Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Is there a Melissa Manchester ballad about athletic shoes?

               1982 was the year my nomadic Southern Baptist family wandered, somewhat purposefully, into the Red River Valley.  We moved to Bogata, a tiny hamlet of less than 500, unless you count horses and crabapples.  And we didn’t even live within the city limits; we actually lived in a nearby community called Fulbright, a misnomer to be sure. It wasn’t full of anything except houses and barns and there was nothing big and bright about it other than the stars at night (clap, clap, clap, clap).
                Moving here had been one of those moves that were common in my family and apparently no one else’s; you know the ones where your parents say, “Get in the car we are moving”?  I thought so.  We became adept at packing an entire house quickly and into relatively small spaces.  I promise you my mother could fit the contents of a 3 bedroom house in the back end of a Pontiac Bonneville station wagon, with room left for a cooler of fried chicken, a switch for when we ‘smarted off’ and my baby brother.  Don’t believe me? Call my sister (Hey, Shontyl!).
                This move was the first one that caused me concern.  I’ve never been one to get nervous around meeting new people and I have no issues with just sort of implanting myself in a new landscape and pretending I had been there for quite some time.  And in Bogata, I wasted no time in acquiring a girlfriend (she was cool and played clarinet) and a best friend (he was also cool and his Dad was the preacher).  And that was a great summer, but fall arrived and things were about to become a bit different.
                Up until this year, the only sport that was typically available to youth was baseball, and that was only in the summer.  I had participated with a reasonable facsimile of athletic ability from t-ball up through whatever they call community baseball for sixth-graders.  Full disclosure, I was known for striking out in t-ball and once, while playing left field, got so engrossed in a conversation with someone standing by the fence, I actually stayed in the outfield while my team batted and no one seemed to notice, not even the umpire.  I feel pretty sure my coach noticed but very wisely alerted no one.  The heart of the team I was not; the mouth of the team I was for certain.
                I don’t remember thinking sports were amazing but I also don’t remember disliking them to any degree.  It’s just what you did. But something had changed in sixth grade.  I had realized that I was much less like my Dad than I had previously thought and I had a sudden need to improve as a son; to be more of who I thought he wanted me to be, and that most definitely involved playing football.  Project Super Son was launched due to something my Dad had said on numerous occasions and that was “any boy not playing football is a sissy.”  It would become my mantra and I repeated it several times on the playground to, I feel pretty certain, utter confusion.  Macho, I was not, dear readers; determined, I was.
                And I almost dodged the football bullet, y’all, but like any Secret Serviceman worth his Bass Weejuns (that’s what they wear), I leaped in front of that bullet.  One of the conversations that my mother had with me was concerning our lack of resources.  I knew we had suddenly found ourselves without many of the things we were used to and we had to sell our car and truck when we moved but I wasn’t aware of the exact level of poverty until my mother said I couldn’t play football because we couldn’t afford to buy the football cleats.  My reaction (tears) wasn’t a proud moment for me but I didn’t know what else to do.  The success of Project Super Son hinged on the playing of the football with the appropriate accoutrement.  Of course, not using words like accoutrement would probably have helped.  Being in the band and an honor student hadn’t seemed to work in my favor, at least to my 11 year-old mind.  Yes, dear readers, I was 11 when I entered seventh grade and, to be honest, actually only became reasonably mature sometime in the last 5 years.
                My mother was never one to allow tears to sway her, but she apparently interpreted them to mean that I was desperate to play ball and I was, but not for the love of the gridiron.  I wasn’t privy to the conversations behind closed doors but apparently due to my implied level of devotion to the game, it was decided that my school shoes would be my football cleats and after a trip to The Wal-Mart, I became the proud owner and full-time wearer of athletic shoes.  Of course, these were not regulation cleats.  They were football shoes designed for short, portly youth to wear other places besides an athletic field; white with maroon stripes and a flap (that’s what it’s called) over the laces.  If you were to look at my class officer photo from 7th grade (Class Reporter, thank you very much), you will see me wearing a short-sleeved button-down, overly-tight Wrangler jeans and my football cleats.
                What could I do?  When you are lacking in resources and you gain weight, you simply wear the clothes you have and lose either (1) weight or (2) concern over your appearance.  Anything else causes angst, y’all.  Even in those who don’t yet know that angst exists.  And angst-riddled I became as I was hyper-aware of my appearance and I was certainly not about to modify my eating habits.  I had to play sports, people.  Athletes need biscuits and gravy, don’t they?
                And I feel certain that my mother was confused and disappointed as my passion for football was not evident in my performance or lack of restraint in complaining about two-a-days and football in general.  You would imagine I would not cry out loud; that I would keep it inside, like Melissa Manchester taught us, and try to hide my feelings.  You might think that but you would be wrong.  For some reason my fear of ostracism never outweighed my need for martyrdom.  No, sir, I had a need to be as dramatic on the outside as I felt on the inside, which I’m sure only alarmed and/or annoyed those in my general vicinity.  I have matured since then, I can assure you.  It has been more recent than I would have liked but better late than never, right?
                And that’s all I should probably say for now.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Patriotism and Partial Nudity

             As a young man I excelled at managing the resources of others.  My downfall seemed to be my inability to manage my own.  As an adult I have definitely sharpened my skills; however, some lessons were hard to come by.  I would love to tell you that I was one of the noble poor, those who possess the gift of delayed gratification; those who, when given resources, use them wisely.  Full disclosure, I was of the less than noble poor; those who want so desperately to have things that when given access to anything, use them as if they were commonplace.  I considered my lack of royal birth as ample delay in any sort of gratification.  I say this to give the backstory for a time when I was publicly humiliated by a fashion choice made without good use of limited funds.  I am referring to the incident at Opryland, bastion of family values, overpriced soda and country music. 
                I was a trumpeter in the band from fifth grade until my sophomore year in college.  A band nerd to be sure; however, trumpet players are the studs of the band, if you will.  It is the only time I thought I was a stud; let me have this one, people.  Our high school band (Tylertown, MS) was an exceptionally talented group of people and we had been invited to compete in the Strawberry Festival and Parade in Humboldt, Tennessee.  In order pay for this trip we had to panhandle.  And by that I mean sell magazine subscriptions and candy bars to the townspeople or county folks as Tylertown was the only town in the county.  Each member had to sell a specific amount to pay for their trip and any money earned above that was returned to them for spending money on said trip.  I was a ‘champeen’ seller and paid for my trip plus received a refund in the triple digits so I was stoked, do you hear me?
                My parents had put back some money assuming, I imagine, that I would eat more Snickers than I sold.  When I told her of my bounty, my mother informed me that I could use those funds to buy a new outfit or two depending on the cost.  I was even more stoked; new clothes and a new place to wear them.  Look out Humboldt!
                If I were giving my 1987-self some advice, I would have said to buy khaki shorts and 2-3 polo style shirts to have more options and, seemingly, more clothes; good solid wardrobe staples.  Unfortunately the 16 year-old Dusty was all about a trend and poor choices were made, both in the immediacy and in retrospect.  My poor mother tried her best to nudge me in the right path, but what I chose I was amazing, y’all.  One outfit was purple, orange and black jam shorts with an orange scrub-style top.  Yes, like nurses wear.  It was a ‘thing’ back then in Southwest Mississippi.  The other outfit was a shorts and top set (don’t judge me) that was white with little light blue, pink and red nautical flags scattered both port and starboard. 
                So, fast forward to the really long bus trip where I don’t remember who I sat beside, I do recall that Angela Hall reclined her seat into my space.  Of course I said nothing as I am too polite and she could have easily bested me at fisticuffs, were they to ensue.  We arrived, competed in the marching festival, lost the grand prize by one-half a point and headed to Opryland to get as crazy as you can get at a family-oriented theme park with eleventy-seven chaperones and a band director who was suspicious of you because of your “smart mouth”.  Of course, in those days ‘crazy’ to me meant eating two corn dogs and not feeling guilty.  I was not a wild child, people.  All the insanity came in one 18-month period when I was 25ish.
                Feeling all nautical, I had decided to christen Opryland in my white outfit.  I was standing near one of the rides chatting with my peeps, as I do not ride rides lest I barf in public, when a strange girl (and I mean strange in the sense that I didn’t know her, not due to any outward abnormalities) walked up behind me and said, “Nice underwear.”  Before I could stop myself I said, “Thanks” because I will take any compliment offered.  When I looked down to see why she would have mentioned my unmentionables, I noticed for the first time that day that you could, in fact, see the light blue tightie-whities (tightie-bluies?) I was wearing.  How no one in my group had noticed or pointed out the fact that you could see right through my ensemble I do not know.  I realize that my body does not inspire anyone to compose poetry or take chisel to stone but c’mon, these were supposed to be my friends; my fellow band nerds.  In response, I did the only honorable thing which was hastily untuck my shirt, flee the scene to seek solace in yet another corn dog and pray for sweet death to take me.
                Although I sweated enough for 17 people in the summer heat, I did not perish beneath the awning of the corn dog stand.  One of my roommates did, however, lend me his Walkman and cassette single of Shirley Murdock’s “As We Lay” to ease my humiliation.  These items had been purchased the day before at Sam Goody because Clark Sauls was rich, y’all; richer than me, at least.  Side note, Mr. Sauls was also the best-dressed boy at my school.  He had actually bought not just a cassette single but two additional entire cassettes!  I had to tape songs from the radio to have anything to listen to in my mother’s car and that was only while using the 8-track/cassette adapter we bought at the truck stop on double-clearance sale because nobody had a car old enough to still have an 8-track tape player except somebody's Pee-paw and apparently he already had one.
             The next day, we visited the Opryland Hotel and I was determined to not only mitigate the exposure from the previous day, but to ensure mass amnesia.  I didn’t know how, but “Entertainment Dusty” was going to need to make an appearance.  Entertainment Dusty was my alter-ego who did a one-man show whenever he needed to feel loved, was caught in an embarrassing situation, felt uncomfortable, felt at a disadvantage socially or simply wanted to hear someone laugh.  Generating laughter is my super power and something that makes me smile on the inside.
             We were trying to figure out how to enjoy hanging out in a hotel where we weren’t actually staying and I decided to give a tour as I suddenly remembered tour guides walk backwards.  This would solve the problem of possible exposure if, for some strange reason, my orange, purple and black jam shorts somehow became see-through.  Having never been to the Opryland Hotel, but very skilled at simply making things up on the fly, I started to point out the many details of the hotel’s décor. 
                “And we’re walking, we’re walking, please note the lovely mural to your right.  It was not painted here, unlike most murals.  It was actually imported from Uruguay and Canada at the same time, by the same artist.  Yes, that’s unusual and no, I don’t know why.  What can I say, artists are finicky.  And we’re walking, we’re walking, also note the decorative sconces that are supposed to invoke a sense of patriotism through their intricate curlicues.  They were imported all the way from Dunwoody, Georgia.  Imported means ‘not from here’.  Georgia is not Tennessee.  And we’re walking.” 
                After a half-hour or so, we came to a ballroom and I got distracted watching the staff decorate for a function.  Suddenly an elderly voice said, “Is the tour over?”  It was only then that I noticed there were 8-10 older people walking along at the back of our group who had mistaken me for an actual tour guide.  So I did what any self-respecting fake tour guide would do; I finished the tour and dropped them off in the lobby just in time to catch their bus.  I can’t disappoint my public, can I?
                And that is all I’m saying for now.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pink Shirts, Black Hearts, White Souls

                When I was growing up we had two sets of clothes; school and church and never the twain met.  That is until the fateful night we attended the Jay Strack Youth Revival in Paris, Texas.  We were going to listen to Brother Strack talk about Jesus on a personal level specifically for the teens.  It was to be at the football field of Paris Junior College where we would, just a year later, watch Kerry Von Erich wrestle.  It was also where, two years later, I would take Driver’s Ed with a teacher who taught me very important and specific skills like how to maneuver the Braum’s drive-thru and how to independently practice parallel parking at the post office while he was inside mailing things for his wife.

                I was unsure what led me to do it but I was feeling a bit rakish when I decided to pair my only-for-Sunday-school pink oxford button down with my Wrangler jeans.  I also used the only-for-Sunday-school belt that had come with my only-for-Sunday-school light gray dress pants; a striped number with shades of gray, blue, pink and white.  I still wore my grey fake ostrich boots as these were the only other shoes I had save for those shoes that, while called tennis, were never used for such an activity.

                To say this caused quite a scandal is to overstate it in respect to the adults.  I don’t remember anyone noticing much of anything, but the siblings and cousins who were near my age were shocked and thought I was straight running crazy.  Especially since I had taken the belt and for some reason turned it around to where the buckle was in the back; thinking, I suppose, it looked cooler.  I have since seen that in a number of magazines and fashion shows, but I can assure you I invented that look in 19 and 83, people.  Seeing as how the only magazine I was privy to at that time was the Bogata Baptist Church Sunday Bulletin, I feel sure I didn’t copy that look.  It must have been divinely inspired. 

                I can tell you I received quite a number of looks when we presented to the stands to take our seats.  I feel pretty sure it was my outfit and not the fact that there were so many people disembarking from one vehicle.  My mother, brother, sister, two aunts, five cousins, a grandmother and I all fit in the Chevy Suburban back in the days when seat belts were unused and as many children as could fit would be stacked in the “back end”.

                During the sermon, I felt a tug at my heart.  Jesus was calling, y’all, and I was determined to answer.  During the call to prayer, I began to stand to move down the bleachers toward the prayer leaders when my sister grabbed me by my fashion-forward belt buckle (you remember it was in the back just above the Wrangler patch) and wouldn’t let go.  I quietly asked her to stop pulling on me as I was simply heeding the call of Jesus, as sinners should.  She told me to sit down as I was not leaving her sitting by herself on the row; we were behind the adults as this was not our first rodeo, both literally and metaphorically.  One cannot be thumped in the back of the head for whispering or giggling or doodling (not that we did those things) if the thumpers were in front of the intended thumpees.  No flies on us.

                Using all the strength I could muster while trying to walk sideways, I wrenched myself from the black-hearted grasp of my sister and fled down to where the prayer warriors were waiting to talk to those who felt Jesus calling.  Well, not so much fled as walked as quickly as you can in cowboy boots on metal bleachers without disturbing anyone in communication with the Lord.  Baptists have been led to believe that while Jesus is both omnipotent and omnipresent, He is apparently hard of hearing as we don’t make a peep in church, y’all.  Not a peep.  We leave all that hollerin’ and whatnot to the others, which is everybody else from Methodists on down.  To clarify, hollerin’ means any noise outside of the one Deacon who is allowed to say “Amen!” but only at the appropriate time in the sermon, which I assume had been agreed upon prior to Sunday morning.  I always imagined that Deacon and the Preacher practiced on Saturday nights.  And I only refer to color of my sister’s heart as I had been taught in Sunday School that your heart is “black with sin” prior to giving your life to Christ; after that you heart and soul are as white as snow.  I had to assume my sister was in the throes of the devil himself to try to stop me from meeting Jesus down front, which is what we call the altar.

                Once I made it down front, I remembered that I had already been saved in the 4th grade after watching the movie “Like a Thief in the Night” at Parkview Baptist Church in Tallulah, Louisiana.  With that revelation, I simply re-dedicated my life to Him and after a number of teary-eyed hugs, much like a sorority girl on bid day, I made my way back to my family.  They were gathered around my little brother who was upset.  Apparently he had also felt led, at whatever tender age you are in third grade, to follow me down front.  However, he had been unable to break my sister’s grasp and was therefore resigned to an eternity in hell so my sister wouldn’t have to sit alone on a row that contained at least a dozen other souls, but none she "knew". 

                My mother assured my brother he would not perish eternally and scolded my sister who did not feel led to apologize.  While that was happening, my grandmother, Mama Dot, noticed my outfit and said, “Look here, son, you’ve prayed so hard you turned your belt around!” and proceeded to move it to where the buckle was in the front.  Then she gave me little side hug and we piled back into the Suburban.  What could I do?  Back then angst cost money and I was broke, plus I loved my Mama Dot to Reese’s Pieces, so I left the buckle where it was and decided to focus on more pressing matters.  I had to figure out how to save my sister's soul.  I looked over at her, sitting in the middle seat sulking and eyeing me condescendingly, her black heart beating away as if it was as pure and white as mine.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The only cell phone in the 80s was Jesus

                I have always have been linear, in thought and design preference.  As a child, I loved coloring inside the lines, even making the lines darker to establish a better contrast.  I loved wearing stripes but only in the proper direction, which is vertical.  Horizontal lines on anyone but a stick figure add pounds and nobody needs that, least of all me.
                One particular shirt that I loved had horizontal stripes.  That means I had to have been in sixth grade, the only time in childhood when I wasn’t chubby.  I distinctly remember this shirt had tan, red and white stripes of varying widths and I loved it, mostly because it was new.  New clothes were a rarity and this was Garanimals, y’all.  You know the kids clothes where you found corresponding tags to ensure the top and bottom matched; monkey to monkey; hippo to hippo; lion to lion.  This was my first exposure to color-coordination and from the love that I had for this shirt, I can assure you it was monkey or at least lion.  No hippos for this newly thin child.  No, sir.  We bought this directly from McRae’s in Battlefield Village over the bridge in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  My grandparents’ farm was literally beside the Mississippi River; almost not in Louisiana. 
              In my family you got clothes when school started, plus an outfit for Christmas and an outfit for Easter and that was it.  This must have been my Easter outfit as this particular memory was of a summer at my grandparent’s farm.  We spent every school holiday and summer on that farm from birth until my grandfather died and they moved to East Texas.  This must have been that last summer between fifth and sixth grade, as I had just started realizing that I wanted to look cute all the time, regardless of location or activity; at church, on a three-wheeler; in the back of a bean truck. This was a new thing for me.  Prior to this school year I wore whatever I was told and didn’t think anything about it.  But something had happened when I turned 11 that awoke the slumbering preppy inside me.
                I had been specifically forbidden to wear this shirt outside to play.  This was back in the day when children were awakened at dawn each morning, fed and hustled outside into the yard to ‘play’ until dark; dark-thirty if you were brave.  Then you were pulled back into the house, bathed, fed and put in bed.  Children were to be unseen and unheard, which was fine by me.  ‘Seen and heard’ children had to do all manner of unpleasant things associated with work.  Now, I don’t know what compelled me to put on the shirt because I knew I would get caught.  My mother had the first wireless communication system which was God tapping her on the shoulder and pointing out our misdeeds.  I don’t know how else to explain her omniscience.
                My sister had specifically requested my presence on a three-wheeler ride which was a rare treat indeed.  Shontyl, two years my senior, was not known for demonstrating affection for other children.  She treated us as if she were some benevolent dictator; acknowledging us from a distance until assistance was needed and then summoning us from her spot on the trampoline behind the butane tank.  That she specifically asked me to ride with her should have filled me with suspicion and foreboding but I was a stupidly trusting child.  The only thing that kept me from getting kidnapped is that kidnappers couldn’t have found my grandparent’s community, Alsatia, with a map, because it wasn’t on any maps that weren’t configured in crayon on  left-over construction paper from Vacation Bible School.  Alsatia consisted of a store, a church, a feed mill, an abandoned steam shovel and seven or eight farms with inhabitants who prayed for just enough, but not too much, rain.
                For some other unknown reason, also accompanying us on this sojourn was our cousin Dodi who couldn’t have been more than three or four at the time.  How she ended up on the back of the three-wheeler with us has been lost to the mists of time.
                Like every country family worth its salt, we had a daredevil among us and that was my cousin Jody.  Jody had many talents and habits, most of them death-defying.  I don’t know if it was due to his size (at the age of twelve he was 6’2” and wore a size 12 shoe) or lack of fear but I can report that by the age of nine he had flipped his mother’s car in the ditch and had somehow captured and killed a water moccasin which he threw onto the trampoline at my sister which was the only time she ever left her perch.  She summarily ran into the house screaming, “Jody’s not a Christian!” but his punishment didn’t slow him down one bit.
                His talents extended to three-wheeler driving tricks.  I still don’t understand the physics of this but he could drive full-speed down the road and make a 90 degree turn without slowing down; simply downshifting the gears in some way.  I must have seen him do this 300 times.  Apparently my sister was determined to show him up but I was unaware of this plan when I climbed onto the three-wheeler behind her, wearing the forbidden striped shirt.  It dawned on me that our lives were in danger as she failed to slow when we approached the corner of the cotton field nearest the ditch.  I very calmly screamed, “Slow down, you’ll kill us all!” She roared back, “I can do anything he can do!”  Whether she was referencing Evel Knievel or Jody, I wasn’t sure and it really didn’t matter.  All I knew was that I was about to die.  More importantly, I was about to get my favorite shirt muddy.  There had been a blessed rain and the ditch was full of muddy water, not to mention possibly snakes and typhoid and whatever else resides in water that is the color of asphalt due to the fertile deep-brown earth in Northeast Louisiana.
                Without any further communication, she commenced to down-shifting which did not go as planned.  She, I and the three-wheeler all headed to different parts of the ditch; I made contact half in and half out of the water.  Unfortunately, the half that was in the black dirt water was the half covered in the previously pristine Garanimal top.  Always good in a crisis, I had the wherewithal to throw Dodi clear of the water and Jesus very nicely helped her land without a scratch.  She proceeded to caterwaul as if she had just been thrown from a moving vehicle, which she had, and I leapt up to see what I could do, hoping that my Christian charity might reduce the punishment I was preparing to endure.
                My Aunt Perri had been walking between her and Mama Dot’s house with a baby bottle and had seen the wreck.  She screamed, threw the bottle over her shoulder and ran the eighth of a mile to where we were, followed by my Uncle Ronald, mother and, of course, Jody.  Aunt Perri immediately picked up Dodi, hugging and asking why she was crying.  Dodi’s response, “I lost my gum” was not met with what she believed to be an appropriate response so she continued to cry.  Uncle Ronald came and retrieved the all-terrain vehicle from the muddy depths and, as politely as he could, asked my sister, “What in tarnation were you trying to do?”  She replied, “Well Jody does it.” 
              Jody’s derisive laughter was stopped only by Uncle Ronald’s response, which is floating around lost in my memory because that was the summer we we forced to work in the fields hoeing cotton.  Yes, you read that right; child labor was alive and well in Louisiana, people.  We had to chop johnson grass down with a hoe!  For at least a week, if not two; okay, maybe just one.  And, yes, my sister chopped down everything for a half a row because she didn’t see any fluffy white cotton balls.  And, yes, we sang “Tiny Bubbles” and “Whistle While You Work” throughout the day.  And, yes, we were paid and used that money to go to Critter’s Creek Water Park.  And, yes, we got to stop for breaks every couple of hours.  And, yes, we got snacks and drinks at each break.  But it was brutal, y’all.  Brutal! 
               I don’t know if my memory has softened due to sunstroke but all I remember is walking back to Mama Dot’s house and trying to avoid eye contact with my mother and knowing that Jesus had already told her I ruined my good shirt.  When I finally looked up she gave me that look and shook her head and then smiled and gave me a hug and said, “Well, I don’t know what you’re wearing to church tomorrow.”
                We never did find that baby bottle.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Did they have Frito Pie in the New Testament?

                I know that most people only show the shiny, happy side of themselves on Facebook.  And I know that I find myself doing somewhat the same.  I am not one to air dirty laundry, should I actually have any, but I am also loath to admit when things aren’t working out just as I had planned.  But to the 99 of you who actually read this blog, I have been truthful about more than I probably should but not so much outside my comfort zone.  And the outskirts of my comfort zone is where I currently reside.  And I’m not so much unhappy as confused.

                Of the talents I have, the one that served me well throughout high school and college was the ability to present a portrait of self-confidence so successfully many thought I was arrogant.  Most people who knew me during that time never realized I suffered from almost crippling self-doubt and monstrous self-loathing.  However, my innate need to be successful pushed me to achieve whatever I thought I needed to impress the most people and secure my place at whatever table I had deemed the most appropriate.  Many tables were admittedly shallow, but I wasn't looking depth, y'all, just acceptance.

                Through many years of struggle, I have finally accepted all of me.  Just like John Legend, I love all of me.  And although my curves and edges are less curvy and sharp than before, they are still more than I would like but I am a work in progress, which is annoying to someone (like me) with less patience than is helpful.

                The one thing that I have always clung to, even when I hated everything else about me, is my intellect.  To be sure, I am not one of those geniuses on the TV show ‘Scorpion’, but I would like to imagine that I am intellectually superior to Katherine McPhee, or at least her character, Paige.  And while it won’t win me any Guinness World Record designations, my IQ has served me well enough to get me where I’ve wanted to be.  And that verb tense is part of what is making me tense.

                To give you a bit of back story, I have worked in Prosthetic and Sensory Aids for the Department of Veterans Affairs for 14 years.  I have worked at every level in my field and I have achieved more than I ever thought possible considering my background, but I am ready to take the next step in my career.  I am ready to make the leap to Associate Director of a healthcare system; my boss’s job.  I have had the opportunity to serve as Acting Associate Director for a combined total of around 6 months in the last two years and I loved every minute of it.  This position plays to my strengths of lean management and strategic planning.  I’m good at it and I think I’m ready; my boss, my mentors, my friends, my peers, all think I’m ready.  Everyone thinks I’m ready except apparently God.  Well, He hasn’t actually said what He thinks and that’s what is frustrating.

                And I know that He doesn’t want it for me right now because this is the first time in my career that I’ve been turned down for a job.  In 16 years in the VA, I have always managed to land each position that I personally wanted and felt led to pursue.  And I realize that sounds a little obnoxious but I work very hard and have put my heart and soul into my career, sacrificing a personal life (moving every 2-3 years) to get where I thought I wanted and needed to be and it always seemed that God was right there with me. I always felt led in a particular direction.  But this time there’s no direction.

                I have applied for quite a number of Associate Director positions in the last year and have not been selected.  I’ve been close.  I’ve made it to the final two on 4 different occasions.  I’ve been flown to cities in other states for a face-to-face and tour of their facilities, but never managed to lock it down.  I’m the Leonardo DiCaprio of the VA.  Wait, I don’t really like him.  I’m the Glenn Close of the VA; multiple nominations, no wins.

                I’ve always prayed for guidance and I’ve always received it.  I mean God never spoke out loud saying, “Dustin, you must go to Alaska!”  He’s met me before; He knows that would freak me out.  But I’ve always felt a push in a certain direction.  And right now all I feel is a tug on my shirt collar holding me in place.  And I wonder does God want me to just ‘be’?  Because that’s a little more Buddha than I imagine He is, but maybe I’m wrong.  He created everything so that means He created Buddhists, so I don’t know.  And goodness knows that I have been prone to mistakes in my past.  Take for example the time I volunteered to drive John Allen non-stop from Ontario, Canada to New Orleans in a gold Ford Tempo, armed only with a cat, a cooler full of Mountain Dew and Nacho Cheese Doritos and the belief that all that No-Doz wouldn't kill us.  But I’ve come a long way.  The late 30-something and 40-something Dustin’s decisions (travel related and otherwise) are far superior to the teenaged, 20 and early 30-something Dustin’s.

                But as much as I’ve accomplished and as happy as I am, my newly- 44 self doesn't know what to do.  And I always know what to do.  I’m the guy with a Plan A and a Plan B and even a Plan C with personal development strategies, lists of associated certifications and color-coded timelines.  I’m the guy who mentors others and helps them map out their future, for pity's sake.  And for the first time since 1998, I’m feeling a little lost and I don’t like it; not at all.  I like it less than I like flourless chocolate cake or the new Michael Keaton movie, 'Birdman'.  I find both dense, dark and unnecessary.

                I’ve always been told and always believed that when God shuts one door, He opens another.  But what am I supposed to do when He’s shutting all the doors?  Do I just sit and wait?  Because God knows me and He knows that is not how I roll.  For someone who is not necessarily swift of foot, I am always in motion, people.  Now I feel like Jonah trapped in that big ol’ fish belly with all the remains of whatever a big fish eats.  Other fish?  Beef Wellington?  Frito Pie?  I am blessed to be trapped in the Bay Area with weather that appears to be controlled by an evil genius with some sort of machine.  I guess we’re lucky our evil genius prefers it to be partly cloudy and in the mid-60s most every day.

                So I guess I’ll just keep praying and keep waiting and maybe eventually I’ll be barfed up on a beach somewhere in the VA system.  If it was good enough for Jonah, it is good enough for me.  I admit, though, I am curious as to where this will be.  I wonder which city God considers the modern American version of Nineveh?

                And that’s all I’m saying for now.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

If Starbucks is bringing out the red cups...

                In 1984, The Dad forever changed our lives when he bought a VCR from the trunk of some guy’s car in The Wal-Mart parking lot in Paris, Texas.  We began renting videos from the only video store at that time, which was the converted garage of a house coincidentally located adjacent to The Wal-Mart.  The first movie we rented was ‘Charlotte’s Web’ which we were able to enjoy after several trips to the video store to learn all about something called tracking.  One fateful day after my sister and I watched ‘Footloose’ for the sixty-fifth consecutive time, my mother allowed us to return to the video store alone.  We walked down both aisles and scoured the racks to see what exactly there was to discover and we stumbled upon a little movie called ‘Sixteen Candles’.  Thus began my love affair with Molly; as in Ringwald, not that weird drug MDMA, which I thought was a Madonna album. 

                You know I didn’t want to date her and before you go there, no, I certainly didn’t want to be her.  I just wanted to be her best friend.  I was certain if we ever met it would be kismet.  Kismet, people!  And I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I’ve always loved me a ginger.  Ron Howard, Sarah Rue, Holland Taylor, Eric Stoltz, Karen Gillan (from 'Dr. Who', not the awful 'Selfie'), Seth Green, Prince Harry, Domhnall Gleeson (but only in “About Time” and maybe “Harry Potter”).  But my all-time favorite red-head is definitely Ms. Ringwald. 

                And as Molly and I have grown up together, she has shown me many things both true and good (and sometimes sketchy) but that’s to be expected, right?  It’s only life, after all. So I shall share with you my list of the things I’ve learned as Molly Ringwald’s imaginary best friend.

  1. Always choose a preppy over a hipster (‘Pretty in Pink’).  I don’t think anyone in their right mind want to end up with Jon Cryer, even those of you who keep that stupid “Two and a Half Men”   on the air.
  2. You are not your circumstances (‘Pretty in Pink’).  She was poor and her Dad was drunk and looked vaguely cigarette-y but she was strong and brave and introduced me to thrift-store chic.
  3. When you get a chance to live abroad, do it.  As she is fluent in French, she moved to France, married (and later divorced a French dude) and even made movies in France.  I don’t want to do that but I wouldn’t mind moving to London, where I’ve been told I am fairly conversant in their language.
  4. Bad boys may seem to be exciting but it always ends poorly and usually with you losing good jewelry (‘Breakfast Club’).  Sexy delinquent is one thing; Judd Nelson looked like he needed a flea dip and a nit comb, y’all.
  5. Dancing on a landing in the library will make you look amazing but is only allowed in the movies (‘Breakfast Club’).  If you try to do it in real life, you will be asked to leave said library and possibly sent to counseling…or so I’ve heard.  Never happened.
  6. Never trust obnoxious rich people...or James Spader ('Pretty in Pink').  I think she may have predicted 'The Blacklist', y'all.
  7. If you feel the need to write a book, write it even if it’s not very good (When it Happens to You).  I didn’t really care for it.  It’s not as enjoyable as say A Gone Pecan, by yours truly.
  8. Always share your discoveries with the world.  Like Fiona Apple.  Molly mentioned Ms. Apple in an Entertainment Weekly article way back in the day.  Whether or not people appreciate this discovery is irrelevant.  Someone has to hold the record for longest album title and she had that one good song, right? 
  9. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up, but you might want to lose the guitar.  Molly appeared in the first season of ‘Facts of Life’ as a character creatively named Molly.  She played guitar as was as feminist as you could be in an upscale boarding school in upstate New York.
  10. Use what you’ve got (‘Breakfast Club’).  Her chest may have been flat but it was definitely dexterous as she used it to apply lipstick.  Just saying.
  11. If you are in a mediocre movie, the least you can do is get married in a fabulous top hat with Alan Alda as your Dad (‘Betsy’s Wedding’).
  12. Besides the birth of our Lord, nothing else good ever happened in a stable (‘Fresh Horses’).
  13. Even nice girls, who avoid most pitfalls, can succumb to the pre-felonious charm of Robert Downey, Jr. (‘Pick-up Artist’).
  14. If you’re going to be something, you might as well be #1.  Ms. Molly topped VH1’s List of the Top 100 Child Stars.  A dubious honor, but an award is an award.  Am I right?  It’s on par with the “I Knew I Would Get This Award” Award I received in college.
  15. Regardless of your circumstances, always look your best.  Even when she wasn’t ‘famous anymore’ she was photographed wearing gorgeous things like Prada coats, which I wasn’t aware was a brand until I saw her in one.  The closest thing to Prada in my hometown was a feed mill.  Yes, I know it’s not even close.  That’s my point.
                    And don’t forget, she taught us redheads could wear pink and introduced us to the wonder that is Annie Potts.  I have also loved and learned many things from Mary Jo Shively but that’s for another blog.  And that is all I'm saying tonight.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quinoa Reeves isn't any more ridiculous than Keanu, right?

                Earlier this month we had National Coming Out Day, that I did not celebrate in any specific fashion.  I don’t know why I didn’t, I just didn’t.  And yes, Shontyl Thomas, this is another missive about “the gay stuff”.  I will say, that this is only due to my inclusion in the LGBTQ community is one that has been placed on me by society and a perceived orientation.  I say perceived in that I am gay but I am celibate, almost asexual, but that would add another letter to our already long list so it’s not included because I am sometimes a lazy chronicler of life, y'all. 

                There has been a lot of discussion on the sheer quantity of gender assignments one can choose for your Facebook account.  There are reportedly many, many choices.  I haven’t gone to check as my gender hasn’t changed since I joined The Facebook in 2008.  But this is one of the things about which I have confusions and questions.

                For those who are Amish, LGBTQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and either Queer or Questioning (I’ve been unable to verify) and is supposed to include all other of the “All Others”.  And for what I’m about to say, I know I will get 46 kinds of anger and shade thrown at me, but this blog is about transparency and I’m just being as transparent as one can be considering I am only nude while showering and even then only out of societal pressure and habit.

                Acronyms are abbreviations that spell other words, like SCUBA (Self-contained under water breathing apparatus) or POSH (Port Out, Starboard Home).  Abbreviations that don’t spell other words are simply abbreviations.  LGBTQ is an abbreviation as far as I know; it may mean something in Russian but what, I am unsure.  Turnip, maybe?  Tractor? 

                Of the groups identified in this abbreviation, the L and the G, I get.  I am among the G, if you are adamant that I be assigned a group and seeing as most of you are Americans, you will categorize me whether I want to be or not.  The L is there; I’ve seen them; I’ve known them; I’ve gone to school with them; I’ve befriended them.  I even fought one in a bar in Austin but that was during my heathenistic days and that sordid story shall remain untold until my memoirs, coming in 2015, I hope.  These two, while sometimes exasperating, are understandable to me.  However, the B and the T, I do not get.  And we’ve already discussed I don’t even know what the Q is.

                But there are lots of things that I don’t get.  For example, I just don’t get:

  1. Vegans
  2. Why people in Palo Alto will stand in line for hours to eat at a trendy but mediocre restaurant
  3. Dreadlocks
  4. Our love affair with quinoa
  5. The fan base for Flourless Chocolate Cake
  6. The continued appeal of Keanu Reeves
  7. Why Viola Davis doesn’t have an Oscar
  8. Why, when I have 800 friends on Facebook, do I see less than 20 people’s posts in my feed
  9. Why Robbie Williams has never been a big star in America
  10. Why people overuse the word genius
  11. Why is took so long for me to discover salted caramel
  12. Why designers make shirts in extra slim fit XXL.  Who buys these shirts?
  13. How reality stars who fistfight on camera, avoid jail
  14. Why some people find it odd that I always buy a color-coordinated trash can for the back seat of my car.  Where do you put your trash for pity's sake?
  15. Why Belinda Carlisle still can’t dance after fronting the Go-Gos for 30 years
                    And I’ve realized in my 44 short years on this planet, that it’s okay for me to not necessarily get everything.  Life is a process and I plan on sharing all my growth and allow you to watch me mature right before your very eyes; all 54 of you.  So go on being yourselves, B and T.  You, too, Q, whoever you are.  If you see me out and about please identify yourself so I can at least see what you’re wearing.  That should help in my assessment of “getting” you. 
                    And that is all I’m saying for now. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Oh calm down already, it's Clan with a "C"

                In the past year I’ve been introduced to all things Scottish.  I found out via my best friend Christopher’s wedding research that if you have a clan, you also have plaids.  Yes, plural.  There is an everyday plaid, a formal plaid and a hunting plaid.  So many plaids, I wonder if I might be Scottish.  Considering paisley was invented there, as was modern economics, I just might be.

                When we attended the English wedding in Scotland in July, we were made privy to further Scottish trivia such as family crests and mottos and all manner of interesting things.  The castle where we stayed during the wedding weekend was, oddly enough, his family’s castle (Clan Ramsay), which was appropriate as I was acting as if I was minor royalty already.  How else does one roll whilst in the Kingdom United (since Scotland voted to stay within)?  I feel that my plug for solidarity during my wedding toast may have turned the tides.  The fact that my girl, QE II, moved into Holyrood Castle during the run-up to the vote was coincidental at best.

                Just this morning I went to brunch with two very close friends who have been engaged for about 14 minutes.  We were discussing their wedding plans and I was, quite naturally, filling them in on my opinions (also plural) about themes and color schemes.  The bride-to-be is part-Scottish by background and we looked at the formal plaid which is green and red.  While beautiful, it fell a shade too far into the Christmas holiday spectrum for a proper wedding. 

                While looking at the hunting plaid, her fiancé found some history of her family including crest, motto and enemies.  Yes, dear readers, if you are Scottish, your clan has longstanding nemeses.  Those who share her surname (being withheld because it’s more interesting that way) apparently have Clans Kerr and Douglas as their long-standing enemies.  She couldn’t think of anyone off-hand that she knew with those last names so we didn’t have to plan an attack or anything.  Instead we talked about her impending trip to Tiffany’s to get her engagement ring sized since her knuckles aren’t actually as large as she thinks they are.  She is a member of Clan Crazy Females with Weird Body Issues That Don’t Actually Exist otherwise known as Clan Women.  Almost all women belong to it as do some dudes, especially here in the Bay Area.  I am not of that particular Clan.  I think I’m skinnier than I actually am.  I call me Clan Awesome (And Don’t Burst My Bubble, Please).  I love a good parenthetical encased in a title, don’t you?

                My personal enemies (plural to an absurd degree) are people in bad outfits and people who are rude, stupid or both; I call these Clan Tacky Masses and Clan Big Donkeys respectively.  There is also Clan Look Here Pawpaw (drivers who are too slow and can’t turn or park quickly or correctly) as well as the Clan Are You Seriously Writing a Check at Safeway (Making Me Wait) and Clan Get Off Your Cell Phone and Get Your Ridiculously Involved Caffeinated Beverage and Get Out of My Way (So I Can Get My Warmed Chocolate Chip Cookie That I’m Lying to My Nutritionist About to Go With My Black Iced Tea With Splenda and Yes I know How Bad Fake Sugar is For My Liver) At Starbucks.  I can't forget the sports-related Clan Stop Singing the National Anthem Like You're a Back-up Singer for Ray Charles.  This Song was Written by a Poet in 1800something and He Wasn't Expecting You to Start Scatting in the Middle (or Just Shut Up Already and Have Someone Play it on the Trumpet) and the work-related Clan Stop Reading Your Slide Presentation to Me (I Have the Gift of Literacy).

                I don’t know if a Clan Thompson exists but based on a lifetime of knowing and living with and near them, I feel pretty sure their enemies would be the Clans No Biscuits, Live in Town, Cute Clothes/No Overalls and Febreze. 

                All these parentheticals have wore me down so that I almost forgot my favorite Clan, The Highlander Social Club at the Mississippi University for Women.  It goes without saying that they are firmly ensconced in Clan Awesome, but definitely in the no need for bubble-bursting instructions section.  
               And that is all I'm saying.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

How to Irritate Gay Republican Southern Baptist Bovines in 400 words or less

                I recently mentioned how much I like Chik-Fil-A to a friend.  As a gay man, he was appalled that I still support them.  As a theoretical gay man, I don’t understand why I am expected to boycott Chik-Fil-A.  Why do my gastronomic peccadilloes have to link-up with my sexual orientation, which at this point might as well be “Disinterested former Southern Baptist, looking for clearance-priced Brooks Brothers”?  I am not interested in dating anyone of any gender right now.

                What I am interested in is enjoying some of those chicken minis for breakfast.  Have you eaten one?  Now I wasn’t around to taste the manna that God provided the children of Israel back in the day, but it has been described as something akin to a honey flavored wafer.  I know chicken minis are probably horrifyingly processed and reek of calories and butter but they are delicious!  Chicken minis will be served in heaven, y’all.  Seriously.  I feel pretty sure Mr. Cathey is setting up a franchise right now.   And I hope he is.  In heaven, that is; his financial dealings with Jesus are between him and Him.  On that note, I recently found out that one of my friends attended church with Robin Williams in San Francisco and his pastor stated at his funeral that he was a Christian, so that makes me happier.  I’m glad I’ll see Mork in heaven.  Somebody is going to have to balance out all those Republican sour-pusses who assure us they are God’s chosen few.

                Plus I like anyone with the last name of Cathey ever since I saw a photo of a Miss Judy Ann Cathey who was some sort of Queen of Queens at some Fiesta of Five Flags or whatever from my mother’s yearbook for the semester she went to Northeast Louisiana State University in 1964.  Anything that combines beauty queens and fried chicken is alright by me.  This is where an Amen would be appropriate, in case you needed prompting.

                Believe what you want to believe and boycott what you want to boycott but keep your opinions out of my mouth; I’ve got enough of my own in there.  And I need to leave room for some sweet tea alongside that honey-kissed chicken goodness from the folks that introduced America to poultry-phobic, illiterate cows.
            And that is all I’m saying because my food is getting cold.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Ugly Shoe Diaries

                I’ve always been told that you can’t miss what you never knew existed but I don’t necessarily think that is true.  If I had lived in the days before air conditioning I feel pretty sure that I would have longed for someone to invent some system for, I don’t know… cooling my home?  And I would have been vocal in that longing.  Case in point, my sister and I invented bottled water in 1975 on a trip to my grandparent’s farm.  We discussed a length our desire for “water in a Coke bottle” on that trip because as delicious as it is, sometimes Mr. Pibb does not quench a 4 year-old’s thirst quite the way water can.

                And I was thinking about this as I remembered shopping for school shoes back in the day when we had school shoes and church shoes and that was it.  That day was in 1981 when I was about to begin sixth grade at Will Rogers Elementary School in Burns Flat, Oklahoma.  And all the Hee Haw fans said, “Salute!” 

                I had never been given much control over my wardrobe at that point and to be honest I had never given it much thought.  Trying to be as much like my Dad as possible, I voluntarily wore vests, football jerseys and motorcycle t-shirts without much introspection.  My mother usually directed my choices once I grew out of Garanimals and as she was one of the four most elegant women I’ve ever known, I trusted her implicitly.  As an aside, the other three on that list were Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and my Aunt Charlotte Rushing.  My mother was resplendent in her wool plaid skirts, high-necked blouses with ribbon ties and velvet blazers that were the height of fashion in those days.  Over all those outfits she wore her suede coat with fox collar and I thought she was just about the grandest thing in the world.  We had a little more money than was normal back then although I was only aware of this in retrospect. 

                As Burns Flat was a tiny town containing only a Tom’s Thriftway and a Dairy Queen, we had sojourned to Elk City, home of that’s year’s Miss America Susan Perkins, to buy our shoes with my brother, sister and neighbor Angie.  Leather Nikes were “the thing” but something drew me to the golf section of the sporting goods store.  Maybe I was blinded by the purple swan on the Gloria Vanderbilt jeans my sister wore.  Or maybe she just shoved me in that direction.  She wasn’t particularly nice during that time as she had been forced, as a punishment, to stop listening to her 45 of Blondie’s “The Tide is High” and since it was the only 45 she owned, she was UNHAPPY, folks. 

                I didn’t have a frame of reference for preppy or really anything other than country as the men in my family only wore boots.  Work boots, cowboy boots, dress boots for church, hunting boots.  The only other pair of shoes I owned was, in fact, a pair of boots.  That was what we wore to church.  I never questioned it; I just wore them.  But I knew, somehow, that I wanted a dressier shoe.  I didn’t know what or why but I had to have not a boot.  After some serious questioning from my mother and a reminder that these would be the only pair of shoes I would have to wear to school, I ended up with a tan Saucony that I can only describe as a cross between a saddle oxford and a bowling shoe.  I thought they were amazing.  My shopping companions were not as taken with my fashion choices. 

                They looked like something you would wear to church if you lived in town and didn’t own overalls.  Like something a lawyer would wear or an architect, as if I had a frame of reference for professional men’s footwear.  The only professionals I had any contact with were teachers and preachers and even most of them wore those boot/shoe hybrids we called “preacher boots”.  All the males in my family wore their dress boots to church.  My Dad, on the rare occasion that he actually went to church, wore boots.  It may have been to ground him should he be struck by lightning upon entering but these are thoughts I wisely kept to myself.

                My Dad’s reaction of complete confusion, when he came home from work, was my first inkling that he and I were not cut from the same cloth; that cloth being a khaki Carhartt work shirt starched by my mother until it literally stood on its own in the corner.  The extreme starch was to keep the fire from his welding rods from burning through as he worked building oil rigs on the barren wind-swept plains of the OK state.

                And the shoes were just the beginning.  That year for my birthday was the first time I asked for non-sports related clothing, specifically a striped velour sweater and brushed corduroy pants.  I was a vision in fake velvet, do you hear me?   Of course, this caused me to feel the need to double down on the Dad-pleasing to make sure he still liked me.  I feigned amusement for my nickname, JD (for JD Hogg from the “Dukes of Hazzard”) and writing an essay about my hope of a career similar to my father’s when that was the last thing I wanted to do.  After a very short lifetime spent on farms doing all manner of unenjoyable things I simply wanted a career indoors.  I didn’t care what I had to do; I was doing it inside with the bought air, people.  And I was determined it would be something that would be so amazing that no matter what they ever found out about me, it would be okay.  If I were rich enough I could just buy everyone presents, because giving gifts is how you show affection.  At least that’s what my Dad taught me, intentional or not.  Since I had no money to buy presents, I had to gift him with what was available to me:  acquiescence to whatever it was he wanted me to do.  From playing football and voluntarily wearing turquoise belt buckles and bolo ties to pretending it didn’t bother me when he called me names or that I really was excited to receive a Bowie knife with an 8-inch blade and snakeskin handle for Christmas when I was in 5th grade.

                I may have been without a frame of reference for preppy, but I was starting to realize what I didn’t want to be and that was him.  Pretty heady stuff for an 11 year-old whose largest life lesson to that point was "how to fake like you like that knife you just got for Christmas".  For an excellent use of said knife, I refer you to previous blog post dated November 26, 2012 "The Perks of Knowing a Good Ol' Boy".  And that is all I'm saying for now.