have coffee with family, shuffle the 40 paces to my office, get online, check e-mail, check FaceBook, check the news, apply for work, graduate to beer (or whiskey), work on this blog, watch Netflix, leave my office, turn on some music, sit at my bar, graduate to beer and whiskey, eat dinner, go to bed.

Not much going on there at all.  What I just described, however, is merely a sketch of my daily life.  Check out the color.

First of all, applying for work sucks.  Today, people look for work online.  It goes something like this: find a job aggregator.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, an aggregator uses technology to scour the Web for any job listing out there, and then provides a search engine to find the type of job you’re seeking.  I use indeed.com.

When you find a matching opportunity, you follow the link to submit your application.  Sounds easy right?  No; no it’s not.  First you typically submit your resume.  Fair enough—but then you are also typically required to fill out an electronic application that asks for all the information on your resume.  Allow me to repeat that.  They make you enter all your resume information on a form so it can go in a database that contains your resume.  Then you typically repeat this process with every new search.  It’s maddening the number of times each week I enter my name, e-mail address, and work history for the last 20 years.

Then you know what they do with that precious information?  Nothing.  A very nice and well intentioned person called a recruiter receives an e-mail message notifying him or her that you applied for one of 25 different positions, each of which has hundreds of applicants.  Unless God is the recruiter you’re screwed.  They can’t possibly pay any significant attention to your pathetic job history, which they don’t care about anyway.  Seriously.  Nobody cares.

I know recruiters; lots of recruiters at this point.  They mean well but they’re mere mortals and they don’t know you.  You’re just the next guy in a long line of people who are clogging up their inbox.

Next there’s the obligatory networking.  This is kind of like job searching, except that the only people you’re going to meet are the unemployed.  You go to these events and you stand around trying to pretend you care about the guy you’re talking to and you know what he’s thinking?  “Damn it.  I thought for sure you were a recruiter.”  Want to know how I know that?  I’m thinking the same thing.

Last Wednesday I attended two different “networking” events.

The first event was a meet-and-greet for professionals in the healthcare industry.  I know nothing about the healthcare industry but it began at 5:00 and was right across the street from the event I actually wanted to attend, which didn’t start until 6:00.  I came early to get parking because parking is in short supply downtown, which is where all networking events in Austin unfortunately occur. I mention that it’s unfortunate because I hate downtown.  No parking.  Expensive food and drinks.  Dorks that think being downtown amps your cool factor.  Drunk guys hitting on narcissistic girls who are well on their way to drunkville as well.  Networking events where ghosts with resumes wander around looking for the ever elusive recruiters.

To the point, I entered the first “hip” joint, J Blacks, and was immediately recognized by a former colleague.  We chatted briefly and then two women arrived and began talking to him.  He introduced me and the typical inane dialog ensued.

Me: “Hi. What do you do?”

Her: “I’m in PR, working for a health insurance company.  What do you do?”

Me: “I’m a freelance writer.”

Her: “In healthcare?”

Me: “No.  I have a marketing background.  I write case studies, brochures, whitepapers.”

Her: “In the healthcare industry?”

Me: “No; I’m just, just a freelance writer.  If you need content, I can provide it.  Whatever you need written, I can write regardless of the industry.”

Her: “So are you affiliated with a healthcare networking organization?”

Me: “No.  I was told I should attend because someone here might need a writer.  I’m just a writer.  I write; that’s what I do.  You’re in PR.  Do you need a writer?”

Her: “Uhm; no.  Have a nice evening.”

With that amazing success story complete, I checked the time and, as fate would have it, nearly an hour had passed.  I set down my beer glass and headed across the street to Molotov Austin for my next downtown adventure: a journalist meet-and-greet sponsored by the Austin American Statesman.

Upon arrival I registered, paid my $20.00, collected my two measly drink tickets and stepped up to the bar.  $20.00 seems like a lot for the opportunity to meet journalists, but hey; at least the first two drinks are free, and I am trying to get my column in this very newspaper, so fine.

I ordered a beer and then began to look around, wondering if they had cordoned off the journalists and posted a sign to make their presence known.  No such luck.  So I wandered around like everyone else seeking out prolonged eye contact, a sure sign that the person wants to be approached.  I assumed this would increase my probability of identifying a journalist but this tactic proved fruitless.  A number of people approached me—but no one in the newspaper business.

I met a friend of my wife who recognized me.  We talked for some time, and then he moved on.

I exchanged information with a nice lady who had a business with her husband selling maps to all the popular things for tourists to do in Austin.  The business name was kind of ironic given this venue: Walking Papers.  And what better way to promote your business than to show up at a networking event for the unemployed and remind them of that fact by introducing your company.

Finally, I met a nice lady who owned a business down the street that sells premium spices.  Yes; this is just the kind of contact who can assist me with my dream of Opinion Writer Syndication.  A condiment dealer.  As she said goodbye to find a journalist who could promote her store, I noticed an area that was, in fact, cordoned off, and in which there appeared to be some sort of official activity.

I made my way over to this conspicuous place I had somehow overlooked.  I was certain I would find local celebrities with press badges standing around meeting us, the common rabble.  No; of course not.  It was a face-painting booth.  The artist was a stunningly attractive blonde woman, and she was plying her trade to a man who appeared to be in his late 20s.  And his choice of face paint?  A ThunderCats character—you know that cartoon show from the late 80s.

I just stood there staring, glad that I was alone.  The sight of a grown man at a journalism networking event having his face painted as a character whose target market was 10-year-olds was so embarrassing I was rendered speechless.

Another half hour passed and I ran into the woman who notified me about these two events.  “Did you find any journalists?” she inquired with some annoyance.  “Nobody.” I quipped with a flat affect.  “Let me see if I can track down the coordinator.”

She began asking around and one of the waitresses pointed him out.  He was standing a mere five feet from us with his back turned, wearing a black T-shirt and blue jeans.  My friend tapped him on the back.  He turned around and, big surprise, it was the ThunderCat dude.  OK; so let me break this down for you.

I drove 25 miles from podunk Pflugerville to the live music capital of the world for the purpose of meeting contacts in an industry I’m trying to break into—and my fate lies in the hands of Mr. ThunderCat.

If you’re still reading this entry, you should be exhausted too.  Another month of this crap and I’ll either be catatonic or a full-blown alcoholic.  Wait; that’s what I said last month.  OK.  Add AA meetings to the list.

Guy-o

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Karaoke Gremlins

Life lesson #321: karaoke is always a bad idea.  The reason?  Gremlins.

Gremlins are mischief makers who were first discovered in association with the problems of pre-modern combat aircraft engines.  In the 20’s and 30’s, the internal combustion engine was still relatively new and tailoring it to the miracle of flight was a cutting edge, technological innovation of that time.  Such advancement is, of course, problematic and although nobody has ever actually seen a gremlin, their existence was considered evident as fighter and bomber pilots attempted to explain unexplainable failures.

Like any creature, gremlins tend to adapt to changes in their environment and I believe with some conviction that one of the many habitats of the modern gremlin is the karaoke bar.  The modern karaoke bar is ripe for mischief-making, and is thus tailor-made for gremlin inhabitants.

First, karaoke bars attract exhibitionists who are easily goaded into making spectacles of themselves.  Second, in an environment in which bystanders become rock stars for three minutes at a time, average people are more likely to make themselves spectacles than they might under other circumstances.  Finally, there is a plentiful supply alcohol, which lowers the inhibitions of these potential victims, making them more susceptible to the persuasive powers of these little guys, who lie in wait for those vulnerable souls.

You can almost see them as they whisper in the ears of these individuals: “Have another round.”  Or “See that hot little number over there?  She’s been eying you all night.  Oh yeah; she wants you.”

Case #1: Last Friday I was at a well known Austin karaoke pub called The Common Interest.  As is typically the case at this establishment, I was standing at the bar with my friend Fran nursing a beer and a scotch.  I looked over at the stage to see a rather attractive woman performing You Give Me Fever.  With mic in hand she began to gyrate and hike her skirt as though she were about to perform a strip tease.  A crowd of drunken men began to gather in front of the stage as I watched the train wreck unfold.

Halfway through the song, three of her friends joined her on stage and followed suit.  I was transfixed as the women behind the “performance artist” began to dip and sway, pelvis to buttocks in time to the music while fluffing their hair.  Discretion prevents a more detailed description, but let’s just say that the drunken men in front of the stage along with Fran and I were not disappointed.

As they exited stage right, a very large, unattractive woman, Hester the Molester, approached me, leaned over the bar, and began performing The Bump against my right hip.  Unable to ignore her, I turned and noticed that the first two fingers of her right hand were resting just above her cleavage in the v-neck of her pull-over top.

She began slowly drawing down the v-neck of her blouse to display her cleavage, and then, in a brash gesture, waxed existential:  “Do you know why you’re here?”  Nearly speechless I simply replied “No.”  “Fate.”  She retorted seductively as she lowered her left hand to my right thigh.  A confluence of confusion and terror overtook me as I searched for an appropriate response.

Fortunately, one of the waitresses intervened and explained to Hester that she was blocking the serving station and ordered her to move to a table.  A few minutes later, the manager, Katie, tried to usher Hester to a cab.  She, of course, resisted.  “I don’t wanna cab!  I wanna drink!”  Sensing the rebellious determination in her voice, I did what any red blooded American male would do: I charmed her.

Taking her by the hand, I said “Come on sweetie let’s get in the cab.”  Without any resistance whatsoever she stood and followed me out to where the driver was waiting and, after pouring her into the back seat, I returned to my perch at the bar.  The manager later thanked me and bought me a round for my assistance.  That’s right: I helped a drunken woman into a cab and I was rewarded with free alcohol.  I love this town!

Case #2: Some time ago I convinced my friends, Tom and Jeff, to visit another karaoke bar here in Pflugerville called Players.  At the time they were karaoke virgins but were also in a bluegrass band, so they decided to be adventurous and give it a try.

The place is exactly what you would expect a karaoke bar to be in a little burg like Pflugerville.  In this place, everyone knows everyone and everyone smokes.  A Texas state flag hangs behind the stage and the furniture is kind of old.  It’s also complete with pool tables where young men in cowboy attire engage in coarse, macho posturing and a shuffleboard table where old men like to congregate and demonstrate their prowess on the shellacked wood covered with fine sand.

We found a table for four in the back of the karaoke room and the three of us sat down, leaving a single chair free; to wit, send in the gremlins.  20 minutes later I returned to my table, after belting out a cover of Folsom Prison Blues, to find a guest.  He was an older guy, with a tangled beard, unkempt hair and a generally disheveled appearance.  Meet Chester the Molester.

On cue, Chester succumbed to the karaoke gremlins and decided that Jeff and Tom were appropriate targets of one of his twisted pastimes: feeling up strange men.  Now here’s the weird part: I was completely oblivious to their frantic attempts to fend off Chester, as I happily sang along to familiar tunes sang by the various performers while he treated my friends like an amusement park ride.  Fortunately for Chester, he left for another beer before I noticed any wrong-doing and he apparently became distracted on his way to the bar.

Jeff and Tom then related their tale of horror and as fate would have it, we didn’t see him again until we decided to leave two hours later.  When it was time to go, we all climbed into Tom’s van; I was in the back and Jeff sat in the front.  I strapped on my pistol and Jeff followed suit.  Without any warning Chester jumped into the back seat next to me and demanded a ride.

Tom craned his neck from the front seat, raised his arm, pointed to the left side of his rib cage, and said “Hey Chester, take a feel here.”  Chester eagerly complied.  What he didn’t know was that is where Tom carried his 9mm pistol.  As Chester suddenly became aware of this lethal hardware he gasped like a little girl and then quickly recoiled.  Tom then amped it up to 11 and said, see that guy sitting next to you?  He’s got a .45 on his hip and so does my friend next to me.

I watched with glee as the blood drained from his face.  Chester slowly turned, stepped out of the van and simply said “You fellas have a nice evenin.”

It’s funny how quickly the behavior of even the most wretched degenerate changes when he’s out of the influence of gremlins and under the influence of three guys armed with serious firepower.

Guy-o

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Thunderstorms

It’s finally happened: I’m out of viewing material.  I have successfully depleted the Netflix instant view inventory of “1,000 Ways to Die” episodes along with scores of other movies and TV programming.  No-doubt, your question to me is “What the hell is “1,000 Ways to Die?”  The answer is “It’s crap.”, but I respectfully submit that is the wrong question.  The question I think you should ask yourself is “Why have I depleted so much Netflix instant view inventory?”  The answer is I haven’t worked since July 2011.

My daily schedule is as flat the West Texas plains.  Nothing happens.  I wake up.  I have coffee.  I apply for work.  I watch Netflix.  I write.  I drink.  I go to bed.  Rinse, wash, repeat.  Wednesday nights, Friday nights, and Saturday afternoons I spend time with my friends—but that’s just beer and plotting the armed insurrection.  We never actually secede and my friends, by and large, are a pretty homogeneous lot who collectively share my world view pretty closely.  There’s never any controversy; no discussion of different viewpoints; it’s all the same day in and day out.

I am an unemployed writer who is marking time with a steady diet of Netflix, bacon, and whiskey, while praying desperately for a big-ass cumulonimbus cloud.  I remember thinking to myself earlier this week, “Dear sweet Jesus.  Enough with the blue skies and dry cotton fields.  Can I just get some refreshing rain, or a few brilliant flashes of lightening, or even the harmless bark of thunder?”  Last Friday I got all three.

It all began when I finished a beer and took a break from Netflix to check my e-mail.  In my inbox I found three emergency freelance assignments.  Hello rain.

I worked feverishly to beat the deadline, proofed my work, and fired it back 90 minutes early.  It was only three hours billing time, but that’s about a month’s worth of scotch and compared to the previous seven months, this tiny bit of work made me feel like a rock star.  It was like a fifteen minute, intense downpour after a two-year drought.

Enter lightening.  After grabbing another beer, I made the mistake of checking FaceBook, a pathetic act for a 53 year-old man to begin with.  The fourth post from the top was from my pregnant daughter who is in her third trimester.  It was two photos with juxtaposed messages.  On the left: a woman in a costume worn by waitrons at the Tilted Kilt, a pub with the same business model as Hooters, but with a Celtic theme.  On the right: a woman breast feeding her child in full view of the photographic lens.  The caption:

Left: “If this is acceptable in restaurants”

Right: “This shouldn’t faze you either.”

Bottom: “If it does, you’re a hypocrite.”

I was suddenly accosted by the Devil who began taunting me to weigh in with an opposing opinion.  Intuitively knowing what was best, I immediately turned my back on what was an overwhelming temptation to be a smartass.  But then I saw that Fran had weighed in with a rather innocuous dissenting view, which exponentially increased the temptation I had thus far successfully oppressed.

Now let’s play a game I like to call What Will Happen Next?  You guessed it.  I served up a counter volley, suggesting that while breast feeding is natural and loving so is sexual intercourse, implying that both required discretion and privacy.  In my opinion displaying cleavage as part of a restaurant costume was in no way the same as watching a woman breast feed in public—and I said so.

Who here thinks that was a good idea?  It wasn’t.

I was damned near electrocuted in the hail of comments that followed.  I could almost hear the yelling as my daughter pointed out the absurdity of comparing sex to breast feeding.  I could see the frustration in her face as she explained that I was sexualizing the female anatomy.  I heard the anger in her voice as she described an imaginary situation in which people were publicly berating her for simply feeding her child while I sided with the angry mob.

I opted out, deciding that discretion is the better part of valor.  If you’re familiar with Shakespeare, you know that’s actually code for cowardice, but it’s a reasonable reaction to both lightening and female ire, which at times are indistinguishable.

And now we come to the final chapter of this installment of A Day in the Life of Guy-o: thunder.

I headed over to my regular hangout with Fran, and another friend, TC, who rarely accompanies us anymore.  He has a new girlfriend and he’s been tending to the care and feeding of that relationship.

For the opening conversation, Fran scolded me about—I mean encouraged me to be more sensitive to my daughter in her currently fragile emotional state.  I quickly changed the topic to my Netflix viewing.  Two hours and four beers later we headed to a local sports bar for dinner.

We were nearing the end of our meal, and I still had Sloppy Joe filling on my plate, that never made it into the leftover bread that never made it into my belly.  “Are you going to eat that?” Fran quipped.  “No; do you want it?” I responded.

Fran replied by walking around TC to my spot at the bar and helped himself.  It was a little crowded so Fran was necessarily in my space, which motivated me to move away from the bar.  As I stepped back, for some reason known only to God, I thought it was a good idea to say “This is a little gay, so I’m just going to back up a bit.”

TC snapped to attention and innocently offered, “That was kind of homophobic.”  At this point I must refer you to a previous entry entitled Man up Dude.  Two things I attempted to make abundantly clear in that entry follow:

  1. Don’t make up words.
  2. There’s nothing wrong with being gay.

a) Homophobe is a made up word and by extension so is homophobic.  A person who is disturbed by the concept of a homosexual life-style, thinks it’s a sin, or is ignorant or naïve about the gay community is not a homophobe.  He or she is simply gay-averse.  A person who hates someone because that person is gay is something called a bigotBigotry is bad—but there is no such thing as a homophobe.

b) There’s nothing wrong with being gay.

Without thinking I lit into TC explaining that a) homophobic is not a word, b) it is political name-calling, and c) homophobic is not a word.  He returned the volley and explained to me that as a black man he understood the perils of prejudice and that my comment was bigoted.

Undeterred, I upped the ante, raised my voice, and asserted that not only is homophobe an imprecise term invented by that pansy Phil Donohue, it is universally used as a weapon against the political right in the same way the “n word” was once used against African Americans.

TC then raised his voice and forcefully suggested that I was using hyperbole to sell an emotionally based point of view and that my comment was, in fact, bigoted.  Then Fran entered the fray with yet another scolding—I mean exhortation that my arguing tactics were unsound and with even greater verbal force suggested that I step off.

After he was done there was a moment of awkward silence.  I simply looked at them both and in my calmest voice said “Homophobe is not a word.”  TC began to laugh hysterically, raised his glass, toasted our friendship, and I bought the next round.

As Homer Simpson once brilliantly suggested “To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”  Perhaps it also seeds rain clouds.

Guy-o

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If Frat Boys Ruled the World

The term frat boy has a universally negative connotation.  To most people it conjures images of the college-age George W. Bush portrayed by the media when he was running for office—and maybe the reputation is deserved; I have no idea.  That’s not the point of my comment.  The point is that such images produce a bum rap for fraternities.  Fraternities while, associated with drunkenness, bad behavior, and a frivolous approach to life, can serve a very noble purpose for men.

I experienced fraternity life not in college, but in the United States Coast Guard.  As I recall, during the nine weeks of hell known as basic training, my most vivid memory was the sense of brotherhood and camaraderie I experienced.  The regimen of physical training, nautical education, and military protocol coaching, while much less stringent than the other branches of the armed forces, galvanized strong bonds with former strangers.

One training exercise that comes to mind was the swimming regimen.  On week two, we embarked on two days of testing, training, and exercise in an Olympic size pool complete with a 25 foot diving platform.  We were all initially asked to swim several laps while observers graded our performance.  They then divided us into three groups: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.  I, of course, made the intermediate team because it’s the hallmark of my brief existence here on Earth thus far.  Intermediate is a synonym for mediocre, which pretty much sums up my life.

Then the observers donned their training mantle and gave us our instructions.  One of the instructors dispatched Team Beginner to the shallow end of the pool and announced free-time.  He then turned to us, Team Good Enough, ordered us into the deep end of the pool and instructed us in the art of drown proofing.  This technique essentially requires you to impersonate fishing bobbers, taking a breath, submerging, and then resurfacing.  Rinse, wash, repeat.  ”Now you boys practice that until I tell you to quit.”

We all did as we were instructed and he moved onto Team Star, instructing them about something I couldn’t quite decipher as I bobbed up and down with my teammates in the water.  He returned 15 minutes later and barked “Recruits: out of the water.  MOVE!”  Next, he ordered us to sit, which made me feel a little bit like a Labrador Retriever.  I then watched as he ordered the individuals of the advanced team up the ladder of the diving platform.  One by one they walked to the edge of the platform, crossed their arms with hands on shoulders, and stepped off for a vertical freefall into the drink.

“What are they doing?” I asked the guy next to me.  “They’re practicing abandon ship.”  I was suddenly struck by the disparity in the training.  The losers get free-time, the also-rans practice drown-proofing, and the winners are trained to abandon ship.  “Why aren’t we all practicing abandon ship?” I naively inquired.  “Because in the event that a ship goes down, those guys are the only ones who are going to survive.”

Now that doesn’t initially sound like a bonding exercise that would promote camaraderie—but then something interesting happened.  One of the guys froze.  He was JROTC in high school, knew a myriad of cadence calls, and seemed to possess a natural sense of military bearing.  But it seemed he had trouble with stressful situations—and this particular situation definitely qualified.  25 feet might not sound like much, but give it a try.  If you’re even slightly acrophobic, you might as well be standing atop the Chrysler Building.  But the important thing is that after a few seconds we were all pulling for him.

We began shouting words of encouragement—but to no avail.  Then one of the braver members of the advanced team quickly scaled the ladder and hopped up onto the platform.  “Dave!  Get it together man.  It’s just one step and you’re home free.  Come on Dave; take the step.”  Gradually a cheer spontaneously erupted.  “One step!  One step!  One step!”

Now as I write that it sounds a bit hokie to me—but remember—we were functionally just a bunch of frat guys.  The fraternity being Bravo Company of the United States Coast Guard Basic Training Battalion, Alameda, CA.  In our brief time in boot camp so far, we had already learned to rally around distressed individuals who were part of the fraternity for the good of the collective.  Sure enough, Dave took the plunge after only a few seconds of encouragement as cheers erupted from below.  For me, a kid from a small Texas town away from home for the first time, it was a quite a moment.

Fast forward to last Saturday.  Several former co-workers wanted me and my two friends Jeff and Tom to introduce them to pistol shooting.  Very well.  I sent them an invitation to report to my house at precisely 1030 hours Saturday morning for a weapons briefing, after which we would head over to Red’s Indoor Range right here in Pflugerville.

On queue at 1025 Jeff and Tom arrived to unload their hardware on my kitchen island.  Five minutes later two of our students, Curt and Adi, promptly arrived and filed into the kitchen.  Another five minutes and the last of the newbies, Nick, arrived and we began the briefing.

You could have heard a pin drop as we introduced them to the world of self defense weapons that Jeff, Tom, and I almost take for granted.  Laser-focused, they stood riveted by every word of the safety protocol lecture, technical analysis, and weapons operation demonstration.  45 minutes later we were satisfied that they were ready to step up to the firing line and off we headed to Red’s.

As we entered the range, our students seemed surprisingly at ease, despite the noise of discharging weapons and frigid air from the ventilation system that was delivered directly from outside.  For the next 90 minutes the guys went from station to station trying handguns: 9mm, .45, .38 special, and even a big-ass .357 Magnum—that last one being a big hit with the guys.  As we were nearing the end of our outing the guy in the bay next to mine tapped me on the shoulder.

“New shooters?” he shouted.

“Yes sir.” I yelled back.

“I’ve got a Sig Sauer .40 cal if they’re interested.”

“Hell yeah.” I offered up enthusiastically.

I happened to glance over at the ambassador’s girlfriend who suddenly broke into a knowing smile as if to say, “They’ve got the bug.”  Sated, we then headed over to our sports bar of choice, Twin Peaks, a few miles to the North.

We were immediately seated and we placed our drink orders before catching up on the last 10 years.  A few minutes later our drinks arrived and Curt, having the demeanor of something akin to a frat boy raised his beer glass and offered a toast: “To one more kick-ass time with a great bunch of guys.”

My friends thus inducted into our fraternity, a sense of satisfaction swept over my psyche.

Here’s to the Fraternal Order of Middle Aged Armed Guys.  Be polite to us.  We may not rule the world, but we are in charge of our little corner of it.

Guy-o

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