Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Woke last night to the sound of thunder...."

Oppressive heat. What the old folks used to call "stinkin' heat." You could walk outside yesterday and cut the muggy with a knife. But you know what? I love it. LOVE it. I thump my chest and say "yeah it's hot but this is the south and it gets hot! Deal with it!" Kind of like folks from Minnesota and Wisconsin move down here and laugh at us calling any weather cold. I see hot and muggy as part of what makes us, well, US! Long days, sticky nights and lightning bugs. LOVE it!
The muggy and the hot made a nice stew for some huge thunderstorms. I enjoy those loud storms as much as I enjoy the hot. A short blast of cool and wet and the earth smells clean and looks momentarily green...a short reprieve from the scorched look it wore before the storm. As a small child I remember those loud, dark and scary storms as an opportunity to get wrapped up in a parent's ability to shield us from all evil. "It's just noise." "Listen,,,the time between lightning and thunder is getting longer..that means the storm's moving on." "Look! The devil's beating his wife! The sun is out and it's raining at the same time!" That's when a daddy is a daddy - when he's making the storm go away. I don't have any children. But I have a yellow Labrador Retriever who was less than thrilled with the loud proceedings yesterday. I wasn't paying attention 'til I walked through the living room and noticed her lying between couch and coffee table. All I could see were big, fearful, begging, brown eyes. "Make it go away!" I stopped what I was doing and sat down on the couch and rubbed that belly 'til she was sure that not even the devil himself could get in through the back door. A belly rub and supper hitting her bowl made everything right with the world again. I felt like a daddy.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sunday night at the First Baptist Church....

I'd spent the majority of the weekend in the woods, drinking beer and smoking meat and engaged in general male camaraderie with some fellow neanderthals. It was hot and it was fun. Needless to say I needed a shower in the worst way when I got home Sunday afternoon. My bride was thrilled with the mud on the outside and the smell of sweaty men inside her Tahoe. Anyway, I got the needed shower and we proceeded to go hear her mother sing at the First Baptist Church. I figured I'd washed the dirt off of my outside and now I could go commune with the Baptists and cleanse the weekend's debauchery from my soul (there's "Power In The Blood!")
My mother-in-law sings with a group called The Silvertones. They're a group of senior citizens that sing old-time gospel sort of music. My grandfather used to call them "singings." I reckon that's what I went to this Sunday night - a "singing." It's a huge choir - a hundred or so folks. I don't remember the names of many of the songs...doesn't matter. The music's not what I took away from the evening. A little background...
I've documented well some of the wars I wage with my own mind. I've drastically changed my body over the last two years but my state of mind is still short-circuited from the years spent in poor self-image and lack of self-esteem. With the weight gone I now find a variety of other things to seriously dislike (even hate) about myself. Mostly my lack of (what I deem) success in any one area. I've tried a thousand things. Failed at most of 'em. I now sit here forty-six years old, pretty much convinced that the best of times are gone. I've missed any opportunity at making my life notable beyond taxes and a mortgage and I'm fairly convinced my wife regrets the decision she made to walk down that aisle thirteen years ago.
I've got a big step I want to take and not discussed with many folks - a magazine the concept of which was born in my head some fifteen or sixteen years ago. 'Course then I wanted it to be a hard copy publication. In the last year I've come to realize that most publications I read are online magazines. Hence the notion of this magazine once again has life in the corner of my mind where I keep dreams (that corner is getting smaller and smaller.) I've even been offered assistance from a very talented relative who can assist with web design and all the stuff I know nothing about. He says my concept is good and we ought to run with it. His youthful exuberance should be rubbing off on me. To some degree it has. But I live in paralyzing fear that if I give this a shot and it goes nowhere it'll join the list of dreams that became duds. And, looming large, we're back to that number - forty-freakin'- six. Why start something at this age? I'm staring at fifty and starting to hear peers whisper about retirement plans. So really what's the point of me taking this leap now? Life's half was a helluva ride. Just enjoy your morning coffees, your afternoon martinis and baseball. Start eating dinner at 4:00 in the afternoon and marking bowel movements on the calendar.
But then there stood those Silvertones, singing and smiling Sunday night. Their average age is 74. They've raised families and had careers. It would be easy to say their best years are behind them. But in talking to them I realized that, for them, every year is the best year. As long as there's breath in their lungs their journey continues. They're leaving Sunday for a tour, taking their songs on the road. There's musicians in their midst, learning new instruments and expanding their repertoire. There's one woman who writes and is constantly working on new stories. One fellow stood up to give what I reckon they call a "testimony." (I grew up Methodist..if somebody stood up in church it was to announce what to bring for covered dish or how much registration fees for softball would cost...I don't remember "testimonies.") This fellow is a retired Marine - in his early 70's. He still looks the part - tall and lean and cut like he lifts weight daily. However he has now found the one foe that even a bad-ass Marine can't conquer - bone cancer. He told us best-case scenario was four years. He didn't cringe at the thought, though - he stood there with a smile on his face and told us that if all he had was four years he was going to make it a very busy four years for him and his wife. When the words left the doctor's mouth I would've quit - he got excited about how they were going to spend the time that was left.
It's just not fair - I'd talked myself into quitting..and here are these folks making me ashamed that I'd let a defeatist attitude creep in again. I reckon forty-six isn't so old. I reckon I need to go to more "singings."

Friday, April 30, 2010


Somewhere in the middle of the night in the middle of middle Georgia - near Thomaston, I think - I realized that I probably shouldn't have been driving. My fever was getting higher by the minute. I was shivering while maintaining a death grip on the steering wheel. It's a rare occurrence when one can drive through Georgia in the heat of summer and not run the air or roll down a window. That little Chevrolet Citation was sealed up tight as a drum because I was freezing. The right side of my face throbbed, the result of an ear infection that I'd found while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico. I started running a fever that morning and it was getting worse by the hour.
See, we'd gone back to her family's place after our beach trip but her family hated me. I don't use the term loosely.....I mean they really hated me. They hated the fact that their daughter was dating an overweight person (On prior visits to their house they'd even gone into my luggage to see what size pants I wore.) They hated the fact that their daughter was dating someone from Atlanta (which, in the minds of many folks in rural Georgia, is where all the sin on earth originates.) They hated the fact that she'd moved away from their little town in south Georgia and made plans and decisions that didn't involve them or their family business. They said she'd "changed" since she'd left home and they hated it. But most of all they hated me.
So here I was, driving through the hot night, burning up with fever not really knowing where I was going. Her family had made it abundantly clear that I couldn't stay there because "it just wouldn't look right..." No matter - I'd just about decided that I was ready to leave her and that part of my life far behind and home was the only place I wanted to be. None of my plans had worked. Everything I'd left home to accomplish had escaped me and I was going to be tucking my tail between my legs and running back home. I'd deal with all of that later. At the moment I needed some sleep and some medicine.
I'd made it to Griffin. I was finally able to pick up the Braves on the radio. The sound of Ernie Johnson's voice was the proverbial "light in the window." I was almost there. I knew that, as she was sitting in the nearly empty house that I'd grown up in, my mother was watching the game that I'd just found on the radio. She was hanging on every pitch and every at bat. For as long as I could remember she'd loved baseball and, because of her undying devotion to the hometown team, my family had sat through some awful, awful baseball. The Braves weren't always good, but they were always her team. Even before the Braves there were the Atlanta Crackers playing at the old Ponce de Leon park. She'd worked as a teenager in the old Sears building across the street from "Poncey" and had walked over to watch many innings of Cracker baseball. Even as a child she'd been taken to watch Crackers games by an old black couple that lived near her family in the mill village they now call "Cabbagetown." "Effie" and "Ham" babysat some of the mill children and often took them to Crackers games and they all sat in the "colored" section of the old ballpark. I remember hoping that I'd get home in time to watch an inning or two with her because that would surely feel like "being at home." But it was late in the game and I knew that by the time I got there she'd have the television turned off and would be lying in bed, doing crosswords and listening to the radio, catching the postgame show and out of town scores. That image in my mind was almost as comforting as actually being there.
I realized I should call. She'd be frightened if a car pulled into the driveway this late at night. The road had gone from a two lane blacktop to a 4 lane freeway now. I saw a pay phone by a convenience store and pulled in. Getting out of the car and on my feet I realized how sick I was. The ground seemed to move out from under me and I'd never quite had that sensation unless a bottle of tequila was involved.
She was thrilled to hear my voice. There was no questioning why I was coming home just elation that I was. "How much longer 'til you get here?" "Please be careful." "Are you hungry?" I assured her that I wasn't hungry but didn't tell her that my appetite was gone because I was so sick. If she knew I was driving sick she'd be on pins and needles until I arrived.
Getting back in the car I felt better already. The lights got brighter and the traffic got heavier. I was still shivering from the fever. By this time, my head was a cinder block that I couldn't hold up anymore. But finally I was in the neighborhood and being someplace where every name on every street sign conjured up a different memory of childhood friends and bike rides and touch football was an instant comfort.
When she opened the door her face went from delight to shock. "Are you o.k.??" She hugged me - "OH DEAR LORD! YOU'RE ON FIRE!! LAY DOWN NOW!" I didn't argue. I made it to her couch and collapsed. Soon, I was full of fluids and Tylenol. I tried to explain to her what I was doing home. She told me not to worry about any of that. "Just rest.....just rest..." A cold washcloth soon made it to my forehead. For the first time in weeks, maybe months I was relaxed. I actually started getting drowsy. The last thing I remember before I fell asleep was her sitting down at the end of the couch. I learned an important lesson that night - modern medicine can feed us all of the narcotics, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications they want. You can try to make the bad days better by pouring your favorite adult elixir over ice. But none of that can make you feel better as quickly as the touch of your Mother's hand on your forehead checking for a fever.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Uncle Ralph's Hands

"Where you planning on fishing tonight?" I was so taken with being allowed to drive the boat that I'd driven it right past the power lines that hung over our favorite fishing spot. I turned it around, found the power lines and dropped the anchor. The sun would soon set and our lanterns would be lit. We'd spend the evening cursing bugs, drinking coffee out of his thermos and dozens of crappie and catfish would soon be one step closer to Aunt Nell's frying pan.
When the weather turns warm, my mind returns to those summer nights spent fishing with my Uncle Ralph....back to the days before Dawson County was a suburb and you could spend a night fishing on Lake Lanier and not see another living soul. I learned how to fish. I learned how to drive a boat in daylight and dark, using the tree line against the night sky to guide you. I learned a lot of words and expressions my mother didn't approve of (how hard must a rain be before it can be described as falling "like a cow pissin' on a flat rock" ?? ) I learned how to tell by the sound of a dog's bark off in those dark woods that it wasn't just barking for the hell of was chasing something. I also learned that the wretched stench coming from those woods meant the dog wished it had chased something besides a skunk. I learned that there's lots of ways to make an honest living and it doesn't matter so much how you're making it just as long as you're making it. But I always thought the means by which Uncle Ralph provided for his family was a pretty fair measure of a man. And you could see those hundreds of days spent in hard labor when you looked at his hands.
His hands and fingers were constantly busted and bleeding. A Winston cigarette looked like a toothpick in those thick fingers. They never really looked clean because you can't wash off years of sheetrock mud and red clay. As a child, he and his hands became quite the measuring stick for me in determining how much of a man a man really was. Like I said, it was just important to him that you earned a living, not how you did it. My father made a living at a desk. I make a living in front of a laptop. But I'm still hell-bent on believing that going to bed sore every night means that you've done a good day's work...and a hard day's work is satisfying on levels that go beyond financial.
I saw him lose control of his emotions exactly once. I was 17 years old and his youngest child was lying in a hospital bed losing a battle with cancer. After hours spent by that bed he walked into a waiting room, sat in a dark corner, put his face in his hands and quietly cried for just a few seconds. I couldn't hear him crying, but I knew he was. He then wiped his eyes, lit one of those Winstons, took a few quick draws, put it out in an ash tray and returned to his dying son's bedside. THAT, I thought, is how a man handles tragedy.
Being in my mid 40's is a much stranger experience than I ever imagined. I tend to look at myself from the outside in, as if I'm watching someone else get older, not myself. In my mind I'm still 20-something and turning over a thousand things in my head I want to see and do and accomplish before my time on planet earth ends (" something like a swiss army knife..yeah, that's my life...") I'm sometimes caught off guard when I realize that I AM that person who's getting older and the death of loved ones reminds me that nothing is forever. For years my weight was the time is the antagonist. Weight I could conquer...time's a real ass-kicker. But also constantly hanging over my head is the example shown to me by men like Uncle Ralph. Men who were men, by God, and in charge and in control. I'm not quite sure I'll ever live up to the template they left me.
The last time I saw Uncle Ralph alive he was the one in a hospital bed. A ventilator was doing his breathing for him and the end was near. I took his hand to tell him I loved him and to thank him for all he'd taught me. And, though the rest of that body had turned frail those hands still felt like sandpaper, as if he'd spent that very day turning someone's patio into a sunporch or planting fifteen rows of beans.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"We are the people...."

"We are the people,
our parents warned us about..."

Being the youngest of four children meant wherever I went as a kid, I was usually the youngest one there. My parents never had the challenge of managing a barrel of monkeys like the folks I see at the grocery store (with 3 kids, 2 buggies and a boatload of headaches.) When our family went somewhere it was me and a bunch of grown folks. It never occurred to me to act like a fool because nobody I was with was ever acting like a fool. I had several templates to choose from when learning to be an adult. Problem is, I'm now 46 years old and still trying to figure it out. I don't FEEL grown. I probably don't SEEM grown. I've been domesticated by a lovely woman who probably wonders if she's bitten off more than she can chew. But I'm not playing the part of "adult" as well as the grown folks I grew up around and certainly not as well as the ones (especially the men) who raised me.
I once had an older, semi-retired coworker who made a clear point with me in the course of conversation. He got most exasperated and said "Thank Christ your generation didn't have to fight World War II!! We'd all be speaking German!!!!!!" It's not our fault we've got "the greatest generation" to live up to. Current events dictate heroic responses. The enemy was clear in 1939 and then certainly became more clear in 1941. Here in 2010 our enemies aren't quite so obvious. The enemy is sometimes wearing a designer suit with a red, white and blue flag pin on his lapel. The enemy is sometimes sitting in his basement and is one keystroke on a laptop away from hacking into our personal lives, our checking accounts or even our national security. The enemy looks like the rest of us but is a step away from hijacking a plane, planting a bomb or releasing some toxins into an air conditioning vent. Hell, I reckon sometimes we're our own worst enemy. So forgive us if we haven't assembled the Calvary and charged where angels fear to tread. We're not sure where to charge!
It was 70-something degrees yesterday. So I opened the windows, shook up a cocktail, threw supper on the grill and blasted "Physical Graffiti" from the living room onto the patio. I chuckled because the thought occurred to me that I hadn't come from very far from being 21 years old - sitting in the sun, getting baked and listening to Zeppelin (though, when I was 21 "getting baked" carried a much different it just means I need some sunblock!) My wife reminded me that I'm always the one complaining about kids in the neighborhood and their loud music. I made it quite clear that there was, in fact, a distinct difference because I was listening to GOOD music.
I'm rambling, but here's my point. I'm having a helluva time making the real ME catch up to the chronological ME. I used to find great amusement in laughing at someone who was (what I considered at the time) OLD but still wearing the same outfit they'd worn to Woodstock. Now I'm fairly certain that someday I'll be that same character...wearing a worn out Buffett t-shirt and a ratty old pair of flip flops, in dire need of cutting whatever hair I have left, my cane in one hand, a martini in the other. And some young soul will laugh at me, certain that they're never going to reach a point in life where they'll be that ridiculous.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday morning in the 'burbs......

"My friends all bought homes,
I got a crash pad with a view.
I watch suburban heroes hold their own,
and wish I had,
something better to do."

There I was running Sunday morning errands and minding my own business and she damn near ran me over! She ran right into me and started hollering at a guy on the same aisle.
"Oh my God! We just ran the same race!" I looked at the guy to whom she was risking my life to speak to and quickly wished I hadn't. He was wearing skin tight running pants of some sort. I don't know what to call those pants but they removed any doubt as to his gender. He was still wearing a sign hanging around his neck from the marathon or half marathon or whatever it was he'd run that morning. I turned and faced the mouth that was so excited to see a fellow runner and said "Excuse I in your way?" She squealed, mistaking me for someone who cared how she'd spent her morning and said "My husband and I ran that same race this morning!" And this was cause (literally)to invade my personal space and ram my posterior with your buggy? I'm fairly certain her wish wasn't just to converse with a fellow runner but to let all us sub-humans there at the grocery store know that she and the guy with "moose-knuckle" britches were really cool people! Totally!
My bride has long hated for me go to the grocery store alone. It used to be because there was always a chance of crass remarks or pointing or laughing at directed at the me and the size I used to be. Now it's because she knows I'm old and grumpy and have little tolerance for folks that think they're the center of the universe. I think the experts call it a sense of entitlement and it's an epidemic that's ravaging souls here in our suburban-minivan- tennis skirt world.
Last summer I had some young folks in wheelchairs sitting in the handicapped area of my section at the stadium. I'd gotten them and their parents set up with some programs, some chairs and some folks facing great challenges were enjoying a Sunday afternoon at the ballpark. When the promotions folks started shooting free t-shirts up into the stands I heard a woman behind me actually instruct her children to go stand IN FRONT OF the kids in the wheelchairs to try and catch one of the shirts (because, after all, a free t-shirt can quickly change one's life.) I quickly and politely removed her kids from the handicapped section. The woman was most unhappy with me. "MY CHILDREN HAVE AS MUCH RIGHT TO THOSE SHIRTS AS THOSE KIDS!" I quit being a diplomat working to establish goodwill between the Gwinnett Braves and the general public and looked this woman right in the eye and asked her "Do you really want to teach your children that it's ok to take advantage of folks in wheelchairs for something as stupid as a t-shirt?" She didn't respond but she and her children left. I couldn't tell if she was embarrassed or angry..I really didn't care.
So what do the woman at the grocery store and the woman at the ballpark have in common? Maybe nothing. Maybe I'm reaching Or maybe they're Exhibit A of a mentality that's making the world not quite as much fun to live in these days. Folks that'll risk your life and their's to get one car length ahead in a line of traffic that's not going anywhere. Folks that talk really loud on their bluetooth so that everyone else on the elevator knows how important they are. Folks that think they're, well, entitled.
Or maybe I'm just getting old and grumpy........

Monday, March 15, 2010

Acceptance? Denial? It's a fine line.....

I've not seen the movie "Precious." But what I have seen is the storm of discussion it's started in online magazines and radio talk shows about the movie's star Gabourey Sidibe. She's a very heavy person. She's also African-American. Some have discussed whether or not an African-American actress (of any size) peaks after such a noted performance (they ask if Halle Berry was at the top of that mountain when she did "Monster's Ball" and it's been downhill from there?) A lot of the dialogue, however, deals with Gabourey's size and her seemingly profound sense of self-confidence in spite of that size. Consider this article:

She's apparently caught flack because her life and personality off screen are very different from the character she portrayed in the movie. I was surprised to find that some folks found it offensive that someone so happy played a character that was so sad. Huh? Was anyone offended by Anthony Hopkins' performance in "Silence of the Lambs" given the fact that he isn't actually a cannibal? What surprised me more, however, was that folks are amazed that someone who has such obvious physical issues can be that confident and apparently love themselves so much. It goes back to a very trendy catch-phrase in our "Starbuck's/send me a text and we'll do lunch/I'm going to tell everyone on Facebook how perfect my life is" world....that trendy phrase is "size-acceptance."
"Size acceptance" is a movement. "Size acceptance" is a mindset. "Size acceptance" is the basis on which social groups have been formed. "Size acceptance" has, for a long time, confused the hell out of me. I see every end of that spectrum. I've been on the inside of this issue but, though not at my ideal weight, I'm no longer considered morbidly obese. When I was morbidly obese, however, I had no desire to accept weighing as much as I did. I bemoaned every step I took that hurt my knees. I noticed every stare I got in public. I went years without attending a baseball game because it wasn't physically possible. I avoided contact with children because they were the worst about pointing and laughing. I slept terribly because huge amounts of weight damn near suffocated me if I was lying the wrong way. I sat in job interviews and knew that I didn't have a snowball's chance of getting the job because the person doing the interview was looking at me as if someone had just dumped a pile of garbage right in the middle of their office. I once had an oral surgeon (a really grumpy, older gentleman) tell me that the reason I was having such intense pain in the right side of my face was because of extra weight hanging off my neck. A week later I went to a different oral surgeon (who looked like he was about 15 years old...the ink wasn't yet dry on his diploma.) Without taking so much as an x-ray he looked in my mouth and saw a tooth that needed to come out. Pain gone. The old guy was one of several doctors I saw when I was that large who had no desire to find any reason for any symptom other than my size. That's but the tip of the proverbial iceberg of my life as an overweight individual. Why would I want to "accept" anything about any of that?
But it's complicated. I do think it's important to not let your weight define you. Self-confidence is important, no matter your size. However, I fear that a lot of this "size-acceptance" is an opportunity to deflect the matter at hand. Instead of admitting the problem and realizing that there's every good reason to do something about it, it's easier to say "I love myself this way! I'm big and beautiful! If you don't think so go screw yourself!!!" I didn't love anything about myself when I weighed over 500 pounds. My biggest motivator in having bariatric surgery and losing a lot of weight was the realization that my life was about to be drastically shorter. A doctor looked me in the eye and, with all sincerity, told me that I'd never see fifty years old. And, even though I didn't think enough of myself to change, I couldn't bear the thought of making my wife a widow in her forties when there was something I could do to keep that from happening.
I don't intend to come across as someone who's lost a lot of weight and is now overly-critical of those who still need to do the same. Truth be told, I still have HUGE confidence and self-esteem issues. The weight's gone but I've found new things to not like about myself ("my job sucks...I'm a bad wife married a loser.") I'm quite certain my attitude about size-acceptance would offend some folks. But it's not my intent to be judgemental nor demeaning. And why are size-acceptance groups always overweight folks? I would reckon the super model who eats an apple a week and makes herself vomit after every bite needs to take a timeout herself. Is she "accepting" of her ribs sticking out and her shallow face? Is acceptance actually acceptance or is it denial?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fat out....fear in............

It was a dirty, hot and thankless job. But it paid some bills and funded my stereotypical single man's lifestyle..and ultimately became the connection that introduced me to the woman I married. But my earliest memories of that huge dirty production facility was of the old oak tree by the boiler room and the mockingbird that called it home.
I'd pass by that big, old tree going up the hill to the supply warehouse where I worked and would see that mockingbird flying from nest in the oak tree to the top of the warehouse. He'd fly back and forth all day. I had a lot of conversations in my mind with that mockingbird. "Why in the hell did you decide to live in THAT tree? You like the smell of the steam coming off that boiler room? You like the sound of forklifts running around three shifts a day?" I used to think I'd be doing that bird a favor if I knocked its nest out of that tree so that it'd have to move to some body's manicured backyard and eat out of a bird feeder and it's only worry would be avoiding the neighbor's cat.
The thought has occurred to me that I'm not unlike that bird. I'm still allowing myself to be saddled with the "sludge" that polluted my life for so many years. I'm still allowing myself to set up shop in a very dark and dirty place. Bad health and morbid obesity are no longer defining me physically but mentally they've left their mark. My mind still doesn't allow itself to believe in possibilities, only in worst-case scenarios. I don't visualize success in anything...only disaster.
Case in point - over the holidays I made a conscious effort to VISUALIZE 2010 as being our year. Finances would turn around, I'd find a new job, several projects that had lived in my mind for years would now become realities. But January wasn't over before a frozen pipe exploded and caused the great flood of 2010 in the master bath and bedroom. Our house still isn't completely put back together. Now, one COULD say "look....we've got new floor and trim and paint in the bathroom and new carpet in the bedroom...all courtesy of our homeowner's insurance!" was much easier to allow my long-running soap opera "Why does God hate me?" to continue it's 46 year run.

"I tried to call my psychic she wasn't home,
I locked the door and called 'dial-a-prayer.'
Oh God please don't let me die here alone!
I'm hearing voices and I'm losing my hair!"

Yep, I wrote that gem in a stupid little song fueled, I'm sure, by a quality happy hour at some point back in my single, mullet days (yeah, I sported a serious mullet...I was most cool...really, I was!) That song ain't about much, but it does remind me that I was the court jester on the outside, living in fear on the inside. Fearful, quite frankly, that I'd never find anyone brave enough to put up with me. Fearful that I'd become the weird old guy in the neighborhood that sits on his porch pounding beers and blaring old Buffett albums out his living room window. Well, I might still pound the occaisonal beer and listen to some old Buffett, I have found someone brave enough to domesticate me and make me happy. But that doesn't mean that I'm not still allowing myself to be terrified of life in general. I'd like to say it's the big, life-changing things causing the hand-wringing. I'd be lying.
I ran into a roadblock changing out the shower head yesterday (old one wouldn't come off!) I damn near put my fist through a wall and plopped back in my recliner and resigned myself to my destiny!! (cue organ music.) I realized I'd have to just take out the entire shower arm and replace that as well. 'OH MY GOD! WHAT IF I BREAK OFF THE SHOWER ARM AT THE JOINT IN THE WALL AND WE HAVE TO HAVE A PLUMBER OUT TO CUT OUT SOME WALLBOARD AND FIX THE JOINT????" I "Google" replacing shower arm. It says it's an easy job but I do need to turn off the water source before doing it. "OH MY GOD! WHAT IF - WHILE I'M SHUTTING OFF THE WATER - I SOMEHOW BREAK THE VALVE AND THEN WE'RE REALLY SCREWED????????????????" I'd like to say I'm dramatizing the situation, but these are honest-to-God conversations I had with myself yesterday. It's the tip of the proverbial iceberg as far as my mindset is concerned.
I was warned that this surgery would change my body but it was up to me to change my mind. Easier said than done. When my bride left for work this morning she kissed me and said "Do NOT sit and worry about things all day...just concentrate on your work." Sad...I didn't know it was that obvious that I was living in fear. Is there a "brain bypass" that can allow my brain to adapt to the new physical me that gastric bypass has created?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Grandpa and Paydays

Where winter is concerned, I realize that other parts of the country have it infinitely worse. But, as winters around here go, this one was harsh...and it ain't over yet. But with March's arrival comes the hope that the earth will turn green very soon. It's going to be 65 degrees this weekend. There's a male bluebird and a female bluebird hanging around the houses in the backyard, trying to decide which one would make suitable accommodations for their new brood. There's some bush in our side yard (the name of which escapes me) that's got buds on it the size of pencil erasers, waiting to explode. The days when I can have breakfast and afternoon martinis on the patio will soon be here.
Invariably, when the weather turns warm, my mind always goes back to my childhood. Was there a time more perfect than the summers of your childhood? There were baseball games, okra and tomatoes from Uncle Ralph's garden, creeks to dam up and woods to explore. I'm fortunate to have pretty good memories of two childhood homes - some from our days in East Atlanta and some after we'd migrated to Stone Mountain. The house in Stone Mountain was full of outdoor adventures. An old dairy with old dairy houses, long ago abandoned but not yet leveled for yet another subdivision. Despite our parents' warnings we explored those old dairy houses for hours on end, back in a day when kids could stay on the run all day without parents worrying about something evil happening to them.
The house in East Atlanta sat on a busy street and I was a small child in the years we lived there, so there wasn't much exploring on my own. I had to stay, not just in our yard, but in certain parts of our yard for fear of getting too close to the street and traffic. Every time I think about that house one scenario comes front and center - walking to the Stop & Go at the corner of Flat Shoals Road and Fayetteville Road with one of my sisters on hot summer afternoons (sometimes I reckon one of 'em drew the short straw and was forced to mind the baby brother.) I'd walk down to that store with my sisters and spend considerable time trying to decide what I'd take home. Not sure why I wasted so much time trying to decide because I always chose the exact same thing - a Payday candy bar and an Orange Crush. I've eaten in some fine restaurants and sampled many fine elixirs, but I'm not sure there's a more perfect pairing than Orange Crush (in a GLASS bottle) and a Payday. Pair the sweet soda with the salty peanuts on the outside of that Payday and you've got perfection. There's only one thing that taints that memory for me. An episode so heinous that it's probably best I air it here and find healing in the bringing it out of the dark recesses of my was the day my Grandfather took a bite of my Payday.
To appreciate the horror, one must first understand my grandfather. I suppose it's a sin to speak ill of the dead, but he was a grumpy, miserable, dirty cuss of a man. I know most folks have a lot of warm, fuzzy memories of their grandparents. Unfortunately being a "late blessing" (Mother's words) I didn't have a relationship with my other grandparents - they were either deceased or in bad health by the time I came along. All except for Grandpa - my father's father. He lived in a basement apartment in our house. I can remember being frightened to go down there. It was dark. It was dirty. Had a really funky smell going on down there as well. With God as my witness he had dust on the bar of soap in his shower because he seldom bathed. My father took him in and took care of him because it was the right thing to do, but I never got the sense he really loved his father. There was a big picture window in our house on Fayetteville Rd. I used to have a recurring dream that I'd wake up in the middle of the night and go in the living room and my grandfather was out there staring in that window making mean faces. I mean this man scared me out of a year's growth.
So now that you understand my grandfather let me tell you about "the day." I was heading down the driveway and didn't see Grandpa leaning up against the old '64 Ford in our driveway. "Where you going boy?" (I honest to God can't remember him calling me by name...I was always "Boy.") I told him I was going down to the store. He reached in his pocket and gave me a hand full of change. " you something." I nearly fainted! An act of compassion from this man that haunted my dreams! I headed off to the Stop & Go thinking life had just taken a dramatic turn! Upon my return to the driveway - with the cherished Orange Crush and Payday - the old man was still leaning against that old Ford, watching traffic go by. "What did you buy?" he growled. I showed him. He said "Gimme a bite!" I hesitated...for a split second I hesitated and he snapped at me "I bought it dammit! Gimme a bite!!" So I unwrapped the Payday and handed it to him. He took a huge bite of perfection and handed me back a candy bar now covered in snuff juice and old people spit. I ran around to the corner of the house and into the backyard, I ran way behind the dog pen and to the edge of the woods where one could cut through to the football field at East Atlanta High School. I threw that damn candy bar as far as I could. If the squirrels and possums wanted to eat a Payday coated in snuff spit they could have it. I sat down on the patio, cried and drank an Orange Crush that was the only salve to that wound.
I noticed the other day at the grocery store that Orange Crush is now also Peach Crush and Grape Crush. And they all come in plastic bottles. And it's been a long time since I ate a Payday. I should just let them be at this point and remember them the way God intended them to be - in glass bottles and without the snuff spit.

Monday, February 22, 2010

13 years..........

So as I'm famous for doing, I've fired up the grill this afternoon to cook my bride some dinner. Only today is not any we celebrate the day we said "I do" at the First Methodist Church in Stone Mountain, GA. A little grilled chicken is not at all an adequate thank-you for all you've meant to me, but right now it'll have to do. Please just believe that I consider it nothing less than a miracle that I found someone to put up with me and all my idiosyncrasies for these past thirteen years. Idiosyncrasies doesn't quite cover it...I'm an odd character, prone to thinking way too much and letting my imagination run rampant. I'm much more interested in songs than budgets, good stories than financial planning and a day on the beach than a day at the gym. I think you knew that from the start and decided that being with a character that was one step away from being the guy you rent jet skis from in Key West was an adventure you wanted to explore.
And, as is standard operating procedure, while cooking, I've put our cd player on random and let it pick and choose from its hundred or so cd's. A strange thing happened. It landed on a bluegrass gospel cd and played "How Great Thou Art." I've told you many times that I never got to know my father as an adult, but one of my childhood memories of the man was of him driving that big '64 Chevrolet and singing. I found it odd that he would sing, given his silence around the house. And one of the songs he always sang was "How Great Thou Art." I remember, even as a small boy, thinking "wow...he's got a soul." I just saw him as the big scary person that ruled life in East Atlanta with an iron fist. So every time I hear that song I'm right back in that '64 Chevrolet.
Then, again completely at random,the very next song it landed on was Glen Miller's "Moonlight Serenade." For years I knew the day would come when every time the song was played I'd have "a moment" remembering the woman that raised me but left this life early in 2009. She loved Glen Miller and I can remember the look in her face whenever she heard those romantic melodies. I could tell the notes immediately transported her to a special place and time. I didn't comprehend it much as a child, but I do now. I've not let myself listen to that cd since she'd died because I knew it'd make me sad. But it didn't make me sad tonight. The romantic in me would like to think the choice of songs wasn't at all random. I seriously felt the presence of these two souls that gave me life and felt like they were telling me " you've done good....treat her well and tell her we love her and we're most grateful for taking such good care of you." So that's what I'm doing...thank you Rhonda Kaye. You make me believe in matches made in heaven.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Yesterday's really are over my shoulder.....

"I need to write in my blog, but I've got nothing to say." The words had no sooner left my mouth than I heard this coming from the television - "Do NOT let your yesterdays define the rest of your life." The thought was being expressed by a very tall, very fashionable and very pretty African-American woman who was singing during the end of this gospel music awards show. I was waiting on the Tech/Wake Forest basketball game but it turned out this lady had much more to offer than YET ANOTHER "L" for my Jackets'.
That really is what's holding me down. It really is what's keeping me "HERE." Yesterday. Yesterday was a lot of bad decisions. Yesterday was a lot of bad self-esteem. Yesterday was projects started and not finished. Yesterday was relationships that either should have never started or ran a bad course once they were started. But damn it all , YESTERDAY IS OVER. Not sure why I can't get that through my thick skull.
I tell my bride constantly that if I and I alone were going through current struggles I wouldn't give a darn at all. They'd be water off a duck's back. But I stood there in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and asked her dad for permission to marry her and while doing so I promised I'd take care of her. Watching her sitting and racking her brain trying to figure out how to make ends meet is not taking care of her. And every time I see that scenario playing out I think "If only I'd done things differently. If only I'd made more of myself she'd be living instead of struggling." But then I realize the greatest quandary of all - if I HAD finished this or tried that or moved here and followed that dream...I never would've met her. And, at the risk of becoming a living Hallmark moment, I really can't see the point of right now and tomorrow if she's not in it.
So I'm back to not letting yesterday define anything about today. All that matters now is the opportunity to make today and everyday from here on out better. I cannot let what's done and gone become an albatross on our lives. And, bless her heart, she knows it - she tells me this all the time. See, when we first started dating many years ago, she often scolded me for anticipating her behavior based on the behavior of former "Love Interests" (ain't that what the tabloid types call them these days? I generally call them bullets I've dodged!) Now she tells me I'm letting different aspects of my "old life" cloud every single day we have together. Things like the bad decisions and the years spent obese and unhealthy...I still live in fear of them, even if in the abstract since they're no longer around.
So my thanks to the lady on the gospel music awards the other've got me to thinking...........

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Worst Four Letter Word Ever

The preacher threw it out there like he was giving someone the time of day. Everyone else in the church was oblivious to the fury with which the word thundered into the room. Aren't they paying attention. "DID YOU HEAR WHAT HE JUST SAID?????????" It was a miracle that I was sitting in church on a rainy, cold Sunday morning. But now I'm the only one that heard the bombshell? All the other sheep in the flock were making sure the kids had something to keep them quiet and getting their hard candies lined up so they wouldn't cough during the proceedings. Yes, I alone was privy to this revelation...
"Wait." That's what he said. "Wait." It took every ounce of control in me to not stand up, approach the altar, disrespect a man of the cloth and begin a tirade the likes of which Methodists haven't seen since the Wesley brothers were saving souls on St. Simon's Island. "You want me to wait???????? WAIT?????????? I've BEEN waiting!" Better yet, I remembered a story I heard about my great grandfather and the time he got drunk and rode a mule down the center aisle of some church, right in the middle of the sermon. I briefly considered recreating that spectacle for the fine folks of Buford, Georgia but I refrained. The preacher admitted that he knew it was the one word that people who'd been praying and hoping and longing and seeking didn't want to hear. He said the hardest part of growing, reaching goals, realizing unfulfilled potential and realizing destinies is the waiting game. If that to which you aspire has not shown itself, the lessons and growth that occur during the wait are all part of the plan. My first thought? "I should've stayed in that warm bed this morning." He could've pointed his finger down at me from on high and said "TIMOTHY! BECAUSE OF YOUR PROPENSITY TO ENJOY MARTINIS AND LISTEN TO HEATHEN MUSIC YOU WILL NOT GO TO HEAVEN UPON YOUR DEMISE!!!" and I would've been less rattled.
I'm at a point in life where most of the folks around me are "there." I go on one of these "social networking" sites and, while I love catching up with familiar faces, I mostly use it as means to berate myself. I look at all these "arrived" folks, convince myself they're at the pinnacle of human existence and that I'm still a doofus. I'm still on the way. I'm really not even sure where I'm on the way to! (that's a poor sentence, I know..blogs are the home of poetic license.) Most days I don't feel any wiser than the day they handed me a diploma on that stage in the Stone Mountain High School gymnasium in June of 1981.
I love the written word. More specifically I love producing the written word. Often feel like it's the only thing I've ever done well. So surely there's the answer - write and fame and fortune and riches soon await! More importantly there will be comfort and peace of mind for the woman that has chosen to live her life with me. Then, through the aforementioned social networking site, I run across a sweet soul I went to high school with and she's written seven novels and received umpteen rejection letters. She's still waiting. I've finally gotten up the courage to begin researching a novel I've wanted to write for years. Just researching the thing is intimidating the hell out of me but the thought of actually beginning the novel is more terrifying than a mama bear backed into a corner. And then the reality that, if I finish that novel, there's going to be MORE waiting???
Part of the problem, I think, is my age. A lot of men hit my age and buy expensive toys. I hit 46 years old and started to panic. I don't want to be the Grandma Moses of whatever it is that I start next. The death of my last living parent last year exaggerated the brevity of life for me. Parents now, me next. Nothing to do but wait on a new hip and start eating dinner at 4:00 in the afternoon. Is Lawrence Welk still on? I should probably work that into my routine.
If day to day life were more comfortable right now, the wait wouldn't be so tough. The economy has negatively impacted our financial situation just like it has for many others. I'm determined to do what I have to do to change that. I sort of look at my writing as a means to that end, though I am taking other steps in that regard. Going back to school, looking for other (better paying employment.) paying off what debt we can so that more of our hard earned money is actually ours. I'm working on all of that to improve things. But, even so, it comes back to waiting. And struggling while waiting. Learning while waiting? Growing while waiting? Nah...I choose to concentrate on the negative....STRUGGLING while waiting.
I was determined this was going to be our year. I was going to approach each day with a new resolve...even courage and positivity. Then bang - the year started off with a frozen/burst pipe and a flood in one half of the house. Our $500 deductible may as well be $5,000 for us at this point. So much for that resolve and courage and positivity changing things. Now I'm WAITING on contractors and insurance adjusters to do their thing. Meanwhile we sleep in this room, while our clothes and everything else from one side of the house are crammed into that room and there's bags of shoes under the kitchen table etc..etc... "This too shall pass.." "It'll be worth the wait when you have new carpet and new flooring in bedroom and bathroom.." I've heard it all. And they're right. But it comes down to more damn waiting on things to get better. And, like I mentioned in my last post, current events in other parts of the world are huge doses of perspective and I really should buck up and take things lightly....and wait..........dammit.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Yesterday would've been Mother's 85th birthday. I celebrated the day by going to a welcome back meeting at the stadium for all of us who work for the Gwinnett Braves. I think she'd be happy with me spending a dreary, cold, rainy winter day at the stadium realizing the promise that winters don't last forever....February comes and pitchers and catchers report and then before long it's opening day. I found a piece of paper stuck in her bible one time years ago...she was always scribbling down quotes that she'd heard on the radio, in movies or read somewhere. This one said "90 feet between bases is as close to perfect as humans will ever come..." I thought about that quote yesterday and the day didn't seem so cold and dreary and rainy after all.
Our house is upside down, the result of a frozen/burst pipe that flooded our master bath, part of our bedroom and our walk-in closet. The last two weeks have been water damage specialists, insurance adjusters and contractors. I was sweating all of this to the point of making myself sick with worry...until I saw a bulldozer in Haiti pushing dead folks by the hundreds into a mass grave. Then I realized I was an evil person for letting what amounts to an inconvenience ruin my outlook on life. It's been a pain in the butt - but in a couple of hours I'll shake up my Friday evening martini and cook something good for supper. One of my favorite folks in the world got in touch with me this afternoon to discuss the possibility of running some of my stuff in her newspaper. Another friend FROM CHILDHOOD got in touch with me and is offering assistance in the possibility of finding me new/better employment. And, as I say, spring training is right around the corner. I should really just shut my mouth, shake up that martini and realize how good I've got it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

WSM and Wandering Feet

In the very early days of my life on this planet we lived on Fayetteville Rd, just up the street from a bridge that's still there and passes over I-20. From our home that lacked air conditioning (though I don't remember missing it very much) one could lie in bed and through open windows hear traffic rolling down that interstate. In those years we didn't live in a 24-7 world and the only vehicles running up and down that road in the wee hours were trucks. Lots and lots of trucks. I can remember lying there in bed and thinking that the men driving those trucks were the luckiest people in the world. There was nobody making them feed the dogs, nobody reminding them to brush their teeth and wash behind their ears and, most importantly, nobody telling them when to go to bed. In fact they got to stay up all night and drive those big, fast, strong trucks all over the place! I spent a lot of time imagining where a truck was going and what it was carrying. I liked those huge ones that had sleepers on them so that, when the need struck, a driver could pull over and take a nap. Yep, they had to be the luckiest and coolest people alive those truck drivers.
We moved out to the suburbs when I was 9 years old. I missed the sound of that highway and those thundering trucks. But my fascination with these diesel monsters stayed with me. There was soon a television show about truck drivers called "Movin' On." Had a cool theme song that got played on the radio a lot. Claude Aikens and some young blond-haired guy drove this huge, dark green Kenworth Conventional and had all sorts of adventures. This was all simultaneous with the CB craze that swept the country (remember the song "Convoy" that also became a movie with Kris Kristofferson?) It all fueled my fascination with trucks...but more specifically with folks that got to spend their life wandering.
I became so obsessed with all of this that the following became my favorite childhood game (listen closely....): I had a stool that was about the height of a bar stool in my bedroom. I would saddle it up next to the bed and get out my mama's biggest laundry basket which became a steering wheel. I had several models that I'd assembled of various models and sizes of trucks. I would sit one within sight of my perch by the bed. That would be the truck I was driving on any given Saturday night (it was always Saturday night by the way.) It was most often my model of that beautiful green Kenworth from that t.v. show! I would turn on the radio in my room and turn the dial until I found WSM out of Nasvhille. Every Saturday night - all the way from Nasvhille to Stone Mountain, Georgia - came the sounds of the greatest country and bluegrass stars performing at the Grand Ol' Opry....always brought to you by "GOO-GOO CLUSTERS!" (which I now know were born in Nashville and, during the depression, advertised themselves as "a nourishing lunch for a nickel!") I would sit on that perch driving my laundry basket for hours, usually after I knew my parents had gone to bed under the assumption that I was also in bed. Or maybe they knew that I wasn't asleep and that there were worse things for a boy to be fascinated with than trucks and out of town radio stations.
I'm still rather fascinated with huge trucks. My heart still skips a beat when I pass one on the freeway. I've always said that one day if I have enough disposable income I'm going to buy one just to work on and drive around (dear God...I AM a redneck.) But I really think the fascination goes beyond large vehicles. I think it's more about those open highways and the horizon towards which those white lines race. Surely there are adventures of unimaginable proportions awaiting there..and even if there's just more of the same my mind can't believe it's so. See, this cranium still holds the mind of a little boy. Try as I may I can't force it to match the newly sprouted gray hairs and crow's feet that are living on the outside of this body.
For too long, though, I lost that little boy's mind and grew a sad, boring mind. My years of bad health and morbid obesity were like being in a prison for me. There were no opportunities or possibilities. There wasn't a chance that things could change or improve. I wasn't going to wander and see new places and meet new people. I was stuck, the woman I love was stuck and nothing would change. Now, I've woken up in Oz and everything is in color. I can rush into this new year thinking that there are new stories yet to be told. In fact, in this new year, I'm earnestly going to begin work on a story I've been wanting to tell for longer than I can remember. It might land with a big thud at my feet and go nowhere and be read by no one. But at least I will have tried and therein will lie a great adventure. The road's wide open...I just gotta decide which truck to drive!
(as a footnote - I think it's sad when I wander through the housewares department of a store and note that the majority of laundry baskets are now square. They would make awful steering wheels.)