Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fate is still in charge

I realized I missed putting this column on last week.

All of us look at our lives as very complex things. Blood, sweat, and tears have all been expended to get us where we are. There is planning, worrying, re-arranging and more planning. We all have goals, hopes, and dreams. Goals, hopes, and dreams change as we age. When I was ten years old I wanted to be the next Ed Podolak. (If you know who Ed Podolak is give yourself twenty-five bonus points.) When I was twenty I wanted to be the next Steven Spielberg. Now that I am forty-three I want to be the next in line at Dairy Queen, some goals are more achievable than others.
I had no idea five years ago I would be writing a humor column once a week for an honest to goodness newspaper (how many readers just looked over the top of the newspaper and commented to their spouse “Oh, he’s trying to be funny.”). I had no idea ten years ago I would be an assistant principal at an intermediate center (heck, ten years ago I had never heard of an intermediate center). Fifteen years ago I would not have guessed I would have three children (there are times each week I look into the back of the minivan with mild shock). Twenty years ago I would not have thought I would be a happily married man (most every woman I knew twenty years ago would have gotten a good giggle out of the idea as well). Every one of those things may never have come to pass if my father hadn’t shaved off his mustache on a fateful night in 1967. More on that later.
We first get our educations. Some have a diploma from an institution of higher learning. Some people earned that diploma with hard work and tireless intellectual curiosity. Some people earned that diploma by writing the tuition checks, showing up in class on a semi-regular basis and consuming large amounts of cereal malt beverages with friends. (Since my mother reads this column I would like to go on record and say I was somewhere in the middle of this work/play college student continuum.)
Sometimes it is not what you know, but rather who you know that makes the biggest difference. If I knew George Clooney I would be more likely to get my screenplay made into a multi-Oscar winning motion picture. I don’t know George Clooney. I do know the morning disc jockey on KSSH so I can get an Elvis at Eight song dedicated to my daughter. Which is more important, really, the excited face of my nine year old girl hearing her name on the radio or the fame of writing a smash hit movie? It’s a no brainer. I want the fame. I’ll buy her her own stupid radio station after I cash the checks.
Actually, we put too much stock into what we do on purpose to make our lives what we want. Things just happen. Back to my father and his mustache. He was the city manager in McCook, Nebraska. The town was celebrating some sort of centennial and many of the men in town had grown facial hair to look more pioneer-like as they drove their cars around town wearing suits. (I didn’t say it made sense I just said they were doing it.) He had a job interview with the Hutchinson, Kansas city commission. He drove into town a day early, that night in the hotel he decided he’d shave off his mustache. It turned out the commission was a little split on who to hire. They chose my father on a three to two vote. Later he had a discussion with the lone woman on the commission. She had voted for hiring him. He told her he had had a mustache. Her response was she wouldn’t have voted for him if he had shown up with a mustache, after all it was 1967 and hippies had mustaches.If my father had not gotten the job in Hutchinson I would not have met the friends who were so influential in my youth. My sister wouldn’t have worked for the museum in town and fixed me up with the cute assistant curator. I would not have married her. I would not have moved to Dodge City. I probably would not have become a teacher. If I was never a teacher there is no way I would have become a principal. If I wasn’t a principal I wouldn’t have given a certain young man an entire week of recess detention. So there is at least one person who wishes my dad had lost the stupid razor.

That's not sick, that's funny

Everybody at my house is sick. Usually what happens in a family of any size is people take turns. The five year old drags some malicious germ home from the playground jungle gym. He rubs his nose on a variety of household surfaces before his symptoms become obvious enough to warrant quarantine in his room. Just as he starts bouncing around, the nine year old sister is the next to fall. She covers her mouth every fourth sneeze. On the other sneezes she sends a scatter pattern of bacteria like a shotgun loaded with ten million pellets of poison. When she starts feeling up to pestering her little brother again, the teenager succumbs to the insidious microbes. Since he whines as often as he talks no one has any sympathy for him until he has thrown up more than an entire fraternity on St. Patrick’s Day.
The mother, by now, has spent so much time medicating, soothing, feeding, cleaning, calming, and tucking in all the victims she starts to feel a little queasy. Before you can say, insurance co-pay, she has a fever and the energy of a three-toed sloth on Quaaludes. This is when the father puts on his jacket to head to work making some crack about he wishes he could stay home all day in bed watching television. At this moment the only reason he isn’t spending the weekend in a hospital bed watching his heartbeat represented on a tiny screen is his wife cannot get out of bed.
It is just one of the many injustices in life. After about the age of two a person is not allowed to stay in bed all day without being accused of being a lazy no good bum. The only way one can get away with it is if he or she has symptoms including, or even combining, pain, violent gastro-intestinal episodes, and/or coughing fits requiring the wearing of a truss to avoid permanent injury.
Different people have very different styles of being sick. When I am sick I pretty much want to be left alone. Occasional words of pity are welcome, but otherwise other people in the vicinity just annoy me. It may be true that other people in the vicinity annoy me when I am not sick, but in my weakened condition I don’t have the restraint to avoid telling them to buzz off when I am unwell.
Being a stoic person has come to mean someone who does not show emotion. There is a sort of continuum of stoicism for people dealing with being sick or any kind of pain. This range has to do with what it takes to elicit emotion.
Category #1 – Very Stoic: These people can step on a LEGO left on the floor at two o’clock in the morning and not only avoid yelling loud enough to wake the neighborhood but they don’t even dance about like a hyperactive Pip. They go to work with a high fever, stomach cramps, and a migraine. While showing admirable toughness without complaining these people need to be dragged back home and tied to their beds before they can spread germs to innocent bystanders. Just because you’re so tough doesn’t give you the right to transport your virulent body into my personal space.
Category #2 – Rather Stoic: These people cuss when hitting their thumb with the hammer, but only use words permissible in PG-13 movies. When sick they admit it but do not advertise it to anyone and everyone. They are capable of whining, but only to their spouse in hopes of getting a foot massage.
Category #3 – Stoic, Schmoic, I want some Sympathy: These people limp like Zola Budd running on a bed of broken glass if they so much as have a grain of sand in their shoe. An indication that they may have a predisposition to one day get mildly unwell causes them to whimper like a puppy. A hangnail elicits a trip to the emergency room because cutting it off with no anesthetic whatsoever would amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Category #4 – Mock Stoic: These people may be the most annoying. They make sure you know they have something wrong with them, like a strained muscle. Then every time they move they make little noises. When bystanders ask, “Are you okay?” The Mock Stoic carefully places a half grin half grimace on his face and says, “Oh, I’m fine really. It only hurts when I sit down, or stand up, or lie down, but I’m okay.” It is my opinion these people are fair game for a poke in the eye so they can experience real pain.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Chooing Well is Important

There are a whole lot of reasons I made the right decision about who to marry. A story may best illustrate one reason. A husband and wife are preparing to go out. Questions all husbands fear are usually in the offing in this situation. You know the ones. The most innocuous one (How do I look?) can be answered without fear, if the husband thinks it through. However, there are more insidious ones. Such as: “Does this make me look fat?” This question is in the lightning round of the “You Bet Your Wife” game show, because the speed at which you answer is more important than the actual answer. The miniscule pause you use to carefully select your words is just long enough for your lovely wife to fetch a pillow and the scratchiest blanket in the house to make up your bed on the den sofa. This is where I can prove I chose the right woman to marry. She does not ask these questions. It turns out she has a very good reason for not asking me such questions. She doesn’t value my opinion.
That may sound a little rough, but it is quite the right frame of mind. She does care what I think about things, but not things I know nothing about. I mean really, I wear white athletic socks at all times and wore grown-up man dress shoes for my wedding but that may have been the last time. So, am I really the person you want to guide your fashion choices? Probably not.
Remember the line of clothing for children that had special labels to help kids create matching outfits. If little t-ball star Tommy can get a shirt with a “cute lion” on the label and then a pair of shorts with the same “cute lion” he knows Mom will not cringe has he runs out in the neighborhood to play. Many grown men, myself included, could use similar help. The guys in marketing would have to lose the cute little zoo animals used for coordinating the outfits. The icons should be more manly. If captain of industry Thomas removes a shirt from his closet with a “’67 Mustang Fastback Shelby GT500” and then finds a pair of slacks with the same car he knows his wife will not cringe as he heads out to work in the big city. I might be on to something here. How about we market clothes for teenage boys? The symbols used could be a pair of “Jessica Simpsons” makes an outfit. (There is a joke there when referring to a pair of “Jessica Simpsons,” but I will leave that up to the individual reader to finish.)
Another reason I obviously made the right choice is she has absolutely no expectations that I be adept at fixing things. Some men have the knack to take broken things and make them right again. These faith healers of small appliances and household fixtures amaze me. Simply by laying hands upon the afflicted component of the house these Bob Villa meets Oral Roberts guys are greatly useful. I like duct tape and everything but I have no imagination for the million and one uses a real man has for it. The one true indicator proving I am not a Mr. Fix-it has to be I do something which no self-respecting handy man would ever do: I read the instructions.
An excellent example of my lack of handiness happened years ago when we lived in an older house. There was a big downpour of rain. We had had a problem with moisture in the basement in the past so I decide I need to be a guy and investigate the situation in the little concrete room which housed the furnace and the hot water heater. When I got down there I realized I was not equipped to handle the situation. There was quite literally a stream of water coming from the wall. It looked like an above ground pool had sprung a leak. The water was squirting into the room from an eighth inch hole in the wall. I stared at it for a moment or two, and I then sprang into action. My “a screwdriver has something to do with orange juice” instinct came into play, and I did the only thing I knew how to do. I stuck my finger in the hole. This would have worked to, if I never wanted to go anywhere again for the rest of my life. My wife came downstairs after noticing I had not returned to the living room. She then did something that also proves we are a perfect couple. She started to laugh…hard.