Sunday, April 15, 2012
I just sat through the documentary “Bully”. The message is important; the quality of the movie is beside the point. I wanted to see the kids they were talking about to see if anything had changed since I was growing up in myriad middles of nowhere like Burns Flat, OK; Bogata, TX and Tylertown, MS.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a unique individual. More quirky than out and out strange but I always felt out of place in those tiny towns because I wasn’t like anyone else in those towns. Had I lived or gone to school somewhere more urban would I have found people like me and not felt so outside the norm? I think so, but it’s a moot point at this juncture.
It wasn’t that I had any particular peculiarities. I liked Legos, Hot Wheels, reading and air conditioning. I did not like getting sweaty or dirty. I realize that a community held together by the blue corduroy of an FFA jacket is not quick to embrace someone seemingly against all manner of farm happenings. Bu I did try to do what was expected like joining the 4-H (a pre-FFA) and owning a cow, sheep and horse, not necessarily in that order. It didn’t help my cause, I’m sure, that I was a hard to miss chubby, poor, overachiever, determined to be the best. The best what I hadn’t quite figured out at that point.
Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I was bullied throughout my life. I only remember certain instances of actual physical attacks; it was mostly name calling and then only from specific people. Prior to sixth grade I truly don’t remember anyone ever saying anything negative about me other than the basics like, “My Millennium Falcon is better than your Land Speeder”. But as puberty sneaked ever near, things would begin to change.
The first instance of someone actually singling me out for torment was a guy in my 6th grade class in Oklahoma. He did not embrace the spirit of kindness of the man for whom my elementary school was named, Will Rogers. While Mr. Rogers may have never met a man he didn’t like, this guy sure did and that man, so to speak, was me. It started, like so many coming of age movies, on the dodge ball court. He decided that I had committed some unpardonable sin and told me he would “take care of” me after school. What I could possibly have done to him during this dodge ball game is beyond me. I was more known for my embracing of the wall than any sort of aggressive stance. Dodge ball is the personification of sweat, y’all, and I was having none of it.
Wouldn’t you know that day was the one time I missed the bus home and my friend Kristin and I set out for the four-block walk home swinging our trusty trumpet cases as we were full-fledged members of the band. Having completely forgotten the threats of this behemoth, I was startled when he stepped out from behind a tree about 2 blocks from my house. Taking in his size, much taller than my wishing-I-was-5-foot-tall self, and his moustache (I may be mis-remembering that), I did what any red-blooded band member would do. I screamed, swung my trumpet case at his head and ran like a gazelle that has been startled by a lion. I leapt and ran and screamed and forgot all about my sweet friend Kristin. Loyalty is one thing, self preservation is an all together different animal. Unfortunately that animal is usually more fainting goat than grizzly bear.
One thing that I think had the most effect on my self-esteem wasn’t so much that this particular guy didn’t like me it was what he called me. ‘Fat ass’ and ‘sissy’ were frequent monikers my father attached to me. Hearing those words from someone at school made me think that maybe my Daddy wasn’t wrong. Maybe that guy wasn’t just being mean, well, except for that whole wanting to beat me up thing. They called me fat and I was fat, maybe I was a sissy, too. Having no real reference for manly behavior expected of an 11 year-old, I looked to my Daddy and I was most definitely not like him. Just when I started to be aware of the need for self-esteem, it became painfully obvious that I had no place to actually get a good one.
Moving to Bogata, TX that summer was not something I looked forward to with anything other than trepidation. It may have been necessary for my family as my Daddy had lost his job and we were moving to be near relatives, but I had never experienced a feeling of not fitting in before our settling into the Red River Valley. Talk about being the odd man out. I was just going through puberty which isn’t kind to anyone. I also got glasses for the first time. Nothing says junior high success story like a chubby weirdo unless it’s a chubby weirdo with glasses who doesn’t like boots. And it didn’t help that I was the only boy on the honor roll in my grade; scholastic achievement in the classroom won’t get you a free pass with cowboys, believe you me.
Was everyone mean to me? Absolutely not. But it only takes one person finding a specific interest in making you feel less than spectacular about yourself to ruin any otherwise decent days.
I hated every blasted minute of it but I went out for every sport they offered, hoping against hope that something I did would make my Daddy like me just a little bit. But it never seemed to be good enough. All As? Done. 4-H Officer (for the District no less)? Done. Football team? Yes. Track team? Yes. Basketball team? No, but only because I was so laughably bad at it the coach just told me to have a seat. When you get lapped by the kid with a club foot while running, you may not have any athletic skills.
The next time we moved (to Tylertown), I didn’t have a problem fitting in. I seemed to have found my place. I had plenty of friends and had as much fun as you can in a town with one red light and no Wal-Mart. But there was always one guy. No matter what. Even in junior college. And it only takes one person to make your life miserable. It’s easy to say, “Don’t let them get you down” or “They are just unhappy” or “They are projecting”. I would like to believe that but it’s not necessarily true. Do I really think the guy calling me a faggot is himself gay and projecting? No, I do not. We’d graduated to that term by then as our vocabularies in high school and college are much more sophisticated. He is being mean because that’s what he has been taught. Hatred is learned.
Was this verbal abuse constant? No, but that didn’t soften the blows when it happened. Did my Dad still call me names? No, but it’s hard for a kid to forget the bad stuff. You can get used to a certain level of self-hatred that’s almost impossible to recognize much less address. Don’t get me wrong, I knew my Mother loved me and I had to believe deep down my Daddy did; it’s a rule when you are a parent. You have to love your kids. Of course, I figure, you don’t necessarily have to like them.
By my sophomore year in college, I had pushed myself to be anything and everything I could. At the time I was Student Body President and had been elected Campus Favorite. I should have felt on top of the world, but I didn’t because there were several guys on the football team that called me faggot and queer for reasons known only to them. It was not lost on me that there was a pattern developing.
Expecting a teenager to perform psychotherapy on themselves is ridiculous at best and dangerous at worst. However, as an adult I realized (about two years ago) that my Daddy just doesn’t know how to show affection other than through buying people things. And he is incapable of apologizing for anything. He just doesn’t know how.
The summer after my freshman year in college, he and my Mother saved up and bought me a brand new car. I had wrecked my first car driving to Vacation Bible School commencement at my church. (I feel the need to establish Jesus-adjacent context). My previous car was a ’73 Mustang II; you know the one that looks like a Pinto? But this new car was awesome. It was a Nissan Sentra and I thought it was the most awesome gift in the history of gift giving. Growing up in various stages of lower and middle class, my Dad had gotten a job off shore and we were doing pretty well. I had always exaggerated our wealth as I was embarrassed to be poor. I know people saw right through me, but I was naïve enough to believe they believed me. And I was so proud of that car. I felt just like everybody else. The lies were becoming true, at least some of them.
One of the things that my family does not discuss is my stent as a Basketball Cheerleader in college. I understand it was not something they considered manly, but they were more than the opposite of proud that I chose to do this. By this time I realized that I was not the son they had necessarily wanted and felt lucky that my brother had showed up four years after me with superb athletic skills and I could just go be my allegedly weird self. But being that person had its costs.
After a basketball tournament, I was about to leave campus when I stopped by the dorms to get an assignment from one of my friends. I had moved home and commuted my last semester due to the harassment from the aforementioned footballers. By the time I got back to my car, someone had carved the word FAG in the hood with a broken beer bottle. First of all, who would do something like that? Second of all, how could I let my parents see that? CSI and all those shows were not on the air in 1990. If this happened now, I’d save the bottle they carelessly left behind to test for fingerprints. Murder, She Wrote didn’t really address vandalism.
I had to take the rest of that bottle and assist this bully in destroying the nicest thing I had ever owned. That remains one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. Since we could barely afford the car, I had no insurance or money for a paint job. I had to drive that car for another two years with the constant reminder that there was apparently something wrong with me. Something so bad it drove others to vandalism.
Why am I telling you all this? I really don’t know other than to remind you that since the world is such a scary, mean place, your home should be a safe haven. Even if your kid is the weirdest person in recorded history, they are still your kid and they deserve to feel loved at all times. And even if you think you show them how much you love them, say it out loud, just to be sure. And if they want to wear penny loafers to a rodeo, let them.
Hatred is learned. Be very aware of what you say and how you say it.
I am 41 years old and despite a life that has known its share of successes and its share of failures, it took me until my 40th birthday, a strong faith in Christ, supportive friends and a stent in anger management counseling to actually like myself and let go of the past. I had carried anger around with me like a favorite messenger bag for many years. Anyone who has ever ridden in a car I was driving can attest to the rage that resided just under the surface.
Those of you who know me from various stages of my life may be surprised I had self-esteem issues. Especially those who always thought I was an arrogant so-and-so; and there are many I feel quite sure. Those of you who really know me are well aware of my self-esteem and self-loathing issues. I should get an Oscar for my life; I am that good at faking happy. Because I felt I had to be. And the fact that it took me this long to be truly happy should be proof that just because everything looks okay on the outside doesn’t mean your son or daughter isn’t slowly dying on the inside. Take the time to talk to them. And really listen, especially to the things they aren’t saying.
The only thing that kept me from committing suicide is a low tolerance for pain and the need to live long enough to be skinny, rich and cute; or at least my version of skinny, rich and cute. You have to understand, when I was growing up, if your house was brick and had a bay window I thought you were rich. And anyone that weighed less than I was considered skinny.
My current house is stucco (close enough) and I have a visible jaw-line (for the first time ever) so, in my world, I am rich and skinny. And the fact that I can walk straight into the Brooks Brothers Outlet and purchase pastel chinos in my size makes me smile.
And if no one else thinks I look cute, I (and Jesus) do and for the first time that’s enough.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Due to the recent debacle with GSA, I feel, as a government employee, I must speak to this matter. First of all you have to realize that not all government workers are this insane. Apparently GSA should stand for ‘Guess you Should’ve Asked’.
I have attended many a federal conference in my day; mostly in really obscure and/or boring places like Oklahoma City; Omaha or that part of Chicago out by the airport where the closest restaurant was a Dunkin’ Donuts at the gas station a half mile away, which I walked in the sleet because I will brave inclement weather and possible run-ins with indigenous peoples to get me some good iced tea, y’all. Addictions are only called that when you’re trying to stop.
In my career I have also planned and coordinated any number of meetings, trainings and educational opportunities, all successful, all within the bounds of policy, regulations and, of course, good taste. For those who attended my conference in Chicago last year, I can’t help the fact that the hotel dressers didn’t have any drawers. I have to believe that was as in keeping with the style of the area in which the hotel sat. Truck stop chic is a real decorating scheme, I suppose. If you don’t think it is, then I suggest you tell all those people who hold it near and dear to their burlap-covered, wagon-wheeled hearts. I wish you luck in that endeavor.
I attended a 2 day conference in Oklahoma City this week, just one block from the new American Banjo Museum. During one of our allotted 15 minutes breaks, we discussed the circumstances of the GSA’s various sins and poor judgments. We just could not believe what those people thought they could get away with. I’m so flustered I’m ending sentences with prepositions.
Hiring a mind reader? Really? You want to read a federal employee’s mind during a conference? I can do it for free. The women are thinking (1) why is the food so expensive and (2) where is my sweater, its cold in here. The men are thinking (1) why are all these women wearing sweaters and (2) where is the nearest Hooters. The only difference between the married and unmarried men is the added thought, “Hey, my wife has that same sweater.”
The coordinator of my conference (this past week) is like me in that she’d rather just provide the snacks herself than lose her good government job over something as silly as food. And I was happy with that. I mean, where else would you be able to get good sheet cake and fruit salad?
And the gifts they supposedly gave away. iPads? Really? I have never gotten a freebie more exciting or costly than a “Leverage the Passion” keychain.
I realize how fortunate I am to have my good ‘guv’ment’ job seeing as how, as my Daddy puts it, I “git to sit on (my) butt and talk all day and get paid for to boot.” And I couldn’t agree more. I thank the good Lord and my boss for a career that I love and a nice pay check. I guess I should thank you too, taxpayers that you are…well, most of you at least. Don’t worry; your secret is safe with me unless I am asked by someone from the IRS. I will not lose my job for you. Just saying.
The silliest thing in this whole mess is that they thought they could spend thousands of dollars on t-shirts and ridiculous entertainment and someone wouldn’t tell on them. Are you kidding? Anytime you are a supervisor and have the authority to hire someone, there will always be that person who feels you have made a grave error in your decision to not hire them and you must be punished, so they lie in wait for you to make an error in judgment that they can use against you the first chance they get.
I kid, but there are some very sad, vindictive people on the federal payroll. Of course, I’m not talking about the good people over here at the Department of Veterans Affairs where I work. No, sir. They are the salt of the earth. I am of course referring to sketchy people from other federal agencies like Fox News.
I think those people should have been fired for the simple fact that they hired clowns. I hate clowns. Truly, in my heart, I hate them. I know it’s not Christian but I think I should be given a pass on this one. Clowns think they are so funny and they are NOT. They are evil and I loathe them and they can just keep away from my conferences and my house. Great, now I’m thinking about that stupid movie, “Killer Clowns from Outer Space”. Lovely. Now I’ve gone and scared myself. Who’s gonna rock me to sleep tonight?
I’m scared because if those creepy clowns wanted to they could just march right in and get me with little to no interference from my roomies. Daddy and Lulu do not good security guards make. Seeing as how mi padre (that’s Spanish) can sleep through his own snoring, I am assuming he would not be awakened by any activities up to and including a Third World War or at the very least an invasion of clown-creatures determined to kill. I assure you, unless one of those evil beings actually changes the TV channel from ESPN once inside the house, he’d be safe from the Dad. And Lulu would sell me down the river for a Beggin’ Strip. Know that.
If I had my druthers, I’d take my chances with the gang members who reside, I’ve been told, on the other side of the interstate. I hadn’t really thought of it as a perk until now but living on a cul de sac on a hospital campus makes my house very difficult to locate. I mean, if the intrepid drivers for Pizza Hut can’t find my house, I think I’m safe. I have to believe the Killer Clowns (proper noun) don’t have a TomTom. Or if they do, I hope it wasn’t a gift they got at a GSA conference. Apparently, we have rules about those sorts of things.
God Bless America, y’all.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Like other storybook children, my father can usually be found by following a trail he’s left behind. While Hansel and Gretel dropped breadcrumbs to ensure they would not be lost, my father’s trail is both colorful, due to the bits of thread from his crochet projects, and inadvertent due to his seeming disinterest in picking up his feet as he walks. I think it’s because he just likes to shuffle about. Maybe the clip-clopping of his rubber-soled house shoes reminds him of the horses of his youth, I don’t know.
At first I thought it was because he was getting older and was losing his ability to walk with a steady gait. However, one mention of going for ice cream or a steak dinner and the spring in his step magically re-appears leaving a swirl of colored bits of yarn in his wake, like a ticker tape parade sponsored by Joann’s Fabrics. It’s become a part of my daily routine, running across a veritable rainbow in the oddest of places throughout the house.
Now I understand in order for the yarn to find its way to the nether regions of my home, The Dad's feet have to be the vehicle by which they travel, but how on earth did he get variegated thread behind the toilet in my (not his) bathroom or inside my messenger bag in the hall closet by the back door? What exactly is he doing while I am at work? Seriously, this man can’t even put on his socks without my help but he can perform some sort of interpretive dance to the classic country he blasts throughout the day? I’m unsure how one combines interpretive dance and Johnny Paycheck.
As I mentioned in the last post, he had been left unchaperoned due to my travel for work and he was living the life of a wild and crazy bachelor. Well, as wild and crazy as you can be with $20, a Jitterbug phone and a scooter with a basket too small to carry your dog.
Typically on these trips I will call him when I arrive at the hotel to let him know I was not killed in some grisly airline crash. However, we don’t check in every day, so it was odd he would call while I was having dinner with some colleagues at Romano’s Macaroni Grill. There is some deep emotional connection between government workers and chain restaurants that I truly do not understand. Utilizing the lessons learned in our Negotiations class, ½ price wine with mediocre Italian food won out due to my withdrawal and surrender. Hell hath no fury like a federal employee who has exceeded their allotted per diem, y’all. Per diem is Latin for “you better eat cheap”.
Since I feel talking on the phone at dinner and in the presence of others is rude, I decided I would call him when I got back to my hotel room. When he answered, he seemed very excited. He said, “You’re gonna be happy. I did something you’ve been after me to do since I got here.”
“Really?” I said, wondering which suggestion he had taken. Had he cut his toenails, using clippers and a trash can and not wire cutters and the floor? Had he voluntarily sprayed his own recliner to combat the “old man smell”? Had he finally thrown away that horrifyingly ugly brown striped shirt? Had he actually used a paper towel to cover his food in the microwave so it didn’t look like a crime scene? Had he started wringing the water from the sponge before placing it in its cozy? Had he finally given up sardines and pork skins for Lent? It’s not that I’m overbearing, it’s just that I’m…aggressively concerned about his welfare. Yes, that’s how I’m going to phrase it.
He answered my silent query saying, “I rode over to the nursing home today.” This was as unexpected as if he had declared his love for Carmelita, the omelet chef at the hospital cafeteria. Seriously, I have been trying to figure out ways to get him out of the house during the day since he moved in last September. I told him that he is simply existing and not really living and he needed to go interact with the veterans in the nursing home on the same campus where we live. I thought he’d enjoy it. It’d give him something to do, get him out of the house where he overeats from boredom and he’d have somebody to swap lies with as, in my experience, it's what old men do.
“Yep,” he said. “I went to the nursing home and took them some of the afghans I made and asked them if I could give them to the people who lived there.”
“Well, whodathought,” I said, so surprised I started talking like my grandmother.
“Yep, they were amazed that I crocheted them.”
“Great! What made you finally decide to go?”
“I thought it’d be good to see who was there and give me something to do. I do listen to what you say, even if you think I don’t.”
“Well, look at you.” I wanted to say I was proud of him but can you say something like that to your Dad?
“Yep. The nurses thought it was pretty cool and asked me if I’d make some shawls and scarves for the lady vets. Did you know there were lady vets there?”
“I assumed there were.” The VA has greatly expanded its services for female veterans in the last few years.
“And they want me to come teach a crochet class.”
“Aren’t you something, professor? I am very proud of you.” I had decided that it didn’t matter I was proud and wanted to say it.
“I know,” he laughed. “I’m gonna have to get myself a yellow bow tie. Ain’t that what professors wear?”
“It's awfully specific. A yellow bow tie. I’m not sure society is quite ready for that.”
He was not to be deterred. “They laughed when I told ‘em I learned how to crochet in jail.”
“I would imagine. I feel quite sure a felonious redneck wearing a bowler riding on a scooter was not what they had in mind when they imagined the answer to their need for an arts and crafts instructor.”
“With a yellow bow tie,” he laughed. I hadn’t seen him this excited in, well, ever, I don’t think.
I hope these nurses realize what they’ve done. He is intense under normal circumstances. Now he has a purpose, he will become a crocheting fiend. He will produce these items at a rate that can only be equated with Toyota. It’s impressive to say the least.
And knowing him as I do, I predicted the ensuing request for a thread run to the Wal-Mart, once we had declared détente from the public urination debate. We piled in this truck and headed toward discount utopia, hoping against hope Esmerelda was on her day off. I didn’t need her to ask about Kinley and I couldn’t admit my fabricated child; I have my pride, y’all. I didn’t want this innocent, sweet cashier to know I had lied. The last thing any American needs is another white guy in a suit telling lies in the presence of off-brand cigarettes and clearance priced undergarments.
Plus, I didn’t need my The Dad thinking he had a grandchild he couldn’t remember. We already joke about his memory. When he asked if I was going to hide eggs for him to hunt at Easter, I said I hadn’t planned on it. I did casually mention that maybe I would just wait until the Monday after and tell him he hunted eggs. He did not find any humor in my remark.
In the spirit of the occasion, I decided I needed to be more involved in his projects. I even offered to help him choose the colors of his thread. I mean, if it’s going to be strewn around my home, I at least want it to color coordinate with the décor. We are not savages, people.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
The inherent differences between my father and I have never been quite as obvious as they were this weekend. I arrived at the San Jose airport returning from a week-long project management certification for the government and I was wearing a basic travel outfit of colored chinos, white oxford, white Jack Purcell lace-ups and a grey cardigan because something’s got to absorb the boldness of mi pantalones (that’s Spanish). For this trip, my chinos were fuchsia. Fuchsia is the physical manifestation of the word awesome. Now, you don’t have to dress like me in order for me to refrain from judgment but when my Daddy rolled out of his truck to let me drive home, he was wearing his redneck uniform (jeans with suspenders, pocket t-shirt and Tractor Supply hat). And this, I truly don’t mind. However, the addition of house shoes with no socks was a bit much as was the fact that his pants were not buttoned or zipped because, I assume, he couldn’t be bothered after his pre-airport toileting. I’m not sure I even want to know the reasons why.
After we got home and I unpacked, he reminded me that since I was away for his “day to pick the groceries” that he wanted to pick where we ate dinner. I was too tired to cook so I heartily agreed and left to go get the BBQ pizza and wings he had seen on a commercial. I guess he is susceptible to suggestion, too. Maybe that’s where I get it.
On the way back from Round Table Pizza, I stopped to get our drinks (Coke Zero for him, Snapple Diet Peach Iced Tea for me) at the quickie mart down the street. When I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a woman with her pants completely pulled down. Like all the way down. I saw more of her butt cheeks than I have of my own. And she was urinating. Squatting beside a gas pump. Visible from the street. Without shame. I thought at first I must be hallucinating as this is just not something I expect to see even in California, land of the heathen. And then we locked eyes. The amount of confidence she exuded could have gotten her a career in politics had her lot in life been a different one.
I parked and walked inside and said to the cashier, “You know that woman by the gray pickup is urinating in your parking lot?”
The cashier said, “Dang, man, I told her our bathroom was ‘Employees Only’ but she could ignore the sign and use it anyway.”
After I paid, I left still not believing I had seen what I had seen. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell The Dad and then we could laugh about how gross people are and maybe he’d remember some misbegotten adventure with some heinously white trash cousin and we’d be set for dinner time conversation if I included my extensive knowledge of the behavior of sketchy folks. Sometimes at dinner, we read because there’s just not a whole lot to say between two people who have nothing in common but their lack of commonalities.
After I told the story, he just looked at me. I said, “I still can’t believe it.”
He replied, “There oughta be a law.”
I said, “I think there has to be.”
He said, “I hope so. I mean, businesses shouldn’t be allowed to have an ‘Employees Only’ bathroom.”
I stared and said, “THAT’s what you got out of my story?”
He looked confused and said, “What?”
“You think the weird thing was the bathroom rules and not the woman who stripped half-naked and tee-teed on the side of a gas pump facing the street?”
“What’s the big deal about that?”
“You’ve done it before, haven’t you?”
“I see what you think about me.”
“Answer the question please. Have you or have you not urinated in public?”
“I won’t dignify that with an answer,” he said with more disdain than is warranted from a person who considers potted meat an amuse bouche. My assumption was based on the fact he was eating it when I got home knowing full well I was en route with dinner. Excuse me, SUPPER.
I wasn’t sure what else to say so I just stopped talking while he pouted. Then we shared our pizza and wings and the ensuing indigestion. Nothing says uncomfortable like two people attempting to burp in silence.
I felt kind of bad so this afternoon I made cornbread. In a cast iron skillet. Just like a Southern woman, which is fine except I am not a woman and do not remember purchasing said skillet. Where would one obtain this item, anyway? Aren’t they just always there in a southern family, like grits for breakfast or crazy relatives? I try to tell him love isn’t buying things but apparently I think love is cooking things. Otherwise I have no explanation for my behavior.
These latent abilities in the kitchen are a little closer to my roots than I am comfortable admitting at this juncture. I need to go put on a smoking jacket and cravat and read something really pretentious, just to be on the safe side. Full disclosure, I would need to buy a smoking jacket and cravat, but I could just go sit on my sun porch and silently judge people while pretending to read French deconstructionist philosophy or, at the very least, the Andy Warhol diaries.
He really enjoyed the cornbread.
He never did answer my question.