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Monday, February 27, 2006


Several years ago, I bought my parents an interesting Christmas gift. It was a custom leather-bound, hand-stamped, parchment paper journal. Inside, I'd written up a few memories from my childhood. The gift came with a promise that I would write something every Christmas until the book was full. This year, for reasons I still can't full explain, I didn't write anything. I later promised my folks I would write something and give it to them when I saw them again. This week, they are in town and the journal sits upstairs in my office. Mom and Dad are scheduled to leave in a couple days and I want to send the journal with them. Recently, I've had a lot of trouble expressing myself. The only place I think I am even coming close is on this blog. So, here's what I plan to copy into the journal before they leave.

It's a little sad, I guess, that I don't have many clear memories of my great grandparents. If I ever met any of my paternal great grandparents, I don't remember it. I know my mother's grandpa was named Doyle. I know I've heard stories about him eating a dozen eggs for breakfast and I can picture his photograph in my head. I know my mom's grandma was named Roxie, but I don't know much about her either. In fact, my clearest memory of her life is the morning my crying little brother woke me up and told me Grandma Roxie had died. Other than that, my memory bank is empty.

I feel fortunate, however, that my memories of my own grandparents are many. I feel fortunate that the best memories pre-date my grandparents' old age. I remember Grandpa P. drinking Busch beer on the old slab patio behind his house and laughing pure joy from his soul. I remember Grandma P. peeling oranges for me late at night as we both nursed our night owl spirits. I remember Grandpa W. explaining to me how "Christ" and "mas" went to together to make "Christmas." And, though I have many memories of my Grandma W., the one that stands out the most is the moment she looked at my pregnant wife and talked about how beautiful my baby would be. Grandma W. died a few days later.

And then there are the memories of my own parents, too many to count, and impossible to list in any order of importance. Just a quick moment of reflection conjures up my mom making me an ice cream float in the middle of a summer day with a bottle of Pepsi and a scoop of cheap vanilla. Then, I see her laboring over a drawing of Santa Claus so it would be just perfect. And then there is Dad. If I opened the file cabinet in my head that contains the thousands of memories about him, the first folder, I think, would have my dad calling plays in the field behind Hilldale Elementary, the all-time quarterback for a neighborhood of would-be Jerry Rices. The next folder would have a picture of my dad and me walking into Atlantic City's Bally's Casino and playing 7-card stud in a poorly-lit poker room. We both lost money that night, but we stayed up until nearly sunrise and only left when we agreed our wives would be wondering where we were.

So, why now do I think back on these things that happened so many years ago? Well, this year, I took my son home for Christmas. I took him to Grandma and Grandpa P.'s house and watched as their faces spread in what could only be called joy. I watched them hug him, laugh at him, and hold him like he was their first grandson. Later, I introduced my son to Grandpa W. Since Grandma W. died, Grandpa has been struggling to figure out how to live a new life. Still, I saw the same joy in his eyes, again, like he was meeting his first grandson.

More than anything, though, I saw the pride in my parents' eyes as we together showed off my son. L'il Otis is, in fact, their first grandson and there is no doubt they are proud. Their pride spawns more pride in me.

As technology gets better, I think memories are easier to keep. We have e-mail, computers, digital cameras, and digital video cameras. Making memories for my son will be eaiser. Even more so, it will be eaisier for him to remember.

All of that said, however, I learned this Christmas that my parents gave me a great gift when I was a kid. They let me know, love, and respect my grandparents. They gave me a great appreciation for the generations that make up this family. A few decades ago, it would probably have been hard to imagine this year. It would've been hard to believe I'd be circulating my kid through the family and introducing him to the people that directly and indirectly influenced who he will become.

Indeed, my parents succeeded in many ways over the past 32 years. It's only now that I realize one of their greater successes was teaching me how to teach my kid. They taught me to teach my kid to seek and love his grandparents.

And so now, when my kid--who still only knows a few words--points to the phone and asks to speak to "Nanny and Papa," I never say no.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Becoming an Evil-Doer: Step 1

Just after 2am this morning, I found myself getting a little depressed. That doesn't happen to me very much anymore. And by depressed, I don't mean "damn, I could use a handful of anti-depressants and a prom date." Moreover, I don't mean, "Man, I sure wish I'd bought a gas stove." In fact, it wasn't depression so much as I felt a little like I could be a better person if I tried more than...well, none at all.

After considering my options for a while, I realized I wasn't as into the whole "self-betterment" project as I thought I was ten minutes before. I spent a long time hating myself and it has only been in the past year I've come to accept myself for the lazy, self-destructive, selfish prick I am.

With the self-loathing beginning to wane, my noodle happened upon a new project. I decided to become an evil-doer.

It seemed, I thought, an interesting goal. While not necessarily noble, it would be distinctive. Few people actually set out to be evil-doers. They usually stumble upon it during Al Qaeda AA meetings or in line at Starbucks. Me? I'd actually be seeking it out.

Thing is, I have no interest in killing people, destroying cities, or trampling on civil rights and baby seals. I like most cultures, cities, and animals (many of them with a nice mother sauce on them). I decided I needed something especially evil, but on the south side of violence.

It hit me on a late night trip to the fridge. Inside the freezer was a package of Thin Mints.


So, here it is: Step one on the road to becoming an evil-doer.

I'm going to copy the recipe to all the popular Girl Scout cookies and hire a team of bakers to do nothing but make the snacks around the clock. In case you're not aware, here are the most popular Girl Scout Cookies and their sales percentages.

25% Thin Mints
19% Samoas/Caramel deLites
13% Peanut Butter Patties/Tagalongs
11% Peanut Butter Sandwich/Do-si-dos
9% Shortbread/Trefoils

Two bakeries currently have the Girl Scout cookie contract and make a mint (a thin mint, of course) on the suckers like us that buy box after box every year. I'm going to screw them all. To avoid copyright infringement, I'll re-name all the cookies as follows:

Thin Mints -- Chocolate Freezer Ass-Builders
Samoas/Caramel deLites -- Dirty Coconut Jowl-Enhancers
Peanut Butter Patties/Tagalongs -- George Washington Carver Droppings
Peanut Butter Sandwich/Do-si-dos -- Slap-ass Jiggle Snatches
Shortbread/Trefoils -- The Boring Box

Now, here is where the real evil comes in: I'm going to sell the things all year long. Yeah, all year long. In stores. In bakeries. On street corners. At churches.

The beauty of this evil plan is this: when it comes time for Girl Scout cookie season, John Q. Public is going to be so sick and burned out on the Slap-ass Jiggle Snatches that they won't touch the Do-si-dos. They will be so fat on the Dirty Coconut Jowl Enhancers, the Samoas might as well be Somoans. The Girl Scouts won't be able to sell a box. And just to be sure, I'll have porn stars and strippers standing outside Wal-Mart with boxes of my cookies--get this--giving them away during peak Girl Scout season.

Yes, folks. The evil is on. And I am going to be a damned doer.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Everybody must get stoned

I remember when my friends started getting suspicious. Mrs. Otis turned down a lot of New Year's Eve drinks back at the beginning of 2004. The smart ones in the crowd realized the old lady was likely cooking up some sort of bun. When the word finally got out that Mrs. Otis was, in fact, bun-cooking, the temperance had become an obsession. My wife, formerly a drinker of the first order, shunned the drink like a nun shuns John Holmes. She avoided vanilla extract and mouthwash. Fortunately, I was around to make sure we ran through the alcohol reserves at a pace that kept up the government funding.

My point is, from conception to this very day, L'il O hasn't even had a taste of alcohol. Nor has he pulled any bong hits. And no, he hasn't been chasing the dragon with a teenage-looking Luke Perry.

While I hesitate to hop right back on the my-kid-as-a-picture-of-humankind trip, my last post got me to thinking. While his most recent activity was learned from watching his now semi-temperant mother, his continued practice makes me wonder if humans don't have some inborn desire to get stoned.

It began when my wife would spin the kid around in circles, getting them both dizzy as hell, and turning the kid generally loopy. It would be one thing if the kid fell down, forgot about it, and moved on to union busting on the plastic man picket line. Instead, the kid (just 18 months old, keep in mind) now loves to get...well, spinny stoned. Circle, circle, circle, "Weeeeeee!", fall to the ground laughing.

Now, my kid is no different than most kids. I've yet to meet a kid who doesn't enjoy the spinning and falling. And that got me thinking about the physical endorphins that must be released by such activity. I think it's gotta be damned close to a big hit of nitrous.

I've traveled in a lot of different circles in my 32 years. I know tee-totalers, drinkers, recreational drug users, and people who don't really qualify for any of the categories. There has been many a study done about the physical processes that are involved in drug and alcohol addiction. I think people would do themselves well to look at the Spinning Kid Syndrome.

In short, there is seemingly no real-world need for feeling loopy. Sex feels good because humans need to procreate. Eating feels good because we need to stay alive. You know, et cetera. Getting fucked up seems to serve no real purpose, and yet there seems to be some inborn desire, once introduced to it, to continue it. Of course, I know many people who don't enjoy the loss of mental and physical control that goes along with being fucked up. However, I know a lot more who...well, DO enjoy it.

I'd continue, but I've decided that I'm spending too much time indoors and using my kid as an uncontrolled study in humankind. I need to get back in thick of things for a while. Perspective makes hermits like me a little less crazy.

Monday, February 20, 2006

From the dancing feet of babes

Somehow, with a title like that, I'd expect myself to launch into a story about a stripper, one with happy feet and fake breasts. I'd expect myself to launch into a tale of how this exotic girl taught me about myself by grinding on a greased pole to Motley Crue music. Instead, this is about the strip club at home.

My kid, like most kids I suppose, loves to get naked. We didn't teach him to run around with his wanger wanging about. We don't go to great lengths to avoid nudity around him or anything, but there is a level of modesty in the house that remains unspoken (for instance, the wife knows to keep the kid out of poking range when I...well, you know, when I first wake up in the morning).

And yet, nudity makes the kid happy.

That little fact and a few other things have made me think about the nature of humans. My kid, just now a year and half old, does a lot of things that we haven't taught him. While I know few people outside of my family care so much about my kid's nudity, I think what I'm learning has some meta humankind stuff to it.

Fear--We've not bothered to mention to the kid that anything is scary yet. Eventually we'll get around to talking about bad men and nympho middle school teachers. For now, though, with the exception of standing on the kitchen table and not climbing in the oven, we're pretty liberal parents. And yet, the kid is afraid of things. Without any direction from we adults, the kid has developed a fear of the Howard the Hoot Owl book and the vacuum cleaner.

Dancing-- Turn on the music, and the kid dances. Like his old man, he doesn't have any particular groove to him. But he dances a little Elaine dance around he room.

Blondes-- Find a blonde girl, and the kid wants to hug her, chase her, make her his own. From eight months to eighty months, the kid is chasing them everywhere.

Some things, I suppose, are just inborn. If there is anything I think I can learn from my kid, it is that is is okay to be scared, no matter how inconsequential the source of fear may seem. It's okay to dance, no matter how bad you are at it. As for blondes, well, I've learned to ignore that little trait.

Oh, and if I needed further proof of this inborn thing, the kid reminds me every time he gets naked.

Yeah, my kid likes to play with himself.

Go figure.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Steeping in the real world

"Helluh," he said. It was surely "hello," but the accent made it sound like he'd eaten all the o's out of his Spaghetti-Os and was left with nothing but a couple of useless letters--like Scrabble at the end of the game. He was 275 pounds if he was an ounce. He wore a mesh trucker cap and some sort of cheap bling over his flannel shirt.

The Greek woman cutting my hair caught my eye in the mirror. The look said, "I may have the sharp object, but I'm going to need your help." I gave her a look back that said, "I've never won a fight in my life that didn't involve words with more than four syllables."

The guy lumbered back behind the rail like he owned the place and grabbed the woman around the shoulders. "Just thought I'd stop in a see how you was doin'. Hadn't seen ya in a while."

"Hi," she said. She carefully pulled her shoulders away and resumed revealing my high forehead.

"I met your sister," he said, rubbing his stomach. "I was down at the DMV and I saw a girl who looked just like you. I said, you look like my hairdresser Rachel. She said, 'That's my sister.'"

The girl cutting my hair was not named Rachel. Her license and business cards clearly identified her by her real name.

"Oh," the hairdresser said, and shot me a look that was very clear: "There are more scissors in that drawer. Get ready."

"I've lost 65 pounds since I been sick," he said. "Colon."

Suddenly I found myself thinking of how terrorists might be attacking the American colon. There are just too many people with bum...well, bums. When I emerged from my revery, the dude was talking about how Rachel's sister was nice and all, but not nearly as nice as Rachel. And, "Boy, when she gets to talkin', you can't stop her. Anyway, just wanted to stop by and check in."

And then he was gone.

I spoke first. "You don't have a sister, do you, Kiki?"


"You happen to have the Sheriff's Office on speed dial?" I said.

Kiki went back to work, turning a mop into a scrub brush while I thought about how much of a hermit I have become. It's been one year and three days since I stopped dealing with Joe Public five days a week. Occasionally, I think I miss it. And then I realize that most of the The Public is like the beer-bellied dude who appears out of nowhere to manhandle my hairdresser and insult her nonexistant sister. I realize that life is much better when you only hang around the people you like.

"He's crazy," Kiki said, her Greek eyes telling more of the story than she had to speak. "Said he killed two black guys and spent 25 years in prison."

"That's the only thing that's true," Tina, another hairdresser, muttered from across the room.

Ten minutes later I was at the car wash. As I climbed out of my car, one of the workers looked at me with a look of amazement.

"Damn, I thought you put your arm right through there."

I have no idea--NO IDEA--what that meant.

Inside, a City Council woman stood in front of me in line. Despite being African American, I occasinally think Madame Councilwoman might be closely related to Aileen Wurnos. They look nothing alike, but they have the same detached stare and warped view of morality and virtue. I'd interviewed her several times before leaving my old job. I look a lot different now, but I don't think she would've spoken to me even if she had recognized me. I considered cornering her and asking her how it felt to lose a recent court case so badly. Instead, I paid for my car wash.

"You work for News 4, don't you?" asked the lady behind the counter.

I gaved my standard answer. "Used to."

And that's what I find more amazing than anything. It has been 368 days since I appeared on local television. Since that time, I have lost about 15 pounds, grown facial hair, and cut my hair shorter. Well, hell. Here's the side-by side comparison.

Given, it's not a remarkable change, but most people probably couldn't pick G.W. Bush out of a crowd if he lost weight, changed his hair, and grew a goatee. My point is, this woman could still recognize me, but she had no clue that I hadn't been on TV for a year.

While I'm not sure exactly what that says, it says something.

After a quick trip to Lowes to buy a chainsaw, I hurried back home and busied myself with things that didn't involve John Q. Public. Someday I may return to the world, but for right now, I'm happy right where I am.

And if you happen to see me out in public, I'd appreciate it if you didn't molest the girl who cuts my hair. I don't have much left and she needs to concentrate.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Comedy Assplosion

It's been more than two years since my dad came as close to death as most people do without soon finding themselves in a very dark place. It's been two years of insanely successful recovery and ensuing happiness. Still, despite his fantastic health, I get a little nervous any time my dad goes into the doctor for any kind of procedure.

In recent days, my friends and family have been plagued by ass issues. BG, in a well-chronicled colonical, is recovery well, as is I hope my uncle who was having similar problems. And then my wife tells me my dad is going in for a routine colonoscopy.

Now, first, I was a little annoyed. My parents did a good job of sheltering me when I was a kid. I rarely knew anything bad was happening until it was long over. However, now that I am ostensibly an adult, it would be nice if they didn't purposefully avoid filling me in when stuff is going on.

That said, more than annoyed, there was that sinking feeling that things would turn out badly. Dad's brain aneurysm came just a few days after what was supposed to be a routine surgery and there has long been a part of me that felt his rotator cuff fix-up led to the exploding brain.

Of course, that's just me being paranoid. A colonoscopy is a very routine procedure and anyone who needs to have one should get one. And so I waited for the phone call that said everything was cool.

So, when Mom called this afternoon and sounded like she had been crying, I felt that sick feeling again. She quickly assured me that everything was okay, which, while nice, could mean anything from "the house burned down with Pope Benedict and 12 school children inside" to "I baked a very good batch of cookies today."

Fear not, though, all was well. She hadn't been crying. She'd been laughing. Here is the story as she related it:

As Dad was coming out of the anesthesia, mom asked, "So, are you awake?" Dad didn't answer.

The nurse took a look at my old man and said, "Looks like the lights are on, but no one is home yet." And then she left.

As the nurse left the room, my dad looked up at my mom and said, "They amputated my penis."

Shocked, likely on a number of different unspeakable levels, my mom said, "What?"

So, my dad repeated himself. "They had to amputate my penis...it was too big and it kept getting in the way."

Anesthesia rules.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Dispatch from morning

The padding of the dog's feet is the first sign. Without her collar, Scoop is stealthy. Only the click of her brittle nails on the hardwoods at the bottom of the stairs is the only indication she is out of bed and out in search of known felons.

The toilet flush is the second sign. This suburban home, built in the early 1990s, is outfitted with poorly-insulated PVC piping that makes a simple 2am pee-flush sound like the Greenville Water system just went tits up.

And then comes the final sign. It's the soft footsteps on the upstairs bedroom floor that are a sure sign the wife is awake. Painfully awake.

The signs are all in place. It's late and Mt. Willis, for better or worse, is awake.

Me? When the hour passes midnight, I'm watching rerun TV and buried in one of many ethereal Internet endeavors. Cashing in on poker, reading blogs, writing blogs, and seaching for some sort of inspiration.

I find it, of course. In spite of the landfills of garbage hosted on the web, there are things that make me wish I was more motivated than I am. I have a mental list of them that I'd planned to write about. But for now, my head is stuck on a guy I know who lives in the great white north. Frankly, to say that I know him is a bit presumptuous. I've met him a couple times in Las Vegas and am a regular reader of his blog. Beyond that, I only know him virtually. This month, he's laying down a few acoustic demos of his work. This particular verse sucked me in.

My name is Joe Louis, no relation to the boxer
It's a name my daddy gave, hoping it'd make me a fighter
Every bastard you can name from first grade 'til today,
Wants to say he took a shot at Joe Louis yesterday.

--Russ B.

If you're the type of person who enjoys singer/songwriter stuff, I'd encourage you to click here and then follow the link from his post to the downloads. The above verse is from he untitled Track 3, a song that I've now listened to two and half times, stopping halfway through the third listen because I thought I might cry.

See, as much as I spend my life reading and playing poker (currently my two most-active pursuits), it's music that touches me more than anything. Looking back, I think it has a lot to do with jam sessions that my dad and his buddies held in our living room when I was young. Dad played some rhythm while J.B. sung John Prine songs and Dave harmonized. Uncle Mike drank Miller Lite from a six-pack cooler and would occasionally strum along.

Dad eventually penciled out some chords for me and I learned to play his old Kay guitar. It took every ounce of strenth I had to push the strings down onto the fretboard of the cheap catalog guit-fiddle, but I eventually figured it out and graduated to a series of guitars. For the past fifteen years or so I've been playing on an Alverez acoustic/electric that has followed me from city to city and served as a constant companion, aphrodisiac, and friend.

Those old jam sessions bore fruit as the years went on. Dave's sons proved to be the most ambitious of musicians. The two brothers went on to form several bands that played around our hometown for years. Eventually, Sean became a daddy and settled into a regular life. Scott kept he band going and went on the road for a while with his band, Hurry Sundown. He recently played the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville and has been invited back to play again. I know many readers here aren't big Southern Rock fans, but Scott and his boys know how to play it and the few times I've seen them live, it's impossible to ignore their talent. Here's a clip of a song off their CD. Sean and Scott have been like brothers to me over the years. I miss hanging out with them.

And me? Yeah, I've played my share of music over the past 20 years. Since I learned to play guitar at age 12, I've been writing music and singing on back porches all over the place. Most recently, I spent a night pounding out sing-along tunes around a New Year's Eve campfire Unle Ted and a girl whose girlfriend I feared might beat me up. Before that, it was an early-morning post-Bradoween drunk session with Iggy and Daddy (not my Daddy, but Daddy nonetheless), during which my voice had been reduced to a croak and I couldn't play a lick due to my insobriety.

It used to happen a lot more, back in the days before kids and sobreity were bigger issues. Daddy recently penned a dirty little song that makes me wish he lived a little closer than Hilljack, Indiana.

Can I pay you back in inches?
I promise I'll take my time
And if it don't fit, I won't force it
'Cause you're such a good friend of mine


And so, these are the things I think about when I finally force myself to bed at 4am. The wife looks at me like I'm the devil in the form of insomnia. She has problems sleeping when I'm skulking around the house. She further disapproves of my late-sleeping that results from the late nights. I'm hoping to find some way to correct all of it, but for now my biorhythms and body clock are working against the regular world.

The other night, my wife looked at somebody on TV and said, "Some people just shouldn't leave the house."

Without thinking about it much, I replied, "Yeah. I might be one of those people."

Without blinking, she said, "No, you need to get out more."

Somewhere in my ever-widening hermit persona, I guess I agree with her. The only question I can't answer is..."where the hell am I supposed to go?"

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Save BG

Pauly, ever the altruist, had started up the bandwagon again and, again, I'm hopping on. A friend of ours who supports the blogging community with irreverent and deeply personal tales of discombobulation has gone under the knife.

Boy Genius, featured on the left under Gambling Blues, is giving new meaning to the most mis-used of all punctuation marks. He's also taking quite a hit in the bankroll as a result.

If you're a Friend of BG or just have some spare cash around, check out Pauly's post on how you can help a buddy out.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Gall of Vestigial Organs

Uncle Ted--neither an uncle, nor named Ted--had worked himself up into a lather. With the echoes of a cement garage floor giving him the extra reverb he needed, he launched into a sermon unlike any ever heard at Mt. Willis. If he hadn't been half-Jewish (and, as such, on his way to another half-day Jewish holiday) and white as bleached bone, I would've mistaken him for a black Southern Baptist preacher.

"I had the gall," he shouted to his lawn care equipment congregation, "to have another bladder. I had the gall bladder!"

Five minutes earlier, we'd been discussing the location of the spleen. As any discussion of the spleen will, it devolved into a discussion of the uselessness of the various organs. Uncle Ted was beside himself.

"The spleen is not useless! It's a filter. Like Brita! Everything is bettah with Brita!"

Google served its role well and once again educated the masses. The spleen is, in fact, a filter, if not a completely necessary one. The gall bladder also serves a purpose, although, again, it's not completely necessary.

Eventually, the sermon settled to a simmer, and Uncle Ted wen back to sipping Schnapps from a coffee cup. I, however, had seen something that intrigued me. Apparently, the creationists and the evolutionists have been having a fight for, oh, around 110 years about so-called vestigial organs.

So, for an hour or so, I read about the coccyx, the appendix, whales with hip bones, and emu wings. As it turns out, the creationists are big fans of the less popular organs.

Me, I sort of live in the present. I still have my tonsils, appendix, and, as for as I know, coccyx. Despite any spritual views I hold, I'm not going to be going into surgery any time soon. If my body is bettah with the Brita, well then, so be it.

That said, people sure to argue a lot. I think everybody would be a lot better off if the organian debated featured Uncle Ted's sermons.

At least everyone would be laughing more.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

I'm your clown

I hated the idea from the moment the wife brought it up.

"The circus is in town," she said.

The circus. It could only mean a few things. First, some naked PETA supporter would be sitting in front of the Bi-Lo Center for a few weeks. Second, it would mean I would soon be spending an inordinate amount of money for an activity I did not fully believe L'il Otis would enjoy. Secretly, I harbored some feelings that the wife is trying to move the kid along at warp speed toward adulthood by pushing him into experiences he's not yet ready to enjoy. That said, then and now, I couldn't come up with any specific example of how she is pushing the kid too fast. Knowing full well that I set the rules on "Full Documentation for Overly-Generalized Criticism" in the house, I kept my mouth shut.

Still, the circus? For a 17-month old kid? If I found his most favorite thing in the world (currently, a beach ball) and offered him unlimited time with it, I guarantee he wouldn't spend more than ten minutes involved in beach ball pursuit. Three hours at the damned circus was going to be a damned nightmare.

What's more, although not a PETA guy, I'm also not a big fan of zoos and circuses (circi?). Captive animals are more often than not unhappy animals. Frankly, there are just too many unhappy animals on this planet--most of them human, but still.

And yet, I kept my mouth shut. Thirty-five bucks a pop for the cheapest available tickets? Make it happen, cap'n. Five days later, I was standing in line listening to a barker repeat the same line over and over.

"Programs! Get your programs! All the clowns and performers! You will need your program before you get inside. You will not be able to buy a program once you go inside. Free light-up clown nose with every program."

From our spot in line, I watched cranky fathers trudge to the booth and hand over--get this--fifteen fucking dollars for a thin booklet and a thirty-cent clown nose. I marvelled at the marketing machine. I looked at the kid and was thankful he was too young to understand what was going on. Just in case, I left Mrs. Otis in line and took the kid for a walk.

When the doors opened, I smelled the money coming out of the pockets. It smelled like cheap plastic toys, $10 cotton candy, and $10 snow cones. I excused myself and took a walk. I had to see how bad it was.

The lines formed within 30 seconds of the doors opening

Even I, who likes a good monkey, ain't spending $22 on one

We had arrived early to get a good close look at the clowns in the pre-show. Together, the wife and I had figured that it would be the only time in which the kid would find any joy. He's an up-close kid and we figured he would have a hard timie enjoying the real show we'd watch from the stands. Even I, family skeptic, was sure the pre-show would be enough and make it worth the $35.

In anticipation of a good time

It was at the sight of the first clown that the kid lost it. A low whine started in his chest and worked its way up to his throat. The clown with the blue hair was apparently too much to handle. And, in case you haven't been recently, you can't turn around at the circus without running into a fucking clown. Hip-hop clowns, karate clowns, regular clowns, and irregular clowns.

Tears of a clown-hater

And therein was the conflict. Part of me felt quite superior. Internally, I had predicted masive failure and the wholesale waste of $100. This early fear and crying was proof I was right, I thought. However, more than wanting to be right, I had suddenly started to hope the kid would enjoy the moment. Watching his lip tremble made me sad.

Discouraged, we sat down in the middle of the floor and did all we could do--pose for a picture

I never thought the Chinese would save the moment. I like the Chinese. They give me good food. But, I don't count on them to perk the kid up. Thankfully, they are nimble little guys and Barnum and Bailey have picked up a ton of Chinese acrobats. At the end of the pre-show, those little Chinese guys turned the corner for us.

Suddenly, the kid was interested. We found our way to our seats (remarkably good for being the cheapest the old lady could find). For the first time as a parent, I found myself watching my kid's face more than I was watching the main event. As the lights and noises met his face, his reactions were better than anything in the circus ring (although, the motorcycles in the big metal sphere came in a close second).

For the next hour, the kid clapped, ooohed, ahhhhed, and danced. He nayyyyyyed with the horses, squealed with the elephants, and whistled at the birds. An hour passed before the first act ended and confetti started shooting into the air around us. Before long, it rained down on us and as I looked up at L'il Otis, I declared--if only to myself--that I was wrong.

I hate being wrong. It's among the things I work hardest not to do. It's an ego thing, I suppose. Nonetheless, when it comes to being wrong about whether my kid will be happy, I'll do it every time if it means I get to see him like he was yesterday.

Just don't tell Mrs. Otis, okay?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Never buy a house

Joan was an attractive blonde woman in her 40s, married to a school board member, and was an agent for one of the top real estate firms in town. I'll admit wondering what she looked like naked.

"A little TLC is all this house needs," she said.

At the time, I didn't ask, "A little?"

The carpet was smurf blue. The room I'd eventually call my office was sea foam green with Mickey Mouse borders. The bathrooms were carpeted.

And yet, just a few weeks later, I went into an amazing amount of debt to call the house "Mt. Willis." It would be a total of six months before I'd not only stopped wondering what Joan looked like in the buff, but would've kicked her out of bed for eating crackers.

A little TLC my tender-loving ass.

Mt. Willis is a suburban tract home built on .67 acres on the corner of a street named after a hard-to-spell local lake. The neighborhood, unlike a lot of the newer neighborhoods, still has a lot of old trees. My yard has some 70-foot sweet gums that I both love and hate. The people of the neighborhood are good middle-class folk who walk their dogs, stroll their kids, and like to have parades to celebrate holidays.

Nearly six years later, the office is a dark shade of green. The carpets have bene replaced twice. Nearly every room in the house has been painted. Most of the light fixtures and kitchen appliances have been replaced. What's more, the yard has been completely re-landscaped.

To be fair, it's not for a lack of effort. My wife and I have done more than our fair share of work to make this house our home. Still, it's a never-ending process that grows more daunting every day.

If I had a few minutes to kill, I might go over to Joan's house and pour diesel fuel on the woman's lawn.

My wife, love her as I do, can spot a fault in the dark. Tree looks sick? It's likely dead. Dark spot under the car? Something must be tragically wrong with the engine. Dishes not completely clean? Time for a new dishwasher.

That said, I'm opposite to a fault. Unless something is broken to the point that it might kill someone, I typically ignore it. I rationalize this by saying I'm tired of pouring more money into the house than we will ever get out of it should we decide to sell. In reality, I'm just lazy. I operate on an unfortunate maxim: If it ain't REALLY broke, don't fix it.

So, for the past year or so, Mt. Willis had struggle to stay in good repair. The back door had started to rot due to water damage. Mrs. Otis complained about it for a year before I finally gave up and had someone put in a new door. The old appliances struggled and struggled, Mrs. Otis complained and complained, and finally I succumbed and bought a new dishwasher and flat-top stove.

When it's all said and done, I'm usually always pleased with the result. It's nice to have good stuff around. Of course, as of last night, we reached a breaking point. It's the point at which her complaints and my laziness collided with the stark reality that our house needs about $10,000 in repairs. The window frames are rotting. The front door facade is rotten. The garage door is rotten and oddly-askew. What's more, a recent ice storm damaged some of the guttering on our house and now one corner of the house is not properly-fitted to handle downpours.

It's now been about 17 hours since the various fronts collided and turned into a rough little storm. There wasn't much yelling, but I wish Joan had been there because I could've used a punching bag a couple of times.

Now, I've had some time to reflect and I have come to an admission.

I can't fix anything.

This is a not-so secret secret among the people I know. My neighbor just re-tiled his entire kitchen. My brother re-did his entire house--by himself--knowing full-well that he was going to move in a couple of years. Uncle Brian, a good buddy from St. Louis, can build anything and fix anything.

Me? I once tried to fix a leaky toilet, broke it, tried to fix it eight times over a week, and then hired a Home Depot plumber (under the table, by the way) to install a new one. Another night, the night my penis fell off, my pipes froze and exploded. I called a plumber again.

In fact, in scanning the archives of this blog, I've found no less than six instances of me calling someone to do a job I could probably do myself if I had any skill at fixing things.

And, so here we sit again, now with $10,000 in repairs that I could do myself for $6000 if I had the skill and self-confidence.

This brings me all back to the original point of this post. When it comes time to buy a home, don't buy on the spur of the moment. Unless you are very handy, don't buy into the TLC hooey. Finally, buy a house that you'll feel good about sinking lots of money into. Because you will. And that's really the point.

See, when you buy somewhere to live, it's going to cost you a lot of money and you should be prepared to feel good about spending it. The only way to feel good about it is if you don't consider it a house.

That is, never buy a house. Buy a home.

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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