Wet Feet

July 25, 2019

Photo Credit: A Photographer

It seems like I never spot an MG Midget (no disrespect to any people of small stature) on the road these days. You know, the tiny open-top convertible from Britain that looked like something a James Bond want-to-be would drive if he couldn’t afford an Aston Martin. When I was a kid I saw them quite often. They were usually a deep maroon, hunter green, sky blue or vivid orange color, and the top was always off.

They weren’t usually in great condition. In fact, my recollection is that many of them needed some work. Most had plenty of dents and scratches, with rust creeping through in the usual places. But it didn’t matter. To me, they were unique and cool. The guys driving them always wore sunglasses and smoked cigarettes. They’re probably French dudes who date models, I’d think.

I knew a guy who drove one. Well, I didn’t really know him — he was the father of a “friend” of mine. I use the term friend loosely, because he was a kid from church, so I kind of had to be nice to him. You know, trying to be Christianly, and all. Regardless, this guy’s dad had a motorcycle, too, doubling-down on the coolness factor in my young eyes. Coming from a family that only drove reliable and economical Japanese sedans, owning a roadster AND a motorcycle seemed like the pinnacle of rebellious bad-assery.

The problem was that that my friend’s old man wore eyeglasses instead of sunglasses, he didn’t smoke, and if he spoke French he never showed it off or bragged about it — something I, as a seventh-grader taking a French class, assumed anyone with the ability would most certainly flaunt. Plus, he was a portly fellow who commonly wore sweaters — really the epitome of uncool in the mind of a middle school kid — thus putting a deep door ding in my theory about MG drivers.

My first car was a 1982 Volkswagen Jetta. Despite being European and a little unique, it completely lacked any female (let alone model) attracting coolness. In retrospect, it was really awful in most regards, but it served its purpose, which was simply to to get me around. Regardless, I loved it. No matter how bad it might have been, I think everyone has some odd fondness for their first car.

Yes, my Jetta certainly had a few problems. The major issue, at least in my teenage mind, was that the stereo totally sucked. All of my friends had awesome stereos that caused permanent hearing loss. If I was expecting a friend to pick me up, I didn’t have to watch, I simply listened. But mine just crackled, gurgled, and spat. It had a cassette player, but it ate tapes better than it played them. It was a total bummer during an era when guitar solos needed to be cranked up.

There were some minor issues as well. For example, the driver’s window wouldn’t roll up or stay up. I had to use both hands to grab about a 1/4″ sliver of exposed glass, pull up carefully as far as I could, put my forearms on the window to hold it, then use my fingers and palms to simultaneously push outward and upward until the window was all the way up. I had some duct tape around the top of the door/window frame (on the inside, of course, to avoid looking trashy), and at this point would press the tape firmly against the window to hold it in place. I’d have to replace the tape every couple of weeks when it would lose its tackiness and the window would start dropping down on its own as I drove. Not a big deal.

The second minor issue was that the car didn’t hold oil. Literally. My oil light was constantly on. I put a quart in every other morning — enough that you could see a tiny drop on the dipstick if the lighting was perfect. This routine went on for about a year. I thought I was being frugal by living with this problem, rather than getting it fixed. However one day I did some math, and accepted the fact that I had spent far too much on oil, so I finally took it to a mechanic. I distinctly remember him looking at me like I was the dumbest kid ever. “I’m surprised the EPA isn’t after you,” he scoffed, pointing a greasy fingernail at the bottom of my hoisted car. It was caked with oil that had been seeping from a myriad of places. I did (and still do) feel truly guilty about being a rolling oil spill. But, as a grown man looking back, I’m mostly just amazed by the German engineering that allowed a car to run for so long with no oil.

The final minor issue worth noting was that there were some holes in the floorboard by the back seat. As a result, when it was raining and I drove through a deep puddle, water would rush in, filling up small indentions that were meant for the rear passengers’ feet. I could never pinpoint where the water was entering, and it was strange how it came in so quickly and easily, yet it took so long to drain out.

Sometimes, on really stormy days, it would fill these feet areas completely. Then, when driving down hill, the water would crest and come rushing into the front of the car. I would go up a hill and it would slosh into the back again. This could go on all day. There was sometimes enough water that it would cause my shoes to become saturated, eventually leading to wet socks and wet feet. Looking back, I realize this was pretty gross, but I always thought my shoes would have been even wetter (and probably muddy) if I had been walking through the rain on these days. And driving was better than walking.

(Side Note: In the winter, the water would often freeze, leaving blocks of ice that could last for weeks or even months.)

My cars today have decent stereos, the windows work, and they don’t seep oil or have large puddles of water inside of them. But their main purpose is still just to safely get me and my family from point A to point B. That’s good enough for me. Somewhere, however, in the back of my mind, where practicality is forbidden to enter, as I sit firmly entrenched in middle age, I think about it. I think about how much fun it would be to fly down the open road, sunglasses on, the wind rushing past me, in a little MG. Maybe one day.

Un jour. Oui, oui.

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Christmas Can Wait

November 20, 2018

My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. For good reason, I think. It’s a time when we get together with family and friends, enjoy each other’s company, share a warm meal, and appreciate the good things in our lives. And, despite all the negatives that may consume us on many days, we actually don’t have to look very hard to find some –or a great deal of — good.

Thanksgiving includes all religions, or lack there of. It requires no gifts. It involves no loud, bright explosions (going on way later than anyone in the neighborhood actually wants). There are no costumes. There are no fancy decorations. It doesn’t celebrate a person, a group, or a belief. It even always falls on a Thursday, making short weeks and long weekends a reality for many. It’s pretty damn perfect, in my book — even when my family has to host.

Yet, despite its simplistic perfection, Thanksgiving may be the most overlooked holiday. As soon as Halloween ends, Christmas decorations start going up everywhere. People become consumed by the idea of Christmas. So much so that many folks even skip out on Thanksgiving in order to go buy gifts that few of us really need. Hey, I get it! I love Christmas, too. But it has its time and place. It shouldn’t upstage a day that focuses on gratitude — something we seem to be sorely lacking.

This Thanksgiving I will look around the table at my growing kids and aging family. I’ll recall fond memories, while pondering what the future may hold. I’ll eat well, enjoy some good beer, and might even throw a pigskin around. I’ll appreciate quality time with people I love, something we get less and less of as the years go by. I’ll be truly grateful — even for the people who have already moved on to Christmas.

Slow down and be thankful. Christmas can wait. Happy Thanksgiving.

Please Vote

November 1, 2018

I remember the first time I voted. It was the presidential election of 1992. I was 19 years old, and I couldn’t wait to use my “voice.” It was still dark on that chilly November morning when I got to the old church that doubled as a polling station. There was a long line waiting to get in. I felt nervous, as I was unsure of what to do or how things would work. I carefully read and marked my ballot, being sure not to make a mistake. When I gently pushed it through the thin slit of the ballot box, I was genuinely worried it might somehow become lost. It meant a great deal to me. I remember the feeling of accomplishment and pride as I walked out wearing my “I Voted” sticker. My head was held high, as if I had made some tiny difference. I suppose I was young and naive in some ways.

I’ve changed a lot over the 26 years since that morning. I went to college, started a career, got married and had a family, went back to school, and am preparing to begin a new career. My philosophy on life has changed greatly. I’m much busier. I’m probably more cynical, and definitely more jaded. My back and knees often hurt, I’m usually tired, and I’m certainly not so eager to jump out of bed on dark and chilly mornings (or really any mornings) to go cast my ballot. But I do.

I vote — at every level, every time I can — because it is an incredible freedom, one that many of us take for granted. We definitely have problems with our government and politics. Our voting system is flawed in many ways. I have no doubt that fraudulent actions take place — originating from both sides of the aisle — but we must vote, regardless. It is a special privilege.

Look around the world at the many countries where elections are either a wishful dream, a distant memory, or a complete scam. Think about the people who live in countries where voting is so dangerous that they literally risk their lives to vote. For example, in a recent Afghanistan election, the Taliban sent out letters vowing to kill or cut off the fingers of those who vote. Yet 7 million Afghans ventured out to the polls.

According to the Pew Research Center, 70% of Americans said they thought high voter turnout in presidential elections was important. In my opinion, that already seems like a low number, yet less than just 56% of us actually voted in the 2016 election. That ranks the U.S. 26th out of 32 highly developed democratic countries, in terms of voter turnout.

So what is our problem? Why is voting not a priority? Maybe we take it for granted because it has always been a right for everyone born in the last 99 years. Americans today haven’t lived through times when voting and elections weren’t a given. Historically speaking, however, it wasn’t that long ago that the opinions of blacks and women didn’t matter.

Are we too tired from binge watching Netflix the night before? Do the long morning lines at the McDonald’s or Starbucks drive-thru delay us so much that we don’t have time? Do we have to rush home after work to get the kids to soccer practice? Is it just not worth the hassle? Do we have so many obligations that we simply can’t be bothered? Maybe we don’t really care who governs our country — although social media, the news media, and conversations in coffee shops, elevators, and at dinner tables across our nation would indicate I’m wrong. (By the way, if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.)

Maybe many of us actually believe voting is legitimately too hard. A large number of Americans don’t have convenient polling places, transportation, or other resources, any or all of which can make voting very difficult. Yet there are people in far less developed countries who will walk for miles — and sometimes days — just to cast one ballot.

When I vote today, I still feel a sense of nervous-excitement. It’s corny, I know. I still carefully read and mark my ballot. When I gently push it into the electronic scanner, I always worry that something will go wrong. It still means a lot to me, maybe more than ever. After voting, I place my “I Voted” sticker on my chest, and walk out with my head held high.

Maybe I’m still a little naive, but I do think voting — and, similarly, not voting — can make an impact. If you’re paying attention, it’s very obvious. If you’re not paying attention, I beg that you start. We have the ability to vote people in, and — perhaps more importantly — vote people out. I urge you to get out and vote every chance you get. Do it for your country, your state, your city, and your community. Most of all, though, do it do you. Use your voice. Make a tiny difference. You won’t regret it.

Book Ideas List

October 21, 2018

I’ve been busy lately and haven’t had much time to write. Truthfully, I’ve also felt rundown and tired. I’ve lacked all confidence and motivation. Social interaction has been a struggle. I feel old. My son started high school this year! I look in the mirror and see this aging man who was once full of life. Anyway, I don’t mean to be a downer. I know I’ll bounce out of this lull, and will soon be ready to write with a renewed sense of vigor. In the meantime, and as a way to stay productive, I’ve been compiling a list of possible future book/article ideas:

Ever-Fleeting Joy

How Gaming Ruined My Son and Tore My Family Apart

99 Ways to Fail Gracefully

99 Ways to Fail Gracefully in Business

99 Ways to Fail Gracefully at Exercise (The “Fail Gracefully” motif would go on and on to maybe be a really big hit series of books. Doubtful though, if I’m being honest…)

99 Easy Ways to Make Your Teenage Son Hate You

99 Ways to Annoy Your Family and Friends

A Man’s Guide to Sleeping on the Couch

99 Ways to Avoid Confrontation

Popularity is Overrated, but how Would I Know

99 Ways to Avoid Talking to People

How to Avert Attention in Awkward Situations

Fond Memories: My Sex Life Before Having Children

Growing Up Ugly: A Memoir

99 Ways to Conceal a Receding Hairline

A Man’s Guide to Suffering

Two Decent Sex Positions for Men with Small Penises (This is more of a short story.)

The Many Benefits of the AARP

Black Actually Isn’t as Slimming as You Think

Life in the Fast Lane: A Self Help Book for Slow People

You’ll Never Really Conquer Your Fears so Just Accept It

Sports You’ll Never be Great At (This is just a basic sports reference book.)

Everyone Dies and it Could Happen Today

Why are Your Children so Embarrassed by You?

There’s Hair in my Ears!

It’s Okay to Weep Uncontrollably

Men Are From Mars, Women Now Find You Repulsive

99 More Easy Ways to Make Your Teenage Son Hate You

Sex and Sleep Apnea Machines

Ever-Fleeting Joy, Part II

The Racers

August 21, 2018

as mothers hollered

and moths collided

the sweaty, mashed-hair kids

raced once more

through the streetlights’ fresh dots

then said their goodbyes

and pedaled slowly home

not yet understanding

how quickly summers go

I stumbled upon a blog that was shared on Facebook this morning and was immediately intrigued. Not because of the title, but because the author is a priest at a Catholic church right here in my neck of the world. In fact, it is a church that many close friends attend. I myself have been a visitor in the congregation a number of times as a kid.

I know for a fact that, like in many churches, the St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Gladstone, Missouri is filled with kind, hard-working, middle-class Americans. They are salt-of-the-earth, family-oriented people who help out in their community, obey the law, and are just trying to get through the ups and downs of everyday life. They are like most of us. Simply put, they are just good folks. That’s why this blog post is so troubling to me. I encourage you to read it:

HATING THE RESIDENT PRESIDENT

By Father Don Farnan

Like many citizens of earth, some days I battle the impulse to lash out at President Trump.  I usually hold it in check with a sarcastic remark or expression of bewilderment; my grief doesn’t even register on the scale of vitriolic criticism he receives daily from coast to coast and beyond our shores.  Granted, there are plenty of reasons to not like his morality or his personality for he is, at times, rude, vulgar, and insulting.  Many of us fear that this attitude is being normalized and trickles down to our homes, playing fields, boardrooms and classrooms.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump was elected president and is fulfilling commitments he made to voters, making America great again via a strong economy, low unemployment, and tough confrontation of terrorism.  We should be grateful for the ways he fights for our country and his desire to build it up.  At the same time, we can work toward other levels of greatness: how we treat one another with dignity, teach children respect and honor, sacrifice for causes greater than our own…

Like him or not, I think we all have to admit that Trump has been attacked and derided by people in ways never before seen for the simple reason that they don’t like him—and the dislike has escalated to hatred.  Even if he invites it through his brash tactics and unapologetic style, shouldn’t we be concerned about this level of hatred?  If we respond to bad behavior with bad behavior of our own, what does that say about the world we’re helping to shape?  Similar to attacking the president, a small minority of Catholics—some with power, prestige, and influence—target Pope Francis in ways unseen before.  I pray that this is not the way of the 21st Century.

I guess some people are simply hateful and compelled to tear down.  Hating leaders—hating at all—is not a good way to operate.  Doing our part to build up our civic community and faith community is.  It’s awfully draining to spread kindness when opposite forces are so strong.  I don’t have the answer, other than the one that Jesus gave.  In His time as in ours, hatred seems to overpower love because tearing down is much easier than building up.  But Christ gives us hope that it doesn’t have to be this way.  Kindness, goodness, generosity, compassion, respect for leaders, outreach to the marginalized, and doing our little part as best we can—these are the things that will make humanity great again and help us to build a society that, like Our Lord, can be a light to guide others in darkness.

I’ll conclude with Edgar A. Guest’s famous poem about building up and tearing down:                   I watched them tear a building down,

A gang of men in a busy town.

With a mighty heave and a lusty yell,

They swung a beam and a sidewall fell.

I said to the foreman, “Are these men as skilled

As the ones you’d hire if you had to build?”

He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed!

Just a common laborer is all I need.

And I can wreck in a day or two

What it took the builders years to do.”

And I thought to myself as I went my way,

“Just which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care

Measuring life by the rule and square,

Or am I a wrecker as I walk this town

Content with the labor of tearing it down?”

I don’t know Father Don Farnan, but I get a sense that he truly means well by writing this piece. And, trust me, I agree with a lot of what he is saying. We do live in a world that seems to be filled with hate, and this is very unfortunate. However, I’m not sure if there is more hate in the world today, or if it has simply become more acceptable — and much easier — for people to make their voices heard. Social media, as well as the mainstream news media, has become a mountain top for people to shout from, their hateful words echoing down for all to hear, regardless of whether or not we want to listen.

Though there may not be more hate in America, there certainly seems to be a growing division among our people. This, of course, is largely a widening crevice between political party lines. Lies — or at least unverified “facts” — are rolled down both sides of this same mountain, and are equally damaging (and influential) to the bystanders below.

Sadly, it is President Trump who sits at the peak of the mountain, shouting as loudly as possible in an effort to make his voice the most audible. His endless name-calling and sucker-punching fuels the division and the hate on both sides of the mountain. I’m honestly not writing about President Trump, however.

Yes, I could debate Father Farnan’s belief that “Trump has been attacked and derided by people in ways never before seen for the simple reason that they don’t like him—and the dislike has escalated to hatred.” I would ask Father Farnan to go way, way back in his memory to the year 2009. This is when Barack Obama took office. Many people didn’t like him. In fact, many didn’t like him for one reason — the color of his skin. I have heard him called words that white people will never be forced to endure. Words like monkey, coon, and nigger, to name a few. Words that can’t be taken back. I ask you, Father, does this treatment qualify as hate? Our own current president (and countless others, of course) refused to believe that Obama was even an American. Why? Simply because Trump didn’t like him. But, honestly, I’m not writing about President Trump.

I will agree with Father Farnan that the economy is doing very well. A robust economy is critical to the well-being of the United States for many reasons that aren’t often considered, including lower crime rates, healthier citizens, and even longer life spans. But I would also remind him that many regulations put in place with the sole intention of helping to protect our environment, our people, and our country have been abruptly stopped by Trump, with seemingly little or no thought about future ramifications. I hope this all works out in the end… But, honestly, I’m not writing about Trump.

I’m writing because I don’t want the good people of the United States to become accepting of “wrongs” because there are some “rights.” I don’t want us to become okay with “good enough.” Complacency leads to failure. Father Farnan asks, “Shouldn’t we be concerned about this level of hatred (towards Trump)?” But I ask you, Father, shouldn’t we be concerned with the level of hatred coming from the President of the United States of America? And this is not fake news, but words coming straight from the mouth (or fingers) of Trump.

Again, I believe Father Farnan’s intentions are good. He is encouraging “kindness, goodness, generosity, compassion…outreach to the marginalized, and doing our little part as best we can,” all things that I’m a firm believer in. However, he also asks us to respect our leaders. While I will avoid being hateful, I refuse to respect a leader like Trump. Where would we be today if our Founding Fathers had respected King George? Blind respect of a president is not only incredibly careless, but it is extremely unpatriotic.

We must avoid complacency or we’ll never improve. We must not become so tolerant that hate (even when we abhor it) is overlooked. I see good people — people I love and respect — making a conscious decision to simply look the other way every single day. Father Farnan ends his post with a poem encouraging us to be builders, which is a wonderful ideology, but two decades in the construction industry has taught me that skilled builders must keep a close eye on every small detail.

The longer we, as a nation, look the other way, the harder it will be to regain our focus. What is taking place while we are told to only see the bright side? What will we allow our leaders to get away with tomorrow? Father Farnan, please keep spreading your message of kindness and goodness, but please don’t ask us to become tolerant of a hateful man who seems intent on dividing our nation. Please don’t support a person who is continually tearing down what you are trying to build.

Please don’t look away.

the sounds of horns and sirens

drowned out by rain beating on the window in my room

as gray light shoves through the darkness

i watch determined drops race down each pane

such ambition has always eluded me