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Monday, July 30, 2007

Life Lessons from Curious George

I guess it first hit me when Curious George wandered into the park, climbed into a dump truck, and unloaded a couple tons of fill dirt into a duck pond.

I was sitting next to my kid. He was uncharacteristically quiet, his eyes characteristically wide, and his mouth set into his daddy's thinking, open-lipped pause. I stole a look to gauge my kid's reaction. He blinked, but that was about it.

If I hadn't become so effin' good at controlling my effin' mouth, I would've muttered, "What the fuck? This monkey is a fucking menace to society."

Li'l Otis grandparents were good enough to buy him two full volumes of Curious George stories. There's a red one and a blue one and they are the boy's first pick nearly every night before bed.

"How about the red one?" he says. "That'd be a great idea!"

I never fail to accommodate him, because it's either that or read about the soft little lamb and watch my boy lovingly fondle the soft felt laid into the pages. You know, a daddy's gotta watch out for felt fondling.

Over time, I've gotten to the point to where I know the stories almost as well as the kid. Some of them are okay. When Curious George laments his small size and dreams he is big, he learns that being big is sometimes as bad or worse than being little. However, most of the time, Curious George is engaging in high stakes, high risk, highly anti-social behavior.

Take, for instance, the time Curious George went to the train station, escaped from the Man in the Yellow Hat (as is his little monkey-assed wont), climbed up on the train schedule board and started re-arranging track numbers and times. In 2007, that's terrorist activity and if caught, George would've ended up in a monkey version of Gitmo. Of course, in the story, George ends up saving a kid from running onto the tracks and his indiscretions on the Big Board are forgiven.

If that doesn't do it for you, the list goes on and on. From jumping irresponsibly on the bed so he can see himself in a mirror, to running amok in a toy store, to ruining a major city's parade, George does it all. And, of course, at the end of it all, George is always forgiven. In a lot of cases, if he were a man, he would at the very least have his ass kicked and at the worse would be hung in town square.

I guess George's wide-eyed curiosity can be a little endearing. There's no evil in his heart. He's not fucking everything up in an effort to hurt, spite, or otherwise piss off his fellow primates. He's simply curious. His atavistic mind gets the better of him.

At the same time, I think there are people in the head-shrinking world who would say The Man in the Yellow Hat, Mrs. Gray, and and the whole lot of saps in George's little fantasy town are no more than a flock of enablers. The more they forgive George, the more he fails to understand how his reckless, feckless attitude toward life tends to screw up the lives of people around him.

Now, as a guy who tends to lead a reckless life and is often forced to ask for forgiveness more than he asks permission, I can relate to the little monkey. I've been promising to grow up for...eh...about ten years now. Every time I think I'm out, well, I pull myself back in. To this point, I've been pretty lucky to have parents, a sibling, friends, and a wife who have been willing to forgive my indiscretions. Maybe someday I'll find a way to stop being a monkey.

This, however, is not about me. It's about my kid. While I've been a little glib here, I actually wonder if Curious George is a good every-night read. Sure, they are good stories to teach forgiveness and they have stood the test of time (if you didn't know, the authors were Jews who fled Germany at just the right time). However, I feel like I'm justified in being a little concerned that I'm teaching my kid that it's okay to give in to boredom's advances and expect forgiveness when it's all said and done.

I can't say I've seen any hard evidence that George is rubbing off on the boy any more than Handy Manny or Bob the Builder are. However, my kid is about as curious as they come and tends to find a way to get in trouble in what most parents would consider a trouble vacuum. I am not as quick to forgive as the Man in the Yellow Hat, but, I have to admit to being a little soft sometimes.

Tonight, as I laid on the floor, watched TV, and made an effort to stay out of trouble, my wife heard the kid still rustling around in his bed.

"He's still awake," she said, the frustration in her voice more than a hint.

I thought about my countless nights, awake in bed, tossing back and forth under the covers. "He's his father's son," I muttered and turned my head back to the re-run.

In Curious George and the Dump Truck, the dump truck drivers run back and prepare to tear George a new one for dropping their landscaping dirt into the pond. However, when some kid notices the ducks are using the dirt as their own personal sunbathing island, the dump truck drivers say (and I'm paraphrasing a little here), "Well, hell yeah. That's right. I'll be damned. That little monkey deserves a medal for climbing into the cab of our truck, fucking around with machinery he doesn't know shit about, and potentially ruining the ecosystem of an entire park!"

Of course, I believe in forgiveness. What's more, I like to believe in the old "all's well that ends well." However, it's a fine line between being a nice dad and being the Man in the Yellow Hat. In short, I'm raising a kid, not a monkey, and I think I owe it to him to teach him early on that most dump truck drivers aren't as nice as the guys in the park.

And most of the ducks aren't going to see the spilled dirt as an island.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Martinis and Moon Landings

Updated with monkey goodness below

I am acquainted with the bottle.

I'll let the shock you're feeling subside before I move on. Better now? Good.

I am familiar with just about every kind of drinking. In my sixteen or so years of spending time with the drinking lot, I've drank to get drunk, drank to feel better, drank to have fun, drank to keep myself from having fun, drank to celebrate, drank to mourn, and drank to just drink.

Since I left the service industry lo so many years ago, I've never had a job that required much in the way of dexterity or operating anything that could be described as heavy machinery. I once worked at a Tex-Mex joint called "El Chico" where the waiters would drink, come in hungover, pop a couple of uppers, get too speedy, smoke a bowl they kept hidden in the drop ceiling tiles in the bathroom, then pop a couple more pills to keep them up for the day, then start drinking beer from coffee cups during the end of the dinner rush. Then they'd go out and get drunk. Me? I stayed sober during my shifts. I was clumsy enough as it was and tended to spill multiple drinks on the same people during the same sitting.

Once I got into TV, I never drank on the job. I never knew when I'd be required to be on TV and acting like I knew what I was talking about. I can only think of one time in my entire career when I even had half a buzz while on TV. I'd been at a friend's house playing guitar and drinking a few beers. Somebody decided to burn down a church around the same time. I only had three beers in me at the time. Still, it was the most I'd ever had in my system while on TV (and, to be frank, I turned a helluva story that night).

Now, I work in an industry where drinking on the job is a little more commonplace. Still, I don't do it that much. Sure, at the end of a long day when there is only and hour or two left before quitting time, I might sneak off for a quick end-of-day cocktail. I also might have a beer at dinner. Still, there haven't been that many times I could've been cited with WUI (Writing Under the Influence).

So, it comes as a bit of a shock to me today that NASA is going to hold a news conference tomorrow to discuss, among other things, that it allowed astronauts to fly after flight surgeons discovered they were "so intoxicated that they posed a flight-safety risk."

Reading a bit further down, I discovered there is a very conservative 12-hour "bottle to throttle" rule employed by NASA. I don't use Internetty acronyms too often, but WTF?

If you had asked me this morning how I believed NASA handled astronaut training, I would've said that every astronaut had to be clean and sober from the time they were picked for a mission up until that mission's completion. I would never have guessed that they could be in the middle of a bender at T-minus 24 hours.

And to think, these guys wanted to be my latex salesmen.

Update: But wait! Within minutes of the revelation that Dudley Moore's Arthur and Mayberry's Otis are piloting the centerpiece of American's space program, NASA has decided to shock the world by revealing someone has tried to sabotage equipment bound for the international space station! Say it ain't so!

Hell, that was a well-timed announcement. Surprised nobody bombed a Sudnese aspirin factory around dinner time. Might have been a little less obvious.

Hey there goes Elvis! Yo, King!

Update #2

There is nothing I don't like about this.

Not only is funny on its own, it also uses a picture of Whiplash, the dog-riding monkey. I first saw Whiplash at the 2004 Las Vegas Rodeo championships. Every few hours while I played poker, highlights of Whiplash would show up on the big screen in the back of the room and my brother screamed, "Monkey!" The entire room would respond, "Monkey!" It was in the Top Ten most fun nights of my life (featured in Bordering on the Adriatic).

Thanks Hurty Elbow


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Why I don't do things

A few months back, I was in St. Louis visiting my brother and some old college buddies. I stayed at Dr. Jeff's swank suburban home during my visit and did my best to ignore the fact that my brother had--after a couple of years languishing in his medical residency--had again surpassed me in the realm of financial success. After all, he's still the guy who had to endure me blowing Corn Pops belches in his face when we were kids.

When I asked for the tour, Dr. Jeff was proud and showed me around his pad. There was the completely re-done den, outfitted with a massive HDTV mounted above the fireplace, infrared remote control systems, and a surround sound system that was loud enough to scare the wadding out of my kid. Every bathroom had been remodeled. The back yard had been completely re-landscaped and outfitted with an irrigation system that would make most mansion owners jealous.

And Dr. Jeff had done it all himself (with the help off his wife, of course, but still...). Somehow my little brother had found time in between saving lives, playing poker, hanging out with his friends, tending to ill-mannered dog, and settling into a new city to turn his house into something out of a magazine.

For the love of of fuck, the little prick plumbed. He plumbed! He took me down to the basement and showed me a maze of water pipes in which he had run new tubes and experimented with some newfangled technology that only NASA and defense contractors use.

I thought back on the past ten years or so. We attended the same university and during the time we were there, he managed to develop the reputation as Crazy Smart Guy. That meant he could party as much as any of us, be as nuts as the next guy, and still managed to maintain a nearly perfect GPA and secure scholarships that paid for most of his medical school.

However, during all of it, the dude didn't own a home until he moved to the southeast for his residency. Not once during our youth or college years did I ever see him pick up a hammer, screwdriver, or NASA tubing.

Now in St. Louis together, I asked, "How in the hell did you learn how to do all this?"

He didn't really answer and only said mysteriously, "Once I did it once, it was easy."


It's no big secret. I am better at a lot of things (getting in trouble, making an ass of myself, and making bad decisions chief among them) than I am home repair. I've been known to hire Home Depot employees under-the-table and off-the-books just to avoid doing something as simple(?) as installing a toilet.

It's a source of quite a bit of embarrassment for me, to be honest. It's one thing to have my brother out-do me in the world of home improvement. It's quite another to have a list as long as Rich McGuire's manhood (long story...) of things I should've done around the house and just haven't. I've told my wife I'm too busy. I've told her I'll get to it. I've told her it's not necessary.

So, now I'm home after a summer in Las Vegas and the list is still there. The good wife is not pushing me, preferring to let me re-acclimate myself to polite society. Still, the list grows longer every day. Lattice work for the deck. Light fixtures need changing. Kitchen needs remodeled. Bathrooms need skim-coated. The list of things requiring tools other than the one I was born with is frighteningly long and enough to make me want to avoid it completely.

There is a certain clarity that comes with leaving Sin City and re-joining suburban life. It's in this moment of clarity that I came to a conclusion. It's not a fear of the unknown that's keeping me from keeping up with the Joneses.

It's a fear of failing.

My wife has had a friend and her kids in town since I've been home and that's left me a lot of time to think. The more I ruminated on my laziness around the house, I discovered that my fear of failure has pretty much handcuffed me in just about every avenue of my life. I have sat on my hands, completely paralyzed by an overriding fear that the simple act of trying will more than likely result in failing.

I don't know how all this got started, but I can't think of a time in my life in which I wasn't worried about the implications of failure. I've found about a dozen defense mechanisms (few of them healthy) that have helped me survive to this point. If it weren't for that, I'd probably be...well, I don't even want to consider it.

Here's a quick one. My wife and I decided we wanted to put some lattice on the bottom of our deck. Easy enough, right? Well, after picking out what we wanted during one fine and optimistic day, I tried to forget about it. I worried about everything from how to get the lattice home, to how I was going to cut it, to whether I'd be able install it correctly. And, so it went undone.

Looking back at the past few years of my life, I've left so many things--easy things--undone that my list of incomplete projects outnumbers my complete list by about 10-1. Perhaps the most important undone project in recent years is the 50,000 words I put into NaNoWriMo back in November 2005. Here's a snippet from the first chapter.

Sanchez was wrapped around the street sign like a performance artist in a climactic finale of “Man Loves Pole.” His black hair had fallen out of his hair net and was slicked against the sweat on his face. The tendons in his neck were taut. His eyes were shut tight. His knuckles were white. Every few seconds, as Reek stood watching in the street, Sanchez grunted a simple “Unnngh,” and started over. Reek had learned not to interfere.

After five minutes of pushing, yanking, twisting, and grunting, the street sign’s pole shifted against Sanchez’s small frame. With the care of a painter adding the final highlight to his portrait’s eyes, Sanchez turned the street sign 90 degrees, then stood back to admire his work for a second. He took off his hair net, slicked his hair back against his head, and then turned to see Reek watching.

“Bastards cemented the thing in again,” Sanchez said. “Okay, let’s go.”

Here's the thing. After I hit the 50,000 word mark, I actually liked what I had written. I told myself, "It's not finished, but I'll get it done as soon as I can."

Apart from moving the file from my old laptop to this one, I haven't touched it since. And I hate myself for it, because I know the only reason I'm not doing it is because I'm afraid to finish. Finishing means the book is open to being a failure (unpublished, un-read, un-liked, uninspiring, un-ad-infinitum).

And, so now I have this revelation. I'm not lazy so much as scared. That's a really sad thing for a thirty-something guy to admit.

I am not making myself any promises other than this: I'm going to confront failure.

This morning I woke up and did the lattice project in about four hours. It ain't perfect, but I did it.

My wife came out and approved the job. "It looks great," she said. She started to walk back in the house and I stopped her.

"I'm trying," I said.

She didn't say anything. It wasn't the silence of disapproval. It was the silence of someone who has heard me say that same thing way too many times. She's one of a few people who have believed in me--to a fault most of the time--more than I ever have believed in myself.

I looked at her, unsure whether I should say anything else. Finally, these words came out of my mouth.

"And I'm going to keep trying."


Friday, July 20, 2007

The Devil and Mr. Otis

The first time I saw him, we were outside the the elevators on the 26th floor of the Masquerade Tower of the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino. He wore a long, black, leather coat--the length intriguing because it was longer than a sport jacket but not as long as an overcoat. His hair was jet black and held a slight curl. His eyes, though, were the first things to really hold my attention. Within seconds of standing next to him and waiting for the elevator's familiar ding, I knew he would never blink in my presence. Further, I knew he wasn't looking at me. He was looking in me.

I remember the slightest of chills. The guy was probably in his mid-20s, but his eyes said he was a thousand years old. When we got on the elevator together, he stole a brief glance at my Nikon.

"You getting some good pictures?" he asked.

Those were the first words the Devil ever said to me.


I don't--or perhaps I should say didn't--believe in the Devil any more than I believe in there being a capital "G" God that runs the show. Even though I felt uncomfortable with the guy while we rode down the 26 floors to the casino, I didn't ever actually think he was the Devil. However, I thought it might make for a fun story later. I watched the Devil walk away slowly as slot machines clattered and the Rio's brimstone stunk up the joint with smoke, booze, and food.

I didn't think much about it until the next day when I started to get on the elevator and found the Devil was already there. He smiled with a row of too-white teeth and still unblinking eyes. This time he didn't say anything.

Over the course of the next week, the guy was everywhere I went. One day, he showed up at a poker tournament. I spotted the back of his head from across the room. Even though he was wearing a suit, I knew it was him. His mane of pitch-hair was hard to miss. By now, I'd grown a little wary of the guy. My little joke about the Devil had grown unto a genuine discomfort with his presence. I wanted to take a picture of him, but every time I started to aim the lens in his direction, he looked up and--again--in me. I've never been afraid to snap the shutter on a camera before. This time, I didn't. It was if I couldn't will myself to have a digital record of the Devil. By the end of the week, I avoided the guy at every turn. If I saw him walking in the hallway, I turned around or ducked into another room.

Now, keep in mind, if I were joking here, it wouldn't be the funny. If I were speaking metaphorically, it would be more than a little trite. The fact that I'm serious makes it more than a little weird.

After a few drinks one night, I ran into the guy in the hallway and couldn't avoid him. He didn't seem startled at all when I walked up and stood directly in front of him.

"Who are you?" I demanded. If I hadn't had three beers in my stomach I would never have had the courage.

The guy spit out a name and said he was from Austin. For some reason, I replied in kind.

"What do you do?" I demanded again.

His omnipresent smile grew a little wider.

"What do I do?" He still never blinked. "I guess you could say I'm a jack of all trades."

Jack of all trades? I took a step back. I was now sure the guy from Austin was either a drug dealer or, in fact, the Devil himself.

He never looked away from me, never blinked, and never stopped smiling. The rest of the conversation is lost in a wash of near-real fear. So, at the end of the conversation, when the guy asked me what I where I was headed, I further narrowed my read on the guy. He was either was a drug dealer or the Devil. Moreover, he either wanted my ass or he wanted my soul.

The Devil scared the fuck out of me and I never spoke to him again.


Lest you think I'm making this up, there are several people I told about this as it happened. They started spotting the guy for me and warning me about his presence.

During one of my last night's in Vegas, I was looking for a back way out of a convention hall. I saw a door and headed toward it. It was very late at night and I thought I saw someone sleeping. I turned around and my friend Gene was standing there.

"There he is," he said, nodding behind me.

I turned back around, and there was the Devil. I shuddered and found another door as fast as I could.

For the rest of the night, I hid. A joke and story subject--a mere character in my little one-act life show--had become an irrational source of fear. By the end of it, I was actually afraid to be alone with the guy.

The Devil knew my name. The Devil knew my patterns. The Devil knew where I was.

The Devil knew Otis. And now Otis had seen the Devil.


I'm home now and haven't left the confines of my house for the past 36 hours. Apart from taking my kid to get a haircut and maybe getting one for myself, I don't see myself leaving for a while. I know I am safe here.

I'm not saying my run-in with the Devil made me fear hell. I'm just saying that I think I've spoken with its fearless leader, I'm an easy mark for the son of a bitch, and I don't need to be pushing my luck.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Going Home

(Las Vegas) 56 Hope Road is in my ears as my plane starts to board. Appropriate, for sure, as I leave this city with a shred of sanity, three days without a meal, and about 48 hours without sleep.

Hope is what I'm taking home with me.

If I don't answer the phone or an e-mail for a while, don't worry.

I'm just busy re-building my life.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Foul play with hirsute acrobats

With limited time and limited mental acuity, I don't have time to properly explain why I'm doing this. To be honest, I don't even want to explain it. It's been a few days since someone said to me, "If I were you, I would kill myself." Since I didn't agree, I vowed to live a life bent on making sure I never said anything to anyone with such vitriol. I've done such over the past few days. Now, I'm taking it one more step. I'm vowing to make sure others feel as good about their lives as I do.

A friend of mine who is with me here in Vegas is on a quest, and far be it for me not to help him. So, I ask my meager readership here to help me. Please, if you can, use your blogs to link to the following blog with the following words.

Linked words: Hairy gymnast
Target: http://suffolkpunchpoker.blogspot.com

Please know, this is important work you're doing. Every Hairy gymnast will thank you.


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