Cat’s In The Cradle

I’m a cat guy. It isn’t looked upon as favorably as being a dog guy. Dogs are man’s best friend. They’re loyal and submissive. And cats? Well, cats are just assholes.

I mean that with the utmost respect. I’m impressed with their callous nonchalance in everything. Dogs crave attention and love always. Cats crave it when and where they feel like it. When they require your attention, you damn well better give it to them. When they’re done with you, you’re dead to them. Who needs to pursue a relationship when you can come home to neediness, neglect, and emotional abuse, all rolled into a five-minute interaction with furry miniature demons? Honestly, walking through the door after work, I sometimes feel like an abused spouse who enters her home never knowing how many drinks Beaufort had earlier. What kind of mood will the hubby be in today?

I joke. Sort of.

I’d like to clarify that I do not dislike dogs. I like them quite a bit, actually. It’s just that dogs require much more upkeep than cats. I’m aware of the benefits of dogs. They give love unconditionally. They protect us fiercely. They’re genuinely happy to see us when we come home. My cats, subsequently, love me beyond measure when I’m opening a can of tuna or scratching that one spot on their bellies at just the right pace. A half-inch too high or too low, or if the scratching speed varies, I receive tiny teeth in my hand. If someone knocks at the door, rings the doorbell, or walks by the window of the apartment, the cats boldly and heroically run to the back of my bedroom to hide in the closet. When coming home after hours have passed, I am often greeted at the door by one or both cats, who then dismiss me when they realize I am not holding a can of tuna. However, my cats never need to go on walks and they poop in a box.

I recently re-watched the YouTube video Sad Cat Diaries. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend that you do. It’s brilliant and hilarious to both those who love and those who despise cats. The video had me asking myself how cats view the world. How intelligent are they? How do they see humans?

Most people, especially dog advocates, are quick to mention how much smarter dogs are than cats. The difficulty with finding a definitive answer lies in the inability to test cats as easily. Whereas dogs aim to please and obey well (and, thus, test easily), cats are aloof by nature and have very little patience for the shenanigans of humans. In short, zero f**** are given. In one study, evidenced by the few cats who were willing to participate, they showed intelligence levels equal to that of dogs. Other studies show that cats retain information better and for longer than dogs. As far as brain mass, dog brains make up 1.2% of their body mass. Cats brains only make up .9% of theirs. Although, when looking at the number of neurons in the cerebral cortex, cats have about 300 million as opposed to the 160 million of dogs. And the structure via brain-folding in the brains of cats is 90% similar to that of humans. Basically, cats are every emotionally-damaged and psychotic woman I’ve ever dated.

What I found most interesting is how it is believed cats view us. Dogs may not understand the word “human,” but they grasp that we are different creatures than them. They are dogs. We are not dogs. They interact with humans in ways unlike dogs. Behaviorally, on the other hand, cats seem to view humans as very large, dumb, clumsy cats. To cats, human beings are feline versions of Hodor. Just as with other cats, they respond to us by raising their tails, brushing themselves against us, and grooming us. Exactly how they treat their mothers. I considered sticking to Game of Thrones references, but I don’t believe Matthew Father of Kittens sends the right message.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to ask my cats if I have permission to use the restroom by myself.

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Jigsaw Puzzles

I snuck into a girl’s bedroom last night. By that, I mean I was taking on one of the many roles of a parent. I was the Tooth Fairy. Some criticize method acting, but I maintain that I pull off a tutu and tiara quite well. My daughter lost one of the few remaining baby teeth she has left. By her count, she has lost six within the last year. Another one is loose as well. I suppose by the end of next year, she will have rid herself of those remaining teeth. Life, time, and experience take little pieces of us all. Like jigsaw puzzles we find in our grandparents’ attic.

The evidence lies partly in my hairline (or lack thereof) and my metabolism (see previous aside). In my early high school years, I had thick, wavy hair. Girls would sometimes play with it. My parents, on the other hand, would often ask when I was going to cut the mop on top of my head. They need not have worried. Time did it for me. Although it is nice being able to walk past the hair product aisle in the store without a second thought, I admit I hold a certain disdain for those men with finely-quaffed hair. I’m not wishing lice upon them, but my heart wouldn’t break. And then the metabolism. Every time I watch my eleven-year-old daughter inhale her meager body weight in food, I am reminded of the man I was in my early twenties. I was convinced back then that “serving size” suggestions were designed for toddlers. Now I find myself actively looking at the calorie-count of food on a menu. That second cupcake at a cookout bypasses my stomach and makes its way directly to my love handles.

On a wall in a hallway of my home is a picture frame that simply says, “Laugh.” That frame holds three pictures of my daughter when she was very young. In every picture, her eyes and mouth are open wide in full cackles. “LOL” and emojis hold no candle to those images. I haven’t heard her laugh like that in a long time. She’s not a sad girl. My daughter, like you and I, merely lost that piece of herself as she grew older. Certainly, we can still laugh until we cry at times, but it’s rare. Another casualty of growing up.

Hiding my face behind a blanket and then reappearing to say those magic words “peek-a-boo” once elicited squeals of delight from the baby who was my daughter. For her, in that moment, the world was full of wonder. Dad had vanished. Dad was back. Magic. I tried it again once recently just for fun. The response was not the same. As opposed to delight, her face held a look of slight worry and more than a little embarrassment. There was no squeal. Instead, the response was, “Really? What are you doing?” This, of course, while looking around to assure herself that no one else had seen the horrific display. I’m pretty sure I heard her apologizing to the cats on my behalf later. Life and experience took the wonder over something so ridiculous years ago.

Hair, physique, youth, metabolism, unbridled laughter, wonder. Life, time, and experience can take them all and more away from us bit by bit. It’s easy to think back on those pieces of ourselves we lose. What we often fail to recognize are the gifts that replace those missing pieces.

Where those baby teeth once sat in my daughter’s mouth, new teeth have sprouted. Those are the same teeth with which she’ll smile at a boy someday. That boy, mesmerized by that smile, will eventually ask her to be his wife. In his company, she’ll laugh until she cries. That game with a magical blanket will be played again, but with her draping it in front of her own children. Those delighted squeals will come to her ears and lighten her heart all over again. That man she married will lose his hair and get softer around his midsection. Her own hair will thin and her skin will loosen and wrinkle around her bones. Because of this, they will be able to say they grew old together.

Life. Time. Experience.

Take away.

We Become Art

Madison.” A single word you’ll find on my back, across my shoulders. My daughter’s name, written into my skin with needles and ink. I paid a man money years ago to stab me repeatedly. This might sound like an exaggeration, but that only means you never went to the particular tattoo artist I did. The bonus of using him is that I will never need to have my tattoo touched up. I’m certain the ink is in my muscles. That guy went deep.

I chose that tattoo in that place for a reason. I can now carry my daughter on my shoulders regardless of how old she gets. Cheesy? Maybe. But it means something to me. I’m proud of that work. The design of the lettering was created by a friend of mine. It’s unique. No one else will ever have the same name written the same way. It’s mine.

I like tattoos. I have many friends who have them. I like hearing the stories behind them. There are song lyrics. Children’s names and dates of birth. Those terrifying portraits of loved ones that always resemble something from The Walking Dead to me. Exact replicas of deceased parents’ signatures. Images from favorite films. Excerpts from favorite books. So many Japanese characters. I even enjoy the awful ones—those works of art decided upon during drunken stupors. Every tattoo represents the owner in some way.

I’ve heard some people criticize those with tattoos. “How could you deface your body like that?” “Why would you give yourself scars like that?” And it’s true that tattoos are nothing more than scars. They just happen to be the ones we choose. The choosing makes them art. And every piece of art has a history and an inspiration. It is because of this that I’m attracted to ink on the body.

However, I’m even more drawn to those “blemishes” that required no exchange of money or color schemes. I recently had a conversation with a friend about this. On her forearm is a dark scar. She explained that she got it when she had first moved into her apartment with her daughters. She had ventured out on her own and was making her first go at being a single parent. While making a pizza in the oven, the door she wasn’t used to had swung back up and hit her arm. The scar left behind is her reminder of that scary, freeing time. It will continue to act as a reminder for the rest of her life that she is a strong, independent woman who acted to take care of her children. That’s the beauty of those involuntary scars we hold.

After 37 years, my own body tells stories by way of accidental art work. My skin is my abstract canvas.

The middle knuckle of my right hand is carved with a small white crescent. In grade school, a boy named Jeremy was teasing me. I was getting angry and he knew it. With a mocking grin, he had dared me to punch him. The result was his tooth going into my knuckle. I felt a moment of exhilaration when that grin turned to surprise and pain. It was the first real time I ever stood up for myself to someone bullying me.

In my early twenties, while sitting on the toilet and reading various bathroom supply labels (it’s what we did before cell phones, kids), I looked down and noticed off-colored lines running across the inside of my thighs. When I had a conversation with my mother later, I asked if I had ever had an accident that would cause that. With an amused look, she told me they were stretch marks. My legs to this day act as a reminder of the chubby little smartass whose father used to refer to him as his “little human garbage disposal.” I wear those scars with pride and appreciate them every time I exercise.

My right shoulder has a white line given to me in my youth. It is the result of a gardening hoe being plunged into my skin. The hoe was wielded by a young girl who lived down the street. She had come to play gardening with one of my younger brothers. I didn’t like the girl and told her I wasn’t going to get my brother and to get away from our house. That scar reminds me of the wrath of a woman scorned. It should also act as a warning in dating volatile and insane ladies. Some of my dating history, unfortunately, suggests that I’m an idiot and a poor listener.

My left elbow and right calf share art work. At seven years old, I flipped my bike and it landed on top of me. The bolts from the front and back wheels found themselves inside me. One in my elbow. The other in my calf. Luckily, my crying was heard by Betty Cook, the mustached and muumuu-wearing babysitter who had the genius idea of pulling the bike off me and then pouring hydrogen peroxide directly into the wounds. That day, I learned to be more careful with my bike. I also learned that adults are often lying when telling you, “This will only hurt a little bit.” In addition, that Betty was not a nurse.

When I get tan in the summer, there is a thin white line that runs diagonally down my back. A scar given to me by a girl I know only as “Yoda.” This is obviously not her real name. I can’t remember her real name because I was very intoxicated when I met her. By the time I slept with her, I was extremely intoxicated. I knew what she was trying to do. I told myself I wouldn’t do it. I had standards. That was until she whispered filthy things in my ear. That scar, delivered by fingernails in the heat of passion, is a monument to the weakness inside me when tiny, unattractive women say horrible things after enough alcohol has been consumed. Am I petty and disgusting? That’s a fair assumption. Blame the scars. They tell only the truth.

Above my lip and just under my nose, there’s a nice divot. That one was brought about by me trying to work with pliers on my car. The pliers slipped and bashed me in the face. Whenever I think about trying to work on my own car, that scar reminds me to step away and consult a professional. There’s no room for a man-card when chances are good you’re going to maim yourself. And when you know absolutely nothing about cars.

Having worked for years in construction, my arms and hands are peppered with faint lines. Rogue joist hangers, stripped screws, unforgiving cement-mixers, and sneaky utility knives are all culprits. My lack of automobile and sports knowledge notwithstanding, I like to think they allow me to maintain some semblance of the aforementioned man-card. If I make no mention of my cats, I should be good…Well, shit.

Scars epitomize chapters in everyone’s lives. I know women who have survived breast cancer and have scars on their breasts. The marks of survivors. Women whose white lines on their stomachs tell stories of pregnancies or C-sections. The marks of mothers. Men who have only disfigured skin where limbs used to be. The marks of soldiers.

Whether we choose them or not, scars are beautiful. Don’t hide them. Don’t cover them with makeup or clothing. We should wear them proudly. They’re evidence that we’ve lived.

The Secret Diary

As a single man, I pride myself on my home being pretty clean and organized by typical single-guy standards. The dishes in the sink are at least scraped and rinsed. The inside of the shower, including the grout, is white. There are generally only a couple items of clothing on my bedroom floor. The inside of my toilet doesn’t look like a crime scene. My carpet, despite the best efforts of my cats and their apparent bulimic tendencies, is free of stains and vacuumed regularly.

Occasionally, I get in the mood to go full-on with my cleaning. Sometimes, this entails the bi-annual dusting of everything. How the cats still have fur on their bodies is beyond me. During these cleaning sessions, the toilet gets even more attention. Oh yeah. I get down on my hands and knees to scrub that awkward base of the toilet by the goose neck. Standing naked in front of a crowd of strangers wouldn’t make me feel as vulnerable as when I have my face that near to the receptacle that disposes of the fecal matter in my home. There’s an irrational fear that the contraption will choose just that moment to regurgitate its contents in a horrific spray. Every decision to eat buffalo wings and imbibe alcohol will flash before my eyes just prior to succumbing to death from disgust and shame.

Cleaning mode very recently brought me to the task of cleaning out the fridge. With this, I am not referring to the tossing out of old boxes of leftovers from restaurants. I’m talking deep cleaning. Removing the items individually, scrubbing the shelves and drawers, and then placing the items back in after taking inventory. Do you ever feel pretty good about your life? Do you feel like you’re an adult who can handle life? Deep-clean your fridge. That will bring you right back down to reality. The refrigerator is better than any journal. It contains all past hopes and dreams, moments, and even relationships, like some twisted scrapbook. Saving all my daughter’s art work since pre-school notwithstanding, I never considered myself a hoarder. The refrigerator called bullshit.

The door of my refrigerator was only a teaser trailer for what was to come. On it, I found a few strings of photo booth pictures I took with my daughter…four years ago. That’s fine. Pictures are meant to be displayed for the purposes of nostalgia. Then there were coupons. They were more recent and only expired a year ago. Texas Roadhouse offered a free kid’s meal to my daughter if I only signed to prove that she’d read three of the multitude of books she’s read since she brought it home from school. I won’t mention how many times we’ve eaten there since she brought the coupon home two years ago.

And then inside this chilled time capsule. At the back, I found a box of baking soda opened slightly to absorb any odors from foods. That baking soda not only absorbed nothing any longer, but had become roughly the consistency of the titanium used by NASA. At some point, I must have considered myself a connoisseur of ranch dressings. In addition to the regular ranch that actually gets used, I found BBQ ranch, spicy ranch, and Southwest ranch. Three bottles of mustard. One of those bottles is still edible enough not to kill me. A small bag of baby carrots for when I decided to snack only on vegetables. It was half empty. The half that were left had the consistency of stale gummy worms. A tub of garlic butter from when I decided to cook dinner for my ex who split with me a year and a half ago. Bottles of Angry Orchard hard cider that I bought last Superbowl Sunday for a woman in whom I was interested. She never showed up and I was stuck with gluten-free alternatives to real drinking. The crisper drawer held roughly seventeen thousand plastic tabs from bags of apples. If apples could talk, they would refer to my crisper drawer as Auschwitz. If “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” my daughter is going to be immortal. The bottom shelving inside had a nice brown hue from the time I decided to let my daughter pour her own Diet Coke out of a full two-liter bottle. That Diet Coke somehow made it inside the fridge, on my kitchen counters, the kitchen floor, and onto my socks. I was proud of how well she cleaned up her mess, until I pulled out the jug of iced tea that had been sitting in the back since Thanksgiving. This was just below the Hershey’s candy cane kisses from Christmas.

Then there was the freezer, or as I like to think of it, the retirement home for nutritional endeavors. In fairness, the ice is always fresh. Papa needs his cocktails chilled. However, in the opposite corner, I found half of a boneless ham, which will be great for dinner some night when I remember that it’s tucked away behind pizza and microwavable burritos. Homemade frozen yogurt bars that were inspired from a Pinterest recipe. They were healthy and delicious, the two out of ten that we ate. The seasoned chicken breasts that were grilled and then placed in the freezer in lieu of the craving for fast food that suddenly overcame me. Those chicken breasts represent the exact moment my inner fat kid stood tall. A bag of teriyaki chicken that had somehow survived two moves and was likely more chunks of ice than meat. An entire rotisserie chicken that was brought home to make shredded chicken tacos until I realized that I had somehow misplaced my crock pot. Basically, if there is a purgatory for chickens, it is my freezer.

Sadly, I found it difficult to get rid of most of the items I tossed out. They reminded me of various points in my life over the last couple of years, both good and bad. Now I’m just stuck with a boring refrigerator containing items that won’t send me to the hospital or make me cringe in repugnance. Give me a year. If you find me staring blankly into the fridge in the middle of the night, I might not be drunkenly searching for snacks. I might be reading my diary.

I Have Witnessed Purgatory, And It Is Speaking With Customer Service

I was extremely proud of myself. I put in a lot of research on this week’s piece concerning the American Education system. The goal was to put the finishing touches on that piece today and publish it. However, when I got off work and tried to text my daughter’s mother about our plans for the day, my texts wouldn’t go through. When I tried calling, my calls wouldn’t go through. Instead, I received an automated voice informing me that my phone had been deactivated.

I don’t want to out any phone providers, so suffice it to say that my phone provider company rhymes with Straighttalk. Yes, I’m that guy who prefers a flat monthly rate in lieu of taking a chance on hidden fees just to be able have a good phone and a little self-respect. My plan is all-inclusive. It’s cheap. It has a solid connection. I have never regretted it for a moment. And then I got the random deactivation message.

Ten days ago, I renewed my plan. The service worked. Nothing more was needed from me. So, to avoid adding “hoarder” to my list of undesirable qualities, I waited three days and then threw away the card with the PIN number and the receipt for purchasing that card. Did you just smirk sadly and shake your head at that last sentence? Yep. I’m an idiot. Naturally, because I threw the evidence away a week ago, the phone provider suddenly decided that they hate me.

This should have been a simple process. I’d call the company and explain the situation. Nope. My phone had been deactivated and wasn’t able to make phone calls to the number provided if I found any issues with my phone or service. Fine. I’d find the nearest wi-fi and use the internet to contact them in an online chat. Enter Isodora. Isodora needed only my phone number to “fix my issue,” which she would be “happy to do.” Of course, my phone number didn’t locate my account because the phone number had been deactivated. Could I please provide her with one of the unlabeled five sets of numbers inside the back of my phone? Certainly. We figured it out. After twenty minutes on hold while Isodora sent the same message of “one moment please” over and over again every few moments, she had a brilliant idea. I should simply tell her what the PIN number was for the card I purchased. Nope. Then I should just locate my receipt. Sure. And that is how I found myself digging through my garbage. I found junk mail. I found old napkins. Those, of course, were all buried under the pieces of raw fat I had cut from the chicken breasts I cooked for dinner a few days ago. I found the chicken with my bare hands only seconds before I found it with my nose. Still no receipt. Still no real fury from me. And then Isodora messaged me while my hands were covered in unspeakable things to inform me that if I didn’t respond to her within the next two minutes, she would have to end our interaction. Isodora did not like being on hold apparently. I told her I had no PIN number or receipt. She told me she couldn’t help me, but that I could simply go buy another phone card. I told her I had just dug through garbage. She said she was “sorry to hear that.” I told her I wanted to speak to her supervisor or someone who could actually help me. She told me that I could only speak to a supervisor over the phone, which I could not use because it had been deactivated. She was also “sorry to hear that.” But could she do anything else to assist me? “Yes. You can go f**k yourself.” Her previously-scripted responses did not seem to have anything for that. Our conversation ended. Am I proud? No. Did I feel a little better? No. But if I found out that I made her day worse, I would be sorry to hear that and offer to assist her in any other way.

And so, I borrowed my daughter’s phone to call a supervisor. Enter Pita. Pita and I had a much longer interaction than Isodora and myself. Unfortunately, this was because Pita heard my original issue, took my information, and put me on hold for twenty-two minutes and thirty-four seconds before disconnecting the line with nothing else said. Maybe she and Isodora chatted. The next phone call found me talking to a man whose name I could neither pronounce nor spell here. He seemed genuinely concerned and was very polite in his efforts to fix my issue. He at least took the time to come back on the line occasionally during the thirty-eight minutes he kept me on hold before yet another gentleman picked up the line, thanked me for holding, and then asked how he could be of assistance. Gentleman #2 also possessed a name I couldn’t pronounce, but that foreign bastard got my phone turned back on after only a twenty-minute hold. Thank you, Hindi Man #2! Would I like to take a short survey about the quality of my experience? No, Hindi Man #2. That is that last thing your company wants me to do. And I want nothing more to do with any phones right now.

I shouldn’t complain. I appreciate that the “customer service representatives” at least used their given names as opposed to butchered versions of “Steve” or “Sally.” Plus, blind rage does wonders for increasing heart rate. Cardio comes in all forms. And if nothing else makes me feel better, I can sleep at night with a smile knowing that Isodora will never go to Heaven.

(It) Feels So Good

When was the last time you felt angry? Sad? Hurt? Embarrassed? These images and emotions are easy to conjure. With very little effort, we can bring them back in our minds. Like cacti, they require minimal nourishment and still thrive. Also like cacti, they can be dangerous when handled. These feelings pierce us and cause us pain.

Now ask yourself another question: When was the last time you felt true joy?

On my way to work the other day, I pulled up to a stop light. The woman in the car next to me didn’t immediately register my presence. She was switching through the radio stations and, for just a moment as I pulled up and glanced over, I saw her face light up and her mouth drop open in unbridled happiness. I have no idea what she had stumbled upon. A favorite song maybe. A stand-up comic on a comedy station perhaps. Hearing her name being said in a news story possibly. Regardless of the cause, it was a second of pure joy. It emitted out of her like a lighthouse beacon. That light shone right into my own car. It actually made me feel better. And then it was gone just as quickly. Her eyes snapped slightly to her right and “reality” set in. She was not alone. Her face deadened and she started bobbing her head with only a hint of a smirk set on her lips. Nope. Flag on the play. Ten yards for exhibiting joy. No public displays of true happiness allowed.

I felt as though I had walked into a bathroom as a strange woman climbed out of the shower, unaware of someone else there. Her instantaneous withdrawal back into herself was like the yanking of a towel to cover her naked soul. It was surreal. And heartbreaking.

I’m left wondering at what point we stop allowing happiness to be all-consuming. Have you ever taken a two-year-old outside to blow bubbles or play in a sprinkler? Elation. Ever made a raspberry-fart on a baby’s belly? Jubilation. Look at the face of a seven-year-old on a bike, flying down the road at break-neck speeds with the wind tossing his hair. Revelry.

We are born with the capacity to experience joy in the simplest things. To be human is to be joyful. It’s only through our own shortcomings that we allow the world around us to take that away. Do bad things happen? Certainly. Is the world a stressful place? Absolutely. Does any of that matter? Only if we let it.

I’m working on opening myself to more unbridled joy. Last night, I made a taco salad that I’d anticipated for two days. I experienced what could only be described as ecstasy while eating it (the fact that I’d had a few cocktails prior should have no bearing). Saturday at work, I laughed with coworkers until I had tears in my eyes. I can’t even remember what we were laughing about, but I’m holding that feeling with me still today. While I drive to my daughter’s softball game tonight, I’m going to put the windows down and sing at the top of my lungs to whatever catches my fancy. Maybe I’ll inspire other car singers to put on their own concerts. Maybe they’ll do the same to even more. And that’s how it should be. When it comes to rapture, may it always be expansive.

Seasons

While I sit here typing this, my daughter is in her room, listening to music. Although our generations have very different ideas on what constitutes “good” music, I forgive her because I recall vividly my own parents looking at me with a somber disappointment when wandering into my room while I had my own tunes cranked. Music is music. If it moves your soul somehow, it’s doing its job. I’m left wondering if any of the songs playing in her room will make it to her own life soundtrack. If the one I’m hearing this moment makes it, my daughter must have a future in rave clubs or Hindu prayer. I’m baffled. And kind of wish I had a glow stick right now.

Having said that, I introduce you to my Life Soundtrack, Volume 2:

Track 1: Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong by The Spin Doctors—Before you can drive, finding yourself in your older sibling’s car as a passenger is exciting. Factor in that sibling’s friends, and you aren’t simply riding to the store or another errand. You are taking a journey. You are peeking into the wonderful world of what will be. Taking a short trip out of town in the back of my sister’s white Ford Tempo, observing the interactions between her and her friends Chris (a drummer in a band) and Brian (the singer and a guitar player in the band…and the man who would become my brother in law many years later), I was overwhelmed. What that overwhelming sense was exactly, I couldn’t have told you at the time. As a grown man now, I realize that it was my first glimpse into the magnificence of those friendships we develop in our late teens and early twenties. Those friendships that incorporate our views on how the world affects us through the art around us. The Spin Doctors were thrown into the stereo and Chris went on a rant about how they were completely underrated when it came to their percussion. He slapped out the drum beat on the dash with reverence. Brian tossed out his own air drums while singing along in harmony with my sister. I had not known friendship of that kind yet. Nor was I sure that I would. That would come later. But for those three minutes and fifty seconds, I was involved in something special.

Track 2: Black by Pearl Jam—Most regular karaoke singers can tell you the first song they sang. Mine was included in Volume 1. Karaoke can be a blast when you’re out with friends. Drunken renditions of anything by mediocre or poor singers are the staple of karaoke. Having worked in karaoke bars for a little over a decade, I saw more than my share. I have advocated many times for the possession of special licenses being necessary to sing Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Adele, Whitney, and Journey. Many, many have tried. Most have failed. Horribly. But at least it gets the crowd smiling, even if it’s from overpowering uncomfortableness. On the other end of the spectrum are those singers who take part in competitions. I’ve competed myself. Karaoke competitions can be brutal. They are far from The Voice, but within the community of karaoke singers, there is a feeling of honor to be included on stage with other, incredible vocalists. And the Midwest is filled with those. Thus, when stepping into competition, it can be daunting. I never felt like one of the strongest singers in the group. Judges felt I was good enough to make it to the finals quite a few times, so I believe I’m decent at it. However, competing isn’t my strong suit. My stage presence is awkward, to put it very mildly. I never know where to look—At the judges? The crowd? Over their heads? The stage occasionally so I don’t fall off and die? The screen with words occasionally so I don’t forget where I was and then die? So, I cope with it by drinking a lot of the free beer in the green room prior to going on stage. Obviously, this is the best course of action. It has resulted in me usually making some inappropriate, sexually-connotated joke toward one of the male judges. Once, it resulted in me dropping to my knees for dramatic effect at the end of the song…only to realize there was another run of the chorus through which to make it…now on my knees. In short, I feel like I often fail miserably at the competitions. However, back in 2008, I performed Mustang Sally by Wilson Pickett (which involved a lot of pacing back and forth drunkenly across the stage) followed by Pearl Jam’s Black (which many people told me not to do for competition) for round two. For whatever reason, a certain calm came over me as soon as I started singing and I stopped worrying about the judges, the crowd, stage presence, and even my vocals. I just sang. I let a song that I loved take over. I sang it for me. And I won first place. I’ve performed it more times than I can count since then. But I think of that song any time I feel I don’t belong, or I’m in over my head. My own little grunge rock version of “I’ma do me.” Even typing that out made me cringe.

Track 3: Heaven by Warrant—Yes, this dates me a bit. Shut up. In fairness, this song was released when I was ten. It didn’t come into my life significantly until I was thirteen, at which point it would go on to represent the loss of childhood as I knew it. Small town life meant that all the kids in school knew one another and options for romantic relationships were limited. Add a kid being overweight and obnoxious into the equation, and you have a boy who focuses most of his attention on his step-father’s stolen Playboy magazines and practicing how to kiss on My Pet Monster. I’m not proud. But those shared affairs with that furry, plastic-nosed, stuffed son of a bitch prepared me for my shining moment with Emily Corn. Granted, Sarah Dixon was my first kiss (and resulted in a mixed tape), but with Emily, I shared the dance. You know the one. That junior high dance at a home off school grounds. Young hormones were racing. I didn’t have much of a clue as to what to do with those racing hormones, but she didn’t seem to mind the slight poking against her thigh and I certainly didn’t mind that she didn’t mind. All I knew was that I could smell her perfume and her giant hair tickled my neck. And that there was no way I was going to pull away for a second in case she came to her senses. It was with Heaven playing in the background during my most-assuredly stellar slow dance moves that I had that real kiss. Emily, if you read this, I apologize. Your lack of giant, warty nose or elongated plastic teeth probably threw me for a curve. I can only hope you were cheating on your pillow or a random poster on your bedroom wall.

Track 4: Seasons by Chris Cornell—If you haven’t seen the film Singles, do yourself a favor and find it immediately. The storyline is incredible. The actors are brilliant. It’s a fun and heartfelt watch, especially for those in their twenties who are trying to “discover” themselves. The best part about the movie, though, is the phenomenal soundtrack. It encapsulates rock music of that time, especially the Seattle Sound. Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam have cameos. Throughout the film, Cornell’s Seasons plays periodically. I was in high school when it was released. I didn’t find it until a couple years later. Despite not being in my twenties yet, it spoke volumes to me. Now in my thirties, that hasn’t changed. And Cornell’s brilliant chord structure and amazing vocals still punch me in the heart every time. The song is so well-written that it doesn’t take me back to a specific time or place in my mind. It takes me inside myself. This piece itself represents those seasons of change.

Track 5: Break on Through by The Doors—The 1960s marked a change in the climate of music. Even the Beatles took a turn. In 1967, The Doors attacked the music scene. Jim Morrison saw himself as a poet and the music was background to that poetry. Being well before my time, I didn’t discover The Doors until high school, when I read that a lot of my favorite current bands at the time had been influenced by them. The first song I found was Break on Through. It embraced the angst in me and gave validity to the questions I was asking about “what it all means.” Even the keyboard had the desperate urgency I felt about things I didn’t yet fully understand. It was listening to The Doors that I experimented a lot with hallucinogens in an effort to see the world differently. Whether it worked or not is up for debate. And I’ve chosen to avoid angst as much as possible now. But the music still reminds me to never stop trying to see the world through different eyes.

Track 6: While My Guitar Gently Weeps by The Beatles—Todd Griffin was the biggest Beatles fan I’d ever met, and my best friend in high school. While I was listening to both modern and classic rock, The Beatles had just been something I’d disregarded. I knew their stuff. She Loves You and Hold Your Hand just weren’t my bag. They were a little too pop for my taste. They were cute. And they didn’t have that poetry that I wanted. And, so, while riding in Todd’s car (his car, his music, was the rule), he put a cassette in (yes, a cassette) and I found myself listening to a beautiful tune. He’d thrown in The White Album by The Beatles. While My Guitar Gently Weeps blew me away. I’d been duped into enjoying a band I told him I wouldn’t ever like. That summer was spent with us cruising around after work, jamming out to The Beatles from their album Rubber Soul up to Abbey Road. Once, while sitting at a stop light, a couple in their forties pulled up next to us and told us that we were listening to some awesome music. Then we all sang along at the top of our lungs until the light turned green. It’s not often that teenagers blasting stereos at intersections have positive interactions with adults. The Beatles made the world a better place that day.

Track 7: The theme song from Wow, Wow, Wubzy—If you’re a parent, you have at least one of these awful song types stuck in your life soundtrack. This was a cartoon my daughter watched non-stop until the Care Bears snatched her attention during age two. In case you don’t know about Wubzy, he’s yellow with a high-pitched voice and a jagged tail on which he bounces from time to time. Think of a canary-colored rectangular Tigger on crystal meth who has not had the decency to go through puberty. Then give the little bastard a catchy theme song that still sneaks into your brain after a decade. I give you Wubzy. The unfortunate thing is that this annoying song, regardless of its ability to make me consider breaking my television years ago, makes me smile when it attacks my mind like an unwanted musical ninja. It conjures up images of my daughter in her pajamas squeezing up next to me on the couch after an afternoon of chasing bubbles and riding her tricycle outside. In the realm of songs that move your soul, this one is up at the top.

Track 8: Over the Hills and Far Away by Led Zeppelin—I credit my love for Zeppelin to my step-father. When I was young, my relationship with The Step-Dad was typical. He wasn’t my father. He would never be my father. I would make it very clear to him that he was not wanted. This naturally led to us not being BFFs. I thought he was an asshole. He rightfully felt I was the same. Our interactions in my early youth consisted primarily of me being a prick and him punishing me for it. Every year for my birthday, he would buy me one of those small paddles with the elastic band coming out of the middle that attached to a rubber ball. A toy that no normal human being could figure out how to work properly without some contractual aid from Satan. Within a week or two, the elastic band would break. And now he had a new paddle with which to spank me when I was yet again doing something stupid. One day, while in the middle of a spanking I’m sure I deserved much more from, the flimsy paddle broke on my ample butt cheek. Like the moron I was, I laughed. He spent the next two hours in the garage carving The Mother of All Paddles. This thing was a beast. Taped handle. Holes drilled into the center for better aerodynamics. And I’m fairly sure it was partially forged from the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor. That was our relationship. I misbehaved and said horrible things to he and my mother. He responded by swatting me on the ass with Sauron’s Wrath. We had an understanding.

In high school, my mom found my weed and hitter in my pants pocket because delinquents are idiots who forget they also expect their mothers to wash their laundry. My step-father volunteered to drive me back to my dad’s house that evening. I slumped in the car, waiting for the lecture that I was going to dismiss. Instead, he broke the silence by telling me that he used to smoke a lot of pot back in his day and he just wanted me to be very careful about the weed I got. “People put all kinds of crap in it these days. Make sure you know what you’re smoking so you don’t end up with something dangerous.” He then went on to regale me with tales of pot-smoking from his early days. We laughed. We bonded. It was on that car ride that he became a person to me. This was parenting that you won’t find in any how-to books. But for me, it was real. Not long after that, I started pouring through some of his music. One of the first songs I found was Over the Hills and Far Away. I can’t listen to a Zeppelin song without thinking about the man who provided tough love and eventual openness to a kid who went out of his way to make it hard. Thank you, Gary.

 

What songs are part of your life soundtrack? Why? I’d love to hear them.

What A Girl Wants

If you have access to social media, you know that it’s a wonderful world full of opinions and memes. Granted, “you’re” is usually used incorrectly in the majority of the memes and the opinions are often regurgitated false-truths that haven’t been fact-checked. Welcome to the Internet. I allow my “grammar police” self a lot of leeway to turn away in this forum. Likewise, opinions…well we all know that old adage.

However, in the spirit of posteriors, orifices, and ownership rights, I’m going to give an opinion of my own. Straight women: Stop.

In the process of waiting on a table this week, one woman had shown up before the rest of her party. This should have been a simple process. I greet her. I take her drink order. I make the drink. I deliver the drink. Just as she ordered her beverage, though, I looked her in the face and thought, “Wow, she has beautiful eyes.” They were striking. So striking, in fact, that as soon as I got to the drink station, I realized I had no idea what she had ordered. Feeling like the idiot that I sometimes am, I laughingly told my coworkers around me about my predicament. What came next was unexpected. One coworker said, “You didn’t say that to her, did you?!” The other coworkers seemed equally concerned. As though telling a stranger that she had pretty eyes would be on the same level of asking if I could sniff her neck. I had not said anything and, after witnessing the horror on the faces of my fellow employees, decided I should probably never interact with a woman again.

I did what any server does in the forgotten-drink-order situation. I went back with a tray of the three basics: iced tea, water with lemon, and Diet Coke. I apologized for being an idiot, told her I couldn’t remember what she had ordered, and then jokingly played it off that I might or might not be drunk. I did all of this while avoiding eye contact as adamantly as one would avert the gaze of Medusa. Apparently, I don’t comprehend language when confronted with pretty eyes.

What bothered me more than looking like a fool was the reaction of my coworkers. No, I did not compliment a woman I did not know. But why would that be such a terrible thing? In my fascination, I asked coworker #1. She explained that it’s “creepy.” That the woman would already know that she had pretty eyes and didn’t “need” to hear it from me. That every “creep” out there probably compliments her all the time on those eyes. I then asked if I it was better for a guy to be an asshole and insult her. She told me no. That attractive women “just want to be left alone.” Maybe my coworkers are in the minority.

Here’s the problem: My social media feeds are filled with memes and famous quotes posted by attractive, straight women. The running theme consists of “queens” deserving to be treated as such by their “kings.” They say there are no good men out there. They complain about “f***boys” and idiots. And women are creating more and more of those “f***boys” every day.

I completely understand that hearing compliments on your attributes by slobs with neck tattoos and straight-billed caps turned sideways must get old. It must make you jaded. So focus on genuine compliments. Those delivered without the man licking his lips. Those not telling you how “fine” your ass or “tits” are. If men aren’t allowed to voice genuine compliments, they are forced to focus on apathy. Men who neither share nor care are deemed to be the very assholes women are supposedly trying to avoid. Enter the douchebags.

My friends Jordan and Rebekah are a happily married gay couple. I involved them in the Pretty Eyes debacle. They both seemed baffled. Who wouldn’t like hearing they have pretty eyes? They admitted that being a straight woman inundated with constant compliments by guys must be tough. But then they hit me with the real problem: Women know exactly what they don’t want, and no clue as to what they do want.

As a man with three sisters, and who has worked in the service industry for years, and who has social media, I have listened to countless women complain about their love lives or lack thereof. All those attributes about men that they can’t stand. Let’s break down the popular negatives:

  1. He’s an idiot
  2. He’s unemployed
  3. He’s too negative
  4. He lives with his parents
  5. He flirts with other women
  6. He’s unattractive or too short or too tall
  7. He has no sense of humor
  8. He’s too clingy
  9. He wouldn’t make a good parent
  10. He does drugs

These are all valid arguments against grown men when looking for a relationship. These items are on my own “red flag” list when considering women. But, if there is a negative list, turning it around would be a positive one, correct? Thus, you should know what you want.

  1. Intelligence
  2. Steady employment
  3. Positive outlook
  4. Supports himself
  5. Loyal
  6. Attractive
  7. Funny
  8. Confident
  9. Solid father
  10. Does not do drugs

That would seem to be a list of things straight women want from a man in a relationship. Certainly, some of the items might have stipulations. Steady employment at minimum wage makes it difficult to support oneself. Attractiveness is subject to interpretation. Confidence can spill over into outright conceit. There’s always a middle ground.

The point is that there are numerous men out there who fit these criteria. Where are they? They’re the guys to whom you bitch about other guys. So stop. Stop looking for “likes” on your female empowerment memes from women who perpetuate the cycle. Stop treating every man who wants to treat you well as though there is something wrong with him. Stop falling “more in love than you’ve ever been” every two months. Stop allowing men to ask you to “hang out” instead of taking you on a date. Stop telling men not to compliment the things about you they find captivating. Stop turning the good guys into the apathetic pricks you can’t stand.

And then start. Start realizing that having a door opened for you or a chair pulled out doesn’t mean he’s fake, but that he was raised a certain way. Start to understand that some men really are interested in how your day was. Start accepting that he might be mesmerized by your smile or your odd laugh. Start loving yourself enough to allow a good man into your life. Start being the woman who deserves better.

Secret Garden

I Was Hoping For A Pyramid.”

An epitaph inscribed on a tombstone in New York State. No name. No dates. Simply a single statement obviously decided upon by the witty individual buried in the ground beneath it.

I like this cat’s spirit. This is humor at its finest. Humor in the face of death. There are a lot of funny or biting epitaphs out there. Look them up. Some will make you smile. Some will make you cringe. This one happens to be my favorite. It is a clever acceptance of the triviality of our lives, even in how we leave them.

There is something alluring about cemeteries. They hold a certain power. As a child growing up in a small town, I spent more than a handful of nights walking the cemetery with friends. We weren’t vandalizing anything. We were there to play games like Flashlight Tag or Hide and Seek in the presence of fear and curiosity. We knew in our secret hearts that the place hinted at something we couldn’t quite grasp. For most of us, it was our first true exposure to mortality. And playing and laughing while surrounded by frightening and vague concepts gave a sense of immortality. Eventually, someone would hear a branch snap or the wind move something and the terror would kick in. Certainly, the dead were rising and taking us with them. Whoever had the misfortune of panicking first would be ridiculed by the other kids. We would team up to make more noises, hoping for a complete meltdown. What none of us ever acknowledged was that we were all just as scared as the first kid, but had each other and nervous laughter to give us courage. A million dollars says none of us would have ever stepped foot in that cemetery if we were alone.

Now that I’m a grown man (a term I use loosely), cemeteries hold a different reverence for me. I urge you to visit one sometime. I don’t mean on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day. Some random spring day in the middle of the week. A day where you might be the only one on the grounds. Take a walk. I recently visited two cemeteries in town. At the first, my grandparents are buried. But I pass both on the way to my daughter’s school. The second seems a little older and has exquisitely carved tombstones I’ve always admired. So, I figured I’d drop by. Take a walk. In both places, there is a lovely, solemn peace.

In the ground, just below my feet, were people. In those graves were individuals from every race, religion, creed, gender, political party affiliation, and social and economic background. Every one of them had a single common thread: They died. As will I. As will you. In the end, none of their differences mattered. In the end, nor will any of ours. Standing in the middle of a cemetery can provide an elegant understanding of connection. Our pasts lie around us. So do our futures. Ancestors have been there for generations. Someday (hopefully no time soon), I will join them. The same goes for my daughter’s grandchildren. The only thing that separates any of us is what we will bring to the world while we’re here, and what we will leave behind.

I still haven’t figured out what to contribute to the world while I’m here. Although, jokes involving foul language and genitalia are a strong front-runner. I like to think that distilleries making mediocre vodka are thankful for me. I do my part to keep them afloat.

Hopefully, this blog is my way of leaving something behind. In the realm of leaving a virtual footprint on the Internet, this is certainly a much better way of leaving an online trail than my other methods. When my daughter sees this someday, hopefully she’ll be proud. If she sees my other activity, hopefully she’s rich and can afford the therapy and surgical eye removal necessary. Seriously. I disgust myself sometimes.

As far as gravestones go, I ran across a couple that made me openly smile. Attached to one was a stone-carved seat, complete with a stone cowboy hat resting on the back. Family and friends can sit next to the deceased and look off to the west to watch the sun set together. Another gravestone was simply a bench with the last name across the top. It looked like it hadn’t been used in a long time. I almost sat down, but the workers mowing the lawn were already glancing more frequently at the guy moving from grave to grave who seemed entirely too comfortable to be in that place. My favorite gravestone, though, was a thing of beauty. It wasn’t a grand stone carving that towered above the others. In fact, it sat lower than most. The writing on the front of the white rock was small and difficult to read. However, the rest was easily visible. The stones formed a box. In that box were colorful flowers. The tombstone was a flower bed. In a place associated with death, someone used his or her grave to promote life.

I don’t know exactly what I hope to leave behind in this world. But the answer is in that gravestone somewhere.

Forever Young

If you insist on absolute organization, or have obsessive compulsions, I suggest you skip reading this. What I’m about to say will “trigger” you, as my daughter would say.

Depending on the day, if you’re in my home and walk from the bathroom to the living room, you can gain up to fifteen minutes of your life back. This is assuming you actually have no plans involving other people who happen to wear watches that work properly. Those people would simply tell you that you’re late. Fascists. What is the secret to time travel, you ask? It’s very simple. Step 1: Purchase battery-operated clocks on sale. Step 2: Keep those same clocks well past their primes.

You see, the clock in my bathroom, despite being set to the proper time, will eventually speed up over months. When I compare it to the time on my phone, it will often be five minutes fast. On the other hand, the clock in my living room likes to slow down. After a few months, it will be up to ten minutes behind. Thus, the hallway in my home is like my very own time machine.

A rational person might conclude that the timing mechanisms within those clocks are off. They might tell me that I should invest in new ones. The truth is, my clocks just get me. When I’m getting ready for work (rushing through the process of all the hygiene matters designed to eliminate stench for the sake of the general public), there is almost always a moment in which I look at the clock in my bathroom and realize I actually have five more minutes. What an incredible sense of relief. Likewise, when winding down before bed, I can conveniently forget that the clock in the living room is ten minutes slow. It buys me just a few more moments with the characters in whatever show I’m bingeing. Hope is not an abstract concept. It is very real and exists in my hallway.

Much like my clocks, we all perceive time differently on occasion. I recently replaced the registration sticker on my license plate. For that, I got to stand in line at the DMV. For two hours I listened to two women discuss with each other the times they were “locked up” while the young child of another woman kept spinning around the posts that were guiding the line and bumping into my legs. After acquiring my sticker and stepping outside, I realized I’d only been in there for twenty minutes. If you have or have had children, you’ve been to school programs. You know the ones. You sit on hard, metal chairs or bleachers with no backs. The elementary school band begins to play their seemingly seventeen-hour set in which the wind section squeaks and the percussionists play their drums to the beat of a different song. How many times do you look at your program sheet thinking, “We’re almost halfway there,” while ignoring the children to concentrate on your ass that fell asleep two songs ago? I’ve never left a school program and told myself that it went by surprisingly fast.

Of course, time is perceived in both directions. I don’t go out with my friends often. The whole “adulting” thing gets in the way. Work, my daughter, and this blog are where I spend most of my hours. When I do go out to have a few cocktails and enjoy the company of my friends, those hours turn into minutes. (One might blame this on the alcohol consumed, but I enjoy subgrade vodka at home as well and it does not speed up time when I’m on hold with internet tech support, although it does make me giggle out loud at the Tech with the Hindi accent named “Steve.”) Timehop on Facebook is another great way for me to realize that time is a fluid thing. Six years will have passed from when I posted a picture of my daughter that I remember taking as though it were yesterday.

I recall being in my teens and thinking of my twenties as some distant event. Now, at thirty-seven, I have come to the conclusion that teenage me was a presumptuous little jerk. Time is a fickle bitch. It has taken the hair from my head and tried to move it to my ears. It kidnapped my baby with that unbelievable natural smell at the top of her head and replaced her with a training-bra-wearing young lady who rolls her eyes in embarrassment whenever I dance (In fairness, my Cabbage Patch isn’t the strongest). It assassinated my metabolism. And when I attempt to combat the lowered metabolism with a vigorous workout, Time reminds me that I am not a spry young man who need not worry about pulling muscles in his butt cheeks.

So, I keep my cheap clocks and find myself walking up and down my hallway sometimes with a drink in my hand and a smile on my face. In that hallway, Time is mine to control. My own fifteen minutes of fame. Little victories.