Thursday, November 30, 2006

I Saw Daddy Having Coffee with Santa Claus

There is a fellow citizen of my town that a lot of people call “Santa Claus.” He is about 6’5” and relatively thin, but has white hair and a long, thick beard. Most people would call him crazy.

I find our Santa rather interesting. He and I bump into one another every now and again. Sometimes I’ll see him at the coffee shop, or he’ll be wandering by my office. I’m not always in the mood to talk with him, because, frankly, it takes some emotional energy to keep up.

Normally, SC is a friendly person, though I have seen him get agitated. And if you sit and talk with him a while, if you can immerse yourself in his worldview, then you can begin to understand the world he lives in. In many ways, his world is more interesting than ours is. And, whenever we finish speaking, I go away with the feeling that I have spent time with a friend.

My favorite SC story is his explanation about how sausages are produced without killing the hogs. Sausage hogs, you see, are raised in Oklahoma. When they have grown big and fat, they are shipped to Texas. In Texas--apparently using highly secretive technology--the hogs are subjected to a super-diet. The weight they lose is transformed into sausages, leaving behind living hogs, which are only a fraction of their former weight. The hogs are then shipped back to Oklahoma, and the process is repeated.

SC is very concerned about Outer Space. He believes that Outer Space is our nemesis, but fortunately, we have been clever enough to confuse them with letters, meaning the components of the alphabet, the ABCs. He loves letters. SC frequently takes the letters of a word, such as “tree” (and trees are among his favorites, too) and will determine which words go with the letters of the original word. Tree, therefore, can stand for “technology realizes earth’s expectations.” Simple, isn’t it?

Today, SC shared some new knowledge with me. He figured out that the moon protects the earth from Outer Space. There is some sort of moon sphere that surrounds the earth, and whenever Outer Space transgresses that sphere, there is a signal from within the earth or from the military, that causes the sun to send out a protective ray or blast in the direction of the transgressor. That made me feel much more at ease!

There is one particular earthly community that is in league with Outer Space. They are the Outer Space’s spies. They are birds! (You pigeon-haters out there should be pleased with that!) The birds are always talking about SC. They are always following him. They are always planning mischief.

Our Santa Claus certainly isn’t an elf, but he can be jolly. I’m glad he’s around.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Crazy Uncle Syndrome

Uncle Norman and his wife spent Thanksgiving somewhere else this year, but whenever the family gathers, you can be sure Uncle Norman stories are sure to surface.

It started as it usually does, telling stories about near disaster, things my brother and I did that Mom never knew about, my father’s and uncles’ escapades when they were younger, and the like. (One of my favorite stories about Dad and my uncle is the day--during the college years--they took a starter’s pistol into a laundromat and staged a mock shootout. Surely, if they had done that today, they’d have been locked up in a hurry.)

Then, we moved on to the Uncle Norman section of the conversation. I know everyone must have an Uncle Norman in their family. He’s the nearly insane one, and trouble never seems far behind. Even though he’s 72, Norman still acts as if he has ADHD.

Here are some interesting facts about Uncle Norman:

+At my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary celebration last summer, Norman and my brother engaged in a long wrestling match on the lawn amongst the guests, then moving into the house, back out of the house again to the lawn, both of them breaking several truces along the way.

+He has been bitten by rattlesnakes on three separate occasions.

+One winter, with my brother and I asleep in the back of the pickup beneath the camper shell, my Dad--up front with Norman--said, “I wonder what would happen if we ran into one of those snowdrifts at the side of the road.” Norman, who was driving on this back road in the middle of nowhere, decided to find out. More than 360-degrees later, my brother and I woke up to find the truck skidded off the side of the road and stuck in the snow. Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before a sheriff’s deputy came along and pulled us out.

+He would frequently go out in public wearing shorts, sandals and black socks.

+When we were younger, Uncle Norman would go around family gatherings saying to we cousins, “Watch out, or I’ll ‘boom’ ya.” Then, he’d slam a shoulder into us, knocking us halfway across the room.

And that’s just his adult behavior! This summer, Dad took the kids and me to see the house where he grew up. All the stories seemed to be about Norman diving out of windows or jumping from the roof.

The amazing thing about all of this is that none of us, including Uncle Norman, has been killed. I guess the body can take a lot more than we imagine.

Hope you had fun with your Uncle Norman at Thanksgiving this year.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

You're As Old as the Radio Says You Are

I was listening to a morning show on the radio today. A woman called in hoping to receive birthday greetings from the hosts.

From her stated age and the way she spoke, I formed a picture in my mind of an aging woman desperately trying to hang on to her youth. Everything about her just seemed so...middle aged.

Then it hit me. She is exactly as old as I am. Actually, she’s younger, since my birthday was three months ago!

Monday, November 20, 2006

What's Good?

I have been writing a lot of grumpy, sarcastic things here lately. Though that is my normal personality, they are attributes I usually find annoying in others. Therefore, I have decided to inject some positive energy into my blog. Here are some things that are good in my life lately...

+I return to my childhood home for Thanksgiving; it will only be for a couple of days, but I love going home, primarily because it is the most beautiful country on God’s green earth, and also because I’ll get to drink a lot of beer.

+I still love my new plants. I’ve got to show you a photo of my two new Arctostaphylos franciscana. They are adorable!

+It was a great weekend of college football. I felt guilty that I spent all Saturday on the couch, but heck, I can take a shower next weekend.

+I am hopped up on good coffee right now.

+I am a contributor to another blog, one that primarily features satire in the form of fake news. Just today a magazine editor asked permission to print one of my pieces.

+I still have not killed any of my children.

+The off-season baseball news has given me lots of hope for next year.

See? I’m not a complete curmudgeon.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Aaagh! My Ears! My Frickin' Ears!

I just heard the worst song in the history of music. I am not a music connoisseur, and though I appreciate many different styles, I generally stick to whatever I can get on the radio. Yet despite my shortcomings, I know for a fact that James Blunt’s “Goodbye My Lover” is the most horrible thing ever produced, and that includes my attempt at “Dinosaur Rock” (my own composition, by the way) on the back of a Tupperware container when I was eight years old. (I was deep into my percussion phase.)

The lyrics are simply a series of cliches stacked up against one another with no sense of coherency or rhythm. Blunt’s singing style is whiny and bored. The lyrics are accompanied by bland, meandering piano music. No wonder his lover left him!

You can, at your own peril, get the full lyrics here.

This is the most absolutely terrible song ever. (And now I’ve wasted 10 minutes of my life writing about it.) Are there any James Blunt fans out there who can prove me wrong?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

This Dad Has Finally Arrived

I have finally reached the pinnacle of parenthood. In the last six weeks, both of my teenage daughters have said they hate me! One said she wished I weren’t her dad. The other said she’d never call me “dad” again. I could never, even in my wildest dreams, have hoped for such complete success.

What complicates matters in our household is that the two girls came from my wife’s first marriage, and the boy came from mine. Even though their father has been largely absent from their lives, it has been difficult for me to feel completely comfortable in the role of dad to the girls. A part of that discomfort comes from the fact that I am male and they are young women. They were already in middle elementary school when my wife and I married, and I have always been concerned about how to behave appropriately with them.

Another factor is that I don’t feel quite as fatherly toward them as I do toward my son. I eagerly anticipated his arrival, and I have been with him since the moment of his birth. I did willingly accept the role of step-dad, provider and protector of the girls when I married their mother--and I have tried very hard to do right by them--but there is still something that doesn’t feel the same. Should I feel guilty about that? I don’t know. My wife claims to love my son as if he were her own, and maybe she does. But when she becomes threatened and fearful, my admission to her about my difficulty in feeling that closeness with the girls becomes a weapon she turns on me.

Finally, there is the fact that these girls are teenagers. The relationship with parents is supposed to be difficult at that age. Their mother has felt it even more keenly than I have. The girls seem to hate everyone--especially each other. In the last year, I have probably not heard more than one polite sentence exchanged between them. The older daughter speaks to the younger as if she were garbage, and the younger is constantly whining at and provoking her older sister. It makes our home a place of true joy.

Right now, I don’t really want to be a dad. I just want to hide my head in the sand until they are all 21. Maybe 30.

And just think: my son becomes a teen next year!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I'm Right...Even If I'm Wrong

Over the weekend, several of us were sitting around watching television. My son and I had a brief conversation. Simply put, he and I were arguing about whether or not the song he was humming was the same one used in a truck commercial. Deep stuff.

I don’t know how long it will take my kids to stop arguing with their parents. It’s as if they think we have no idea what we’re talking about.

Anyway, after a while of “yes it it isn’t,” I looked at my wife and shook my head sadly. She said, “He’s your son, all right. It serves you right. That’s exactly what you do, and I hate it. You have to be right, and every little detail has to be perfect.”

Now wait just a minute! Was she implying that I have a flaw? No stinkin’ way!

Plus, as it turned out, my son was right.

I Have Confirmed It

Twelve months is too long to leave ready-made pie crust in the freezer. Mmmmm, garbage disposaly.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Friendly Fire

Sometimes things just go wrong. I didn’t mean for that to happen, but it did, and I know I bear some of the blame.

I have a friend. He and I were able to communicate in an easy, fluid manner. We could talk about serious stuff or make fun of the absurdities of life. Sometimes we didn’t have to say anything at all.

We spent many hours together like that, hanging out at the laundromat waiting for clothes, walking to class, sitting around the apartment, and in a hundred other places where the ordinary stuff of life happens. We have some things in common; a love of baseball being one of the first things that built our friendship. But we are also different people in many ways. Our distinct life experiences have caused us to see the world differently.

But then something happened. I didn’t see it coming, though I should have. I reacted in the manner I thought best, but in agonizing hindsight, I know I made a poor decision. Our friendship was hurt by what happened. My friend was hurt. I doubt that the damage will ever be completely overcome.

We don’t see each other nearly as much as before. Some of that is due to the fact that life sometimes leads people apart for a season or two. But it is more than just that. Even when we do talk, I sense a distance, a lack of trust and a wariness that was never there before.

I don’t blame my friend for feeling the way he does, but I feel an emptiness when I think of what we lost. I have been thinking about all this a lot lately, probably too much. It is painful to contemplate. I have apologized, of course, but as we all know, apologies don’t automatically fix things.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How the West Was One

The West has meant “the untamed wilderness.” It has stood for rugged individualism and people who seek to leave the straightjacket of civilization behind. More recently, the West has been seen as the home of elitist, liberal, vegetarian, transcendentalist pot heads. (Frankly, though, I don’t know any transcendentalists.) We even have this strange thing for turning mediocre actors into governors.
There is something spiritually unique about the West. For me, that means anywhere west of the Great Plains. I have not traveled much, and I have lived all but six of my years in my home state, and whenever I am somewhere else, everything feels different. The landscape and scenery, of course, are strange to me, but even the air smells and feels odd, as if it were too heavy. The heat of the sun is somehow transfigured, no doubt due to a difference in humidity.

When I am visiting one of those non-Western places, I truly feel like a visitor, a foreigner. Put me in one of the great deciduous forests or magnificent cities of the east, and I may recognize the beauty, but I am out of place. I get an awkward--perhaps claustrophobic--feeling if I can’t see 40 miles in every direction.

Yet if you dropped me down in the West, I’d instantly know I was home, whether in the middle of a broiling desert, atop a frozen mountain or in the center of a bustling city. I like to think that I belong to the West, that I am native to it just like a plant or animal is native to a particular habitat.

I know other people feel similar connections to places they live. Maybe that’s just a natural thing; we all become used to a place and everywhere else seems foreign. I think that each place must shape people differently. It isn’t just the culture of the people who live in the East or the Deep South or the West that makes them unique. It is the place itself.

I prefer to think there is something mystical about the land here. There is a song in the dirt, in the rocks, in the water and in the air that calls to me. It is like a lullaby, and when I hear it, I know I am home.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

When Loving Hurts

The first thing I must say is that I love my wife. She is a wonderful woman. She supports me and spoils me. She encourages me and challenges me to improve. I would not be married to any other woman.

What hurts both of us is that she has some very old, deep wounds. Since she was a child, she has been mistreated, neglected and abused in a variety of ways, particularly by men. And when she is frustrated, angry or under severe stress, those wounds open up inside her. When that happens, she lashes out in self-defense.

Because I am the nearest, safest human being to her--and perhaps because I am a man--she often attacks me. They aren’t physical attacks, of course. I seem to become the symbol for everyone who hurt or disappointed her, and everything comes down on me. At first, that surprised me. I hadn’t known how much she had been through, nor had I known how that could affect her behavior and ability to differentiate between real threats and her imagination. There have been wounds that damaged her ability to control her emotion.

Now, I try very hard to have patience. It is often impossible to use logic when she is so very angry. I gave up trying. Now, I try to listen and reassure her that I love her. And, frankly, not even that works. She just seems to have to burn out that fear through counterattack, and when she does that, then she returns to a place of stability. Afterward, she is often apologetic, and can look back and see what happened.

The problem is, that though I try to understand, each episode pounds me pretty good. I feel like I’ve been used as a punching bag for a few hours, and I wonder when I’m just going to fall apart myself.

It’s not completely hopeless, though. She is better now than when we first married. Counseling, medication and our working together have helped. But it’s always there, just under the surface, and sometimes it leaps out and surprises me.

I love my wife. I just wish I could heal her, too.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

And the Whole World Smiles Back

As I drove along yesterday, I saw a high school girl waiting at a bus stop. There was nothing remarkable about her. She wasn’t particularly attractive. Yet she was doing something that made her beautiful. She was smiling.

She was probably just sharing a nice moment with a friend, but the look on her face was one of pure joy, and that made her beautiful. Many times over the last couple of weeks I have noticed that happiness can transform a person’s face.

I considered my own life. I normally wear a rather grim visage. People often assume I’m upset about something even when I’m not. Also, my wife and I have been grumbling at each other a lot lately. Life has thrown us plenty of reasons to frown. I decided that maybe if I were happier, or at least looked happier, then she might see more beauty in me.

I can change that. And so I did.

I had a very difficult day at the office yesterday. Usually after a day like that, I’d come in the door and grumble about all the crap I endured. Instead, when I came home, I forced myself to be cheerful. The first things I did were smile at her, give her a kiss and ask about her day. Damn, if it didn’t work.

I resolve to be a more joyful person from now on. If nothing else, it will make me more beautiful.

Who knew?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Something to Talk About

The last months since I last posted to the blog have been one tiresome long relief outing. I had to keep facing batter after batter even though I was getting shelled. The experience is wearing me out, but at least I have a lot of topics for the blog, such as...

What happens when you live with someone you love--but who is deeply wounded--and you want to fix that person, to make the hurt go away, and you can’t?

What is it that makes the West such a unique place? I’m sure other regions have their appeal, but there is something about the West that makes it seem as if I belong to it.

Why are teenage girls so aggravating?!

Again with the job thing. Should I stay or should I go?

Could my baseball team have made a worse mess of the last quarter of their season?

Related to the job thing: I hate managing employees who don’t want to do their jobs.

Estranged friends.

I got some new native plants to landscape my front yard. I’m thrilled. They’re like my babies. I must have been manzanita in a former life.

I’ll get to each and every one of these topics soon. At least within 72 months.