When my kids learn to drive.

Today’s child doesn’t really understand that driving an automobile used to be a privilege. Given the commonality of cars these days, who can blame them?

One of the things that grows from this commonality is a new level of impatience. People in general seldom drive for pleasure like they used to and when they do drive, their fellow drivers aren’t going fast enough to suit their needs. As a result of this impatience, car accidents happen more frequently. If you need evidence, google ‘auto detailers near me‘.

 When privilege become expectation.

The last automobile accident I was in happened when I was 14. My father was driving. I was in the front passenger seat. We had just crossed a major intersection on a two-lane road that our neighborhood was built around. Approaching us was a long line of cars, at least 5 deep.

I don’t remember what the holdup was for the oncoming traffic.

It could have been some old bitty, nothing but two hands on the steering wheel and a faint wisp of purplish white hair where the face should have been. I never knew. I was staring out the window, bored, like everyone normally is at that age.

My father’s attempts at bonding with me usually culminated in long car rides. Presumably this was due to the fact that it’s awfully hard for someone in their teens to ignore the person behind the wheel given the fact that the person behind the wheel is in total control of the environment.

As we began to pass the cars, that’s when I heard my father swear. At that age, I had heard my father swear before but this time, there was a hint of helplessness to it.

“You fucker“. 

I looked up at him and then through the windshield. Another car from the back of the throng was hurtling towards us. Neither of us were wearing seat belts.

Avoidance wasn’t an option.

The oncoming car didn’t have the chance to accelerate fast enough to do any real damage to us. The only souvenir my father had from that event was a knot high on his forehead and a totaled car. I had managed to escape with some bruises and some cuts on my hands because I was fast enough to put them up to protect myself from the windshield.

When my kids learn to drive.

Every kid expects their parent to teach them how to drive. With how common cars are and how glorified they are (The Fast and Furious franchise), it’s basically in their DNA by now. The idea of control, the controlling of a vehicle, of the fact that you are in charge of a destination hits all of the really gushy parts of their little lizard brains.

I’m not looking forward to the days when I have to teach my shit-heads what it really means to be behind the wheel of an automobile.

It’s not because I think that all kids (even mine) are dumb and reckless. It’s because I don’t want to ponder how they might feel or react to their fellow drivers who could potentially be less than courteous. It’s because, if they get into an accident (which might happen) that it won’t be due to the fact that they were being careless. And, it’s because I can only hope they will have the balls to call me when they know that they are too fucked up to drive. 

The bottom line is that other drivers, even you, dear reader, and even me, are assholes. The thing that I have been driving into my children’s brains since they have been able to interpersonally relate to people outside of the family, is that you can’t change an asshole: you can only give them a wide berth. 

 

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My father’s hairline. 

Having a beard (the thing that grows out of a grown man’s face, not a women covering for closeted homosexuals) seems to be the latest trend that men need to subscribe to in order to fit in. What’s more is that there are apparently some women out there that actually like beards.

My ‘beard-ing’ back story.

There used to be a time when I absolutely hated shaving. Yes, it was my teenage years. And yes, a good chunk of my hatred for facial grooming came from people (school administrators, bosses at work) telling me that I needed to do it. We men are a generic and sometimes unoriginal species. 

I blame my father for not teaching me properly. He was a cheap son of a bitch who’s weaponry of choice for shaving didn’t leave the realm of a can of Barbasol and the Bic razors with the orange cap. There was a brief and potentially ill-advised period where he used a Braun shaver. If I’m not mistaken that didn’t last long because of a technical malfunction that either took off a chunk of his face or ending up burning the shit out of him.

At any rate, when I needed to start shaving on a regular basis, I was started out on Barbasol and cheap-o Bic razors. Like the naive rube I was, I didn’t question my father’s choice despite the miles of razor rash and mounds of ingrown hairs.

About a year after I graduated high school (1999-sh), my employer at the time had reevaluated their dress code. The end result was that men were know allowed to wear beards. Suffice it to say, I bearded up hard and kept my beard in some form or fashion for the next couple of years. That’s right: I had a beard before beards were cool.


As you can see, it was not a coiffed fru fru beard that some of my constituents wear today. This was a full blown ‘there might be a small animal living in there’ face bracken. 

The only thing I did to groom it back in those days was the occasional freshening up with a pair of scissors and of course, trimming the hair around my face-hole when that interrupted my feedings.

For the record, there were no living animals cohabiting with my face. At best, there might’ve been the odd pen (for real, my shit was that thick and it held said pen better than behind my ears ever could).

Also, beards stop at the throat, NOT THE JAW LINE. If you are one of THOSE, you need to fix that ASAP. You look goddamn ridiculous with sculpted facial hair and a fucking gobbler because you stopped taking care of yourself in your mid-20’s.

The thing that struck me almost immediately when my beard reached full maturity was how apart of my personality it became. 

If someone who knew me was talking to someone I had met in passing, I was referred to as ‘the guy with the beard’. If I was lost in thought or if someone had asked me a question that required pondering, you’re damn right I’d contemplatively stroke my chin whiskers.

Why I have made a point of shaving daily.

Since my ‘full-of-shit’ 20’s, my facial hair has come and gone. I have had the Abraham Lincoln, mutton chops, the Chester A. Arthur, and for a brief period of time, just a moustache. 

And yes, my wife has had a signifcant impact on the type of facial hair I had, if any at all. To wit, the last beard I had, I had because my wife had implored me to use beard oil.

It was the best beard I ever had. It smelled great. It didn’t itch when it was coming in. Best of all, it didn’t have that pube-y consistent that beards occasionally fall prey to.

My outlook on facial hair took a turn in my mid-30’s when I realized I was gaining my father’s hairline.

Receding hairlines and baldness can be a bitch if really let it get under your skin. For the longest time, I fought against the inevitable because I was a vain prat who wanted to be himself and not an iteration of his predecessors.

It was pretty bad: Nioxin, the stuff your supposed to use in between Nioxin cycles (I can’t remember the name and given my shame, I don’t want to invest the mouse clicks to find out…) jojoba oil, natural treatments… You name it, I have done it. And it was all in an attempt to avoid/delay/prolong the inevitable:

I was going to get my father’s hairline whether I wanted to or not. 

It’s not that bad, my hairline. If I had to describe it, it is a more kempt version of Bill Murray’s a la Ghostbusters. There’s some obvious recession that can be seen in a high forehead to hair proportion but there’s still that one chunk, front and center that refuses to give up the ghost.

What does that have to do with beards?

Some guys can pull off the receding hairline + beard, and others can’t. Given my genetics, I think I am in the ‘can’t’ category. Even though my father and I share the same hairline, the difference between the two of us lies in the fact that his hair was practically straight and my was, and is, thick likes sheep’s wool.

(Receding afro + pube-like beard = bad news bears).

Once things reached a critical mass with my thinning hair, I decided to start cutting my hair close to the scalp and shaving my face everyday.

To me, there’s nothing worse than a man looking in the mirror and seeing how things used to be. I am not one of those men.

Besides, there’s a man factor of +1000 when you’re clean-shaven and good smellin’ on a daily basis. 

Is Convenience Really Worth It?

About 15 years ago, I was on a leisurely drive with my father. Driving was something that we both liked to do. We valued the fact that an aimless drive can clear your head just as well as any form of meditation.

This particular day was different, though. Once I saw them, saw the patterns of locations, the drive was ruined for me. Drugstores: they were everywhere. On one particular drive we passed at least ten different drug stores.

A few years later, this sudden growth of drugstores dried up long enough for big box superstores to establish their dominance.

It can easily be argued that big box superstores have ruined any semblance of free enterprise. Instead of giving us the variety and individuality of local enterprises, we are instead handed a lukewarm imitation of the same services dolloped with horrible customer service that we settle for because it’s readily available to us.

Conversely it can be said that these local enterprises are just as inconvenient. They never have what you immediately need, most of them are hard to find and the prices for some of the things that they offer are completely ludicrous.

According to a report prepared for the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee on Economic Development for Eugene, Oregon, a big box store is defined as:

“A stand-alone building typically significantly larger in size than traditional stores, often uniform in appearance and housing one or two retail businesses, designed with its own parking lot or lots, oriented to the major thoroughfare to be accessed primarily by automobile, with a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) typically less than .25, and drawing from a regional level marketplace (with a 2-5mile radius trade area or larger) to draw profits from sales volume vs. high price mark-ups. A big box site can include associated smaller retail stores (often restaurants) on the periphery of the parking lot. Store ownership can be either franchise or an outlet of a chain business” (Big Box Stores, 2004).

Sadly, this sounds like the composition of most suburban areas today.

Home Depot, Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club, and on a lesser level, most grocery stores are starting to follow this same path. Some grocery stores offer food courts, Starbucks, dry-cleaning services as well as day-care services for the parents seeking quiet consumerism.

How can you not shop at any of these places?

As we continue to evolve as a society, we tend to put further emphasis on the need to feel accomplished, to do “things” as opposed to enjoying life fully. (The easy example would be the daily operations of the average family: some days the to-do list is never ending). Because of this, shopping at big box superstores appears to be a necessity in this day and age. I do it and I am sure that anyone who will read this does it too.

So what about the other side of the coin, the local enterprises? It is undeniably difficult to say anything bad about them. If there is one thing that the big box superstores consistently do while they grow in number, it’s that they have completely galvanized the local Mom and Pop shops as the underdog. In the end, who really has the gall to say anything bad about the underdog? Consider this:

• In a 2009 study of 15 locally owned businesses, 32% of the businesses returned their revenue to the local economy. Whereas an average SuperTarget Store only returned 16% (New Rules Project, 2011)
• “Overall, Walmart hourly workers earn 12.4% less than retail workers, as a whole. This study finds raising their pay to a minimum of $12 an hour would lift many out of poverty, reduce their reliance on public assistance, and cost the average consumer, at most, $12.49 a year” (New Rules Project, 2011).
• In a 2006 study, the opening of a Chicago-based Walmart resulted in the closure of one-quarter of the businesses within a four-mile radius. Roughly 82 businesses closed, in all (New Rules Project, 2011).

With data like this, can you blame the Mom and Pop shop for raising prices in order to compete with the big box store opening up for business a few blocks away?

The data found above, I happened upon only after a couple of keystrokes. While it is not my place to displace the legitimacy of a study that someone threw their back into, it should be noted, “Persuaders (people who have created these studies) frequently use cause-to-effect reasoning to identify events, trends, or facts that have resulted in certain effects. They tell us that if a cause is present we can expect certain effects to follow” (Larson, 2010).

In short: you should take these findings with a grain of salt.

Go to these places and exercise some deductive reasoning . Go to Walmart. Go to SuperTarget (if there’s one available near you). Go to CostCo. Go to these places and ask yourself these questions:
1. Do the employees look like they are enjoying their jobs?
2. Is the community benefitting from the presence of this retailer in the long run?

While there is something to be said for convenience given the society that we currently live in, there is also something that could be said for goods and services that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. Mom and Pop shops will never truly go the way of the do-do in the same respect that there are just some areas of this beautiful planet that retail monopolies will never be allowed to exist.

Regardless of your answer to these questions, make up your own mind. Don’t follow someone else’s opinion and a stream of data blindly into the future.

Sources Consulted

Larson, Charles U. (2010). Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility, 12th ed. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Big Box Stores. (2004). Retrieved from
http://www.jwj.org/campaigns/econdevt/tools/ESSNBigBoxReport.pdf

New Rules Project. (2011). Designing rules as if a community matters. Retrieved from http://www.newrules.org/retail/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail#4

Save me a spot at the table.

I’ve been a member of the ‘dead-dad’ club for nearly 15 years. To be more precise, it’s been 13 years. Saying that it’s been 15 sounds better. At any rate, what I had failed to realize until the last week that my father was alive, was that I was his caregiver.

It was the year 2000 and I was 20 years old.

For about a month, Dad was having a strange problem. His days would start like they always would but an hour or so after he left his home, he would have to come back and take a nap.

He wasn’t doing anything strenuous. He was not a fitness enthusiast. He was into photography, baking, and various forms of lecherous behavior.

It wasn’t long before a doctor’s appointment needed to be made. I remember talking to him on the day that he was supposed to have his appointment. He said he was going to call me after to let me know how it went. It was a mid-afternoon appointment that shouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of hours.

The entire day went by and I hadn’t heard a peep from him. I called his apartment, no answer. He didn’t have a cell phone so in my mind, he was missing.

My only other option was the phone book. After 15 minutes of calling every phone number listed under his HMO that I thought was relevant I managed to track him down. He told me that they were still running tests on him, and getting everything processed was taking a lot longer than usual.

He assured me that he would let me know what the verdict was when he knew.

A couple of days later I get the call from him telling me that it was colon cancer.

It wasn’t so bad at first. Physically speaking he was fine. He didn’t have trouble getting around until the last two weeks.

What was hard about the entire situation was the mental and emotional toll that it took on the both of us. Him, with his impending mortality and me, with my youthful ignorance.

My father was never a social person. It just wasn’t a part of his personality. He’d occasionally meet with someone he used to work with. But his retirement propelled him further into anti-social behavior. Prior to his diagnosis he had become slightly estranged from our family so really, he just had me.

It made it hard not to feel guilty when I’d need some time for myself.

The week before he passed away things were at their absolute worst. He was having trouble getting in and out of the shower. He had a loss of appetite as well as a complete dip in energy level. It got to the point where he needed to have a nurse visit him everyday.

The nurse was the first person who first referred to me as a caregiver. The term kind of threw me off because it was the first time that I had heard it used, let alone applied to me. She gave me a packet on what my role was and what was expected to happen. I remember thinking that everything that I read in the packet was really odd because it was all stuff that had happened, was happening, or it was something that I could see happening in the future. Talk about ‘a day late, and a dollar short’.

What a lot of people don’t realize is, is that regardless of the care giving situation, every one needs a break. The person who is ailing needs to lean on someone else for a while so that the ‘main’ care giver can recharge their batteries and feel like a normal human being. That way, everyone can take a deep breath before they get back to the task at hand.

I don’t regret anything that happened, anything that I did or anything that I did not do. I think that had I had been a little bit older, I would have had the common sense to ask for help.

Getting a break every now and again wasn’t a real problem, finding the courage to open up and talk to someone was.

On a closing note, one of the things that I remember was his morbid fascination with his predicament.

One day, we went for a drive and he starts telling me about this thing that he found on-line. It was a list of things people said to each other upon the death-bed of their loved one, or should one lover die before the other, etc.

Naturally, he posed the question to me: If I croaked next week, what would you say to me on my death-bed?

I took half a second to think about it and I said ‘Save me a spot at the table’.

 

On my son’s birthday.

My son turned 9 years old Saturday.

Not a monumental occasion. At least not for most of you. Kids turn 9 everyday of the week.

For me, his birthday has served as a reminder, like all of the other birthdays before it that fatherhood is quite a mind-blowing adventure.

Truth be told I had never thought that I would be a father, let alone be any good as one. I don’t have any specific data to back that claim up, it’s just the way that I always felt about the subject.

I remember when The Wife was told me she was pregnantI always thought it was strange what your mind let’s you remember about a specific event that happened in your life. I can still remember what the weather was like on that day. I remember exactly where I was at when I found out. And I remember knocking back a bag of Doritos when I came home from work like some absent-minded stoner.

I remember the day he was born. The weather was shit. I remember how every muscle in my body froze when the Mid-Wife told me that I would be helping with the delivery, acting as one half of a human stirrups (I held one of the wife’s legs up while a nurse held up the other). All through out the pregnancy, I made a point of politely mentioning that I didn’t want to be anywhere near Wife’s nether regions during the actual delivery. I saw a vagina do things that day that a lifetime of watching porno will never prepare you for.

For me the highlight of the whole event was watching the Mid-Wife extract my son from my Wife. One minute, I’m watching Wife’s face turn all shades of red. I turn my head and I see my son, mid-air (in the capable hands of the Mid-Wife) pissing and shitting at the same time. The look on his face almost said ‘Heeeeeeyyyy! What the FUCK?!!?’

I remember the day that I gave him his first train. As anyone who knows him at all, trains were his bread and butter.

Yes, it’s a train whistle. That’s how hardcore he was about them. He fell asleep with it in his mouth.

We were living in Tremont at the time. It was a Saturday and we were all going somewhere. Where exactly, I can’t remember. Before we all got in the car, I grabbed the mail and took it with me. One of the things that I got that day was a package from Toys R’ Us. For some reason they sent me a complimentary Thomas the Tank Engine. It was just a small wooden train. I still remember rolling my eyes at the wife when she brought up that his older sister might have liked it.

I remember the time that he made me go ass-over-tea-kettle whilst trying to ride a two-wheeler bike. Despite The Wife’s protestations that I was ‘doing it wrong’, I had finally gotten him to the point where I could give him a running start and he could kind of do it on his own. This particular time, he jerked the handlebars and we both went down. He managed to land on his feet (like a good bike rider). I was a rolling ball of arms and legs. I came up laughing because I thought it was awesome. He, however, was not laughing. He was rather bummed that he had hurt me (even though I was fine and I had told him so).

I remember the numerous times that his penchant for being naked got him huge laughs.One time I was doing the dishes. The wife had just finished giving him a bath and he was horsing around with his oldest sister. The next thing that I know, Finn comes barreling into the kitchen, butt-naked and upends the old duffle bag I used to hold all of our plastic shopping bags. Before I can turn the water off and say ‘What the Hell?’Finn’s flopping into the gigantic pile of blue bags, ass first, trying to get a good tail of them stuck in his butt cheeks. He succeeds and proceeds to run all through the apartment. Hands down one of the funniest things I have seen in my life. 

Those are just some of the things that I remember. While there are many more of him and the rest of my family that make fatherhood just as grand of an adventure, these are the ones that come to mind when I think of who my son is and who he might turn out to be. 

Happy Birthday, Juicebox.