Fortune Teller

I love a good Chinese buffet.

I hadn’t tried Chinese food until I was in my early 20s. After a particularly vivacious night of imbibing alcohol with friends, including a woman with whom I was secretly in love, the next day’s suggestion was to hit a Chinese buffet and eat away our hangovers. Now, I’d heard the horror stories. Some guy knew a guy who knew a guy who knew for a fact that a certain Chinese restaurant was shut down for violating every health code and two hundred kittens were removed from the premises. However, the request for Americanized Chinese food kept in steam tables and behind sneeze glass was proposed by the enamored. I figured if I was going to die from food poisoning brought on by a delicacy of cat, there would be no one better with whom to spend my last day on Earth.

Maybe it was the hunger brought on by the hangover. Maybe it was the company. But that meal was freaking delicious. Sweet and sour chicken, Lo Mein, Crab Rangoon. I was hooked.

I go to the buffet closest to me at least once a month. The employees are friendly. The atmosphere is welcoming. The buffet area is clean. The prices are very reasonable. And if the tragic rumors from naysayers are true and I’m eating cat, I at least have a backup cuisine idea when the zombie apocalypse occurs. Both of my cats are plump and well-fed. General Tso’s, get in my belly.

Me, I love the food. My daughter, she loves the fortune cookies a little more. She insists on cracking each of ours open to read our fortunes aloud. She gets a little sparkle in her eye every time. A peek into the cosmos. A tiny letter from the all-knowing universe. The last time we went together, her fortune told her she would come into money. She lost a tooth less than a week later. Boom! Nailed it.

While there is some debate on the origins of fortune cookies, they are an American creation. Most evidence points to fortune cookies being created by a Japanese company in San Francisco in 1906. Then why do we associate fortune cookies with Chinese food? Because during WWII, when internment camps were created for Japanese Americans, a Chinese entrepreneur jumped in and took the idea of fortunes on Japanese treats that were browner and larger, and decided to place them inside the smaller Chinese versions we know today. Thus, Chinese fortune cookies are a staple of those meals. Now they are created in mass quantity in factories with terribly generic “fortunes,” complete with lucky numbers. Plural. Five or six different numbers that are “lucky” and for which we should look in our daily lives. And sometimes those numbers work because we maneuver them to work.

Have you seen the film Number 23? In short, it is about a man’s obsession with the number 23. Go figure. He claims that the number is cursed and connects everything. I was born on September 14, 1979. September 14th. 9/14. 9 + 14 = 23. Yeah. I might be a demon. Ignore the fact that I disregarded the year I was born. It doesn’t fit with the theory.

And that is how fortunes and horoscopes work. We take from them what we will and discard the rest that doesn’t apply.

Horoscopes at least have a deeper history. Astronomers began looking to the stars and constellations as far back as Babylon. Babylonian astronomy bled over to Egypt, where it was modified slightly. That bled over to Greece, where it was again modified slightly. The Greeks created the basic version of what we now recognize as astronomy and horoscopes. That the alignment of the stars and moons and planets on the day we came into this world dictate what type of person we will become. Of course, being born and being a part of the creation of life are very different time frames, but it’s difficult to determine at exactly which point we became life, so we go with the day of our births. Never mind the 9- to 10-month discrepancy.

Today, there are entire collections of books on signs of the zodiac. Daily newspapers print vague and open-ended predictions for everyday people. Nearly a quarter of Americans check their horoscopes regularly. Some insist on reading them before making any decisions on dating, employment, or finances. I remember my oldest sister had a book back when I was in high school that broke down the personality of every sign in detail. So much so that each sign had three different categories, depending on where they fell within a sign’s time frame. I happen to be a Virgo III, in case you’re wondering. Was the corresponding “personality description” accurate? Sure. That’s the wonder of speaking in obtuse terms.

In 1948, psychologist Bertram Forer conducted a study. Forer had his students all take a “personality” test. After taking the test, each student was given the “results” from their answers. However, unknown to the students, the result was the exact same for each, pieced together from varied newspaper horoscopes explaining personality traits. The students were then asked to rate the accuracy of the personality findings on a scale of 0-5, with 0 being very poor and 5 being excellent. The average score rating was 4.26. Regardless of their birth dates, zodiac signs, genders, upbringings, or personal beliefs, the newspaper horoscope mash-up represented every student greatly in their own eyes.

I know all this. Yet, I still glance at my horoscope whenever I find a newspaper lying around. I still throw salt over my shoulder if I spill some. I refuse to open an umbrella indoors. And my heart sinks just a little if I break a mirror.

Why? Because I also know that this universe is so much bigger than me. There are so many mysteries that I do not or cannot understand. I, like so many other human beings, live my life on a just-in-case basis. But that same concept got me writing again. It is what allows me to see fascinating connections in most things. And it is what will push me across a room to approach a stunning woman entirely out of my league.

“So, what’s your sign?”

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Your Turn

We’ve all done it. We sit around with friends or family. Maybe it’s around a dinner table. Maybe it’s around a fire with a few cocktails in hand. Maybe it’s in a bar with more than a few cocktails in hand. Yes, my friends and I really enjoy cocktails. But we sit with others and share stories. One story leads to another. That one leads to another.

If your friends or family are like my own, these stories often provoke laughter or thoughtfulness.

I’m a writer. I’m a story teller. My friends are very aware of this. Most of my stories and anecdotes have never and will never make it to this blog. Most of my friends have heard those stories and anecdotes a hundred times. I know this because I have heard even more times, “Oh, I know this one. You’re ridiculous.” And yet those friends stay for it because I’m telling it to someone new. The friends who have heard it sometimes even chime in. They have become part of the narrative.

That’s the elegant thing about telling stories. We can share them with the world and so the world then shares them with us.

The act of humanity’s story-telling has existed as far back as we have. Long before the written word, stories were passed down from generation to generation, whether it be through spoken word, song, or hieroglyphics.

The goal with my writing has always been to share a part of myself with the world. And the aim in that is to make others laugh or think deeply, if even for just a moment.

I think that is imperative for humanity to thrive.

The last few months have been a barrage of stories told through news outlets and social media. These stories include natural disasters, celebrity deaths, mass shootings, racial tension, and angry talk of posture during sporting events. Bitter words have been thrown around. Friendships have been ended. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness have abounded. So, this week’s piece is going to be a little different.

I want you to tell me a story. Whether you follow me on WordPress or Facebook, I want you to tell me a story. Comment with that story. I only ask that it be positive. Make me laugh. Make me think. Make me smile. Tell me about the funniest thing that ever happened to you. Tell me about the first time you fell in love. Tell me about the happiest you’ve ever been. Tell me about your family. Tell me about your friends.

I’ll read your story. Perhaps you’ll inspire me to tell another of my own. Maybe other readers will be reminded of theirs. Feel free to share this piece. That’s what story-telling is all about.

Pull up a chair. Grab a drink. It’s story time.

As is tradition, someone needs to start:

When I was 19, I moved into the first apartment I felt was really mine. I’d lived on my own in dorm rooms and other apartments, but I had never even bothered to decorate them to any extent. Sure, this apartment was in the “hood” and it was merely an efficiency, but it was mine. It was the first place I regularly shared my bed with a woman. Anna had a couple hours in the morning between classes at her community college. On those mornings, she would come into my apartment while I slept and slide under the covers next to me in just her underwear. Although there was sexual tension, we didn’t make love. Her body pulled back against mine, the feel of her skin against my chest, and the smell of her hair in my face felt more than comfortable. It felt right. In those hours those mornings, I became an adult. While she would breathe lazily against me before she dozed off, I began to understand marriage and love and companionship in a way I had never previously done. Existential realizations don’t always strike us like lightning. Often, they ease into us like oxygen.

Much later, in that same apartment, I was sharing my bed with a different woman. The goings-on were much more adult-oriented. There was no underwear. The apartment building belonged to my father. Thus, it was a lot like living at home, except Dad had a little further to go. He had a key and would often use it after a quick double-rap on the door with his knuckles. Immediately following my adult-oriented activities with Jill, as we lied in all our glory in the afterglow, my father keyed his way in after his quick knock. Jill, not a shy girl, merely looked at him and said “hello” while I lunged for the blankets to cover her. I never reached them before my father had mumbled a squeaky apology, exited the apartment, dove down a flight of stairs, and driven a block away. He and I have never since spoken of that day. I still have no idea why he came in the first place. However, he never did key his way in without a lot of knocks and an abnormally long pause. And I now know what my father’s face looks like when he dies a little inside from embarrassment.

Your turn…

Who Are You?

It’s that time of year. Pumpkin spice has come back full force. Like the unknown member of a 90s girl-group who was cut from the ensemble for being too annoying. She’s here. She has her own reality show. And every White woman in the United States is bingeing.

I’m not a huge fan of Fall. I love Summer. Sure, the changing colors of the leaves is beautiful. And I’ll admit that it’s nice not to step outside after a shower and immediately wonder if I forgot to dry myself completely because my clothing is suddenly sticking to me. However, in Central Illinois, Fall signals the end of sunny days and driving with the windows down. Soon, the only person being serenaded by my renditions of the Meghan Trainor songs playing on my daughter’s favorite radio station will be myself and my daughter, if she’s lucky. Sorry, random drivers stuck next to me at traffic lights, you will be missing out on something extraordinary.

The only saving graces from Fall are Thanksgiving (one of my favorite holidays) and Halloween (a holiday I have come to appreciate again in recent years).

I loved Halloween as a kid. The idea of dressing up as someone else held within it something magical. And let’s not forget about the deliciousness and danger of candy that, according to my mother, had an extremely high chance of containing razor blades and/or poison. I would either end up with a belly ache or spend my adult life like a villain in a Christopher Nolan film. “You wanna know how I got these scars?” So intense and exciting.

At some point, the idea of dressing up and asking for candy seemed childish. I stopped. Later, Halloween brought with it a disdain as I was bartending and hated having to ask patrons to remove their fake teeth so I could understand their drink orders. Or remove their masks so I could properly match them to their drivers’ licenses. Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the slutty versions of every character out there brought to me courtesy of Girls in Their Twenties. Nurses and police women and witches, oh my. But even that lost its appeal after a time.

Years back, I began to enjoy Halloween for a different reason. I had a daughter. And her choice in costumes has spoken volumes about who she is as a person. What I had not previously realized was that Halloween costumes represent who we are or who we would like to be. Sadly, this also means that some of my previous examples require nursing or criminal justice degrees and cosmetic surgery. Get to it, ladies.

My daughter, Madison, has always been a unique soul. It is hands-down my favorite quality about her. When she first started deciding as a young child what to be for Halloween, she stuck with what she knew. Cheer Bear cost me a small fortune online, but her ecstatic smile when she put it on made it well worth it. Next came the Disney princesses. Snow White and Belle hadn’t known beauty until they were represented by this little girl. She chose these because they were the characters in her books and movies. And then there was the shift. She moved away from cute and pretty to stronger female characters. Jessie from Toy Story, Batgirl, Supergirl, Princess Leia, and Rey from Star Wars: Episode 7.

This year, she wants to be a hot dog.

I love it. Weird, quirky, and hilarious in an off-beat way describe her personality to a tee. For me, this costume represents her as an even stronger woman. She isn’t looking for a prince. She can’t fly. She won’t save the universe from evil. She doesn’t need to. She has the power to make herself laugh, and uses this power without a care as to what is popular or “swag.”

I considered getting a costume for myself this year. But I don’t need one. While she’s in that costume, I get to be an unbelievably proud father. No accessories needed.

The September Of My Years

Do you remember your birthdays when you were younger? Those themed birthday parties that held you as the center of attention? Inevitably, an aunt, uncle, or grandparent would come up to you, possibly give you the dreaded cheek pinch, and ask, “Do you feel older?”

No one asks that anymore. Why? Because they don’t want the real answer.

Yes, Tammy, I do feel older. Thanks for bringing that up. If you’d like, you can kick one of my cats in front of me and hint that it looks as though I’ve put on a few pounds. Maybe tell me I’m not intelligent, or that you’ve heard rumors that everyone secretly hates me.

No one likes a Tammy.

The fact is, my recent birthday does have me feeling older.

The day before, I spent an hour and a half at the Department of Motor Vehicles so I could renew my license. I sat in the company of an older woman who, unlike any other person in the building, was having to wait for her number to be called. She did some pacing. She did a lot of cursing under her breath. In fact, the only time she smiled was when she was finally having her ID picture taken. It was a smile of victory. My own picture turned out very differently. The employee taking the picture told me to look at the big cut-out of SpongeBob SquarePants just below the lens. And then kept telling me to lower my chin while still looking at the image. The resulting photograph makes me look like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, but with an odd double-chin of which I was unaware I had. No worries. I’ll only have to carry that around with me for a handful of years, terrifying any cashier who is unfortunate enough to card me for alcohol.

Today, just before sitting down to write this, I had to access my blog page and change the age in my description from 37 to 38.

Within the last month, I’ve noticed that I now have random pains that like to surprise me. Upper right thigh? Check. Left ankle? Check. These make for an interesting image when they decide to kick in at the same time. I end up moving like an extra on The Walking Dead who is about to have something sharp poked through his forehead. I just hope Maggie does it so I can look her in the eyes and have one beautiful, shared moment.

A few weeks ago, a random customer on whom I was waiting (let’s call her Tammy), interrupted me while I was listing our draft beers to tell me I should get Botox because I have a frown wrinkle between my eyebrows. In fairness, “Tammy” had no wrinkles at all (nor expressions), despite being in her late sixties. Botox is afloat because of “Tammy.” However, that made me look at the rest of my skin. I now have weird wrinkles at the back of my wrists. Although I’ve prided myself on never being the guy with a furry back, rogue hairs occasionally pop up on my shoulders. Revenge is exacted on the bastards by way of a pair of tweezers and me craning my neck at an impossible angle, making the side of my neck look reminiscent of smooshing a bulldog’s face.

Standing up from this writing to use the restroom and grab some Tums reminded me of the substantial arthritis in my lower back to match the acid reflux.

Speaking of the restroom, I’m proud to announce that I usually only have to get up once in the middle of the night to use it. That doesn’t account for the twenty minutes of weighing my options before doing so. Can I sleep for another couple hours before urinating all over myself, or would it be better to do the hobbled zombie-walk to the toilet before the sounding of my alarm?

Do you remember the word “metabolism” from health class in junior high? It seemed like just one more thing we were being forced to learn that would have no bearing on us in life. “Metabolism” was my body’s form of trigonometry. It sounded important, but I would never have to worry about it outside the classroom. Now, I’m thinking of putting together a scrapbook in honor of my lost friend Metabolism. She was amazing. She was always there for me, even when I didn’t realize it. 15,000 calories in day? No problem. She rolled up her sleeves and kicked some tail. In the wake of Metabolism’s passing, eating a piece of bread is the equivalent of attaching an air pump to my love handles.

In my twenties, I was complimented all the time on my butt in a pair of jeans. I would get at least a few compliments while bartending every month. I’m not a vain person, but I’ll admit it always felt good. Those days are past. Imagine a Stone pine tree morphing into a Weeping Willow. You just visualized what happened to the old caboose. From a smile to a frown.

This is what has become of me at 38.

I had to renew my license because I have been driving for over two decades. During that time, I have traveled to some incredible places. I have seen the country.

I had to change my age on my blog page because I have been doing what I love and writing with dedication for almost a year.

My ankles and hips sometimes ache because I have spent my entire adult life working on my feet. I have built decks and houses. Homes for families. I have transported patients around a hospital, having conversations with them about their lives and watching them go from their worst to their best. I have trained servers and bartenders for a prominent restaurant chain, being partly responsible for the success of that company. I have served adult beverages that conquered people’s nerves enough to introduce themselves in bars. Some of those couples went on to marry and have children.

My skin has wrinkled and become tougher because I have spent so many gorgeous days in the sun. Cookouts with family. Walking the zoo with my daughter. Having drinks on a boat with friends.

I have acid reflux because I have spent decades feasting on delicious meals.

My back aches because I spent years carrying around the most unique and beautiful human being I’ve ever met. She calls me Dad.

My bladder, as tired as it may be, is only exhausted from multiple years of imbibing cocktails and holding it so as not to miss one more laugh with company.

As for my metabolism and sad posterior, they’re simply reminding me that exercise is important and to never become complacent.

This is what has become of me at 38.

I’ll take it.

Dream A Little Dream

On my bookshelf sits a book entitled The Dream Encyclopedia. It was given to me on May 30th, 1997. I know this because it was inscribed by my Senior year high school Psychology teacher. She didn’t give me this gift because we had some creepy, torrid love affair. She gave it to me because she saw that I was fascinated by sleep and dreams during that section in the course. It was a graduation gift. Her last chance to foster the further education of an engaged student. I’ve always appreciated that. Some teachers teach seven hours a day, five days a week. Others are educators. Thanks for being the latter, Mrs. P.

My interest in sleep and dreams hasn’t changed much over the twenty years since I left high school. We are supposed to spend 1/3 of every day sleeping. 1/3 of our lives in this state. I don’t spend that much time eating or drinking, and I will die within days if I forego either of those. How could this thing that takes up so much of our lives not be interesting? How could I not want to know more about it?

There are five stages of sleep. The first four are difficult to keep track of, so pay attention. The stages are called 1, 2, 3, and 4. I had to bust out my old Psychology text to remember that. The fifth stage is known as REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement). If I lost you, I apologize. The scientists and/or psychologists who named these were arrogant pricks. They clearly wanted to prove how scholarly they were.

Each stage is marked by different changes in brain wave patterns. The initial shift from waking brain waves to those of Stage 1 elicits a sensation of falling. Have you ever fallen asleep at school, work, or on an airplane? That feeling that suddenly snaps you back to waking—usually paired with a generous amount of drool spilling from your cakehole—was you moving into Stage 1 sleep. Without getting too technical, Stage 1 results in theta waves. It’s a light sleep. During this stage, you can be woken easily by outside stimuli, such as a cat meowing for attention because your daughter went back to her mother’s house and is not giving him affection every single second, meaning you just want to close your bedroom door, but that will only intensify the meowing and you work in the morning and just want some damn sleep so you can earn enough money to buy the little bastard some more cat food.

Stage 2 is actually the most restful stage, although not the deepest. It is also marked by theta waves, but the frequency and amplitude increase. Because Stages 1 and 2 are such light sleep stages, if you are woken during one of these, you will probably not recall being asleep at all. Have you tried taking a short nap before and heard your alarm go off after not believing you slept, but still feeling slightly more relaxed? That is likely what happened.

Stages 3 and 4 are marked by delta waves. They’re pretty close to one another, apart from 3 having slightly fewer delta waves than 4. These are the deepest stages of sleep. It’s tough to be woken up from them. When you are, you wake feeling groggy and disoriented. They are also where sleep-walking and sleep-talking occur. Personally, I’ve never been known to sleep-walk. My oldest sister, on the other hand, used to do it occasionally during puberty. My step-dad once recalled sitting in the living room in the dark, watching TV when my sister stepped out of her room and stood at the edge of the living room while staring at him and not responding to any questions. For a few minutes. That anecdote made me realize my step-dad was a braver man than me. He neither cried for mercy nor loosed his bowels into his pants. If I were sitting in a dark room and a young girl in a nightgown did that to me, the result would have included both. I’ve seen The Exorcist. I know what’s up. While I don’t sleep-walk, I have been told I sleep-talk—or, more accurately, sleep-giggle. Yeah. I mumble something incoherent and then giggle like a little child. I may have just realized why I’m still single.

REM is the final stage of stage of sleep, also known as dreaming sleep. In this stage, brain waves are akin to those of being awake. Your eyes dart from side to side under your eyelids. Your face, fingers, and toes might still move sporadically. However, the muscles in the rest of your body become nearly paralyzed. This is your body’s way of keeping you from acting out your dreams. I once read about a man who had a rare condition. His body wouldn’t become paralyzed during REM. He dreamt that he stabbed his mother to death and woke up to find that he had actually done it. If there were an award for the worst dream ever, that guy won hands down.

Most scholars agree that REM is the most important stage of sleep, although they can’t necessarily explain why. Most believe it is in this stage that we compartmentalize our days. We sort and order our brains and the result is dreaming. How important is it? In a study done on rats, they were woken as soon as their brain waves showed movement into REM. After a long period of being deprived of that sleep, the rats died. Similar studies were done on humans. Most of those subjects began having waking hallucinations and exhibiting signs of insanity.

Naturally, this would suggest that REM sleep is imperative for intelligent, living beings. However, dolphins and whales don’t seem to have this stage at all. Meanwhile, the platypus, arguably the stupidest creature in the world aside from the “cash me ow-sie” girl, spends a great deal of its sleeping time in REM—more than any other animal.

What I find especially intriguing about REM sleep is that it auto-corrects. On average, we have 4-5 full sleep cycles per night. We move down from Stage 1 to REM. We then move back up through the cycles, with Stage 1 being replaced with REM again. Then back down and back up the same. The first REM cycle generally lasts only about five minutes. As the cycles go on, 3 and 4 become shorter while 2 and REM become longer, resulting in a REM cycle of about forty minutes just before waking. When subjects are denied REM, they often skip the other steps and jump right back into it, and for longer periods of time. Have you ever woken up because you were having a terrible dream, only to fall right back into it? That’s why.

Dreams are necessary.

I also discovered over time that they can’t be generalized. The Dream Encyclopedia offers interpretations for various images we might see in our dreams. Those interpretations are amazingly diverse. For example, water in a dream can be a reference to the unconscious. Because fluids are involved in sex, Freud believed it was a sex symbol (but, in fairness, that guy connected everything to sex). Some claim it speaks to a feeling of drowning. Others to an expanse of possibility.

The truth is that no book can tell us what a specific symbol or image means. It is represented within our own minds. A child dreaming of a clown might see it as joy and laughter. My youngest sister would probably see it as impending death. She claims I tied her to a chair when we were young and forced her to watch It. While I don’t recall that at all, her absolute phobia of clowns must be the result of something…And I was an asshole in my youth.

What about our waking time? Those dreams that exist not in our minds, but our hearts? Are those dreams really any different? They’re unique to all of us. I would argue that they are also necessary to maintain our sanity.

What is your dream?

Are you a painter? A singer? A writer? A doctor? A body-builder? A dancer? A parent? A soldier?

We often discard these dreams all the time. We toss them aside to “live in the real world” and spend our lives in some deep sleep in which we walk and talk, but have no memory of it. We convince ourselves that dreams evaporate and are forgotten.

But dreams are necessary. And they always auto-correct.

What’s yours?

Twilight

I’m single. That used to mean something different to me. Being single meant I was “on the prowl.” No girlfriend. No ball and chain. Nothing holding me back. I’d get ready to go out to the bars that night and give myself a pep talk. I might even have followed it with a wink.

Did you just cringe? Yeah. Me too. I hate that guy. That guy was a douche.

Don’t get me wrong. That Guy provided me with a lot of stories. My close friends know about “Yoda” and “F.P.L.” as well as a sad parade of others. They know about jacket-stealing crazies and cyber-hacking lunatics. That Guy was a magnet for trouble. Maybe he knew I’d write one day and was simply trying to provide me with unlimited material.

Thank you, That Guy, but your stories should never be told to the general public. Your shenanigans should never be put into written word.

Regardless, That Guy never lasted long. Empty casual flings led to a longing for “the real deal.” A real, long-term relationship. So, That Guy would step aside for The Other Guy. The Other Guy created online profiles on dating sites. He scoured those sites, reading endless profiles about women who “looooove” football and prefer to spend their days running seven consecutive marathons, attending every country music concert in a tri-state area, and sky-diving into piranha-infested waters because “yolo.” On a disturbing side note, my laptop did not highlight “yolo” as a possible misspelling. None of the women were there for casual hook-ups so, if that’s what you wanted, “swipe left.” When the Other Guy would find a woman who seemed interesting, he would try to have conversations with her, asking her about things she’d written in her profile and offering witty and intelligent banter. He wouldn’t try to maneuver her into a casual hook-up or send unsolicited pictures of his no-no region. Obviously, that worked out well. Number of women met in person from online dating: 0.

Recently, I’ve found myself in uncharted territory. I’m comfortable.

I work. I pick up my daughter from school. I spend time with her that night. I drop her off at school the next day. I do some chores. I exercise. I go to work again. I come home. I play video games. I watch movies or television. Rinse and repeat.

This Guy’s life is far from exciting. But it’s comfortable. There is an odd calm that has come over me. A twilight version of my life—I’m not referring to Team Edward vs. Team Jacob (Team Jacob). When the sun is starting to sink below the horizon and the air cools just a bit, the world for me is filled with something soothing and beautiful. It’s akin to the moment just before two lovers fall asleep in each other’s arms while they quietly talk about nothing. That is This Guy’s life right now.

Some of my friends are worried about me because they never see me out. Others have probably nearly forgotten me completely. Yet others have voiced how disappointed they are in me for “losing my mojo” and no longer having any new outrageous and/or disgusting adult stories to tell (you’re a terrible influence, Lori).

I’ve been That Guy. That Guy is obnoxious and kind of creepy. And I’ve been the Other Guy. The Other Guy gets lonely and craves companionship. But This Guy—This Guy is happy. This Guy is a writer. This Guy gets to sit outside and watch the sunset.

A Day In The Life

August 28th. It’s just a date on a calendar. One day in the midst of 364 others. Today, I scrolled through my news feed on Facebook. In short time, I saw that that date—today’s date—means so many different things. Being a Monday, some of my friends are having particularly bad days at work. One friend is celebrating her 18th wedding anniversary with her husband. Another is without power in the middle of massive flooding in Texas. One friend sent her son off to school for his first day ever. Yet another began the first day of her senior year in college. Yet still, another mourns the anniversary of a father’s death. Others are celebrating birthdays.

That random Tuesday on any given week, where nothing of interest happens, can also be the best or worst day of another’s life. It will become a date that is never forgotten in the minds of others. I have other dates:

April 26, 1986—The fourth reactor at the Chernobyl power station exploded.

April 26, 1990—126 people died in a 6.9 earthquake in China.

April 26, 1991—23 people were killed in Kansas and Oklahoma by tornadoes.

April 26, 1993—A Boeing 737 crashed at Aurangabad, killing 56 people.

April 26, 1994—An A300 Airbus flying from Taiwan crashed in Nagoya, Japan, killing 262 people.

April 26, 2006—At 10:24 am, a baby girl was born into the world.

For everyone involved, each example of April 26th started off as any other day. By the end of the day in most of those examples, it had become the worst day of their lives. A date locked forever in the minds of those there, their friends, and their families. The last example was the birth of my daughter. My best day falls on the same date as the worst for thousands of others.

It’s true that we often can’t control the best or worst days of our lives. Tragedy sneaks up behind us. Fortune surprises us. One day on a calendar becomes a monument in the blink of an eye with little or no assistance from us. That One Day refuses to let its presence be forgotten.

What does that mean? It means we are left with 364 others. Will today be my best day? Maybe. Will it be my worst day? Possibly. Will today come and go without any significance? Probably. But today represents possibility. Tomorrow represents possibility. Every year, I have 365 opportunities to have the best day of my life.

I am a flawed man. I don’t always follow through. But I’m trying to look at calendars differently lately. I’d like to think the entire calendar is an advent calendar. Just as December’s countdown-to-Christmas advent calendar offers a treat behind every little door, so does that of February, May, August, and every month. If I work hard enough, maybe every date can be a monument in my mind.

So, today I’m going to buy a calendar. Something with a badass theme like Game of Thrones or kittens. I’m going to write down every significant date in my life and mark it on the calendar. Every new cause for celebration will be added. And at the end of the year, I’m going to transfer those dates to the next calendar. On and on, until I have an entire year of important dates.

Possibility.

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.

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.