Category Archives: Life

General life topics

The Elephant in the Womb

WARNING: The following may contain insensitive generalizations and unwashed gender bias.  I apologize for being male.

Ok, I have to ask; when is it acceptable to ask about the baby bump? I mean, at what point is it safe to just assume a woman is in fact pregnant and not simply battling a faulty metabolism?  Honestly, what’s the etiquette here?  This is not a situation you can afford to get wrong unless you want to suffer the infernal stink eye of hormonal rage… or non-hormonal rage, as the case may be.  There are unwritten dictates prohibiting such dangerous assumptions, like whether a balding man just got another haircut, a cranky woman is having her monthly visitor, or a cold sore really has a good explanation.   These are the topics originally covered under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” social protocols.  There’s precedence.

I certainly don’t want someone questioning if my thighs are getting chunky or whether I’ve just gotten another haircut (let’s just say I have).  I acknowledge that I can be a little sensitive about those types of inquiries.  I’m hard enough on myself without getting judged by the peanut gallery.  If my stomach protrudes further than my man-boobs I know it’s time to cut back on the doughnuts.  Its as simple as that.  And, by the way, that precise boob to belly ratio is always taken WSHI or ‘with stomach held in’, which is the default state for most guys not featured as the cover model on Men’s Health magazine.  Granted, men are well versed at sucking in our guts.  We also have less natural body fat, and don’t usually wrestle with fluctuating water weight, but we also don’t have flowy dresses or floral print muumuus to hide our dietary indiscretions.  If a man is not sticking with the program his belly will be sticking over the beltline in protest, and there’s only one man truly jolly about that ‘bowl full of jelly’.  However, even fully stuffed, nobody is going to walk up and ask a brother when the baby is due.  Even if you’re sporting sympathy weight in solidarity with your pregnant partner no one is going to internally debate whether you’re 4 months expecting or recently returned from an all-inclusive resort vacation that’s heavy on the buffet lines.

What I’m indelicately trying to say is that nobody questions man-chub.  It’s an accepted fact of life that as we age we get ‘older and wider’ (that is how the saying goes, right?), staying fit gets harder with every passing year and each additional child.  But biologically speaking men are not capable of pregnancy, nor are we able to unhinge our jaws and consume roast beast bones and all no matter how much we may want to.  So, without a good alternative explanation we can narrow down the expanding male waistline to one of the seven deadly sins.  And it ain’t ‘pride’.

This is trickier with woman.  There are those women whose bodies won’t betray a pregnancy until the moment their water breaks, or who, even at full capacity, would be hard pressed to conceal a basketball.  Most women however will begin to show some sign of impending birth in the first trimester with either an entirely new, yet less fashionable, wardrobe or a sudden aversion to the smells of microwaved popcorn.  I’m talking specifically about co-workers here, not a random stranger on the subway that could just as easily be hiding a 200-pound cyst or shoplifting a Gucci bag under their mysterious baby bump.   This is someone I see on a fairly regular basis, enough to know that something is amiss.  So, if I’m wrong and she’s not pregnant it would be a mistake of midwife proportions from which there’s no escaping… given that neither of us is going on maternity leave any time soon.  If she is pregnant, however, it’s a potential topic of friendly banter to bridge those awkward silences in the breakroom.  Being a parent myself I could handle whatever direction that discussion might take us; empathy for morning sickness, shared experiences from babies past, words of wisdom for a new parent.  Whatever the topic, it could be great… as long as it doesn’t result in hysterical tears or an unexpected invitation from HR to attend sensitivity training.

But how to be sure?  That’s the burning question.   Maybe it’s best if I just keep it to myself.  Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut and await further proof.  Better to be safe with a co-worker.  Better to wait it out.  I imagine one day soon someone will come around soliciting signatures for her baby shower gift basket.  That or a get well soon card for her gastric bypass surgery.  Either way, at least I’ll have it in writing.

 

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50 Braves the Gray

Today the good people of AARP put me in my chronological place by sending a joyful birthday bundle that offered a free sporty tote and an invitation to be old.  Oh sure, there are more subtle reminders that you’re reaching the half century mark, such as the stern recommendation for your first colorectal exam, but there’s something about joining AARP that feels like resigning to your twilight years, like sweatpants after a failed diet.  How did it happen?  How have 50 years already slipped through my hair follicles?  When people joke that aging “beats the alternative”, it’s usually because the “alternative” is a distant notion beyond the consideration of youthful immortality.  Aside from the sad outliers that depress us during fundraisers life has a suggested expiration date.  There is a predictable marching order with generations lined up before you, great grandparents, grandparents, parents and the latest generation bringing up the rear.  Suddenly I find myself near the front row with more generations lined up behind me, leaving an unobstructed view of the “alternative”.

When I was in the 5th grade we did a project about “the future” where we were tasked with looking ahead to the turn of the century; the year 2000.  A year mysteriously sandwiched between “Space: 1999” one of my favorite TV shows of the time and “2001 Space Odyssey” one of my favorite movies.  I had high hopes for the scientific marvels promised by film makers and listed them out with relish.  But in the midst of geeking out on how my future self would be jet-setting like the Jetsons, I was struck by just how old my future self would be… 32.  That was like super old; after high school, after college, after adulthood.  That’s when most people just give up.  Slide into middle age.  Become domesticated.  Fade into obscurity.  Wear sweatpants.  It was hard to even imagine.

When I was 32, about to enter an Apocalypse / Fallout themed New Year’s party for the turn of the century, my 5th grade assignment came to mind.  It was crazy to think about how much time had flown by.  And while I was starting to feel a little past my prime I knew many aspects of my life were just beginning; my career was marching along and expanding in new directions.  I was on the verge of getting married and starting a family.  The idea of turning 40 was still just a distant threat like the tearful revelation in “When Harry Met Sally”;

SALLY: And I’m gonna be 40!

HARRY: When?

SALLY: Someday!

HARRY: In eight years.

SALLY: But it’s there. It’s just sitting there, like this big dead-end.

When the fateful day arrived, and I turned 40 I was pretty content with my life.  I had my career.  I had my family and friends.  I had my domestic routine in the heart of the suburbs.  I could settle in, switch to auto pilot and happily ride out whatever remaining milestones life had instore.  Then, a couple years later, everything changed:  My career stalled; Educational software flat lined; My marriage ended; My routine was shattered; The introvert, content with a steady family life needed help from others, needed to impress loan agents for homes, employers for jobs and single woman for dates.  I wondered if I’d get it all back on track before I hit my 50th birthday.

As the final countdown approaches I’m faced with the constant reminder of my pending age by simple association; the media loves a 50th anniversary, so I get glimpses of other things that happened 50 years ago and how much the world has changed since I’ve been around (for which I take total credit).

In 1968 much of the county was still in chaos, trapped in the quagmire of the Vietnam War, one year out from the contrasting Summer of Love, with social unrest continuing to bubble up across the country.  U.S. Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos made headlines worldwide with their Black Power salutes during the Olympic Games.  Off-Broadway, the provocative play “The Boys in the Band” debuted with a raw look at gay society.  Calls for social change grew louder as two of its strongest advocates, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, were both silenced during the year.

In other sectors lives were saved with the invention of the crash test dummies, the installation of airbags and the founding of the 9-1-1 emergency program.  The first US heart transplant was pioneered at Stanford.  We grew up as Flintstone Kids with the namesake vitamins tasting vaguely like Sweet Tarts’ bitter sibling.

Along with 2001 Space Odyssey we were entertained by the premiers of Funny Girl, Planet of the Apes, and Rosemary’s Baby.  The new MPAA movie rating system was introduced on a voluntary basis in case studios saw fit to warn the public about things like Rosemary’s demonic baby daddy.  At home, we watched the first episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and marveled at how much we could be pacified by creepy hand puppets.  If you were lucky enough to be incarcerated at Folsom State Prison that year you enjoyed Johnny Cash’s live concert, which was recently commemorated with a long trail through Folsom so escaped convicts have a clearly marked route.

You know those celebrities that we seemed to grow up with?  Well, it turns out that’s because we literally did grow up with them; Molly Ringwald and the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith, were both born 50 years ago.  Also, celebs I would encounter later in life as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Grace (Debra Messing) are all getting their AARP cards this year, along with celebrity cooks Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri.  Apparently even celebrities get old. Who knew?!

I’m aware that time marches on, but it’s the gradual progression that masks the more startling changes, like the frogs in the slowly boiled pot.  That’s how it feels; I just woke up one day to find that I had aged.  The person in the mirror no longer reflects the age I feel.  I’m not alone in that assessment either.  Surveys found that most adults over age 50 feel at least 10 years younger than their biological age.  On average, survey respondents said old age begins at 68. But few people over 65 agreed; they said old age begins at 75.  One of my new pals from AARP summed it up with “Old age is always a bit older than you are.”  Age is simply a state of mind not a survey of wrinkles. If left to our own perception how old would we feel inside?  If it weren’t for those cursed mirrors candid photos of our bald spot could we live comfortably within our youthful delusions?

As I enter the fabulous 50’s, clearly, I don’t “have it all figured out”, but that’s ok. I’ve happily resolved my social situation and foresee great things ahead.  As for my career I’m still wrestling with my choices and seeking the means to take another path, but even that holds a degree positive potential in the years to come.  I am not resigned to ride out my years like my younger self had once feared.  There’s more life yet to be lived.  I will embrace this new age and I will embrace the future me just as I embraced my AARP card… crumpled tightly in a clenched fist of acceptance.

 

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Brain Pan

The air is thick with the stench of decay and the metallic tang of fresh blood which thankfully isn’t yours.  Your back is braced against the battered door, enduring each lazy, persistent blow from the other side.  You can feel as much as hear skin and nail dragging against the wooden surface, scrapping away layers of each.  In one hand you hold a smoking Glock 9mm, its magazine spent.  In the other the bloodied axe you liberated from the abandoned fire engine on Elm Street.  Both hands shake from the conflicting forces of adrenaline and exhaustion.  You close your eyes tight, trying to recapture your focus and sketch out a plan to survive the next few moments.  That’s when you hear the window shatter from the other room, followed by the shambling movement of creatures entering what had been your shelter, your haven, for the past six days.  But now your castle has been breached, your security compromised.  What next? 

We’ve all seen or censored the many incarnations of undead party crashers killing the mood at civilization’s orgy.  For decades the zombie apocalypse has infested every form of media and been flavored with every possible genre; fast swarming zombies, smart child zombies, night stalker zombies, romantic zombies filled with teenage angst.  The zombie craze has even given rise to a counter-culture of YouTube videos and wiki entries, supply lists and exercise routines, all offering insightful methodology for surviving your doom while maintaining a bikini ready bod.  Even the CDC got into the action and published a graphic novel and numerous follow-up blogs to ensure that the citizens of our once great (now mildly functional) nation are properly prepared for the worst.  Preparedness is great in theory, but I bet most of you don’t even have an escape plan for a house fire, much less have a backup plan for the end of the world!  Even here in the heart of earthquake country many people are not stocked with sufficient disaster supplies beyond the crank radio they got from a NPR pledge drive 6 years ago and the box of stale Ritz crackers in the cupboard over the fridge, so I’ll just assume most of you aren’t sitting pretty with a bug-out bag hanging ready by the front door.  You might be quite proud of your fancy new InstaPot and the cornucopia of post-Soccer meal options it offers but when the shit goes down it won’t be any better than foil wrapped roadkill cooking on the engine block as you floor the gas pedal to escape being brain tartare.  Bon appetite!

Now granted, there are those few dedicated individuals who are totally prepared for this (or any) eventuality and we lovingly refer to these people as “bat shit crazy”.  This is the demographic sweet spot that live on “compounds” and stress the importance of a healthy paralegal militia… er, I mean likeminded, proactive citizens embracing an old-world chivalry wrapped in a new-world order.  But despite the televised NRA propaganda that says these are the people that keep the world safe, anyone who’s ever watched Walking Dead knows these are usually the people that end up eating other people or at least pressing them into indentured slavery.  While this seems like very poor manners for god-fearing church goers, I must admit “thou shall not eat your neighbor” did not make the cut in the final draft of the Ten Commandments. Perhaps the editors thought that one was a no-brainer.  Ha, no-brainer, see what I did there… okay, never mind.

For the others out there, who think the zombie apocalypse isn’t plausible for the simple fact that brain sucking undead seem about as likely as rampaging unicorns with a disturbing horn fetish, you need to remember that the zombies (and kinky unicorns) are completely optional.  They’re all just window dressing in this scenario… like the faded floral print window dressing at grandmas that smells of saccharine and fried fish; sure, you could do without them, but they lend a vivid sense of place.  The true nature of the event, be it alien incursion, viral outbreak or dinosaur rampage, is just a single slice of the larger threat pie being served up.  First there is the simple destructive force of Mother Nature and the necessities of life made more elusive by a collapsing society.  Second but perhaps more problematic is “humanity”; not French Literature or Neo Impressionism, but human beings, driven to “Lord of the Flies” type shenanigans. The wackos of the world suddenly given free rein now that society is no longer around to keep them in check.  Sorry to say, but the meek shall not inherit the earth; they will either be forced to serve others or be served with a tangy BBQ sauce… or a bold seasoning rub if you’re caught in Kansas City.

Despite the name of my blog (or the resulting Google search results when trying to find my non-SEO optimized blog) I have only a rudimentary knowledge of actual survival skills. While I grew up with heroic visions of self-sufficiency my most grueling experiences have been things like the Spartan Run, so as long as the road to desolation has a clearly marked route and someone there handing me water every half mile I should be fine.  But even if I manage to survive the basic elements I’m not sure where I’d stand when facing off against bad guys with BBQ sauce.  Sure, I’ve geeked out on blades, owned a hand gun, learned plenty of self-defense but I question the level of violence I’m actually capable of; Hell, my friends still give me grief for my catch and release policy with spiders.

But I think at its heart this is the very question people take pleasure in wrestling with; do I have what it takes to survive?  What would you do to survive?  What would you do to ensure your family survives?    Do you have the intestinal fortitude to slather your body with putrid zombie gore to escape detection?  Could you make the hard choices for the people who rely on you?  Would you sacrifice your own humanity to prevail?

One classic scenario is set in the early days of the fall.  You and the family are fleeing the city in a car well stocked with more than just Ritz crackers and a labor-intensive radio.  You have food, water, fuel, blankets, med-kits.  The works.  The situation outside is already sketchy and while trying to flee to safer ground you come across a stranger on the side of the road begging for assistance, perhaps suffering from something as simple as a flat tire.  Do you pull over to render aid at the potential risk to your loved ones, and if so how much assistance do you provide?  Want to help with repairs?  Share a generous resupply of food and water?  Do you offer a ride?  Would your answer change if the stranger was female?  Had kids?  What if there were 3 adults and 2 kids?  Even if you’re inclined to be generous the realization that you’re now outnumbered becomes a concern… what’s to prevent them from just taking your well-stocked car once you pull over?   What if your own car breaks down further down the road and you find yourself in the reverse situation?  Would you hi-jack a Good Samaritan if it meant protecting your own family from being abandoned roadside?

Fast forward a couple days, you’ve survived the road trip and find yourself at the entry to a gated community that offers the chance for a real level of normalcy.  The catch is that due to limited resources they ask you at the gate “what useful skills do you have to offer the commune?” Keep in mind it needs to be something practical and useful.  Programming skills, worthless; we can’t even power the toaster (since NPR didn’t think to market one of those with a crank!).  Social media phenom with 50,000 followers on Instagram, who cares, most of them are now zombies or zombie chow.  Artist or musician, pointless; post-apocalyptic society has about as much use for the humanities as the Trump administration!  Accounting skills, well maybe, but how much skill is required to count cans of green beans or determine the exchange rate of bullets to toilet paper (it’s 10 to 1 for a roll of single ply and 25 to 1 for double ply quilted, just so you know)?   So, what do you have to offer?

Putting aside the unlikely premise of the zombie apocalypse there is real value in these types of mental exercises.  On the surface they teach us to be good little Boy Scouts and always be prepared. The CDC had it right in assuming that proper preparation starts with an awareness of potential need.  You may live in a zombie-free zone, but you can still be side-swiped by earthquakes, floodwaters, flashfires or Sharknados (hell, there’s been like 5 or 6 of those things already).  Imagining what we might need to survive these situations is more effective than a reminder to replace the smoke alarm batteries at the start and finish of the utterly pointless and completely antiquated Daylight Savings Time (not that I’m bitter).

Another, perhaps more important, benefit from these scenarios is that they allow us to be introspective about an aspect of our psyche that most of us will never have opportunity to explore.  We are confronted daily with heart-wrenching tales of suffering from all around the world that we are powerless to affect.  Thinking about how we’d kick ass and chew bubble gum after the fall of civilization can become a cathartic exercise of empowerment; what is our measure of heroism and the value we place in maintaining our humanity? For many of us this is as close as we’ll ever get to facing real life-threatening choices; would we have the courage to rise from the shelter of a battle-torn trench to charge the machine nest pinning our platoon?   Would we have the conviction to run towards the burning skyscrapers on the verge of collapse to help those trapped inside?  Would we rush into a school on lockdown to face off against a school shooter? We want to believe we’re brave enough.  We want to feel like we have the right stuff to survive in this world against all threats, real or imagined. Since there are no zombies knocking at the door and Bear Gryllus isn’t hovering around challenging us to drink our own pee or sample live scorpions, our assumptions are safe from scrutiny. Hopefully we’ll never have to put up or shut up in the real world so for now we can ravel in thoughts of zombie carnage and celebrate our inner hero… along as he doesn’t step on any spiders.

 

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Fault Lines

We’re all at fault for something.  It might be something huge and deliberate or something small and unavoidable.  No matter how pure our intentions as we navigate through this world we cannot help but disrupt people we care about with collateral damage.  Through the heartache of my messy break-up part of me wanted desperately to remain blameless.  I wanted everyone to know how much I loved her, how much I tried, how much I wanted to make things work.  I wanted my friends and family to know.  I wanted her friends and family to know.  I wanted her to know. Maybe I thought the more people I could convince the more I might make it true.  I wanted to cry out ‘it wasn’t my fault’.  But that’s not true.  Not entirely.

For the most part, accepting no blame in a failed relationship isn’t realistic.  At the very least we make a choice to initiate the relationship and have some part in its conclusion.  I made the hard choice to move out regardless of my feelings for her or for us.  In moving out I put her in a difficult position and no amount of love or good intentions helped to ease her burden.  Her loved ones only saw the suffering she was left with and the bad guy that abandoned her.

In my mind I would rail against her for the blame she piled on me.  I would pour out in print arguments to every point; for how I tried to help and support her and how much of her current situation was based on choices made long before me.  And then I would blame her, for forcing me out and not being more accepting.  I don’t regret the choice I had to make, but I resent having to make it.  I remember telling the therapist that she was my ideal woman except she didn’t accept me, or my kids.  It sounded so right in my head, but so wrong when spoken aloud.  I realized that part of the sadness that overwhelmed me was simply anger.  I was so stuck on whether I quit the relationship prematurely that I dismissed all the times I didn’t.  All the times I tried to make it work.  All the times we fought over the same issues.  All the times we split, knowing there was no resolution.  When she turned around and found someone new I was pissed.  I was pissed that she would never change for me; she would never fully accept me or my kids for who we are.  Never.  There was no more hope that things would turn around.  No more chance at a future together.  There was no more path forward.

I understand there’s a strong case for both sides, I mean how much change is it fair to expect from someone?  Wanting to be accepted for who you are is just the other side of the coin to accepting that some people can’t change.  In the end, she just wouldn’t or couldn’t change for me, so she found someone else, someone who, at least from the start, seems less likely to present with the same limitations we ran in to.  I may not be able to fault her for that, just because we couldn’t find a way doesn’t mean we stop looking, but it breaks my heart that someone else should benefit from all my efforts and enjoy the woman I wanted because I couldn’t make her change.  No amount of love can force someone to be who they are not.  I tried to the point of sacrificing my own sense of self just to hold on to her.  To us.  But it wasn’t enough, just as she must have felt when she tried to plead for me to move back in regardless of whether things had changed between us or not.

I struggle over the memory of love shared.  I convince myself of the purity of that love.  I’m not sure if this is just another defense mechanism, to feel that I loved her more and that this somehow lessens my fault, or if I just want the love itself to be meaningful and significant even if only in memory. I thought again about the Proust quote “It is our imagination that is responsible for love, not the other person” and wonder if this is even more prevalent after the relationship has ended.

In the end none of it matters.  Regardless of fault or blame the fact remains that the relationship is over.  There is no path forward.  Beautiful or flawed as it may be distilled in my heart I cannot affect her narrative of the events that brought us to where we are today. Nor can I alter the opinions of others or their perception for how I left it. I am not blameless.  I can take responsibility for the choices I made and the hurt I caused through my actions while rejecting the minutia I had no control over.  Life is messy.  We make bad choices.  We make mistakes.  And we try to move on, navigating the inevitable fault lines that block our path to happiness.

 

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Write off Refusal

A baker, a lawyer and a gay couple walk into the Supreme Court,… stop me if you’ve heard this one.  If you haven’t it’s about the owner of a cake shop in Colorado citing a conflict between his religious convictions and a request for a slice of his artistic expression in the form of a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.  Since his “expression” is protected by the First Amendment, he argues, he should not be forced to “express” something that he is morally opposed to.  So the question becomes when does a person have the right to refuse service to another?  Does a baker have the freedom of choice to not make a cake against his will?

We’d like to think that, as individuals, we have some free choice and free will remaining in our supposedly free society.  One might argue that while those freedoms are guaranteed to us as individual citizens they may not extend to the businesses we operate.   Does the act of hanging a shingle and starting a business imply you no longer have the choice of who you serve?  Well, yes; there are specific state and federal guidelines to protect against discrimination and while sexual orientation is not covered under the federal guidelines it is covered in Colorado where this case originated.  A restaurant can refuse service if you’re topless or shoeless, but they can’t do it based on your race, gender and, at least in Mile High country, who you want to marry.

Let’s take a step back; consider the movie star who enters the mantel of celebrity by choice of profession.  The simple act of doing what they love finds them in the spotlight, adored by millions of fans.  Does that new star status give strangers the right to disrupt someone’s privacy in the middle of a family dinner just to score an autograph?   Does the celebrity have the right to refuse the request?  Turning the celebrity analogy on its ear, let’s say you are a public shingle hanger and Harvey Weinstein walks into your establishment.  I think it’s fair to say everyone has a clear opinion of this man, so what if you’re not a fan?  How should you handle your new customer?  Regardless of what the local bylaws may state about lecherous power mongers there are likely to be people who would and wouldn’t be willing to sell the man a muffin.  In this context does the freedom to make the choice of service feel any more or less justified?

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Colorado has it right, and federal standards should already have protection for sexual orientation on the books, but I can’t help but feel that something about this idea flies contrary to the freedom of religion and religious beliefs.  While I may believe it’s morally wrong to exclude a group of people based on their gender identity or gender preferences, I can’t force my opinion on others.  It would be hypocritical to support ‘choice’ in all matters except this one.   Is it ok for certain requirements to silence the first amendment rights of one group in support of another?

From my pedestrian understanding of the constitution the First Amendment protects a broad spectrum of expression right up the point of being “personally incendiary or threatening”.  There are books, dissertations and case studies covering all the situations where this protection does and does not apply. The current question is whether it can protect someone from artistically expressing things they don’t agree with and what level of artistic expression a typical business owner can claim.  The judges were looking for a clear demarcation from the attorneys in the Colorado case for how to define professional artistic expression so that every individual does not end up making up their own guidelines.

The ruling on the case will influence how companies are expected to do business in the future, which is great, but a part of me still thinks a business should have the freedom to shoot themselves in the foot if they choose to.  If they want to knowingly alienate a segment of their customer base and consequently suffer bad yelp reviews they should have the opportunity to do so.  Alternatively, they could follow the example of local Freeport Bakery that, a couple of years back, willingly accepted a request to replace their popular Barbie Cake with a flamboyant Ken Cake complete with a finely crafted dress of pink buttercream.  Rather than bend to the initial negative feedback on social media the bakery stood behind their spirit of inclusion and eventually enjoyed more popularity and appreciation for their convictions.  (https://freeportbakery.com/ken-doll-cake/)

Putting legal matters aside, though smart shoppers should also be able to manage their own expectations of the marketplace.  Everyone knows that some stores better cater to specialty needs than others.  You wouldn’t order a taco at Pizza Hut.  You wouldn’t ask for the men’s department at Victoria’s Secret and you wouldn’t expect a Christian bookstore to have an ample section on erotica.  Simply put, a business should know their target audience just as that audience should have some knowledge of the businesses they target.  With a combination of free will and free Google searches we have the ability to find diverse options in all categories.  As much as we might want to support small local businesses there are other resources available out there is our vast, globally connected economy.  Celebrate the individuals doing what they love and find the best match for what you’re looking for.  Chances are a voluntary shop owner will provide you with much better service than one having a sharp square peg shoved up their smooth round hole.

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Sap Sucker

Is it just me or is there an abundance of tear-choked moments stuffed into the holiday season?  That isn’t a rhetorical question, it could very well just be me; I can get choked up by a simple heartfelt thank you for a door held open.  Sometimes even the smallest gestured can work their way into my emotional wiring, but I’m talking about the larger scale sentiment all around us.  There seems to be a global conspiracy to up the sap factor around the holidays.  Maybe its longer nights to fill with romance.  Maybe it’s the hot chocolate and warm layers thawing the chill of apathy.  Maybe it’s the excess of spiked eggnog or the excess of family that drives one to drink spiked eggnog.  Whatever it is, I’m all for it.

I heard a study about how risk-takers gravitate to spicy foods as a way to challenge themselves through controlled physical pain. They literally play with fire.  Similarly some people enjoy watching scary movies as a way to experience risk on an emotional level, toying with the adrenaline rush of jump scares.  For me the thrill is from indulging in the flood of feel-good propaganda that studios and advertisers mainline into our collective psyche.  There are the coffee commercials with a surprise homecoming on Christmas morning.  The hero’s victory against overwhelming odds.   The swell of triumphant music as the underdog confronts his fears.  Hearing Inigo Montoya declare “I want my father back you son of a bitch” before running through the duke.  Forest Gump promising Jenny that he knows what love is.  The five minutes that Allie stirs from Alzheimer’s fog in the Notebook.  90% of Love Actually.  And don’t even get me started on the patriotic reunions with soldiers surprising their kids with an early leave from the military.  It’s relentless.  And wonderful.

Of course all of this stirring emotion is purely hypothetical; certainly a grown man such as myself would have nothing to do with such sappy cinema unless he lost a bet with his girlfriend or the batteries on his remote died.  Men are taught from an early age that nurturing is a feminine trait, and sappy sentiment needs to be abandoned in order to better focus on professional superiority, beer consumption and baseball stats.  My dad knew when and where to find a sporting event on TV at any time, any day of the week,… though this is when there were only 12 channels to choose from.   I don’t remember watching many rom-coms in my youth.  The closest thing to romance I ever saw were the soap operas like General Hospital and One Live to Live.  Originally I was just drawn in by the thin layer of intrigue with Robert Scorpio and the WSB spy agency, but it evolved into a shared experience with my mom, who enjoyed updating me on the story-lines I missed while in school.  This gateway drug grew into an over developed sense of romance, having experienced none of it during my awkward adolescence I settled for living vicariously through John Hughes films and Lionel Richie songs.  Even though I primarily related with the weirdos and loveless, I could get behind any happy ending (even the pretty dude from 16 Candles,… for Samantha’s sake).  That’s all anyone really wants, a happy ending,… errr, not the kind they give you in a sleazy backroom massage parlor, but the ones we experience in the collective darkness that leaves us feeling better than when we first walked in,… ok, that’s not helping.  Moving on.

As I get older, it is increasingly difficult to have the same optimistic view I did as a kid.  When I was younger I could imagine taking on the role of the hapless hero, and winning the girl through gutsy determination and honest empathy.  I had a lifetime of adventures still to play out and any one of those could land me in a comedic situation where an amazing woman falls right into my lap,… face first, after sliding down a muddy hill ahead of pursuing smugglers.   It could happen.  Or so I thought.  These days, with the exception of the 40 Year Old Virgin you don’t see many movies with a nerdy middle age dude scoring a romantic victory for the team.  Instead watching those same movies today I either realize just how old those sexy actors have become, or I ask myself if I could honestly outrun smugglers at my age or find the romance in our predicament after breaking my tailbone off that mud slide.  I look with a more critical eye at the wildly improbable serendipity of these magical movie moments.  Relationships sparking from a chance encounter or an unlikely friendship that blossom into an enduring, meaningful partnership.  They make love look so easy when it’s not.

According to George Strait, and a few others, “love is everything” and if love is “everything”, then what is love worth? What would you give for love?  What would you give up for love?  In the movies the characters make sweeping soulful sacrifices in the name of love.  They perform grand gestures and displays of affection right after a stirring musical montage where they struggle over whether or not love is worth the effort,… and then concur with George’s assertion.  In reality though how does this play out in our day-to-day lives?  What if we don’t have the PTO hours to stage that stunning mid-week surprise?  What if don’t we have enough left in the monthly budget to fly off to Paris or suddenly abort a planned solo trip, rushing back into the arms of our soulmate without regard for our checked luggage?

I consider myself a romantic.  I will go further than most to find a meaningful gift or struggle for days to pen the perfect sentiment that can’t be captured by Hallmark.   Sometimes though that’s not enough.  Sometimes in a relationship it’s simply a matter of “what have you done for me lately” where previous gestures either fade into memory or set an unreasonable precedence towards future expectations.  “Thanks dear for yet another pair of earrings,… now, have you taken out the garbage yet?!” Despite our best intentions sometimes the sentiment alone isn’t enough.  And perhaps it is this very thing that makes the Hollywood fiction so appealing.  The necessities of life and years of practicality may have tarnished the glamour of the fairy tale ending as it applies to me, but I still enjoy reveling in it vicariously; it is the epitome of romantic optimism.

So whether it’s a perpetual viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life, the National Anthem sung in tribute to Boston Strong or 9-11,  Zac Brown singing “for the stars and stripes” while showcasing active soldiers or even a simple toast at the next family feast, enjoy the stirring in your heart and the lump in your throat.  Be thankful we are alive to experience these emotions and carefree enough to embrace them; Grab that happy ending anywhere you can find it.

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Five Houses

My first house was snug, and shiny.  We arrived with empty arms.  We left a few years later cradling a toddler and dreams of more.

My second house was large, and promising.  We made it a home and grew a family.  And grew apart.  Several years later I left with a broken heart and a broken family.

My third house was a renovation.  It started with tears and welcomed love.  It was my shelter in a storm of transition.  I left two years later, my heart soaring for a new beginning and a new family.

My fourth house was idyllic, and pristine at the start.  We exploded into it with passion and fury.  It was a struggle to endure and more so to let go.  I left three years later with a broken heart and another broken family.

My fifth house is a blank slate.  It starts with tears and my arms wide empty.  I hope it fills with love.

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My Bedeviled Angel

A lot of people persistently struggle when it comes to personal fitness, and in recent days I count myself among their ranks.   On one shoulder I have the ripped Angel with the 6-pack abs sipping the kale smoothie and on the other shoulder I have the pot-bellied Devil chugging malt liquor.  In my world Angel typically wins out in the war on workouts; Devil has a better chance asking me to not shower then asking me not to work out, so instead he contents himself with sabotaging my shopping list and convincing me that the 2g of protein in the Peanut Butter Crunch, twice that of most breakfast cereals I’ll have you know, is a healthy source of protein for growing muscles, so thank you captain.    Angel, satisfied that I’m at least eating my vegetables, settles for a palm slap and a guilt inducing head shake whenever I have a chocolate chip cookie to “cleanse my palate” after dinner.  Left to my own devices I manage to keep them both in check and come out on the healthier side of the scale.  It is, however, a fragile balance easily disrupted by outside influences.  I once dated a girl that newly discovered you could order French fries with a side of gravy, providing a slice of Thanksgiving any day of the week.  Needless to say Devil was giddy with delight and Angel almost passed out while frantically Googling cardiologists.

One of the more serious external threats comes from the wee folk,… not the leprechauns pushing brownie bits samples at Costco but my precious offspring with narrow diets and youthfully unclogged arteries.  These little Devils have no problem feasting on the “bacon platter” for breakfast (that would be a platter stacked with only bacon).  They suck through Otter pops faster than a chain smoker.  They refuse to touch any food tainted with the smallest fleck of green down to trace amounts of dehydrated parsley found on the wildly unhealthy garlic bread.   They are the demon spawn of Domino’s pizza forsaking colorful vegetables and unprocessed proteins.  Worst of all is the fact that the little Devils require so much nit-picky care for the preparation of an acceptable meal that it leaves little time for alternative arrangements and just a bitter choice between choking down dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets with everyone else or working on a healthier alternative through dinnertime and scarfing it down between doing the dishes and chasing down little Devils for bath time.

Parental time management takes the greatest toll on the Great Expectations that is self-improvement.   Most successful workout routines fall into the time range of 45-90 minutes.  Trying to ease your P90X fitness guilt with a handful of sit-ups and a vigorous dash to the mailbox doesn’t fill the void.  I need extended activity; A prolonged cardio burn like running the bleachers at a football stadium which is problematic in the limited circumference of my current dwelling.  Inside this apartment everything is literally a 10ft radius from my desk.  When I had my Fitbit functioning in the previous house I could easily hit my goal of 10,000 steps just from multiple round trips up and down the stairs and delivering laundry to the four corners of the homestead.  It’s hard to make up that difference when time and space are so limited.  I need to either fill all free time with additional gym trips or multi-task when little ones are around, doing speed rounds of sprint tag with alternating pull-ups on the money bars between pursuits as lava monster.  Maybe I can install a giant hamster wheel out on the balcony.

I know some of it is inevitable; we grow up and then we grow out.  Our metabolism naturally slows down over time regardless of how much spice we spike our foods with.  Diets have to adjust to accommodate changes in our aging body and our fading activity levels.  At some point we have to realize our food intake no longer aligns with our daily calorie burn.  Continuing to eat like we’re teenage athletes makes as much sense as keeping those size 30 jeans believing that one day we’ll once again have the waist of a 20-year-old.

By this point my personal Angel, who was meant to be the model of health and virtue, is on the verge of surrendering.  When the Devil upends Angel’s kale smoothie and pokes him the belly like the Pillsbury Doughboy he no longer seems to mind.  I suspect his becoming a little too chummy with his devilish counterpart and the temptations being whispered in his ear.  It’s only a matter of time before he’s stretched out on a recliner during 8oz curls and using the devil as his serving wench.  Time for more stretchy pants.

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Market Placed

Nothing makes you question your ranking in this game we call Life more than a hefty dose of judgement.  Not the simple parental judgement like you never measured up to your sister or you never fully committed to the clarinet but the self-imposed judgement that comes with putting yourself on the market.  Be it the job market or the dating market we open ourselves up to a level of critique that is tough not to internalize and impossible to ignore.  I’d like to think that I have a fairly solid sense of self, with a complete awareness of all my strengths and weaknesses, but then people keep telling me otherwise, so who’s a guy to believe?

While I’m certainly not in a good space to start dating again my return to the job market got me thinking about both pursuits with a classic exercise in “compare and contrast”.  With that in mind here are a few random thoughts about hunting for love vs hunting for jobs;

  1. When hunting for jobs you can proffer an impressive assortment of references and recommendations. When hunting for love it’s typically best to keep a separation between past and present partners.  Not to say all relationships end badly but few leave with a burning desire to fluff you with flattery in front of your next potential mate.  Likely any offered “constructive criticism” would be light on constructive and heavy on criticism.
  2. I’ve never been fired from a job, but I’ve certainly been “let go” of a few relationships. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if there was a corresponding concept of “collecting unemployment”; some form of lesser relationship provided temporarily to tide you over until a full-time position could be secured.  You did your time, you paid your dues, why feel guilty about getting back from the system?  Sure now that I write it down it sounds like state-sponsored prostitution but it started off as an inspired concept,… kinda like the Shake Weight commercials.
  3. There’s no negotiation for better benefits at the start of a relationship; Terms are typically vague or left unspoken. Benefits are offered spontaneously and generously during the initial vetting period… then drop off gradually with each subsequent anniversary.
  4. Relationships typically don’t require relocation and any required travel is usually a good thing. Invasive TSA screenings are more easily tolerated when you’re just hours away from umbrella drinks at a beach-side all-inclusive.
  5. Both markets offer convenient shopping sites online to assist with finding a good match. These sites help facilitate the connection starting with an email inquiry, moving to a phone screen and then finally to an initial meet and greet with the team.  Luckily neither one scores you with a Netflix rating system after the relationship is terminated.
  6. There is no “technical challenge” or “white board coding question” in a relationship, though you have to wonder if woman would approach prospects differently if there were; “you did a solid job in the cuddling and listening portions of the exam but we felt you lacked the depth of experience we’re looking for in the bedroom, so we’ve decided not to go forward with this relationship.” To which you’d think, with smug satisfaction, that it’s probably just as well since she had an annoying habit of speaking in the third person.
  7. When hunting for jobs working with a recruiter is a perfectly acceptable shortcut for finding the right position. When hunting for love though the idea of matchmaker feels old fashion and typically ineffectual in the long run, desperately misplacing you with only the small handful of leads they have at hand regardless of compatibility… ok, maybe they are exactly the same as recruiters.
  8. When hunting for jobs I feel I’m often competing against a much younger generation. When hunting for love at least you can target woman of the same age range. You’ll still be competing against a younger generation but woman will either be more subtle about their preferences, won’t show up in your search criteria or will be listed on a cougar-centric site that you’re too old to register for.
  9. Taking it a step further, when hunting for love we can be specific about not only age, but social class, faith, race and sexual preference. When hunting for jobs, all that crap would be illegal, at least on the employers’ side.  I do still have every right to steer clear of the faith-based radio stations and health care providers however, not because I have anything against them as an organization but because my digital resume would likely be blocked by blasphemy filters.
  10. When saturating the singles scene you very much want to find the perfect harmonic match. You want to be the “one”, without question.  When trolling the job market I’m not so hung up on such minutia; if we both compromise our idealistic views and settle in for a complacent yet mutually beneficial relationship,… I’m ok with that.

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