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.