Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Between me and paradise

               My holiday plans have taken a turn.  My brother is Active Duty Air Force and was transferred to Hawaii with his family this summer.  I know, right?  Out of his 13 years in the military, he has been stationed in Biloxi, Australia, the Azores and Colorado Springs.  That only glitch in this almost perfect list was the bustling metropolis of Enid, Oklahoma.  Their time in Enid is referenced somewhat like that random cousin in jail.  We agree that it is unpleasant and only refer to when pressed and even then in code.  For people who have often lived on the edge of poverty, we've had a number of relatives on extended "vacations".
              Anyway, my sister and I had discussed going to my brother’s for Christmas this year.  However, two things put a crimp in those plans.  The first was the cost of the tickets.  Now, last year I took my sister and niece to Hawaii with me when I had to visit Honolulu for work.  The trip was their Christmas/Birthday/Valentine's/Easter present for the next six years.  My previous job afforded many opportunities to travel.  Your tax dollars at work and I thank you.  Traveler’s tip:  the week after Thanksgiving is the best time to go to Hawaii.  Ticket prices are reasonable and the island is practically empty of tourists so no waiting in lines for the exciting performances and crappy food at the luaus and no need for reservations at the overpriced restaurants.  Also, if you're ever in Cheyenne, Wyoming I can recommend an excellent cajun restaurant.
              The second, and main, reason is the disaster that would befall my family should my father ever come into contact with airport security.  Now, I will admit that I have never traveled with my father outside of a multi-state car ride as a child with my mother driving and my father riding shotgun, parrot on shoulder.  We have had our share of unique pets who have left our home is various ways, mostly through death.  This particular parrot, Seymour, took his leave in the avian equivalent of a teenage girl eloping with a biker.  He flew away one day when the door was accidentally left open and we saw him a few weeks later, circling the house with a hawk in tow.  I guess he came back to rub it in our face?  Can a bird flip ‘the bird’, I wonder?
              In his defense, my father has traveled by train successfully.  But if you’ve ever taken an Amtrak ride you know that you can walk onboard the train with a see-through box of Ebola-riddled gibbon monkeys holding placards that say “Death to America” and as long as you have your ticket punched at some point on the ride and don’t talk in the quiet car, you will be left to your own devices. 
              When I close my eyes and imagine my father attempting to travel by plane, this is the scene that unfolds:  Not wanting to tip a porter to curb-check his luggage, he walks inside thinking he can just get on the plane and immediately becomes distracted by the smell of bacon wafting from the concourses. 
Not having the patience to stand in line to check in for his flight (“I bought my ticket, what else do they need?”) he will loudly disparage the moral fiber of not only the airline employees but various members of their family tree.  He will also demand to know the source of the bacon and an ETA on when that bacon will become his.
Since I have to check in (because the wardrobe for a week’s vacation, for me, consists of more than 2 pair of underwear, a Costco sized bottle of antacids and a bag of insulin needles), I ask for his ID so I can get his boarding pass as well.  The thought of him trying to manipulate the self-check kiosk without setting something on fire or accidentally launching the space shuttle is hilarious.  The man has never purchased, or even touched a computer; much less learned how to use one.  Why do you think I write this blog without restraint?
Once I get him to understand that it is a law that they must see his ID to get his boarding pass and will then have to threaten him with a bacon-less future in order to keep him from openly maligning the character of every member of Congress and police force as we head toward yet another line to get to security.  Now, in his defense, most members of Congress have no discernable character to malign but the activities he would ensure all listening they have willingly participated in, would strain the credibility of human endurance.  Cops on the other hand are upstanding citizens whom I admire, at least as far as they know.
Entering security, he would have to remove his shoes, which is possible.  However putting them on would require a series of ropes and pulleys that I feel sure would not make it past the screeners.
Hopefully they won’t ask him to remove his suspenders because they have metal parts.  They are only semi-successful in keeping his pants in the general vicinity of where they need to be to keep a public indecency charge off his record.  One of the reasons his previously mentioned tiny almost-butt is so readily available for photo ops is that in order to get underwear that fit him in the waist, we must battle so much superfluous fabric we could incorporate knife pleats and still have enough left over for a matching poncho.  You would think that with all the extra material and the lack of buttock, there would be little chance of a viewing, so to speak, but these cheeks act not unlike an overachieving middle child, desperate to be center stage.  I wish I could come up with a strategy to combat this issue.  However, as I am not comfortable discussing this predicament with my local seamstress, we simply accept this as a reality and take our chances with the possibility of an eclipse.  I am not referring to the vampire movie, although the skin tone is roughly the same.  Well, if I’m being honest, that vampire dude has a rich cocoa tan compared to mi padre.  If he only moons me, I can take it.  As I am 1/16 Native American, stoicism runs in my blood, people.
Even if we successfully navigate the previous procedures, I can assure you at some point before we board the plane, he will tire of the entire process and loudly proclaim, “What do they think I am a terrorist?”  At this point the FBI will arrive and I will have to forgo my traditional Snapple and kettle chip breakfast to accompany him to the airport “jail” to assure the authorities that he is (1) not crazy enough to be locked away and (2) not a real threat to anyone unless they have a sense of smell and/or are offended by racial epithets involving turbans.  Of course, I could always deny I know him and due to my East Coast travel wardrobe of jeans, loafers, button down and sport coat with pocket square, I think they would believe me.  What’s the point of overdressing if it can’t get you (1) a free upgrade or (2) a place above suspicion?
Of course, if he did land in jail, his “vacation” if you will, I would need to get a refund for his ticket.  Is having a crazy father covered as an “Act of God” in my travel insurance policy?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

If Wal-Mart can rush the season, so can I

All I want for Christmas is a butt.  It’s a lot to ask I know but it’s something that I have wanted ever since I was old enough to notice the extra “seat” in my trousers.  I am, of course, referring to that wad of material that bunches as you walk when you have nothing to fill the back of your pants but hope, dear friends.  If I have ever had a conversation with anyone, I have invariably discussed the complexities of trying to be fabulous while wearing husky-sized Tuffskins.  That statement encapsulates my childhood.  I feel sure that many other episodes and character traits were in play during my formative years, but all I remember was the feeling that somehow I had been switched at birth and there was a sad preppy family in the North (I was always hot natured as a child) who was stuck with a red-headed redneck and they spent their days doing extraordinary things, pining away for their long lost son. 
Chad Wolf was a boy who was born on the same day in the same hospital as I (Lake Providence, LA for those who don’t know).  I felt, for many years, that perhaps the parents of the Wolf family were really mine.  That is until we met them unexpectedly at a football game in Texas when I was in the seventh grade.  I was very unhappy to find that they were more like us than we were.  The only difference between Chad and I was that his Buster Brown haircut did not have a cowlick.
Don't get me wrong, my childhood was not unhappy, my Mother was an exceptionally fabulous person; it was more that I felt out of place.  It’s not even like I was the black sheep of the family.  I would have traded my fake Members Only jacket to be a sheep of any color.  I felt more like the plaid koala bear.  What happens to plaid koala bears in a herd of sheep?  They feel a never-ending weirdness.   At least that stupid Ugly Duckling was a bird.  Where’s my image-affirming children’s book?  But I've grown up so everything should be okay, right?  Well, I can tell you the only difference between a baby plaid koala bear and an adult plaid koala bear is the financial means to buy more plaid and the limited ability to not seem uncomfortable should sheep-like behavior and/or sheep-adjacent activities become necessary.
Back to my butt, or lack thereof.  I inherited this lovely physical trait from my Daddy.  I guess it could be worse.  My butt is teeny-tiny, but it has many butt-like qualities.  It is, in fact, butt-esque.  Butt-onic if you will.  His butt on the other hand doesn't even contain the essence of a butt.  It's the mere memory of a butt that may have been.  It’s not even flat, it’s actually concave.  It’s less than a butt.  It’s an anti-butt.  There’s more meat on a chicken neck, people. 
On his 70-year-old self, it’s not a bad as it could be I suppose.  However, on my 41-year-old-thinking-I'm-cute self, it looks as if I have been wearing my pants for three weeks non-stop the minute I put them on freshly pressed from the dry cleaners.  I age about 30 years from front to back.  It's so bad, I could get a senior citizen's discount at Denny's if I were to walk into the restaurant backwards.  
My assistant, Marie told me about a product that will give you a fanny, so to speak.  She had noticed my lack of derriere and, like me, has no filter.  Apparently there is underwear that has fake butt cheeks built in.  What a technological marvel.  She suggested I buy one.  I informed her that I felt enough shame purchasing my Spanx t-shirts at Nordstroms and tried to do so only late in the evening while wearing a ball cap and jeans just in case someone recognizes me. I would NEVER by fake-butt panties or whatever you call them.  I just want a normal butt.  I don't need a Kim Kardashian or a Jennifer Lopez sized butt; I just need a tiny cheek.  Because the only thing worse than a man with no butt is a man with a big ol' woman butt.  Can I get an Amen?
I feel compelled to tell you that I only buy those over-priced spandex t-shirts because they are a medical necessity.  They keep all the excess skin from my significant post-surgery weight loss under control and in a reasonable facsimile of a normal body.  Without them, I am unpretty, dear readers. Unclothed, I look like an uncooked turkey after a steam.  Consequently, the only time I am unclothed is in the shower and that is due to the knowledge that showering in your underwear is, well, stupid.  A fact I wish I had known at the age of 12.  This bit of childhood trauma is etched in my memory as the only time I showered in the locker room after a football game in junior high.  Most of the time I just went home sweaty and stinky. Well, as sweaty and stinky as you get standing on the sidelines talking to the cheerleaders.    I was short, chubby and had a bad self-image which was not helped by the fact that my locker mate had a visible moustache.  In the 7th grade.  I called him Burt Reynolds behind his back due to that and his thinning hair.  Now that I think of it, how old was this guy?  For several years after the incident (which he not only pointed out to everyone in the locker room but also recounted the next week for all who would listen), I suffered panic attacks anytime I heard running water or saw a black Trans Am.  A water park advertisement during a Smokey and the Bandit marathon would render me catatonic.
But I have persevered despite my many physical peculiarities.  Like my Daddy, I also have oddly short legs.  At 6’, my inseam is 29”.  It could be worse, I suppose, his inseam is 27”.  From the waist down we could have our own reality show on TLC.  To give the illusion of normal length legs, I wear my pants so high that my belt buckle is at my belly button.  But it looks normal.  No one would ever know.  Until now, I suppose.  Hmm.  I didn’t think this through.  Can you just un-read that last sentence?  Then we could go back to where I imagined we were which was where you felt I was fabulous and I agreed wholeheartedly.  Buying into someone's delusion is an inexpensive gift, folks.  Just saying.
Which brings me back to Christmas gifts.  My Daddy recently gave me insight into what he wanted this season.  We were returning from a quasi-rare dinner out when we passed a Harley Davidson motorcycle and he said, “I wish I had that fella’s hog (motorcycle enthusiast vernacular for, well, a motorcycle) and he had a feather up his butt.  Then we’d both be tickled.”  Now, I don’t think I can get him either of those things, seeing as how I am not about to buy a Harley or a feather.  But I do think that I can find him something he'll like.  He has mentioned on more than one occasion that he feels I am "mean" in my oversight of his diet.  How dare I try to keep candy and soda from a diabetic?  What's my problem?  At this point, I think he’d be thrilled on Christmas morning to be allowed to drink an entire Mountain Dew in one sitting (FYI: serving size is 2.  Check the bottle) without my signature look that is a mixture of condescension and pity.  When you set the bar low, you're pretty sure to exceed it, right?
Anyway, Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is one day enough?

Today is Veteran’s Day.  My Daddy is an Army Veteran, my brother is Active Duty Air Force and I have countless uncles and cousins who have worn the uniform of our nation’s armed forces. 
As an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, I am in a unique position to thank our Nation’s Veterans every day for their service.  My department is Prosthetic and Sensory Aids.  We provide any item or service that a Veteran uses in their home, including but not limited to artificial limbs, power and manual wheelchairs and lifts, glasses and hearing aids, pacemakers and artificial hips and knees, computers, ramps, home remodeling, automobile adaptive equipment, shoes, walkers, canes, crutches, blood pressure monitors, home tele-health equipment, home oxygen, hospital beds, blind aids and items of daily living.  All these devices and services are free of charge to all Veterans, regardless of their status or medical condition.  This care is available at all 153 VA medical centers at a cost of around $2 billion for 2012.  I say this only to educate everyone about the exceptional care offered to our Nation's heroes.
I don’t know why my Daddy joined the Army at the age of 16.  What inspired him to serve his country? Did he want to escape the desperate poverty of his home?  Was he tired of the endless days of working and the endless meals of beans and the occasional biscuit?  Was he leaving behind a mean-spirited and selfish father who was in actuality, and not for dramatic effect, a sharecropper?  It begs the question, why my brother joined the Air Force?  Was he escaping a life that while it was not exactly one of poverty, wasn’t so far removed as to be comfortable?  Why didn’t I join the military?  My aversion to authority aside, wouldn’t it have given me an escape?
Regardless of the whys, he and others like him offered themselves to keep this country great.  That, and that alone, is reason enough to honor them today and every other day.  I take pride in the fact that I help Veterans, like my Daddy.  This is what gets me up every morning and gets me to work.  I love the energy of a hospital.  We help people.  Many have questioned my decision to leave a very cushy job in Washington, DC to return to the “front lines” to run a hospital department, but as I’ve grown older I’ve realized what’s important to me in my career and that is simply a sense of pride in helping people.  I’m not driven by a title; I’m driven by a sense of obligation to give back to those who gave so much, where I can see them and talk to them and, selfishly, receive their gratitude.
Regardless of a Veteran’s length of service or position in the military, the fact that they offered everything they had, up to and including, their life if necessary is something that compels us to honor them.  It’s not just another day off for federal employees or another inconvenient day when the banks to close. It’s a way for us to honor those who honored us by offering their all.  It’s not often I quote Billy Ray Cyrus, but his song sums it up best:  All gave some; some gave all. 
I capitalize Veteran as I'm used to doing so at work.  VA Secretary Eric Shinseki started this several years ago as a sign of respect and I like it.  It's one small way to remind ourselves, as VA employees, why we come to work every day - to serve those who serve(d).
So, tell a Veteran thank you.  If you’re traveling, thank the soldier you see in uniform at the airport.  Buy him, or her, a drink or a meal.  Let them know how much you appreciate their service.  We can go to church, protest anything we want and blog about our crazy redneck Daddys, but only because the members of our armed forces willingly sacrificed for our freedoms.
Just because “Freedom isn’t Free” is a cliché, doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bumpkins are people too?

              I'm starting to feel like the title character in Cal Smith’s 1974 hit, “Country Bumpkin” and not just because I know the words.  The song greeted me this morning as my Daddy had awakened earlier than normal due to his appointment at the hospital and apparently couldn’t start the day without a little country music.  See, his doctor wanted to see him at 1:30 pm, so naturally he felt the need to arise at 5:00 am, cook himself, but not me, breakfast and ensure that we arrived at the hospital 7:00 am, just in case. Thank goodness I work there.  Heaven forbid he not drive himself to the hospital and stay at home sleeping his day away.  He’d rather come to the hospital and alternate sleeping in the lobby, cafeteria or my office.  Imagine trying to conduct a conference call with a sleep apnea-riddled yeti leaning precariously close to the edge of your desk who, snorts himself awake and demands peanut butter crackers. 
                And that’s not even the reason I’m feeling all bumpkinish.  No, the main reason I am feeling “fresh as frost out on the pumpkins” is that yesterday, my father called me at work and asked me to find him a container to store used cooking oil with which to prepare the animals he isn’t supposed to eat in a manner which isn’t conducive to achieving his goal of outliving me.  Of course those are my words.  What he said was, “Git me a grease can so I can fry me some chicken.”  As if he had not already fried chicken, which is not allowed, filling my house with a scent that, while wonderfully nostalgic, was so thick you could “sop it up with a biscuit”.  Upon opening the front door, I took a deep breath, immediately gained three and a half pounds, and said, “Did you rob a ‘tucky Fried Chicken?”  Tell me I’m not as country as the Mandrell Sisters.  Okay, I’m probably more Arlene than Barbara, but whatever.  The point being, he asked me to help him fry chicken which he had already done, but tried to hide.  I know his eyesight is less than it used to be, but I find it hard to believe he didn’t think I saw the flour, pepper and salt that covered almost every surface in the kitchen up to and including his hat and the dog.  Not to worry, it was one of his six identical Tractor Supply hats.  Apparently stealth cooking requires something less formal than a fedora or bowler.
My point, besides the sinking feeling that I am being forced to acknowledge my roots more than I would like, is that my Daddy is incapable of hiding anything.  Feelings, prejudices, candy wrappers.  Nothing is hidden.  Nothing is held back.  He has taken to telling all sorts of tales to my staff and I don’t know what stories he shared with my administrative resident, but trying to explain “Hee Haw” to a 23 year-old master’s candidate from Chicago while keeping one’s cosmopolitan façade intact is difficult people. Thank goodness I have been able to keep the “I reckons” and “fixin tos” to a minimum.  But I have had to resort to being an interpreter of sorts for those who come in contact with him.   
There is a certain code to know when talking with my father.  A certain language, if you will, although I don’t believe Rosetta Stone offers training in his dialects which include Basic Southern, Judgmental Redneck, Big Honkin’ White Trash and even Mumbling Cajun, although I secretly think that last one is due more to a lack of denture adhesive than anything else.  And as much as I go on, I sometimes find myself using his phrases to confuse and intimidate my staff.  Smell that?  That’s leadership, people.    
The reason I bring this up is that to know my father is to listen for the clues in what he says to give you the realities of what he’s done.  It’s a matter of gleaning the trace amount of truth out of his statements.  For example, when he entered my office this afternoon, after his doctor’s appointment, he stated, “I sure did want a Mountain Dew today, but I didn’t have one.”  To the uninitiated, he is following his diet.  To those in the know, he in fact just finished a Mountain Dew.  As I am attempting to keep “the sugar” from taking his feet, as you know, I have taken it upon myself to micro-manage his diet.  When his blood sugar goes up he gets very sleepy.  This leads to moments when he will nod off in mid-sentence and has on more than one occasion caused alarm with visitors who ask about “the homeless man asleep in (my) office”.  Just today he fell asleep sitting across from me at my desk and I had to complete an employee’s performance appraisal in the conference room as there is no method to wake a sleeping bear without causing some sort of unpleasant interaction with either the gas or the curse words, both of which he lets fly with alarming speed and frequency.  Even with my sweet ninja moves and more combat experience than is warranted in a childhood this side of Chechnya, I am sometimes caught in the crossfire, if you will. 
                And I am not exactly thrilled with the turning tides at home, so to speak.  I can’t pinpoint exactly when the power shifted but all I know is that there is a skillet full of grease on my stove, a belt sander in my foyer with an orange extension cord trailing through the front window and a 15 pound sack of potatoes in my pantry.  There is some nefarious scheming afoot and I think the end goal is to create some hybrid country caretaker cook.  Well, all I can say is if I wanted to be a Southern woman, I assure you I’d choose Julia Sugarbaker instead of Aunt Bea.  I will fight this tooth and nail.  I will keep my zebra occasional chairs, mirrored furniture and pastel chinos.  I will continue to eat at the dinner table with no dog and a balanced meal.  And as God as my witness I WILL NOT make biscuits from scratch.  I feel like Scarlett O’Hara but without the turnips and drama.  Okay maybe some of the drama, but definitely not the turnips.
To be honest, I don’t remember where I was headed with this thought, but I do need to go.  My favorite Lacy J. Dalton song just came on the radio and I’ve got a roast in the crock pot.  Oh crap, is country contagious?