CONFUSED IN THE RELIEF ROOM OR JUST FULL OF CRAP?

What if I’m going to the bathroom wrong? How would I know? It was a long, long time ago when I finished my potty training. Which conceptually, I hate thinking about. No wonder it’s hard for parents to sometimes treat their kids like adults; they knew you when you didn’t know how to wipe your own butt. Then in the blink of an eye that clueless kid is supposed to be trusted to drive, take out a financially wise mortgage or tell YOU when it’s time to be shoved into a rest home. “Whipper-snapper, you’d still be in diapers without me!!!”

So obviously when I born, I didn’t know a damn thing. My only saving grace was that my mega-genius older brother did not magically pop out of the womb toilet trained either. So if my super-brainiac bro was a clueless baby, not much more could have been expected of me.

But my point is, I was the last of five kids to come along. I was raised a bit more loosey goosey than my older siblings. The Folks were worn out and tired by then and a lot of assumptions were made that along the way one of my older brothers or sisters would eventually teach me stuff. Well that didn’t happen. I got no birds and bees chat or stranger danger warnings. No one taught me to play catch or slice meat against the grain. I guess Mom figured the other four made it without killing themselves, so with me it was pretty much ‘stop whining (which I didn’t do) and ‘don’t play in the street’ (yeah I ignored that one as well).

But still, it’s embarrassing to think I had to go through wearing a zillion soiled diapers before it finally got drummed into my head how to take care of my own business. I mean, we think humans are so much more evolved above animals, but I put my first dumb kitten down in the litter box once and boom!  She knew what to do and where to do it the rest of her life.

Now don’t take this slightly foul poop and pee discourse as implying I am having any personal problems or issues aside from my usual curiosity of why they call it a rest room. I can’t say I really rest in there. If it were named after what I usually experience, it would be called a Relief Room. It’s confusing. I’ve said “I’m going to the bathroom”, yet the room I visited had no bath.

I really appreciate how a lot of European places cut through the confusion and just call it ‘Toilet’. I like that. Right on the wall in the back of the fancy restaurant, it simply says ‘Toilet’.  At first, I thought it looked a bit crass, but I’ve grown to admire the simplicity and accuracy. Unfortunately, other places over there call it a Water Closet, which reminds me a drunken frat party or that winter the pipes burst.

Of course, what I will never forget is the first time I walked into a European Men’s room and discovered the female washroom attendants. I’m sure they can always spot the Americans by their darting back out the door to double-check the Men’s sign. That’s certainly what I did. Once I got used them being there it hit me how bad that job must be for relationships. Woman already must think Men are gross; having to watch them use urinals and such must make that even worse. And as a man, you would have to be very comfortable with your personal private’s stature to be in a relationship with a washroom attendant woman that sees a zillion other men’s ‘personal statures’ all day.

But what originally started this train of thought was a recent visit to my office building’s rest (relief) room. The usual gross stuff in there never phases me. People spit, fart and even blow their nose bum style over the trash can. I’ve seen folks brush their teeth or slather themselves with offensively smelling grooming products. Many don’t wash their hands afterwards while others dip all sorts of body parts into the sink obviously practicing a pre-prayer wudu ablution ritual. I can take all that, the only thing that really bothers me is when people are carrying on full blown cell phone conversations while they are excreting in a stall. That’s just nasty and I always feel the need to repeatedly loudly flush all the toilets whenever I hear that.

So, the other day I’m in the Relief Room and my head starts wondering, with all these other people doing all sorts of crazy variations of stuff in here, am I doing everything correctly?

I know there is not that much room for variation, but I remembered the ads for that Squatty potty that came out a few years ago. They repeatedly said its more natural and significantly better for your health to squat over the bowl versus sit. I’d never heard of that before. The only squatting I knew of was if you were creeped out about some contagious germy crud leaping off the seat and attaching itself to your bits. Or some of those infamous hole-in-the-floor toilets at camp or in Asia.

Yeah, I know you’re not supposed to wipe towards the South, but are there other recommendations I don’t know… or that I never learned…or that I simply forgot since my last training was back before I even had all my communication skills mastered. There is not much I clearly recall from the ages zero to three, so it’s logical to think I might be missing some important tidbit of bathroom knowledge. It’s not like there have been any potty refresher courses. I think I know how to drive but they still make me take a new driver’s test every decade.

Surely by the time I was deemed officially potty trained, I had also acquired many basic eating etiquette skills too, like holding a fork correctly or keeping elbows off the table. But it took years and years before my table manners actually become remotely refined. Even now I don’t know what the hell that sideways utensil at 12:00 above the charger plate in fancy restaurants is for, or what direction of movement I am supposed to drag my spoon while eating soup at a hoity toity dinner party.

If I still don’t know all the subtle nuances of how to properly eat, how can I be assured I correctly know everything about rest room usage. I hear the people in other stalls doing all sorts of crazy stuff with toilet paper. It’s not like there is anyone else around to correct me. I mean, the European female restroom attendants accept tips but they sure don’t offer any.

stroller dan

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GETTING AWAY BEYOND BRYNJOLFUR’S BEARD

Is that a krona in your pocket or are you happy to see me?  Sorry… I’m not sure if that joke is funny. Actually, I’m not sure of much this morning. My brain is stuck in a questioning mode like a three-year-old with a mouthful of ‘whys’.  I sometimes get this way and it can send my head spinning as one contemplated question leads to another and another until I twist myself into a murky bog of uncomfortable self-evaluation. My mental mirror is a lot harder to stare into than the regular one.

This all started because I feel better whenever I have a few confirmed future vacations to look forward to. They do not have to be long trips, just far enough away to clear my head.  Now it’s not that I dislike my little world, but I feel renewed and rejuvenated whenever I get out of town.  Part of the conditions I set up with my wife when I first moved here, to be near her, was that every year I would get to see the ocean at least twice.

Unfortunately, I’m the happiest when I’m near water and living here in North Texas is pretty much the opposite of that.  Sure, they have lakes here but that’s like trying to satiate an ice cream craving by licking a melting ice cube. It’s as if 20 years ago I became an emotional masochist and decided to settle down in the most button-down southern city the farthest equal distance from both the Atlantic and Pacific.

Sure, there is a Gulf eight hours south of here, but does that really count? It’s a damn gulf and half the Texas coast is covered with oil refineries and mucky mountains of sargassum seaweed. Besides, it’s still Texas down there. Half the fun of travel is going far enough away that the local culture is different. The only difference between Northern and Southern Texas is that its more humid walking to your car before you hop in to drive the two blocks to the nearest What-A-Burger or Golden Chick.

I guess the crazy weather here lately has made me want to leave town too.  There has been a huge amount of rain and hail and it’s caused an excessive influx of flies, gnats and mosquitoes making it miserable for me to step outside.  It’s like the damn plagues are coming.  If we get slammed with frogs and locusts, I’m getting the hell out before I find blood smeared on the door.

One of my favorite things to do when traveling far from home is to just wander around a regular non-touristy neighborhood amid all the locals going through their daily routines. I take it all in studying the area’s ambiance, architecture and distinctive colloquialisms.  I look at the houses and apartments wondering who lives there, where they work and what their days are like.

Inevitably I start imagining myself in the local’s shoes attempting to compare their existence to mine.  Last month, seeing the extreme poverty while driving through the ramshackle slums abutting the only major road of Sanchez in the Dominican Republic, made me desperately appreciate all I have. By contrast, earlier this year when I took a late-night stroll through the peaceful safe streets of amazing Reykjavik Iceland, all I could do was question the quality of life sacrifices I make living where I do.

Since I was starting to feel antsy and a bit caged not having any trips planned, I thought maybe leaving some foreign currency from recent travels in my wallet would make me smile whenever I stumbled upon them while riffling through my billfold.  It has mostly worked, especially the Icelandic Krona bill.  I had a pseudo-trendy scary jumbo beard when we made that trip in January and I kept threatening my wife that I was going to grow it to look like Brynjólfur Sveinsson‘s somewhat testicular looking facial hair, pictured on their 1000 bill. At that point she usually points out that I sleep deeply, and she knows where the scissors are.

Recently though, my little currency reminders kinda’ stopped working and with so many of my friends and family traveling this summer I was slipping into housebound funk.  Mind you, I got those bills on two amazing trips that I already took this year, not to mention I’ve also been to Vegas and New York. I should have nothing to complain about; yet convincing my brain this morning is not working. There is only one cure for the land-locked local funk. It’s time to book a couple of weekend trips to give my brain something fun to anticipate.

iceland krona

 

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UNPLUGGING THE ELECTRICAL CORD OF LIFE

As much as I was sincerely impressed by the old faded full-sized ‘beer only’ refrigerator that dominated their tiny first floor apartment porch, my brain could not stop hyper-focusing on the decidedly low-gauge dollar store-style extension cord that it was plugged into.

Now it was a long time ago and I admit indulging in an awful lot of the fridge’s foamy contents so my memories might be muddled, but I recall constantly studying that thin fire-hazard-waiting-to-happen cord.  Not only was it not the recommended industrial grounded type for appliances but it was connected to an inside outlet and repeatedly crunched in the metal doorjamb every time the sliding glass doors were shut. The glial cells in my overly practical prudent precautions obsessive compulsive brain must have been firing at an alarming rate to create such a lasting impression.

While that crappy extension cord seems to have wedged itself in my brain as tightly as it was contoured to the door, I have no memory of the certainly interesting tale of how and why three broke American Academy Of Performing Arts students sharing a small one bedroom L.A. apartment, had acquired a second refrigerator.  I envisioned some late-night secret mission appropriating it from an unscrupulous previous landlord or some slag ex-friend repaying a cash loan with it or maybe they scored it, beer and all, playing Indian in a raucous backyard poker game. In reality, the story was probably a lot more boring, but this tale is less about their reality and more about my perception of it.

Although a beer fridge is somewhat symbolic of the place they were in life, obviously its history was not the key to me. It was that cord that mattered. It did not just power the unit, it separated my life from theirs, reminding me of a hole in my existence that I knew would never be filled. In my twisted brain, that improper electrical conduit represented a lost freedom; a missed one-time only chance for an artsy laissez-faire bohemian existence that can only occur during the innocence of youth when optimism is high, and responsibilities are low.

I’ve written before about my first drive to L.A to visit my old friend. This East-coaster was unprepared for the striking beauty of the Southwest but what really caught me off-guard was the differences mentally between where my friends were in life and where I was. Although I never admitted it to them and barely acknowledged it to myself, I was insanely jealous.

I grew up in a traditional big family house and later lived in a conservative nondescript condo. When I left for college, I experienced basic dorm life. I went to a handful of parties and drank with professors, but most of my experiences were the opposite of Animal House. After two years my best friend wisely quit school to chase his real dreams in L.A. while I trudged along in college as was expected of me. I spent most non-school related time crashing at my girlfriend’s apartment where we both pretended to be adults.  After earning our degrees, we broke up for the last time. I skipped my graduation ceremony, dropped my few possessions off at my folk’s new place and spent the next couple of months crashing on a friend’s sofa while sending out my weakly cobbled resume to anyone breathing near an industry I liked.

Some joyless stressful months of fruitless searching later, I finally took a traveling job my Dad helped me get. I was grateful he pulled some strings for me, but it crushed my independent spirit that I couldn’t find a career on my own. Especially one that remotely satisfied my creative side.  I felt directionless, lonely and lacked any self-confidence.

My wife might have grown up in a small mid-west town, but she followed her burning need to expand her horizons. As a kid she spent some time as an exchange student in France and after attending a few semesters of college in London she had some amazing adventures backpacking through Europe alone. During my High School summers, I traveled on my own, but it was to stay with my older siblings in their homes. Those were great times that made an invaluable impression on me, learning there were so many different ways to live besides the example I grew up with. But these were all observations, not my own experiences.

I’d been working for about a year when I first drove to L.A.  I was welcomed with open arms by my old friend, his live-in girlfriend and his buddy who was residing in the living room. Minutes after I arrived, they served me a beer from that outside fridge and a big plate of spaghetti that I ate at the small kitchen bar, underneath a giant rolled piece of cotton hanging from the ceiling that was fashioned to look like some mythical giant’s tampon. The apartment’s furniture was hodge-podged and unmatched. Professional audition style head shots were interspersed with random other photographs haphazardly thumbtacked directly into the wall.  It was raw, rough and youthful; the perfect place for these people at that exact time.  Others might have hated it, but I felt a vibe, a palatable energy fueled by desire and hope.

Over the mountain and deep in the valley, it was just a small crappy apartment on the wrong side of the Hollywood sign, a lifetime of sacrifice and luck away from the movie stars living in the glamourous part of the city.  But to me, an outsider stepping in, it was so much more.

They were chasing their dreams with unbridled optimism.  They still had the freedom to believe anything was possible. To me, their success was irrelevant. The point was they were using that one moment that you have in life to try.  The real world had not stepped in yet to crush them with responsibilities and pressures.

I didn’t take that youthful trip to Europe like my wife did and I never can. That window is shut and nailed closed. When I travel now, it’s not as a carefree young man. I can’t stay in hostels or sleep in train stations. I have fears and worries and sleeping on the floor hurts my back.  I have work, a house, pets, family…  There are bills to be paid, 401ks that have to be filled, people who count on me and the consequences of my actions constantly weigh on my every decision.

When I got to L.A. I was already a trudging drone in the workforce. I could take off my work clothes and play for a little while, but in the back of my mind I knew eventually I’d have to redress and rejoin the real world. My dreams had already been boxed up with the rest of my other junk and shoved into that back closet in my folk’s extra bedroom.

You see, in my world I was already too afraid of the ramifications of having an outside refrigerator. I’d live in fear of something bad happening if it was exposed to the elements. And that cord… that electrical cord could so easily catch fire. What if, what if?!?!

Mentally I was already past the point of being able to live unencumbered and in the moment. Unable to discuss future dreams, art and craft with an honest unjaded heart. Unable to ‘experience’ the world, not just look at it as a tourist passing through. Sitting in that apartment a saw that stupid electrical cord as the dividing line. That was when I realized I had missed my only chance.

4-12-2009 9;55;05 AM

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A DIRTY BAR LEADS TO ANOTHER LIFE LESSON

My wife often says our very well stocked dining room liquor cabinet makes us look like alcoholics. I’m always quick to respond, ‘it indicates the exact opposite.’ If we had a drinking problem all those various bottles would be mostly empty instead of full. We just look prepared.  Very prepared.  I mean, having booze at the ready does not mean we have a problem. This might spoil my reputation, but months sometimes pass without us touching any… really… and I’m not just saying that because my Mom, doctor and boss might read this.

We actually have a half-full bottle that’s been untouched since our wedding 17 years ago.  It’s akin to the Tupperware full of wedding cake remnants hidden in the back of our fridge. I don’t think either is fit for consumption but at this point they are both too sentimental to toss.  Besides, since I’m the only one that knows which bottle contains the decomposing antique spirits, it serves as a deterrent to stop guests from sneaking shots in fear of the same permanent unpleasant side effects of imbibing from a Dominican Republic all-inclusive mini bar (too soon?).  Actually, on the bar’s top shelf are some unopened bottles of rum we got as a gift from the Dominican resort we stayed at earlier this year… maybe I’ll save those for our next Kevorkian party.

This past Sunday my wife and I sat down in our dining room to eat brunch. Though many of our meals are consumed in restaurants or on tray tables plopped in front of the TV, when we cook something special, our tacit routine is to slowly enjoy the meal and each other’s company, at our real table.  Sitting by the big sunny window eating my wife’s family recipe egg cheese souffle, I noticed an embarrassingly thick coat of dust on the glasses and bottles carefully lined up on the bar shelves.  I guess it’s another comforting sign we are not alcoholics but also an embarrassing indicator that our house cleaning regiment might be lacking.

I’m fairly practiced at ignoring the obvious; I can put off some hidden spring cleaning till summer or even fall, but in the bright sunlight this procrastinated task suddenly was slapping my obsessive compulsive butt. Its hard to unsee a white wine glass with a coat of dust thick enough to trace ‘wash me’ with your finger like you’d do on a dirty Michigan beater after the fifth slushy winter snowstorm. Okay, it was not that bad; besides I always rinse off a glass before I use it, but instead of enjoying breakfast I was feeling bad about my shamefully neglected cleaning duties.

Later, when my wife left to get some work done at her office, I cranked up the ballgame on the radio and set out to spiff up the bar. I emptied the shelves and scrubbed them. Then I wiped down all the bottles without drinking anything from them, since I assumed that might dramatically alter the quality and ultimate completion of the job.  Aside from the wedding booze, I tossed anything too scary old to consume.  Finally I set out to hand-wash all the glasses.

Standing at the kitchen sink sudsing, soaking, rinsing and drying in a trance-like assembly line routine, I noticed it was getting dark out. Very dark.  Then it hit me it was only 4:00. The morning’s bright sunlight that caused this whole mess was becoming obscured by some late afternoon ominous thick black storm clouds.  It made me feel better about being in the house instead of poolside.

One task always seems to lead to another. I initially got out the vacuum to touch up the floor around the bar, but five rooms later when I finally shut our fancy-shmancy self-indulgent Dyson Magic Suck-O-Matic thing off for good, I noticed how bad the howling winds and rain had gotten. I glanced at my phone to discover my wife had called, texted and messaged about a dozen times.  Oh crap.

Tornado warning sirens were going off by her office and when she could not get a hold of me, she started envisioning the cats and I on a one-way spinning house trip to Oz. I quickly called back and profusely apologized.  I wanted to say ‘the only Twisters in the house were the contortionist board game in the closet and the Chubby Checker albums on my shelf’ but thought it might not be the wisest time to do so.  Instead I promised to batten down the hatches but the worst of the storm had already passed.

As soon as we talked she was over it, but I kept making a big deal about missing the calls.  I had a good reason.  I try really hard not to dump on her and bitch about things that are really ‘Me’ issues. You know the crap I’m talking about. Just because I like something a certain way does not mean that the universe should change its course to appease my whims. Babies usually grow out of the world revolves around them stage and at some point, maybe I will completely too.  I’m trying.

Being married to my wife has made me a significantly better human and although it is really easy to be married to her, we work hard on the relationship. Long ago we decided if some issue is important to the other, rather then letting it fester and grow, we talk about it. We respect each other enough to proactively amend a behavior to prevent the other growing frustrated or resentful.

Just a couple of weeks ago I finally let off a little steam about how hard it was to get a hold of her. She knew I was dealing with a time sensitive issue but no matter how many times I called, she did not pick up the damn phone.  It turns out that time it was not her fault. She was in a meeting with her boss.  But since it has happened so many times in the past when there was no good explanation, I got more frustrated than I should. It’s that exact cumulative effect we are always trying to avoid, so later that day I played the rarely dealt  ‘can we please try to work on that’ card. She agreed that sometimes she purposely tunes the phone out and promised to pay a bit more attention when she knows something is up.

So on Sunday my timing could not have been worse. Just like is usually the case with her, on tornado-day I was not ignoring the phone on purpose but…  Since I was already doing a lot of cleaning, I figured I might as well break out the Windex to shine up that glass house I was living in.

dan w drinks

LITTLE DAN GETS AN EARLY START.

 

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AN EXECUTOID MIND IN THE NOT SO C-SWEET

Unexpectedly, my boss called a couple of the other management flunkies and myself into a meeting with an important client. Yes, I’ve been a full-time rider on that flunky bandwagon too, so that comment was not meant as any disrespect towards my co-cogs in the corporate machine but the fact is, although we are all dedicated and hardworking, we have rocked the company boat about as often as ants pilot airplanes. Contrary to popular belief, the merry mirth, mischief and mayhem that has frequently flowed in the wake of my personal life, is usually suppressed and muted at the office…somewhat… on most days… okay, usually I’m not that bad… stop making that face!

So, the summoned crack management team (not that kind of crack…OR THAT ONE) all marched one by one in a worker ant-like row, down the long hall, through the door and into the boardroom ready to assist our leader in rallying around our company flag. Rah rah, business business, zip boom bah, look at us motley cheerleaders go.

While filling the open high-backed leather chairs around the big rectangular table, I recalled the four ‘Power Positions’ based on the psychology of business meetings. It had been a while, but in previous jobs I had frequent opportunities to put in practice all the semi-subtle psychological take-control leadership tricks I learned in those business executoid success books.

My co-workers in front of me all walked to the far side of the room and slipped unknowingly into the ‘Middle Few’ positions in the ‘please don’t call on me’ center seats at the big shiny wooden table. Last in line, I made the split-second decision to bypass the open powerful ‘Flanking Position’ next to the others, to the left of my boss at the head of the table. Instead I opted to balance the table by taking the chair across from my colleagues just to the right of our esteemed visitor. What would my business school teachers think of me for bypassing a power seat? I hang my head in overthinking corporate battleground shame. But my logic was, by going rogue in my seating, I broke up the defensive, us against you, cross table seating and put myself in a position that would force our guest to focus only on me when I was talking.

During the introductions and handshakes, the sun from the wall of windows caused me to squint. As I strained to look straight forward to make direct eye contact with our visitor, I noticed something just to the right off the tip of my nose. As I sat down, nonchalantly, I dragged my hand across my forehead allowing my wrist to make enough contact to knock the foreign protuberance off my nose. But when I looked down again, it was still there. I started to obsess. I could not stop refocusing my vision to see my nose. Over and over I contorted my face to see what the hell was dangling there. I suddenly had a flashback to an embarrassing business trip in Switzerland a number of years ago.

The owner of the company I was working for at that time, had finally trusted me to make the trip alone. My long day of travel from the States went smooth but when I finally got to my hotel that night, the room was beastly hot. The old-world AC was not made to handle the unusual heatwave they were experiencing. I propped open the tiny room’s window and stickily started unpacking my luggage. Unfortunately, TSA or customs decided to search my bags and repacked in such a way as to guarantee maximum wrinklage of my clothing.

From previous experience, I knew most hotels in the region did not have irons in the rooms. I wisely packed a small bottle of wrinkle remover meant for touch-ups. It took hours to spray and stretch my mangled shirt and suit till they looked presentable enough for my early morning appointments. Between the heat and time change, I tossed most of the night until my extra early alarm went off. I reviewed my notes to prep for the day’s busy schedule, then at the last minute showered and shaved so I could quickly leave before I had time to get warm and drippy again. Briefcase in hand, I headed out for breakfast and the public transport tram ride to my first of many planned meetings.

I noticed a few people looking at me strangely, but I chalked it up to being the out-of-place American likely smiling too much. It was still early when I made my way through the crowds outside the building, but I milled a bit to make sure I was exactly on-time when I checked in with the receptionist. As I stood waiting, I again mentally ran through the demands I was going to make and the concessions I intended to stand firm on. I was in the fun position of being the wooed client, so I was confident I could take control of the meeting with ease and steer things towards my desired outcome. Unfortunately, just after we all exchanged salutations, someone asked me “what was on my head?” ‘My head’, I thought. Then the gentleman in charge of their U.S. distribution looked at me and said, “something is all over the back of your head.”

An ample fuss, a fetched wad of damp disgusting napkins and a prolonged trip to the far away restroom later, I realized I had nicked the back of my head while hastily shaving my baldy skull over the small hotel sink. Apparently, I had spent the entire morning with several scary looking dried streams of blood on the back of my noggin dripping down to my collar. I’d never lost controlling position of a meeting faster.

Back in the boardroom, my brain shifted from my flashback towards my nose again. As they caught us up on the previously discussed high points, I suddenly realized I had been making goofy cross-eyed faces while I obsessively tried to look at what was hanging off my face. I realized it was a little flap of dead skin, which was less gross than a stray wandering booger, but much harder to remove. What was I going to do? The attention was about to turn towards the management team, as we were asked to help explain some trends charted on the Power Point slides being projected behind me.

We had no time to prep, we did not even know we would be in this meeting, still suddenly I was supposed to think fast on my feet and mentally dance on the table while they shot business-world bullet points at my feet.

So there I was, with the digital projector shining a series of charts, graphs and numbers on me like a bright spotlight beaming onto a solitary performer thrust upon a stage, about to defend my company’s remarkable high accuracy and dependability rate. Yet all my brain could think about was non-verbal communication.

In those same old books that teach about boardroom seating Psychological Power Positions, they also constantly cautioned that the most widely accepted sign of lying was touching the nose. They all stressed it was the worst of the worst non-verbal cues. The ‘nose touch means lying rule’ was infamous. A body gesture that needed to be avoided at all costs when trying to make a point, but at that exact moment all I wanted to do with every fiber of my being, was to poke, rub or scratch that thing off the tip of my nose.

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MEN, WOMEN & THE INDESTRUCTIBLE OX

Maybe I had a deep-seated fear of a mythical mystical maniacal male monopoly, a sort of clandestine Dude Consortium, that periodically met to determine if I was manly-man enough to remain in the ‘guys’ group?  How could I have avoided that paranoia with all those bad TV examples. I grew up watching a bizarre batch of mixed message male personalities like Mr. Rogers, Soupy Sales, Uncle Floyd, Gilligan, Captain Kangaroo, Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Riley, Don Adams, Gene Rayburn, Jerry Lewis, the Monty Python troupe, the F-Troop gang, the Banana Splits, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters…

You might have guessed I watched a lot of TV as a little boy. In all those reruns I was glued to, like the Flintstones, Honeymooners, Bewitched, I Love Lucy, Green Acres… half the episodes featured the women and men scheming against each other. Worse yet, it bled into the real world. Over the loud clacking tiles of Mah Jong night, I heard my Mother and her friends talk the same gossipy smack about their husbands. My Dad and his buddies were no better; while sipping sudsy short glasses of Black Label or Rheingold beer, they’d complain about the wives.

Relationships made no sense to me. Was I destined to join Spanky and Alfalfa of the Little Rascals (Our Gang) in their He-Man Woman Hater’s club, complaining about girls until we suddenly found ourselves pitted against each other vying for the affection of the same one?  Was this it?  Were all adult relationships a grouseful love/hate, can’t live with / can’t live without, complain among your peers thing?

No one ever sat me down to say men do this, girls do that and never the twain shall meet. Yet these girl versus boy differences were somehow ingrained. As a little boy, I frequently played with both Donna and Voula from across the street.  But long before puberty hit, the boy girl differences kicked in.  Suddenly I became not just ‘persona-non grata’ to them, I was ‘persona de hated creepy dork-a-saurus’ who was ‘persona de never acknowledged as existing on the planet’. Did I change?

In late second /early third grade, classmate Stacey Hoffman started growing breasts. I’m sure I was not the only one that took great interest in those developments, but I felt clueless and powerless around them. By the start of fourth grade she had a constant circle of boys trying to get her attention, but I had never been in the competition. I knew to not even try although my imagination worked overtime.

I guess in hindsight the experience helped me confirm I was not gay, just clueless.  Yet I still felt different. I was not into sports, action heroes, cars and all the other ‘male stuff’ the other boys cared so much about.  Of course, I did not like dolls  and all the other mysterious ‘chick stuff’ either. The boys things / girls things lines seemed so arbitrary; I did not really fit in either but still felt bound by those rules.

Where did these core beliefs come from? I never recall being trained to be a Mr. Macho He-Man.  The only sports I remember Dad watching was the figure skating during the Olympics.  I mean, once I saw him join my Uncle Lester in a quiet room to watch a football game but I’m pretty sure his motivation was to get away from the crowd in the other room. The game was irrelevant to him, as usual, he fell asleep seconds after he sat down in the reclining chair.

My Father never taught me to throw or catch a ball.  Actually, no-one ever did. I made a fool of myself in the school gym and playground a few zillion times till I picked up stuff on my own. I was never on a team or in a league.  My oldest brother ran track, but for the most part my siblings were more nerdy than jocks. Dad did take me to my first baseball game with a couple of his pals who scored two freebee pairs of box seat tickets, though we spent as much time in the Shea Stadium bar as we did in the stands. After the game I got slugger Dave Kingman’s autograph, but only because he showed up at the same bar Pop and his buddies were having a post-game nightcap, under the guise of waiting for the stadium traffic to clear up.

Kids at my Queens New York public school and Boy Scout troop could get pretty brutal with the insults. The jokes themselves did not cause me to question my masculinity.  I was usually more upset over not having a clue about how to fit in or wondering what was defective in me that they did not want to be my friends. The thought never hit me that they were the ones with the distorted views.

I don’t remember my Mom saying it, but I guess her actions, behaviors and strong self-sufficient personality taught me that men and women were equal.  Never in my life have I thought of woman being subservient to men, so it just seemed stupid when boys put down the girls.  That said, just like on those old TV shows, whenever I heard girls saying they were smarter, saner and better than the boys, it reduced my opinion of them because they were exhibiting the same bad traits as the dominating males.   Isn’t the whole point that, yes, there are differences, but neither is better.

Time has proven that I’ve had as many close female friends as male. I’m that odd guy that likes shooting hoops and talking crap with the men at the bar, yet does not mind shopping and does all the dishes.  Yet I still have these stereotypical gut reflexes, like boys shouldn’t cry or show physical pain. But I’m starting to think it’s beyond male versus female. I’ve prided myself at being the last one standing at a party and the first one up for a dawn jog and coffee. My brain has conjured up this twisted self-image of being some sort of superhuman ultra-sensitive indestructible ox.

But just like a stubborn ox, a few years ago I blew out a tendon in my leg during a 5:00am boot-camp sprint. It took Dense Dan 3 days of painfully working on my feet all day, before I finally listened to my wife, and the other wise woman I worked with, and went to the doctor to learn the true extent of the injury.  It was the first time I had to accept I was not an unbreakable male.

A couple of months ago, Dan Ox found himself being poked in the belly by his 5 foot nothing female doctor and being told that the year-old ignored bump in my belly button was a hernia.  Another reminder I was not an indestructible he-man macho male. Well sorta.

Much to everyone’s chagrin, the morning after surgery I got my ass out of bed and went to work. Now before you all assume my motivation was to prove I was still, ever so slightly, a little alpha mega male; I should point out that it was Taco Friday Party Day at work. Stitched up hernia or not, how could I miss the one day a year we have a margarita machine at the office?!?!?

Post hernia

NEVER GIVE THIS MAN GOLDFISH TO EAT AFTER SURGERY

 

 

 

 

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DINING, DUTIES AND DERRIERES

An old friend tried calling me (don’t mind WHAT they called me, that’s a different matter) but I could not get to the phone in time. He left a voicemail mocking my very mockable cellphone outgoing message and then made some comment about me likely being out with the wife “fine dining or dining fine”. He was wrong, at that moment I was busy cleaning a cat butt.

The wife and I had been enjoying each other’s company on a lazy Sunday, when an unruly parade of chores and errands came marching through the living room repeatedly badgering and taunting us till we addressed them. We handled all the loud pressing tasks until we finally got to the most procrastinated odoriferously gross one. From behind, our not so fragrant feline Margret looked like she was wearing beautifully coifed poofy pantaloons but upon closer examination her long thick cat fur had caused a rather gross matted mess below her tail. Since she was living up to her nickname Stink Butt, she left us with only three viable options.

  • 1. Pay someone to shave her down like a poodle. Which would solve the problem but IF there is a heaven, and IF cats are there too, and IF it turns out they are running the place like they always act like they do, well then who knows what hideous eternal retribution she might cast upon me in revenge of the embarrassing bob.
  • 2. Try to brush through the nasty mess, which would take hours and likely really hurt. Personally, I do not think I would enjoy someone repeatedly tugging and tugging and tugging on my hair, especially hair in that somewhat sensitive mid-tukus region.
  • 3. Give her a bath, which given her sharp teeth and claws along with a strong hatred of deep pooled water, is akin to juggling angry porcupines in the rain with a blindfold on.

So okay, there really was no good option; which is why this unpleasant task had been put off for so long. Without a closet full of Kevlar clothing or a suit of armor, we dubbed this harrowing task a two-person job. Our four entangled arms held Maggie-Moo’s paws and jaws in a protective position deep in the kitchen sink, but just as we soaked and soaped our soggy tabby the doorbell rang. Then seconds later, my phone went off. Mr. Murphy, why is your law so accurate?

We still have no clue who was at the door. After our cat was dried and brushed, my wife thought to check the camera out front, but we did not recognize the older man in the yellow clothing. There were no packages or notes left, nor did he look like a salesman unless maybe a tall Girl Scout with severe Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. I’m not sure if my wife heard me or was just ignoring, when I suggested it might have been Ted Shackelford (the fictional one with the yellow hat, not the Knots Landing actor) looking for George.

Later in the evening, around the time the cat had almost started to forgive us for the indignant embarrassing hind-wash, I remembered the phone call. I peeked at my cell; it was from T-Bone. The details of when and why I started calling Tom, ‘T-Bone’ are forgotten, but I’ve been doing it so long I can’t remember not calling him that. What I do clearly recall is why for decades I have introduced people to him, as ‘the man who changed the way I pee’.

I’m not sure if its more embarrassing for him or self-deprecating for me, but I’ve always loved watching people’s reactions to ‘the man who changed the way I pee’ line. The surprising thing is no one ever questions or responds to my purposely ambiguous overture, although it’s simply a reference to a decades old bar room conversation where he passed on his doctor’s recommendation for good prostate health of when urinating not to push or force but instead relax, release and let it flow.

I know I can be bad at returning calls. It’s a thing. A not good thing, but a thing. Not wanting to be a jerk (yet again) I called T-Bone. Since I was not the one that picked-up earlier, maybe I should have led off the call with a warm hello but instead my first words were ‘you were wrong’.  I was NOT ignoring him because I was busy ‘living the crazy life’, it was because I was ‘livin la vida cat-butt’.

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Dan & Maggie-Mo

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