Monday, May 08, 2017

A Day in the Life

I get home just after 7 a.m.  It was a relatively slow night at the 911 Center, not much to speak of other than a few wrecks in the rain.  Idealistic me, I applied for this job because I wanted to help, to make a difference in some small way.  I accepted it because of the incredible insurance.  

Eighteen months later, I rethink that decision almost daily.  Working thirds is hard on the body, a strain on our marriage.  As I walk in, Luke is in his sit-me-up booster seat.  He smiles as soon as he sees my face.  He recognizes me.  And somehow it is all alright.

After getting him dressed and in his car seat, I hug Mrs. Bone goodbye and get ready for bed.  I can't shut off my mind.  I replay calls from the night before, mistakes I might have made, what I could have done better.  It is something after 8:00 the last I remember.

I wake around 1:30.  The five-plus hours is the most sleep I've gotten in four days.  I've been in a rut of waking up between 11:00 and 1:00 and not being able to get back to sleep.  Around 2:30 I give up and decide to get a couple of errands in before I pick up Luke at daycare.

First up is a stop at the grocery store where I pick up some fruit, nuts, and cheese -- snacks for work -- and some Martha White self-rising flour.  I've taught myself to make something close to biscuits over the past few months.

Next is a visit to Walgreens.  Desperate for sleep, I pick up some Melatonin and Calms Forte.  I avoid taking medicine if at all possible, to the point that my doctor will begin sentences, "I know you don't really like to take medicine..."  But at some point I figure the lack of sleep becomes unhealthier than the pills.

Then it's off to get Luke.  I skip the interstate and take the two lane, enjoying the ponds and pastures, trees and sky.  The 15-minute drive has become my "me" time.  I roll down the down the window, turn up the radio, and enjoy the one bit of my day where I'm not sleeping, working, or responsible for another human being.  

The first thing I notice is Luke is not wearing the same outfit he left home with.  This is a not uncommon occurrence.  He has had what we in the parenting business refer to as a blowout.

On the way home, we stop off at the Sonic.  Once a week I treat myself to a small shake and small chili cheese fries.  It's a guilty pleasure.  Besides, I got cheese and nuts and fruit for work so it balances out... ish.

The first order of business once we're home is to let Sunshine outside.  Sunshine is the cat, though we would never refer to her as "the cat" because doing so might imply she is just an animal, that she doesn't have a personality, that we don't consider her our daughter.  And nothing could be further from the truth.

She showed up at the back door a few years ago, starving and bloody-tailed.  After an ever-so-brief attempt to find her a home, we decided to keep her.  Honestly, she never gave us much choice.  Our lives have since become a "Who rescued whom?" bumper sticker.

Next I unload the dishwasher and start some laundry.  Not at the same time, that would be a trick sure to astonish.  The squeaking you will soon hear is the sound of the dryer dying.  The repairman gave it six months to live.  That was over two years ago.  She's a fighter this Whirlpool.

Luke gets fussy after a bit and when I pick him up I feel something wet.  It is blowout number two of the day.  It is the worst one I have experienced to date.  I may as well wear the Spray 'n Wash in a holster.

Mrs. Bone gets home and we begin the nightly routine: feeding Luke, giving him a bath, and putting him to bed.  

Our Hello Fresh delivery didn't arrive on time this week so we order Mexican.  (I'm gonna have to eat a lot of fruit and nuts to make up for this day!)  While I am at the restaurant picking up our food, I get a text: "Guess what just arrived."  Perfect.  I don't mind though as we have mostly found Hello Fresh to be more aptly titled Hello Bland.  

We eat while watching a couple of "General Hospital" episodes.  Luke wakes up during the first so I go and rock him back to sleep.  I doze off during the last, grabbing a much-needed fifteen or twenty minutes before it's time to shower and get ready for work.

It is 9:30.  Sunshine demands five more minutes of outside time before I leave.  I oblige.  Then it's another hug goodbye and I'm out the door.  

As I back out, Sunshine sits in the doorway and watches me leave.  Beyond, Luke sleeps peacefully in his room while the woman I married is going to bed, hoping to catch two or three hours before the little guy wakes up again.

Some decisions you never have to rethink.

"These are some good times / So take a good look around / You may not know it now / But you're gonna miss this..."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

From the Heating Pad

Recounting the unfortunate events of last Sunday and Monday, February 12th and 13th...

It is my second day of being forty-four and I am on the couch alternately applying heat and ice to my knee.  This is because on my first day of being forty-four I attempted something crazy.  Something no one my age had any business doing, evidently.

I tried getting out of my chair and standing.

Kapow!  Blam!  Zowie!  

Pain shot through the outside of my left knee.  Holy aging ligaments, Batman!  Why, why, WHY had I tried getting up without a chair lift?

I was unable to stand, probably due to my extremely low threshold for... er, ethereal sensitivity to pain.  (It's basically a superpower.)  You follow?  My leg did not work for a moment.  Then I hobbled around for the rest of the night and pretty much ever since.  I still don't know what I did, except get old.  

The same night as the chair incident I was perusing my phone with my glasses resting atop my head.  An uber-helpful co-worker asked, "Do you need bifocals, Bone?"  No, this is a fashion statement, I saw it on the cover of Geriatrics Quarterly.  Yes, of course I need bifocals! 

Also, we got new reference books at work with print so microscopic that in order to read it you need a frickin' electron microscope.  Or, average eyesight.  So I had to get another, much younger co-worker to read off some numbers to me.

This came on the heels of me having a grievous cold, my first time being sick in two or three years.  (I still blame the Tdap vaccination the pediatrician unceremoniously forced on me.)  It was the kind of cold that would have knocked an average person off their feet for up to a day.  I was off mine for two, proving yet again that I am not average.

To top it off, my reflux has been acting up, waking me a couple of times a week lately.  At least that'll make for a decent conversation starter down at the convalescent center.

If I were a horse, they'd have to shoot me.  Of course, if I were a horse, I'd be like a hundred and thirty in human years, which would probably be some kind of record.  So maybe they wouldn't shoot me.  I'd most likely be in some kind of equine museum, alongside Secretariat, Mister Ed (of course... of course), and a horse with no name.

How did this happen?  To me???  I was always the one getting the "Well you sure don't look that old" comments.  Just a couple of weeks ago, my 9-year-old niece informed me she thought I was twenty-nine, about to turn thirty.  And trust me, she's a great judge of all things.  (Is it any wonder I married into that family?)

I've most certainly always acted younger than my age.  Much, much younger.  I'm sure any of my ex-girlfriends would attest to that.  And have.   

But suddenly, I'm feeling every last one of my forty-four years.  And about thirty more on top of that.

Mrs. Bone has to be wondering what she's gotten herself into.  To her credit, she hasn't said anything.  Of course if she did, my aged ears probably couldn't hear her anyway.

"I wish I still smoked cigarettes / Felt more grown up then / We were talkin' about where we were gonna go / Instead of talkin' 'bout where we'd been..."

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Hearse People

I was chewing the fat with the pest control guy one fair spring day last April when something caught his eye.

"What's going on over there?"  He was standing near the southwest corner of the privacy fence, peering at something in the distance.  I figured I knew where this was going.

"Oh, the hearse.  Yeah.  I have no idea, man."

"No, I mean, it's like pimped out.  It's got rims."

I had noticed the hearse a few weeks earlier parked in the carport of the house behind and to the south of ours.  But until now, I hadn't noticed the aftermarket rims.

In my defense, those same neighbors also have half a pickup truck sitting in the yard missing its bed and rear axle, as well as a pop-up camper which seems to house an unknown number of additional tenants.  Also, the previous resident didn't clean the garage gutters for so long there was foot-high vegetation growing in them.  Volunteer marijuana, possibly.  (Did I mention we do not, in fact, live in a gated community?)

Anyhow, in that context the hearse sort of blended in, though I now somewhat understood the allure, yea necessity, of HOA's.

It was the aftermarket rims that had me intrigued.  Who pimps out a hearse?  Was there some new reality show I didn't know about?  "The Emaciated Race?"  "Extreme Makeover: Mortician Edition?"  "Pimp My Final Ride?"  I mean, everyone I know who drives a hearse as their personal vehicle...

I had considered many possibilities for the hearse.  At first, I thought maybe they worked for a funeral home, and when the bed and rear axle had completely fallen off their truck in an extraordinary occurrence, they decided to drive the Caddy home for personal use.   However, the rims seemed to cast doubt on that theory.

Also, I met them one day in mid-December on my way home and the rear interior -- you know, where they keep the.... dearly departed -- was decorated with Christmas lights.  Maybe it was a festive funeral home?

It initially crossed my mind that maybe they were planning something big for Halloween.  Though procuring a hearse more than six months early seemed a bit odd.  (As opposed to driving a hearse home at all?)

There was also the possibility we were indeed living next door to the real-life Addams Family, though I never recalled hearing the names Gomez, Wednesday, or Fester being mentioned when they were outside.

And then, of course, there is the final and most likely scenario:

The hearse people are in the mafia.

The elongated Cadillac providing a perfect cover for transporting anyone who had recently been whacked to go sleep with the fishes.  In other words, the Addams "Family." *wink wink*

Why not just walk over and ask, you may wonder?  Uh, no thank you.  I walk over to offer some fresh garden vegetables and -- badda-bing! -- suddenly it's "Leave the gun, take the cucumbers."

Plus, I've yet to tell you about the weirdest thing of all.  One afternoon as I walked out onto the back patio I heard creepy organ music coming from the direction of the hearse people.  It sounded like the opening riff of Beethoven's 5th, slowed down.  Four notes.  And then it stopped.  It was beyond eerie, and at that point I was for sure never going anywhere near that house.

I immediately walked back inside and never spoke of it.  Thankfully, I hadn't been able to see anything over our fence.  Not that I would squeal, mind you.  I know how things work, I saw nearly all of "The Godfather."

My most recent encounter occurred a week or so ago when I was in the living room and Mrs. Bone informed me, "There's a strange man with a dog in our yard."

I looked out to see a gentlemen I did not recognize.  Since I know the neighbors on either side of us and across the street, we surmised he must be one of the hearse people, or "the family" as I now reverently address them.  He was older, gray-haired, probably not an enforcer.  At least not anymore.

He appeared to be trying to corral the dog.  Poor pup.  I could only imagine the punishment for leaving the yard without permission.  *shudder*  Or perhaps they were trying to pick up a scent of where something, or someone, had been buried.  *gulp*

I ducked out of view before he could spot me, though I did notice one final detail about the mysterious denizen:  He was wearing a Bama t-shirt.

At once I knew exactly how our initial conversation would someday go.

Me: "Roll Tide?"

Him: "Fuggedaboutit!"

"Don't let this old gold cross and this Crimson Tide t-shirt throw ya / It's cicadas making noise with a Southern voice..."

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Beautiful Boy

There's this thing you do where you press your fists to each side of your face the entire time you're eating.  I would say it was the most adorable thing ever, but then, there are so many from which to choose.

Your mother and I love every single thing about you.  The way both your arms jolt out to the side when it seems like something startles you.  Your grumpy old man face.  How you frequently extend one fist into the air above your head.  (We say it's your power-to-the-people pose.  Sometimes I call you "my little activist" and chant "Ber-nie! Ber-nie!")

You were due on the twenty-sixth of November.  Iron Bowl Saturday.  You arrived nine days early.  I guess you couldn't wait to meet us.  Either that, or you didn't want to enter the world amidst the domestic assault which surely would have been occurring once daddy insisted on watching the game on his phone in the delivery room while your mother was exploring the sundry delights of labor.

Often we had debated whether you would be a Luke or a Harper.  We would wait until your arrival to find out, all the while buying lots of neutral-colored clothes -- greens, grays, and whites.

You turned out to be a Luke.  A seven-pound, fifteen-ounce, twenty-inch-long bundle of perfect.  Your birthday fell one day before your beautiful aunt's, your daddy's sister.  (And no, I didn't proclaim, "Luke, I am your father!" as you exited the womb.  Though I may have uttered it a few times since.)

It was hard not to feel unprepared to be a Dad.  I had never even changed a diaper.  On my very first, I was assisting your mother, or more accurately, observing the proper technique.  Part way through, the moisture from the baby wipe she was using squirted into my face, onto my glasses and forehead.  

Or so I thought.  

Turns out it wasn't the baby wipe.  Maybe that was your little way of indoctrinating me into Dad-dom.

You have a single patch of white hair near your forehead, contrasting with all your brown.  Same as your grandpa and great-grandmother.  I think about all your great-grandparents and wish they were here to enjoy you.

They say you have my mouth and chin.  I think your mother might get a tad tired of hearing how much you look like me.  But let me tell you something about your mother, Luke: Your mother is amazing.

She gets up at least twice every single night to feed you, and at least as often just to console you.  She has done so much research, asking, and reading to try and ensure she is producing all that you need.

She probably hasn't had six hours of sleep in a night since you were born.  I am sure she is more tired than she has been in her whole life.  But when she looks at you, it is unfailingly obvious she is completely in love with you.  I know you won't remember these first months, but in case you ever read this, I wanted you to know that.

I hope you get her persistence.  Her loyalty.  Her love for travel.  Her freakishly healthy teeth.

I hope that as you grow up, she and I set a good example for you, not only as parents but as a married couple.  I hope that we gross you out by kissing in front of you, with tongue!  (Don't worry, you'll learn all about that one day.  It's one of the best things about life.)

I hope so much for you.  Much, much more than I ever had.  I suppose that is every parent's wish.

Yet while I cannot wait to see what you become, what your passions and personality will be, I try and cling to all these fleeting moments right now.  Moments I know I will soon miss.  Like how easily you fall asleep on my chest.  The precious coos and noises you make.  How you smile when I come home from work and start talking to you.

My beautiful boy, when you smile it's as if all the troubles of this world and problems of adulthood are as far away as a thing could ever be.

Oftentimes when you are asleep, I will go and check to make sure you are still breathing.  I am sure it seems a silly thing.  But in that moment, to see you peacefully asleep, everything is right in my world.

We have been wrestling with the decision to put you into daycare.  You, so completely reliant on your mother and me.  It's as if my heart has leapt outside of my body, and letting it/you out of my sight -- with a complete stranger, no less -- terrifies me like no thing ever has.  I know it terrifies your mother, as well.

I would give anything if one of us could quit our job.  But no matter how we crunch the numbers, we can't seem to make it work.  It's impossible not to feel like a bad parent.

This will all get easier, right?  (And all the parents of the world laughed and laughed.)

It is the opinion of some, and even I may have thought at times, that having a child is an entirely selfish act.  I have no idea if that is true.  What I do know is since you came along I have been on a crash course in unselfishness.

Of course I knew parents made many, many sacrifices.  Heaven knows my parents did.  The thing I didn't realize was that most of the time, you don't even think of it as a sacrifice.  Maybe there's no time for such thoughts.  You simply do whatever you have to for this precious creature who depends on you in every way.

All my decisions are made in the context of how they will affect you.  I want to be healthier so that I can be around longer for you.  I want to be a better person so that I might be a decent example for you.

You have brought so much change, so much new to our lives.  Many are simple things, such as the feeling I have when I carry you into a restaurant or any public place, or knowing I am the person family and friends will hand you back to when you start to cry.

Even my apps have changed.  WebMD Baby, Lyfeline Milestones, and The Wonder Weeks have claimed their place alongside Subway Surfers, Word Streak, and GolfStar.   

Having the opportunity to see the world anew through your big, beautiful eyes has reminded me of the wonder that has always been there.  I try to imagine all the new things you must be continually discovering.  Realizing the hope and possibilities that lie before you has renewed my own hope.

You have given me a new perspective on a lot of things.

Driving, for example, has become one of the single scariest experiences of human existence.  Bringing you home from the hospital, I was constantly on edge.  What if that car doesn't stop at that stop sign?  Why are these lanes so narrow?  What if that truck crosses over the median, breaks through the concrete barrier, and comes into my lane?  And why must everyone drive the speed limit???  I think ten miles per hour under is plenty fast, ya bunch of crazies!

I have a whole new appreciation and admiration for anyone who has ever raised a child.  No one tells you how hard it is going to be.  Or maybe they do, but there is no way to grasp it until you are the one doing it.

And single parents?  I stand amazed.  I cannot begin to comprehend how you do it.  You are real-life superheroes.

Sweet Lucas, you have even given me a new perspective on God.  Knowing how much I love you, I think, gives me a new appreciation of how much He must love His children.

Sometimes I am certain I learn more from you than you ever will from me.

If e'er I wondered if miracles still occur, I can now answer without doubt or hesitation: They absolutely do.  You are our perfect miracle.  It is an honor to be your dad, and the most enormous responsibility of my life.  

God help me not to mess it up.

"Before you go to sleep / Say a little prayer / Every day in every way / It's getting better and better / Beautiful boy..."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Soundtrack to My Youth

"I think George Michael may have died..."

I was sitting at the dining room table at Mom's, having just finished Christmas supper, when I received the text.  The year two thousand and sixteen, already cursed with so much darkness and death, had claimed yet another.

I suppose you never know how news like that will hit you until it does.  But amidst all the usual Christmas gaiety - the excitement of the nephews and niece, the adults talking, some Christmas movie on the television -- it took everything within me to keep from weeping openly.

I walked down the hall for a moment to gather myself.  When I returned, I told my sister the news.  She looked shocked for a second, then sang a couple of lines of "Faith" and moved on.  She didn't get it.  She was a bit too young then.

"Then" being somewhere in the vicinity of 1988.

Faith.  Father Figure.  Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.  One More Try.  Careless Whisper.  That music was the soundtrack to my youth.

For me, it represents those sweet spot days of thirteen to nineteen.  First cars and awkward first kisses.  Bonfires and pep rallies and hanging out at the mall.  Falling in love and first broken hearts.  When the real world had mostly yet to begin to erode the innocence.

I remember being on a field trip.  We were going to Helen Keller's birthplace, I think.  On the bus, I had strategically positioned myself on the seat in front of Annalisa Gray, on whom I had a little crush.  She was listening to the "Faith" album on her Walkman, which made her even more appealing.  

Though I had both the "Make It Big" and "Music From the Edge of Heaven" cassettes from the Wham! days, I had not yet procured my own copy of George Michael's first solo album.  I daydreamed that we might share headphones while listening to it, but as reality would have it, I think she loaned me her Walkman long enough to listen to one song.

The next year, she and I would perfect the art of the tongueless kiss.  (Is art the right word?)  I got my own copy of "Faith" and flat wore it out.  As it almost always does, the music outlived the crush.

I guess eventually the music outlives us all...

"I'm looking out for angels, just trying to find some peace..."

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Twas the Night Before...

The day of the wedding, I had lunch by myself.  A few of us had gone go-karting and hung out in the arcade that morning, after plans for zip lining fell through.   I wound up at a little seafood joint two blocks from the beach — just me, my crawfish and my Yuengling.  My last meal as a free man.  And not a bad choice, I might add, though some collard greens and cherry cobbler would have consummated it nicely.

As the crawfish began to disappear, I wondered if I’d be consummating anything anytime soon.  That is, considering the near-disastrous events of the night before.

Rehearsal had gone well enough, highlighted by the scrumptious swine delicacies of Hog Wild BBQ.  I was most excited about our recessional song (the Baja Men wedding classic, “Who Let the Dogs Out”) and my reception “mixtape.”  It was obvious (to me) that the old deejay hadn’t lost his touch.

Sure, one groomsman had been an hour late, and one bridesmaid missed the whole thing after getting lost in Mississippi.  (She looked like the lone survivor at the end of a horror movie as she avowed, “People think Alabama and Mississippi are the same.  They’re not.  Mississippi is way scarier.”)  But I figured if that’s the worst thing that happened, we were in good shape.

It wasn’t.

LJ and his wife invited us out to the Flora-Bama afterwards.  I should interject here that I may have given Fiancee Bone the impression that we would not go out after rehearsal.  I did this by telling her, “We will not go out after rehearsal.”  After all, we still had our vows to write!  (Procrastination being the mother of…. No wait, procrastination being the tie that… Eh, whatever, I’ll finish that line later.)

But we (I) was feeling guilty and trying to fit in as many friends and family as we (I) could.  After all, almost everyone had driven a minimum of five hours to get here.  So we (I) agreed (volunteered us) to go.

We rode with them and left Fiancee Bone’s car in the parking lot of the Gulf State Park Pavilion.  Our only instructions were to be cleared out by midnight because that’s when the gate would be locked.

The Flora-Bama was sprawling and historic, if uneventful.  It seemed the sort of place you really had to be inebriated to enjoy.  We got back to the Pavilion by 11:30. The gate, naturally, was locked.

After a few minutes of hemming, hawing, and investigating the situation, I decided there was space enough between the gate and a nearby utility pole to fit the car.  Perhaps you already have some idea where this is going?

As I navigated the five-speed, front-wheel drive German sedan towards the seemingly ever-shrinking gap, I looked at the three of them — LJ, my best man and friend of twenty-plus years; Mrs. LJ, well-intentioned if uber-panicky; and Fiancee Bone.  The skepticism was palpable.

I pressed on, determined to skillfully maneuver Fiancee Bone’s car through the opening, across a sandy threshold and into our future together.  Hero, thy name is Bone.

(I believe it was Gordon Lightfoot who once sang, “Heroes often fail.”)  My mistake was being too careful.  Not wanting to damage Fiancee Bone’s vehicle, I took it too slow.  The front-wheel drive, rather than working to pull me out of the sand (did I mention I was driving through sand?) only served to dig me in deeper -- literally and figuratively, I was thinking about this time.

I scanned Fiancee Bone’s face, trying to gauge her, um, enthusiasm.  On a scale of “I’m leaving and driving back home tonight” to “I love you forever,” it was a solid “I may not be speaking to you for awhile.”  We’d be fine.  Let’s face it, she’d surely put up with way worse than this in our time together.  I was inexplicably optimistic.

The three of us — LJ, Fiancee Bone and myself — got out to try and push.  Mrs. LJ got back into her own vehicle, presumably to panic some more or hide from the police that we all assumed would be arriving any minute.

Though buoyed by Mrs. LJ’s constant declarations of “This is never going to work,” pushing was a no-go.  The front wheels were nearly half-buried by now, thanks to some excessive gassing it earlier by yours truly.  The thought crossed my mind that no girl should have to be pushing a car from a stuck position the night before her wedding.  But in some way, it made me love her even more.   I looked at her again, and in that moment, I felt pretty confident she was not having similar thoughts about me.

Fiancee Bone began to call family members and friends to see if there was anyone who could pull us out, while Mrs. LJ consoled her with utterances of “I’d be so upset if I were you.”  I separated from the group a bit and walked back to the car.  That’s when I saw it — wedged down in the corner of the driver’s side window — the world’s tiniest post-it note.

I held the absurdly small piece of paper in the light and read it’s once-important but now terribly untimely message:

“Gate is dummy locked.  Please lock up when you leave.”

Why?  Just… why?

First of all, notes on cars go under the windshield wiper, everyone knows that!  I'm pretty sure that's in Deuteronomy, or would have been had post-it notes been invented in 1500 B.C., right between gleanest ye not thy fields after the harvest and something something something thine brother's oxen.

Secondly, who buys the 1/2 inch by 1 3/4 inch post-it notes?  They are very hard to see!  Nothing says "I wanted to leave you a note so technically you couldn't say I hadn't, but I didn't really want you to get the message" more than this.

Now you understand, Fiancee Bone hadn’t wanted to go out in the first place.  Plus there was the little matter of the car getting stuck while it just so happened I was the one driving it.  So I was already skating on the thinnest of ice.  But this bit of news, which meant the entire misadventure could have and should have been avoided, had turned that ice to slush.

I walked back to the group — they had remained preoccupied — and did not say a word, but simply handed the note to Fiancee Bone.  My brain must have suppressed the memory of her reaction in the interest of self-preservation or something, because I cannot recall a thing that she said.

In order to put the finishing touches on my magnum opus, I strolled over to the entrance, easily removed the lock and swung open the gate.  Voila!  Well, at least I’ll know for next time?

Not more than a couple of minutes later, we noticed the headlights of a vehicle begin to slow and pull off the side of the road.  How were we going to explain our situation?  There’s no way the police would believe the truth.  More likely, they would think we’d broken in, went joy riding in the parking lot, probably smoked a few doobies, and got stuck on our way out.  I began to wonder what the Gulf Shores Jail was going to look like.

Would it be like the Andy Griffith Show?  That wouldn’t be so bad.  Or would it be more like Law & Order?  Would I get my own cell or would I be in holding with a bunch of other criminals?  I knew that regardless I would not be able to “go” in that little sink/toilet thingy with no privacy.  I’d just have to wet myself.  Of that, I was certain.

As it turns out, my toilet nightmare would have to wait.  It was not the cops.   Instead a white jacked-up truck had pulled up.  Two boys who looked to be no older than nineteen or twenty got out.  Without saying a word, one hopped into the bed of the truck and began pulling out a chain.  The other offered nothing more than a brief “Ya’ll stuck?” greeting as he began to tie one end of the chain around the front right wheel of Fiancee Bone’s car.  It was as if they had done this a hundred times before.

Displaying a prowess normally reserved for a NASCAR pit crew, they had us unstuck within three minutes.  It would have been sooner but someone didn’t realize he had the car in reverse at first.  We insisted they take twenty bucks for their trouble.

Back on the road, we saw the white truck again on the strip.  It was turning into the Hooters.   A well-deserved reward, I thought.

Meanwhile, Fiancee Bone wasn’t saying much.  Probably thinking about how to convey her undying devotion to me in her vows.

“You know, one day we’ll look back on all this and laugh,” I offered, feebly.  

From her reaction I gathered that today was not that day.

"Tomorrow we can drive around this town, and let the cops chase us around.  The past is gone, but something might be found to take its place..."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How Old We've Gotten, How Many We've Lost

It was the spring of my discontent.  One of several.  I had been unemployed for about two months, ever since I called out one Friday night at the Food Fair so I could attend the county basketball tournament.  At the tender age of seventeen, I was on my own.  

Well, that's not entirely true.

I mean, I still lived with my parents and they fed me and stuff, and I was still in high school.  But...  I had stocked my last gallon of milk, fronted my last aisle, stolen my last grape... (What?  They're like half a cent each.  I ate like three a night.  Who amongst us hasn't absconded with a bit of produce without paying, let them cast the first stone... OWW!  Who threw that?!)

That May, I landed a weekend job at the local AM radio station.  It was, um, quaint.  They still had a fifteen-minute swap-and-shop phone-in program (think of it like Craigslist on the radio) every weekday.  Each morning at 7:57 they (we) aired the funeral announcements (think obituaries on the... well, you get the idea).

It also happened to be a country station.  The year was 1990.  Up 'til then, I had not been all that keen on country music.  In fact, we were just coming out of my favorite decade of pop music, and I was pickin' up whatever Casey Kasem was countin' down.

As it turned out, my hiring coincided with a remarkable country music boom.  Garth had come out in '89, along with Clint Black and Alan Jackson.  George Strait, Alabama, and Reba were all in the long sweet spots of their careers.  Brooks & Dunn were about to break through, along with Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and on and on.  Coincidence?  Well, as I just used the word "coincided," then yes, completely.

I still remember the first time I played/heard "Friends in Low Places."  It was on a 45 (think compact discs for old folks).  Perhaps it was because I was still a few months away from my first crippling heartbreak and had never tasted beer, but the song didn't strike me as all that remarkable.  In fact, I predicted then and there that Clint Black would indeed have a longer, more successful career than Garth.  Still waiting to see how that one turns out.

I saw the change from vinyl to CD's to mp3's.  Commercials went from carts (think re-recordable 8-tracks) to mini-discs to mp3's.  And within a couple of years, the station applied for and was granted an FM license.  Eventually, I moved to full-time working the night shift on a real FM radio station (think SiriusXM for old folks).

Anytime someone would ask about my job, the answer was always some variant of "I'm only doing this until I find something else/figure out what I want to do for a career."  I assume it was part of my Peter Pan syndrome, always waiting for some fantastical ship whose arrival was always just around the corner.  

Then one day, it was twenty-five years later.  And I had spent approximately twenty-one of those working for various radio stations filling an assortment of positions, from DJ to reporter, producer to high school football scoreboard co-host.

So why did the career-that-wasn't end?  Well, consider that except for the most recent, every other radio station I had worked for has since been bought out, changed format and moved, or shut down entirely.  I have never spoken truer words than these: Clear Channel killed the radio star.

Perhaps I'll write more about my radio days later -- I can sense the masses clamoring.  But what got me thinking about those days were last week's CMA Awards Show.  My sister texted (think Snapchat for old folks) the day after the Awards to see if I had watched.  I had not.  

The last station I worked for was classic country, '50s through '90s, which probably contributed to my being mostly abhorred by what passes for current country music.  (And while I'm at it, you pesky kids, you get off my lawn!)

She went on to inform me, due to it being the 50th Anniversary, there had been a tribute of some sort and quite a few of the old guard had appeared.  So I spent a bit of Thursday scrounging around YouTube watching clips.

Soon I found myself on the outskirts of Nostalgia-ville, cruising down a warm and fuzzy stretch of Memory Lane (one of my favorite roads as you may have noticed over the years).  There was a montage of some of the legends who have passed, including Waylon, Haggard, Cash, Keith Whitley, Tammy Wynette, and George Jones.  

I had not expected to become teary-eyed, yet there I was.

The music had played a significant role in my life, certainly that was some part of it.  I think it's fairly common to feel a connection with the people and things who share our little strip of time.  The singers and bands, actors and athletes, songs and TV shows.  In all the years of creation, these were ours.

But mostly I suppose it had to do with that old familiar reminder of time's swift and certain passage.  Watching Alan Jackson, George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Randy Travis, Alabama, and others on stage, I soon had the thought, "Wait a second.  How did they become the old guard?"

For you may be able to convince me of many things, but you will never convince me that the early '90s were twenty-five years ago.  Feels more like ten.  Maybe fifteen.  But twenty-five?  One third of an average lifespan?  A quarter of a century?  It seems as impossible as a thing can be.

I swear just the other day I was dusting off an old Charley Pride LP, placing it on the turntable, back cueing it to the start of "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin," and flipping the switch from 45 to 33 1/3...

Geez, that must have been some switch.

"If we had an hourglass to watch each one go by, or a bell to mark each one to pass, we'd see just how they fly..."

Monday, October 24, 2016

Semi-Decent Proposal

One year late in the spring I am at the beach, and find myself in what can only be described as the world’s most heinous piano bar. The pianists, if I may use that term loosely, are spouting distasteful sodomy jokes (are there tasteful ones?) with disconcerting frequency. Perhaps they mixed in a few other jokes as well, but much like an imagined prison stay, it’s the sodomy you remember.

I am sitting between the girl I’ve been courting for quite some time and my ex-best friend’s wife, wracking my brain for a way to get the former to leave so the latter and I can have a couple of minutes alone.

You may be wondering, much like I was at the time: how did I wind up here?

It all began with a boy, a plan, and a healthy dose of absentmindedness.

First, the plan. We’d go for a walk on the beach, a place sewn into both our souls. I’d kneel down and propose in Spanish — she had lived in Spain for four months — reciting the words on the folded piece of paper I had kept in my wallet and rehearsed so carefully. Granted, it wasn’t any elaborate plan, but it was mine. I’d even gone old school and ask her Dad's permission. He, the jeweler, and I were the only people who knew anything at all about it.

We were on our way to the coast, thirty minutes into the five-and-a-half-hour trek when it hit me. (Apologies in advance for the language.)


A pause.

“Crap! Crap, crap, crap!”

“What’s wrong? Did you forget something?”

“Uh…. no.” An obvious lie.

“Are you sure? We can go back.”

“No. It’s fine.”

But it wasn’t fine. My non-elaborate plan had but one tiny flaw: I must not forget the ring!

We couldn’t go back for it. Even if we did backtrack, adding an hour to our trip, when I came out of the house, she’d be expecting me to be carrying something. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of anything to pretend I had forgotten that might seem worth going back for.

And so, we continued southward, past the familiar rolling hills north of Birmingham, my mind a million — er, thirty — miles away.

I could propose without a ring. She would be confused, at best; disappointed, at worst. Else I would have to wait until we returned and come up with some other probably even less elaborate plan. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach.

I texted my ex-best friend’s wife: “You will not believe what I did!”

And now four people knew.

(It seems worth noting here the reason he is my ex-best friend is simply because we drifted apart once he got married and then went off on some radical religious tangent. Nothing too sinister.)

They happened to be coming to the beach that same weekend. She was full of questions: Was there anyone who had a key to the house? Yes. The girl who would be coming by to feed Tony DiNozzo, my third-born Betta.

OK, so I guess it was just the one question. They would conspire. She would retrieve the ring from my underwear drawer — the place all men keep their valuables. I assume — and bring it South.

They would arrive Saturday afternoon. We would be departing for home Sunday morning. It would be tight, but it could be done. I was almost confident.

I had one last directive:

“Make sure you don’t get the wrong ring.”

“There’s more than one ring???”

“I was engaged before.”

Obviously, bringing the wrong ring could turn what I was naively optimistic was going to be a decent engagement story into one that would be… well, probably not even an engagement story at all.

Saturday evening, the prospective Fiancee Bone and I grabbed some seafood at Kenny D’s, then drove across the bridge to Okaloosa Island and the aforementioned Sodomy Saloon, the rendezvous point suggested by my now ring-bearing friend. It had taken some convincing on my part. It being our last night on the beach, the Prospective One wasn’t overly keen on spending part of it with my ex-best friend’s wife. But I persuaded her. Or more accurately, annoyed her about it until she relented. This is how I operate.

We got to the door. I nearly turned back. Cold feet? No. Ten dollar cover charge. Which, if you’ve never dated anyone, meant twenty dollar cover charge. I figured it up, it came to about a dollar forty-three cents per sodomy joke. I don’t know what the going rate is, but that seemed a tad high.

We must have sat there at least forty-five minutes. She who bore my ring and I casting glances at one another, trying to figure out how to make the exchange. (Which, as it turns out, you cannot do through glances alone.) She who may hopefully someday bear my child growing more agitated with each excruciating moment. Finally, an idea. My first.

“Do you need to go to the bathroom?” Prospective fiancee always had to go.

“No.” Of course.

At that point, I swear I began to see smoke. I’m not sure if it was from the bar or literal steam rising from her increasingly infuriated (and oh so adorable) head, but considering it was a non-smoking bar…

Then Ring Bearer excused herself to go to the restroom. I sat there for a good thirty seconds, clueless.

Oh! It hit me. "Um, I guess I’ll go, too.”

There was a lobby outside the restrooms. Ring Bearer wasn’t there when I went in. Thankfully, she was waiting when I had finished making my deposit. We made the swap. I pondered how many transactions just like this must have taken place in this very spot. Probably not many.

By now, it had gotten to be the sleepy side of 10 p.m. With a bit of a drive still ahead, I thought it would be too late to suggest a walk on the beach once we got back to the room. She would be suspicious. So instead, I suggested we go for a walk on the pier not far from the bar. Just the two of us. (I'm pretty sure that part was integral.) She agreed.

Partway down the pier, between people fishing and... other people fishing, I stopped and leaned against the rail. We chatted for a bit, looking out over the ocean and back towards the hotels and lights along the shoreline. It truly was gorgeous, out here, away from all the sodomy.

When I caught her looking away, I pulled the ring box out of my pocket. When she turned back I smiled and, gazing into those eyes so full of love — although maybe not quite as full as they had been a couple of hours ago — said, “Has anyone told you lately they want to spend the rest of their life with you?”

I then proceeded to kneel, and right there next to a sign that read “No fishing or diving,” I jumped right in.


She said yes. Eventually. Turns out at first it was so dark she couldn't see the ring. But I did get the Spanish right. Later she asked what I would've done if I'd dropped the ring into the ocean, you know, since it was right there and all. I had honestly never considered that, not surprisingly. We would be married about 80 miles down the coast a little over a year later. I volunteered her to be in charge of the rings.

"Someday somebody's gonna ask you / A question that you should say yes to / Once in your life / Maybe tonight I've got a question for you..."