The Sound of Bad Music

I pulled my electric guitar out of its cozy confines of the velvet-lined case, strapped it on, plugged into the amplifier, turned it up obnoxiously high and scraped the strings with unbridled passion. The windows rattled, the dog hid, my wife yelled but I tuned her out. I plucked out a series of heavy metal riffs sounding so thick and beefy that metal heads would have saluted me with respect. I felt good, I felt primal and I loved it. For all I know, it sounded like fingernails on a chalk board but to me, I was soaring with the guitar gods.

            Non-electric guitar players won’t understand the feeling except for maybe drummers who are just as deaf but endure more verbal abuse. I pity the parents of drummers who withstand the nerve shattering pounding of beginning drumming. It probably all started when their kid received a five-piece toy drum set for their birthday that was given to them by a non-parent. The father proceeded to set it up while cussing about the person who bought it. Next thing you know the kid was beating the holy hell out of the things while the parents laughed and tried to be patient with little Johnny’s self-expression. After the cuteness wore off, the noise factor turned into a restriction on playing. This usually took three days before someone in the family lost it and hid the drumsticks.

            I enjoy listening to the dozens of instruments of a symphony orchestra. I‘m awed at the level of talent it takes to be part of this large group of musicians. I also wonder how they practice their craft. For instance, how do you practice the kettle drums? The massive beast of a drum must send the neighborhood into bellowing war chants, “Crush, kill, destroy” directed at the individual who’s pounding the blasted things. How do you practice the gong? the bassoon or the trombone in an apartment or tract home neighborhood.

            I once lived across the street from a young man who was learning trumpet. There are no walls thick enough to dampen the wretched noise from a beginner on trumpet. A month of “Three Blind Mice” was proceeded by “Old McDonald.” These were songs that every parent loved singing to their children while they sat in the backseat of the car. For me they had been reduced to torture and I would do anything to make the pain go away. I guess I can be thankful he wasn’t learning the marching band tuba, otherwise known as the Sousaphone. I can see it now; the family must put on those headphones that the groundcrew wear for directing aircraft and the Chrystal glassware must be secured. In addition, the poor kid who is learning marching band tuba is never going to impress the girls on talent show day.

            The children that learn stringed instruments such as violin, viola and the cello can find notes that can make a screeching cat fight sound good. There seems to be a very fine line between the correct note to play and the misplayed ear piercing one that can be heard over a whole ensemble. After years of practice and dedication to their stringed instruments, the sour notes somehow disappear, and parents don’t have to cringe during class recitals.

            When I do play my electric guitar, I try to hit the correct notes and rarely turn up the volume where it is considered a public nuisance. I have to put the noise I generate into perspective to the other sounds coming from my neighborhood. There is my neighbor who sits on his Harley Davidson, revving like its bringing him to orgasm. Then we have the guy on the block who owns the king of all leaf blowers. It’s basically a Volkswagen engine strapped on his back connected to a bazooka which allows him to blow all debris to smithereens. The biggest noise crime of them all is the fellow who lives behind me. He will use every power tool invented by Black and Decker on a Sunday morning.

            So next time when you are listening to an orchestra, think about the families and neighborhoods who must tolerate the thousands of sour notes and spine curling racket. There will be a time after much patience and practice, the flute that once sounded like a squeaky screen door can now make me think of leaping long hair gnomes prancing through the forest. When a drummer finally learns his craft, the beats can be satisfying that even a lousy dancer like myself can find the rhythm. Lastly, even the vaulted bagpipes can bring tears to my eyes when the player hits those first line of notes of “Amazing Grace.”

First Class State of Mind

When you board a plane and work your way down the aisle after you pass through first class, you just say to yourself, “someday.”  I personally have never sat in first class, not even business class. I always figured I could suffer in my cheap seat for long enough to justify my budget restraint.  I will eat the small bag of nuts and pay for my cocktails and except my fate.  I always try to get a row seat so I can an extra few inches to hang into the aisle.  The only problem with the aisle seats is the reality is that you are you are going to get bumped into by passerby’s and maybe even the drink cart. 

        I have noticed over the years that each plane has a few seats that give more leg room that first class.  There are the planes that have the emergency exits with extra room.  Some planes have 2 rows on each side with the extra spacing.  Some planes have the row right after first class ends that a lot of extra room.  In fact the seat on the end has three of leg space.  So if you book your flights early look for those rows if you want a little extra space.  It’s not first class but it feels a lot better especially when the person in front of you decides to recline their seat. 

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Modified Camper Shells are the Hottest Trend On the Road

Most of us like a shiny new toy but some folks like to rebuild an old one. The landfills of America are filled with a billion old toys that were thrown out when they served their purpose.  When we age, we carry that same mentality with our adult possessions. Have you been to the dump lately? Just look around at the mass carnage of our old possessions and think that a lifetime of our junk is here along with all your neighbors stuff. 

When I was driving down the road the other day, I couldn’t help notice a fellow driver had customized his camper shell by adding another shell on top, a double decker shell that is one of a kind.  A couple of days later I saw another one. I thought to myself, is this the latest trend in truck accessories?  Maybe the same fabricator is spewing these contraptions out of his garage. God Bless him.  Most folks will laugh and scoff at such work but give the guy credit; his old shell is not sitting in a land fill which gives more room for all of our old possessions. I say keep up the good work you truck shell fabricators for making the world a cleaner place.

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Bully Slam.....It's All Over

Most everyone in the whole wide world has experienced the wrath of a bully. I will never understand why bullies decide to be bullies. Is there some kind of membership or secret society to join? Is there a handshake or signal to greet other bullies?  You can stand up to them, tell a parent or adult or ignore them.  I tried all three and none of them stopped this one particular bully. In my case, the bully tormented me for years, but on some occasions I was able to stop him.  This is the story of one time when he got more than he expected.

            Richard Mahoney was the one kid on the block that I thought was raised by a pack of wolves. The kid was unpredictable like an animal. He was bigger and would torment all those who were smaller and weaker. Unfortunately, I was one of his victims. He lived with his mother, stepfather and his grandma. The way the other neighbor kids viewed it, Richard could do no wrong as long as the grandma was around. Richard and I would be playing just fine, then he would lose his temper and he would proceed to physically and mentally torment me. My arm would get pummeled by punches for not playing GI Joes according to his plan. If GI Joe didn't obey orders, I would get lambasted and beaten by Richard the drill sergeant. I would yelp in pain then the grandma would tell me to be keep the noise down.
           I don't know why I took so much abuse from this mean dude; I even tried getting other kids to knock some sense into him. I often asked my brother Mark to perform this duty. Mark was the self-proclaimed king of wrestling on the block. Every kid feared him because he lived for wrestling and to take on all challengers all at one time. It was a regular occurrence for him to throw down mattresses and pads and take on as many kids as possible.
            Mark studied the dubious art of professional wrestling, and not the boring kind you learn in school. We're talking about the entertaining and borderline real style on television every night. He knew all the wrestler's moves and their status of either being a "good guy" or a "bad guy." A wrestling match with Mark usually involved getting punched and choked with an assortment of submission holds. Mark's specialty move was to spin you into a dizzy stupor then body slam you to the ground. This signified the end of the match and a warning to stay down on the ground. Mark body slammed Richard many of time, but I started to think that this only made things worse for me. If Richard got body slammed I was sure to get bullied next he got me alone. I was safe if Richard was playing in a group situation because he would be ganged up on if he pulled any dirty tricks.

          A group of us would often play with toy squirt guns. It was a one hot summer day and we gathered to have a squirt gun fight.  Steve Shawn, the neighborhood toy gun collector, had brought an assortment of artillery. Richard and I had our eyes on the same weapon, a pistol with a very large water compartment. We both strongly insisted on having that weapon. I couldn't back down to Richard in front of the neighborhood army. Richard tried to strong-arm the weapon from me. We struggled to the ground and rolled on the grass and I momentarily got Richard's grubby hands off of the gun. Then the unexpected happened; the gun came down on Richard's head. His head was hard like a watermelon. I guess I really smacked him good because he immediately loosened his grip and stopped wrestling. He was holding his head and squirming on the ground. We all stared in silence. Richard got up and ran home, leaving drips of blood on the sidewalk. I was horrified. Steve Shawn immediately announced,

          "It was Richard's fault and he deserved it."

Others agreed. I guess he did deserve some sense knocked into him, but I wish I didn't split his head open.

         I got a sick feeling in my stomach. even if it was Richard's fault, you just don't pistol-whip your neighbor. I panicked and ran home and I couldn't help but notice the blood drops leading to his house. I ran inside my house to the bedroom knowing this wasn't over. I actually felt bad for Richard, I hoped his brains didn't spill out. I expected the worse. Not only was I probably going to get punished by my parents, but also the wrath of Richard was lurking into my future. Even worse, his Grandma was going to lose her mind.
            If the Grandma was going to come over and lecture my parents, then I was going to have to apologize to Richard. It was only a matter of time before I was going to have to take my medicine. Richard was going to go ballistic on me when he got me alone. It took about an hour before Grandma came over and gave my parents the lowdown. I stayed in my room while the conference was going on. I tried to read their lips but the words were undetectable. The meeting took about five minutes with both sides departing on what looked like peaceful terms. This put me at some ease. Eventually my Dad came into my room to give me the verdict. One year of hard labor and to be Richard's best friend was probably the worst I could imagine.
            My Dad was reasonably calm with no sense of anger in his face. Now I was completely confused. I crack the neighborhood bully over the head with a toy pistol and I don't get punished. This sounded perfectly logical in my mind, but did it to my Dad? He diplomatically told me to go apologize to Richard and then left the room, no yelling and no solitary confinement.
            I momentarily thought I was home free, a quick apology and I was out of there. Then a warm nervous feeling engulfed my stomach. I have to go face to face with Richard, cracked-open-watermelon head Richard. I should have asked for solitary confinement. I thought my death was certain; he would go berserk if he saw my face. I guess my Dad knew what he was doing when laid down this punishment.
            I decided to wait until another day when Richard's blood stopped boiling. I would stay in my room until this episode passed away. I had enough toys in my room to keep me entertained for t least a week. Just as I began digging out some Hot Wheels to play with, I hear my Dad's voice, "Come out and apologize to Richard, right now!" My Dad's voice of reason suddenly disappeared to be replaced by voice of the unsympathetic.
           I made the slow death walk to Richard's house while bugles played Taps. I tried to imagine the worst outcome, a big black eye and a fat lip. The best outcome would be that he was under heavy sedation and he was unable to perform an act of violence. I made my way up to door stoop. His porch was overgrown with shrubs and wildflowers giving it that spooky movie effect. I rang the doorbell and waited for the monster to appear. I waited a few seconds but there was no response, one more ring and I was out of there. Better yet I could just leave now and say that nobody was home. Just as I came to that decision the door opened. My body was tense as a guitar string. I looked up to see that it was Richard's mother.
            Richards's mother was the extreme opposite of Richard’s Grandma. She was nice and sweet like a TV mom. She greeted me with the same warmth and pleasant manner just as before the pistol beating. I immediately felt a little safer. How could Richard beat me in front of his mom? If it were the Grandma, she would have held my arms while Richard knocked my block off.
           Richard was asked to come to the door. I heard him lift his body out of a vinyl chair and rustle himself towards the door. There he stood, with a patch on his head. Richard had a flat top haircut so I could clearly see the taped on patch. His eyes met mine, they looked red and watery. I suppose he balled his eyes out and contemplated my death at the same time. I said hi, sorry and how it was an accident and how he could have the gun next time in one long breath. He said nothing; he just stared at me with a blank expression. The silence lasted a few seconds before his mom told him to respond. He looked at her and sniffled. Under the lowest voice tones I ever heard emitted from his mouth, he said, "yeah okay." Silence again grasped the moment. Mrs. Mahoney dismissed us both and we went our ways.

           I knew this was just the start of a war. On the walk home I knew I had to go into hiding for at least two months, or for most of the summer. I also thought about letting Richard take his anger out on me, but deep down I knew Richard wouldn't be satisfied with only one beating. This would certainly go on all summer long.
            As days passed, I stayed inside to play with all of my toys. A few visitors from the neighborhood came by to show their support for what I had done. They assured it would be okay to go outside and they would protect me from Richard. I thought about it for a few minutes and took the guys up on their offer.
          For weeks things were back to normal, in fact I was a hero for a short period of time. I didn't see Richard that often in those weeks, just here and there and going on trips with his folks. The attention must have gone to my head because I was feeling fearless of Richard. Now I know how Mafia bosses feel with a group of bodyguards to protect them.
          Richard began hanging out on his front porch to watch the neighborhood action. I loved the fact that he wasn't playing with us. I realized if he was asked to play that would be an end to my well being. He looked like he was thinking of ways he was going to destroy me. He was breaking me down with his cold stares. I was no longer fearless; the reality of being beaten was overtaking my thoughts.
           The day finally came with Richard met me alone. I walked outside one day to the wonderful sunshine of a summer morning. I looked over at Richards' house, like I habitually did those days and didn't see him sitting on the porch. That thought always put me at ease and allowed me to play with joy and reckless abandon. I wanted to ride my bike over to a friend’s house down the street. We were going to ride our bikes through the orchards, were there was unlimited amounts of trails and hills to explore.
            I was rolling down the driveway on my stingray bicycle when I felt a tug on my back seat bar. I quickly turned to find Richard hot on my tail; he had a strong hold on my bike. I knew he would throw me down if I didn't bale out. I jumped off leaving my bike with Richard, which caught him off guard. He stumbled and fell on top of the bike, but only to rise immediately to his feet. He made a quick lunge at me with his hands landing on my chest. I fell backward with great anticipation of hitting the concrete. It seemed as though he was on top of me before I even was on the concrete. He was yelling, slapping and slugging with unbridled glee, which I had no way of stopping. I just tried my best to block some of the blows. I just wanted him to ask me to beg for forgiveness, and then it would all end. I had no way escaping his power; he was in complete domination of my poor meek soul.
             I wasn't saying my last prayers just yet, but they were answered when I felt the weight of Richard lifted from my body. God had intervened against Goliath. My brother had grabbed Richard by the shirt collar, lifted him up and tossed him. To Mark this was just another routine wrestling move you did to save your tag team partner. Richard was back up on his feet fast with venom spewing from his fangs. He was jabbering about how I did him wrong. Mark would not hear any of this baloney; he proceeded to put Richard in a headlock. He gave him a nuggie rub on the head and pulled his underwear so far up his that it looked like a parachute on his back.

I guess that's what it took to calm him down; it always seemed to work on me. Richard had that look again, where he had to fight back the tears. Mark warned him if he ever touched me again, he was going to really clobber him and his Grandma. I couldn't believe my ears, this was too good to be true. For the first time Richard was speechless. He retreated quickly and silently back to his home.
           Later that summer, Richards's family moved across town. Unfortunately, he went to the same school as me and I no longer had the luxury of having Mark protecting me. Richard continued to harass me for a few more years until I grew a little taller. I eventually was able to not back down from him. I now look back and wonder what happened to him because all bullies eventually get a large dose of bad karma. Like in wrestling when a good guy overcomes all the dirty tricks pulled on him to manage a body slam on the bad guy that ends the match.
 

Flying Purgatory

I took a flight to Phoenix on Southwest Airlines who do not have assigned seating.  It is a cattle call for first come first serve unless you are wise enough to pre-book then you get to bypass the hordes of cows. After jockeying for positions in the line to board, my wife and I got separated. She ended up sitting behind my row between two men while I got stuck in a row between a large man and stout-faced woman. When I say large man, he was overflowing into my personal space. I never got to claim the arm rest between us for the duration of the flight. On the right sat a woman dealing with phlegm while she read her Danielle Steele novel. This wasn’t going to be easy with my six foot frame scrunched between Mr. Big and the Ms.Post Nasal Drip for an hour and half.

         Meanwhile my wife is laughing and carrying on with a lad from Ireland and an Indian fellow while I sat in passenger purgatory. I say purgatory because all I could do was close my eyes and meditate away the hopeless situation. After we reached the elevation where in-flight service starts, I pondered my drink choice. The stewardess asked us what we wanted when normally I go for coffee or tea in the morning. In this case, I knew I needed something stronger so a gin and tonic was coming my way, purely for medical purposes.

         While I sipped my gin and tonic, the guy on my right somehow maneuvered his body enough to pop a DVD into his laptop. I didn’t pay attention to his choice of viewing pleasure but couldn’t help hearing gunfire and explosions blasting out of the confines of his earbuds. I peered over to see him watching an action movie with a high body count.  I closed my eyes and took in the slow numbing of my brain from the cocktail.

           I was soon startled when Mr. Smooth next to me spilled his Coke and ice on the lap of his pants. This sparked a wave of activity bordering on chaos. Ice on the crotch in an airline seat is pandemonium that needs to avoided at all cost. In this case the reality of the situation was an “icebreaker” for me to get to know my fellow passengers. I waved over the stewardess for help with this emergency. I stood up to give the guy enough room to get his torso under control. The stewardess directed me and the lady on my right to move out of our seats while her spill team swooped in for an emergency clean up. Poor guy was doused with Coke and ice on his private parts that left a large wet spot. He went to restroom and we were allowed back into the row.

           I got full usage of the arm rest for ten minutes before he graced us with his presence. He squandered back into his seat but this time he didn’t resume the “Battle of the Bulge” on his laptop. When he finally got himself under control he wanted to talk. For next hour he didn’t stop talking. I guess you could say we became friends. Just two guys talking about normal stuff like work, sports and traveling.  He was a parts salesman on his way to do some business in Mesa and flying is a part of the gig. 

          Flying on a plane is one the few situations in our life when we are forced to sit next to a stranger for a long period of time. The decision to interact or not interact is clearly a decision that is made early on in the flight. Sometimes I make effort to engage but you will soon find out if it’s reciprocated. I believe most passengers want to be left alone to enjoy their crosswords with noise-reduction headphones. I personally wish I could sleep but it never happens for whatever reason.  So if a fellow passenger wants to talk I am all for it because it takes my mind off of the fact that I don’t have the armrest and I can smell a dirty diaper. Someday I will be in first class; meanwhile I sit with the rest of the low budget travelers with our little bags of peanuts and little booze bottles in purgatory.

Dogs Don’t Get Depressed

My wife has been asking me for years to write an animal story. I just haven’t gotten round yet, kind of like fixing the gate. So when the time finally came around, I told her I could write her a tender story filled with despair or a weary story laced with hope, what’s your pleasure? 

            When I was single I would get depressed. Friends would say to me, “why don’t you get a dog, you know dogs are never depressed.” I would ask them “why’s that?”  Is it because their brains are smaller?” What could I possibly learn from a dog? I really didn’t know why nor would they be my friend. I thought what kind of advice could a dog give me?  “Have you tried lying in the sun, until you are really hot then go lay in the shade, feels pretty good."  How about eating your dinner so fast you don’t know what happened.”

            Then I met my wife Linda, a true animal lover. She is someone who has owned dogs, cats, rats, hamsters, birds, lizards, and worked at a zoo. She has handled hissing cockroaches and tarantulas and let snakes drape over her body. My family had hamsters growing up and it always seemed there was the usual tragic ending of escaping or getting accidently stepped on. We must have owned ten hamsters, all named Fred.

            Fast forward year later, I brought home a puppy Labrador retriever for my wife Linda’s birthday. This made her very happy and the dog happy. That dog has never been depressed even thirteen years later. Now we have three dogs, the last two she found abandoned and now they are not depressed as well. They live a life that looks fairly uncomplicated in fact they only appear stressed when gardener shows up with the leaf blower.

            My rule is fairly straightforward with dog ownership; if you are not going to give them attention then don’t own one. When I reflect about the dogs that have resided in my home, I can tell you how each one taught me something about life. Riley my 110 pound Labrador has taught me that no matter how tired and worn out you may feel, she can still chase the Frisbee one more time. She is really saying don’t be a quitter, I can go all day what’s your issue?  Starr my four and a half pound Chihuahua teaches me every day that there is nothing better than a cool breeze in face with your head out the window. She is really saying, be here right now in this moment. Tucker my thirteen pound mix of terrier and Chihuahua who loves to the ride in my truck but as soon as we get to our destination is so ready to go back home. What he is really saying, “it’s all about the journey stupid. “

            Some dogs make you wonder why you brought them into your life. Some bark all of time, others chew your wives 300 hundred dollar boots and worst yet some pass foul gas in your bedroom.  The reason there are such a rise in dog ownership is because they can feel a void in your life. Getting unconditional love every day is something that is so needed in our society. So next time you come home from a hard day at the office, just get ready for the love machine that waits at your door. Give them some attention and hopefully the love bomb you get in return takes the edge off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Beat Down the Car Lot Zombies

         Choosing and buying a car is a task that requires a game plan to take on the bloodthirsty sharks that work on car lots. If you get caught up in their selling spiel, you could be impulse buying within the first twenty minutes. Trust me, when I bought a chopper motorcycle instead of car, my friends didn't understand, my parents felt shame and I crashed it on the front yard.

            You will find out very shortly that there are hundreds and hundreds of car makes and models and choosing one will send you into a slobbering fetal position. For instance, Ford Motor Company has brought back the Taurus model just when you thought they put it out to pasture along with the Mercury Sable. Now I read that Dodge has revived the Dart. The damn Dodge Dart. What inspired Dodge to bring this relic back from the dead? It was never sexy or chic to own and now Dodge is going to hawk it again to the non-sexy and non-chic people.

            I hopelessly took a car personality test thinking this might be a valid tool for my dilemma.  What you end up with in almost every quiz is, buy a SUV because it solves every situation and practical notion you may have. I don't want to be a soccer mom so I had to lie on these tests. I got it to reveal that owning a Jaguar was the car most suited to fit my debonair personality.

            After you try to sneak onto the lot, it takes less than one minute before the salesman smells the blood and walks towards you like a carnivorous zombie.  Getting to look without being escorted by this conniving scoundrel with their list of canned responses and reactions is not allowed.  It’s their job to be pressuring and irritating otherwise they wouldn't be following the code of ethics of car salesmen.

            My game plan was to bring my wife along to help me deal with the relentless sales banter. She also has the gift of gab and keeps them distracted long enough for me to wonder off and check the sticker prices and interiors. After we test drove a few different models they eventually wanted an answer from us about which one we wanted to buy. In my past experiences I would tense up, and then the weasels would start eating at my flesh. My secret weapon, my wife, automatically threw out the most ridiculous lowest price to see their reaction. Of course, their first response is to recoil and reply, “He would lose his job if it was sold it for our asking price."  She proceeds to tell them to go ask their manager. They take the long walk back to the showroom to find the guy with most expensive clothing.

            Out comes Mr. Manager with coffee infused breath leading the way with his cheesy grin. After a little small talk, he asks if we have a trade in.  “Sure, we have 2001 Mercury Sable with $150,000 miles”, we reply. This wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear because the smile left his face and it looked like he suffered from acid-reflex. On and on the banter went, with prices being thrown around like we were on the “Price is Right.”

We were prepared to walk away because they could not swallow the last thousand dollar difference. Mr. Manager even pulled out a piece of paper he called, “the invoice” for the car we wanted and tried to prove to us, his cost.  My wife’s reply was, “you didn’t pay that much, you probably paid pennies on the dollar at an auction.” We began our walk back to our car and the salesman asked for our phone number. My wife’s reply, “No, you had your chance to sell us a car, why do I want you begging me on my phone?” I had a little sympathy for him; he was trying every trick in the book.

            The saga ends with us purchasing a new car at another dealership using the same tactics. There was the same relentless chit chat but this time the manager couldn’t take the wheeling and dealing and caved to my wife’s hard ball tactics. The lesson to this story is that you have two choices. One, try your best, but if you don’t play rough you might buy a Dodge Dart. Two, show no mercy to the zombies and beat them down like in the movie “Night of the Living Dead”.

 

Quest for Fire

I rented an older film entitled, “Quest for Fire” the other day, based on the two thumbs up review that some friends had given it. The film takes place in cave man times, at least a few million years ago.  Raquel Welch wasn’t in this movie and no dinosaurs were walking around devouring people. The filmmaker tried to be less hokey and a little more authentic because the humans didn’t speak English and they had messy matted hair and dirty greasy faces.

The plot centers around fire.  If your posse of peeps possessed a camp fire then you were keeping up with the Jones’s.  Fire was like gold and other cavemen and women wanted to get their hands on it. This one particular group had their fire go out so they had to search the world over for fire and bring it back to their tribe.

            Based on this film, I see how the fascination with fire must have started back in those rough times. At an early age, I was lured to the power of fire. I think most children have sometime in their life have experimented or been captivated by the essence of fire. I look back and believe that my interest was more of an addiction.  A can of lighter fluid was my whiskey and a book of matches was my drug. I guess when your dad smoked, a book of matches wasn’t too hard to find.

            My favorite thing to burn was plastic. The hot bubbling and dripping plastic, the smell and smoke was so intoxicating and beautiful at the same time.  I specialized in burning army men. I didn’t give preferential treatment to the Americans over the German soldiers, I had no mercy for either one. I tended to pick the soldiers with the most useless poses or the ones that already had their heads put in the pencil sharpener. I would design a whole scenario and storyline that ended with a giant inferno.

            Of course on of my favorite holidays was Independence Day, the 4th of July, firecracker day, smoke bomb day. Fireworks were legal in our county then and I would spend every penny I had to buy anything that sparked, smoked and exploded. I loved lighting them and anticipating the display of gunpowder igniting. Firecrackers destroyed every plastic I ever built. I think the reason I built them was to eventually blow them up. I couldn’t save my firework stash until the night of the 4th.  I depleted my stockpile well before we set off our family box.

            The fascination with all this fire lost its appeal on a hot summer day.  While at a family visit with a relative, I wondered off to light a box of matches that I acquired. I snuck off around the side of the house and began lighting them one by one, I was getting my fix.  All of the sudden, I heard voices in the front yard and I panicked.  I threw the matches to the ground and walked around to the front.  It was my uncle and his daughter ready to run an errand.  We exchanged “hi’s” and I acted cool as ever. They got into their car and began to pull out of the driveway when my cousin yells out, “Daddy, something’s burnin!” I kept walking into the house like I didn’t hear those words.

            Between her yelling and the smoke rising into the air, panic had reached the families in the house.  Everybody came running out to see what all the excitement was about.  Someone yelled to call the fire department.  I meanwhile was still acting cool like an assassin who just shot the government dignitary.

            I followed the crowd outside the house.  I never felt so relieved when I saw my uncle put the fire out with a garden hose.  The side of the house had a slight amount of smoke damage.  A juniper bush had burned in the blaze and caused a short amount of high flames.  After the fire was out, my uncle found the book of matches and like an investigator announced he had found the evidence.  My brother gave me hell because he knew I did it, but I denied all accusation of the crime.

            The incident seemed like it was soon forgotten by most of the families and they resumed their get together. I didn’t soon forget it, I felt sick and ashamed of my pyromania.  Fire was never the same after that day. I still flirted with it now and then but the days of torching all my toys and endlessly lighting matches was over.  My personal quest for fire was satisfied and it was time to find a new and dangerous things to do, like chemical reactions.

The Naked Nudist

It had been years since I stepped inside a gym. I was now the proud owner of a gym membership thanks to my big mouth declaring my New Year’s resolution of shedding twenty pounds. 

            On day one, I lifted a little weight, gyrated around on some sort of electronic monkey bars and road on a bicycle that went nowhere. After this awesome display of athleticism I wandered in the locker room to cool down and shower up. As I sat there on the bench proud and sweaty I became surrounded by fellow gym members in various states of disrobing. It was an awkward moment because I don't know how to act in front of naked people besides my wife. I know it was just a bunch of guys but I don't want to be caught looking at something that I shouldn't be looking at, whether its shyness, shame or guilt, who knows why, sounds like something for Dr. Phil to dissect.  I can't speak for other people but situations involving nudity outside the bedroom or doctor’s office has been an uncomfortable experience.

            My first recollections of nudity were at the age of six at the neighborhood swim center. The old men in locker room would yank their britches down and shed their clothes with no hesitation. My brothers and I would laugh at all their mounds of flesh and hair not realizing that those guys didn't give a damn what we thought. A few years later, some of the neighborhood girls would do a show and tell as I would gander and take mental notes.

            The years progressed without seeing much nudity until my grandmother’s neighbor decided to walk around topless in her backyard. That was quite the show for five of us boys to fight over and who got look through the hole in the fence. We were voyeurs and peeping toms but I think she knew because of all clamoring and ruckus we created for that one golden moment.

            As a young man, all of eighteen with no girlfriends on the horizon and still much of an awkward and shy person, I tried to find out where all the naked people where at. I knew about striptease establishments but I couldn't find myself in one of those joints sitting along with other men ogling naked women and pretending they are gynecologist.

I always heard about a nudist colony in the mountains near my home. I called them up and they invited me down for a tour or they could send me a color brochure in the mail. I opted for the color brochure and when it arrived I was completely disturbed by what I saw. This place was closer to a family summer camp than a Playboy resort. I didn't want to see moms, dads and children playing naked volleyball.    

            I often heard guys talking about a nude beach that was in a secluded area. I was going to go there by myself on a reconnaissance mission. I found the place, parked my car and trekked down to the beach in my clothes, just in case wild dogs where loose. There weren’t more than ten people laying about like lizards in their birthday suits. I sat my belongings down a good fifty yards away from fellow nudies. There was couple that looked to be in their thirties, blond and without body hair, possibly Scandinavians. We acknowledged each other’s presence and waved. I wiggled out of my clothes, while lying down, looking like an earthworm on a hot sidewalk.

            I laid there with dark sunglasses, sneaking peaks at the small selection of sunbathers. I ended up falling asleep for awhile until I heard the laughing of people playing in the water. It was the Scandinavians frolicking in the water, being free, careless and fully nude. It was fascinating, weird and I wanted to be like them. I got up but wasn't going into the cold water so I causally eased into a jog along the shore. I was free, I was a hippy child and didn't feel like a pervert as I jogged. I soon left and thought that maybe I will be back someday but with a girl and sunscreen.

            I never did return and it was last time I was naked outside except the one time I went streaking in my backyard. Unless you are a doctor, a nude model or a Scandinavian nudist, the naked body seems to have a peculiar effect on the ones who still got their clothes on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fashion Crisis

       A friend sent me an email that read, “More Walmartians.” I could only imagine what was about to appear before my eyes. I do shop at Walmart now and then and find the prices to my liking. Who doesn’t want to buy a ten foot inflatable Santa Claus for twenty nine ninety nine? I am familiar with the unflattering pictures of people that shop there, clearly not what the folks who run Walmart want to be known for. I personally haven’t seen any silver spandex hot pants and purple mow hawks when I have been there but I guess I’ve not looked hard enough. Over the years,seeing the way people dress in public is not as shocking as it once was. I am no longer disturbed by seeing men wear black socks and sandals with high-waisted Bermuda shorts.

            I’ve been to sporting events where the only dress requirement is underwear.  When grown men paint their bare chested bodies then get staggering drunk while thinking they have an effect on the game, we as a society are descending. Have you ever gone to a gambling casino then found yourself in the nickel slot area and wonder why people are wearing their pajamas with cowboy boots?  Have you ever been in any coffee shop at 2am?  How about a fast food joint on a Sunday night? These folks just throw on whatever clothes are lying about, no matter how uncolor coordinated and wrinkled they are. Who cares anymore? The fashion police have lost this battle and now the inmates are running the joint.   Wear your muumuu with a down jacket to the grocery store. Put on your rain boots when you go out for dinner. Baseball hats are now required for everybody who hasn’t washed their hair in two days. Most men over seventy should wear one piece jumpsuits just because it makes sense.

            I have my own battles with my wife about style and fashion sense. I see nothing wrong with wearing green pants with a green shirt. The one combination that sends her over the edge is beige on beige.  I find beige the most politically correct color and can be worn for any occasion. In addition, sweatpants should be considered everyday clothes no different than women who wear nothing but black stretch pants. In addition, tee shirts should never be retired until large holes distract from the important messages they are displaying. I’m trying to meet her half way about my wardrobe choices. I even agreed not to wear the clothes that been lying on the floor for a few days. These are small steps for me and someday I might even tuck in my shirt. 

Recliners, Man’s Real Best Friend

        I was at the mall following my wife around. She knows this is one of my most loathed activities on this planet. She was tired of my moaning and groaning so she dragged me into a couple of shops that I might like. One was Victoria’s Secret and the other was Brookstone.  Victoria’s Secret was okay until I got shot down for one of my suggestions of lingerie. Fredericks of Hollywood, Victoria’s competition is geared for those who like their undies on the skimpy side.

        After the VS experience and paying forty dollars for her bra, I knew I wanted to get out of this mall. One last stop to Brookstone, which is a store that specializes in unique and quirky electronic stuff. Right in the front was the recliner display. I threw my torso into this unit and starting playing with the remote control. I could massage my whole body with the touch of a button, even my feet, even my head.  I sat in the chair for a half an hour and didn’t care what all of the looky-loo’s were thinking. I was a new man when I pried my body out of the chair. The chair is a little pricy, around $3000.  I am considering it because I would always be happy staying home.

 

Where Old French Fries go to Die

     If a forensics expert or a detective ever need to find out what type of person I am, they will have to look no further than under my car seat. There lies my life with the wreckage and carnage of fast food restaurants and office supplies. It is the place where old French fries live out their remaining days, packets of hot sauce and ketchup can age gracefully and ball point pens can always have home. The forensic expert will know right off I am not a tidy man or even the tidy bowl man who seems very dapper in those TV commercials. The detective will know I am careless with my belongings and in fact have a blatant disregard for hair combs. The smorgasbord of fast food remnants can say two things; I am single man with no intention in packing a nutritious lunch or a ravenous slob who eats with unbridled joy. Okay I am a slob but not a glutton, and I admit I haven’t mastered the art of eating and driving simultaneously.

            I was driving by one of those fancy smancy car wash joints the other day, you know the ones where you can get a decaf vanilla latte along with jasmine air freshener. The traffic jam of cars waiting in line must of happened because there could be a new coupon for free wheel dressing or maybe the vacuum cleaners were overrun with dog hair. I know my car was filthy and much lived in due to the driving aspect of my job. The accumulation of my life's waste and debris in the car was something that I needed to get a handle on. My wife suggested a tent needed to be put over my car and fumigated, then a hazmat crew needed to come in and sugically clean it out. 

            I agreed to tackle the job the job myself after seeing the line at the car wash. It’s a gift boutique and coffee shop disguised a car wash to entice the fringe customer. Who is the fringe customer, and who needs a vanilla latté and some artwork when they go there. I felt it was time I broke out the car wash super package of cleaners that I received for Christmas a couple of years ago. There are cleaners and brushes for all parts of car for a complete makeover. Now I know why people wait in line for hour to get their vehicle pampered at the hoity-toity car wash joint. It took me five hours to get my car clean enough to reach the level of cleanliness that the vanilla latte car wash would perform.  I can't say it was fun or even resembled any form of pleasure. They say cleanliness is next to Godliness or vice versa.

         I say having a clean car is overrated because I love to eat French Fries right after getting them from the drive through window. So of those fries will find a place in my car that when discovered will bring back fond memories of our time to together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Did Beer Become Wine?

         Now there are such things as beer snobs. I hate beer snobs.  When did “free and cold” get replaced as everybody’s favorite beer? Is there any sacred ground left on earth? We now live in an age when it seems all food and drink has to be gourmeted or enhanced. It is like when pizza went off the deep end. Now pizza joints will put any damn thing you want on it, such as cookies or a fried egg, and charge you a good chunk of change. 

         You look in the beer aisle nowadays at your local super-duper market and you are faced with a wall of choices that baffle the mind.  I am an average smuck who doesn’t have time to try every swill that some pothead invented in his garage. Now it is on the shelf with a fancy smancy label and a price that says, “I am higher priced because I made this with ultra-super-secret  hops.”

            I offered a beer to one of these snobs at a poker game and the little snoot asked me if it was an IPA? IPA stands India Pale Ale.  It is basically a beer with a weird aftertaste which I think  taste like a bar rag or stale beer nuts. I told him it wasn’t an IPA but it was cold and tasty and I would even pour it in clean glass for him. Again he asked what type it was and I read the bottle and it said it was a pilsner. He said, “No Thanks, I’ll have some wine.” Go have your wine and I hope it gives you mouth warts.

         Okay, I get it; some folks thought years ago that beer needed some more sophistication. The traditional brewers were giving us too much of the same thing. Then along came imported beer with its exotic names and fancy taste. Sure it was good but you could buy twice as much of the American suds for the same price. Maybe it is the generational thing where you don’t want to drink what your dad drank. He probable drank Schlitz from a large can and that thought gives you images of his shameless extended beer gut. Sorry pops, they didn’t have light beer when you knocking them back in the 1960’s.

         Along come some guys who wanted us beer drinkers to expand our minds and our palettes. They started making batches of experimental formulas and told us you would be cooler if you drank their brew. I saw a bottle of beer on the shelf that said it had oatmeal and blueberries in it. Why is Quaker Oats making beer? What’s next, A1 Steak sauce will introduce a beer that has real meat inside?  This kind of indignity should be outlawed and banned in most states and can only be sold on the east coast in limited quantities.

        For me, drinking a beer is more of social experience not some sipping and swirling and sniffing adventure.  Drinking beer at the bowling alley, or after a softball game and at a concert with girl on your shoulders is what I associate it with.  Okay, maybe not the girl on the shoulders, but a lot of other good times like hanging with some chums and eating hot wings.

         Beer has always been the one thing that most adults can say they tried and remember times when they had a cold one with a buddy. Beer is your friend, not some hoity toity high minded freak show who can’t lower himself to drink what you are offering.  So next time when you see a super sale on Pabst Blue Ribbon, throw down some cash, lower your expectations and call up some cohorts. I will guarantee it you won’t have to have any Chablis wine chilling in your refrigerator.

 

Florsheim Dress Shoes on the Treadmill

It had been years since I stepped inside a gym.  I was the proud new owner of a gym membership, thanks to my big mouth declaring my New Years resolution of shedding twenty pounds.  Day one, I lifted a little weight gyrated on some sort of electric monkey bars and rode around a bicycle that went nowhere.  After this awesome display of athleticism, I strutted into the locker room to cool down and shower up.  As I sat there on the bench, proud and sweaty, I became surrounded by my fellow gym members in various stages of disrobing.  It was an awkward moment because I don't how to act in front of naked people besides my wife. I don't want to be caught looking at something I shouldn't be looking at.  Whether it shyness, same or guilt, who knows why, sounds like something for Dr. Phil to dissect.

            Once you are inside the theatre of pain, you can quickly size up the patrons into four types of exercise patrons. First on top of the food chain, are the Gods and Goddesses, the Adonis' and Venus'. They are buffed and usually tanned with a hint of orangeness to their skin, and their clothes seem to be undersized in all the right places. There are tattoos of barbed wire around biceps and mysterious scripted messages on the lower backs of the women. They have their own area in front of the workout mirror and large weights where no wimps are allowed.

            Second are the socialites, they are there to meet and great and not be unconvienced with sweat and body odor. They bring their cell phones to declare their status on their Facebook page and Twitter account about how many steps they did on the Stair Master. The males in this grouping are always working on their moves at the juice bar and females wear shorty shorts with messages stamped on the backside. Sure they draw attraction and most men stop pumping iron, and other women sneer. I think of them as the gym cheerleaders.

            Third, are the average everyday, Joe Smoes. They are there because they are feeling guilty about munching down pizza and swilling some brewskies down at the Chucky Cheese pizza joint. They just want to get through their workout as fast as they can while jamming to tunes in their earphones, mouthing the words and playing air guitar. They get their work outs done, get home, sometimes shower and must always eat something because the guilty feelings they once had are now gone. 

            The last group is my tribe. We are the leftovers, the newbie's, the guest pass coupon people, the clueless and the lazy. We wear stained sweatpants, cutoff jeans and our work clothes. The guy next to me was wearing Florshiem dress shoes on the treadmill. I saluted him as one of my own. We sometimes cause a scene like when we drop a stack of weights that is extremely violent sounding and then followed by dead silence.

            If I work my way up into the Joe Smoes, I will have to get upgraded sweatpants and learn to control my flatulence in the yoga class. Once I put a good solid year into bodybuilding and I can take off my shirt while I mow my front yard, then the socialites will have to accept my charisma.  After three years, and I have continued to pay my gym fees, I can start working out in front of the wall mirrors.  I will probably not get the tattoos but my pale and hairy skin could sure use a tan and some manscaping.

 

 

 

 

 

           

Leonard Nimoy, Walmart and Alien Abduction

           I went to an UFO convention out of curiosity hoping to see something really bizarre. A UFO convention is a gathering that I would categorize as fringe entertainment in line with professional wrestling, Civil War reenactments and lingerie football. I went with the pre-conceived notion there was going to be a legion of Star Trek fanatics, new age pontificators, alien abductees and people who swear that spaceships are part of an ongoing conspiracy. I was not to be let down when I saw all of the above and more.

            The convention was like a smorgasbord of the twisted brains, certifiable kooks, UFO junkies and gawkers like me. I thought Halloween brought out the ET outfits, but at this convention had some folks who felt inclined to don the big head and bug eyes. In addition, I don’t know why Spock impersonators where there but I am sure Leonard Nimoy is somewhere wishing he received a dollar every time someone flashed the “go in peace and prosper” hand gesture.

            Let’s review three of the premises presented at the convention. Premise one: aliens are abducting people for interrogation. Apparently this has been going on many years and there is a growing population making the claim.  Premise 2: Aliens have infiltrated themselves into everyday society to report on us. Premise 3: There is a massive government cover up of a lot unidentified aircraft.

           To further breakdown here they are, Premise 1:  Aliens are abducting us. This usually happens in our sleep, and then sent to an unknown location to be interrogated, tortured and probed. It seems to be a common theme to be probed but I can’t imagine why. So the aliens want to probe our orifices to find out what going on inside. This doesn’t add up to me because you would think once you probed one you probed them all. Maybe they want to gather some cells to do some cloning. The reason they keep doing this is because they want a variety of slaves to wait on them. Logically, it makes a little sense, but the question looms: If these guys traveled all this way to probe us and clone us, you would think they could invent a robot instead? If I could have a robot slave, put an order in for me.

            Premise 2: Aliens are infiltrated into our society. I can accept the fact that aliens have been implanted into society because it could explain a lot unsettling behavior. I am not talking about the folks who are leading their own marching band down the road or the shoppers in Wal-Mart with capes, spandex jumpsuits or silver hot pants, not even the people who get into fistfights on Jerry Springer show. As weird as that behavior may appear it cannot explain heinous crimes and mayhem. It must be the alien brain misfiring and going bonkers. Maybe they are the quiet and inconspicuous types taking copious notes sitting in coffee shops all day long on their laptop.

           Premise 3:  There is a massive cover up about alien spacecraft and the government has some of this aircraft. Granted there are plenty of visuals out there of unexplained things in the sky but why the cover up? To this day I have not seen one clear, high resolution, slam dunk proof of these aircrafts. Does every picture have to look like it was shot by your drunken uncle at a picnic? Does every video clip have to be shaky or so far away that it could be a paper plate from the same picnic drifting through the sky?  If the government is covering up something then that would be a first.  Aside from who shot JFK what else hasn’t been disclosed? The government is too big and has too many whistleblowers wanting to cash on their secrets to the National Inquirer.

            As you can see I am skeptic and will need a lot more proof to get me to buy in.  The alien abduction stories are quite entertaining but I will never believe that an alien being needs to capture us in our pajamas. Nor do I think the government is hiding alien craft to keep us from freaking out or conducting secret missions to Planet Nimrod. But, I do think it is possible that aliens are the ones who run social network sites because they have all of your personal data to indoctrinate us as slaves.

 

Toenails For Love

        There is an old saying, "a happy mama means a happy home." This translates to husbands as; keep your wife happy and you might get some lovey-dovey, hanky-panky and silence during the football game. It also includes to begrudgingly perform tasks to receive our little favors in return. Going to a chick flick and buying her women's hygiene products at eleven at night in a convenience store may be part of the deal.

        My wife finally coerced me to go get a pedicure because she couldn't take the constant jabbing of my toenails in bed. I resisted as long as I could until she used the threat of no sexy times for me. She tried to insist that I would enjoy it and other men do it. "Baloney, no man would be caught dead in one of those joints", I'd say.  The moratorium on sexy times turned out to be true and off I went to Ms. Kim's Salon. 

            The deal was to venture across town at night to secure my identity. If this got out in the neighborhood that I was a nail salon patron, the men folk would be whooping it up like a bunch of crazed hyenas. I entered the establishment with my wife in tow, who was acting like kid in a candy store. "Honey, you can get a haircut and a mani-pedi all in one visit", she exuberantly announced to me and all of the other patrons. 

            I lowered my baseball hat and Ms. Kim took my arm and sat me in a reclining chair.  This was no ordinary recliner; it had a built-in tub for the feet, a massage remote for assorted vibrations and heat. So there I sat in the big comfortable chair, with the salon girls giggling as I submerged my size thirteen feet into the warm water bathtub. Sitting next to me were other women with one exception of a teenage boy getting his feet worked on. I asked him if he was dragged in here too but before he could answer his mother chimed in, “he likes it” before he could reply.

            I will not deny that this didn't feel comfortable and soothing, but it is the principle of why I was here. We as husbands are not supposed to be pampering ourselves with beauty products and getting ourselves all dolled up. We are hunters, not dancers and prancers. As the experience progressed, there was some pain, some laughter and almost tears when the tools were used on my tender toes. 

            Believe it or not there were a small selection men’s magazines to choose from so I diverted my attention to a sport publication. I was thumbing through it when I locked on to an article about a guy up in Alaska who was a six time dog sledding champion. There is a big race every year where dogsledders from all over the world enter this thousand mile trek across the Yukon. I was in awe of these guys who endured this journey for a meager prize and free Alpo. 

            The journey that I had to make was from the nail shop to the parking lot in disposable flip flops to secure my clear acrylic that was brushed onto my toenails. I thought about those guys in the great white north bundled in parkas and boots when I had to sashay to my car in flimsy little sandals. Oh well, we all can't be Commodore Perry who explored the north pole, some of us have to be good husbands no matter what it takes.