Sunday, April 28, 2013

Your Guide to Finding the Perfect Toilet.

My wife and have been married twenty-four years.

That's kind of a long time, you know? When I really pondered this the other day, I realized the last time I kissed any female other than her or another family member, East German soldiers were still shooting at people trying to escape over the wall in balloons made from pig ears and babushka scraps.

It was an era when I remember defying Nancy Reagan's pleas on a regular basis.

The basketball I watched during this period was still played in shorts constricting enough to render an entire generation of male athletes infertile. To this day, the torso-less specter of a Larry Bird's lower extremities haunts me with a relentless vigor.

It's when my mom and dad were the same age I am now. Ouch.

Throughout my wife's and my storied epoch, situations have arisen which have chipped away at the once pristine asphalt of our relationship's high road.

Okay, that's a little murky, so let me explain.

When you first begin dating someone, you reveal only that  portion of your personality that is charming and alluring, which in my case was a tad under thirty percent. I could hold it together for a good long while, sometimes even an entire weekend, knowing that I'd eventually be free to return home and scarf an entire double cheese pizza, watch The Three Stooges marathon and scratch any itch that needed addressing.

Any itch at all.

Then we moved in together. Suddenly, I had to discreetly unsheathe my most unappealing characteristics while trying to cling to the momentum of that inspired the invitation to her hearth in the first place.

Practical considerations instantly abounded:

Where will I find a spot in the living room for my Rush poster?

What if I can't pee in the back yard?

Was I now expected to do stuff I'd seen my dad do, like taking out the garbage, changing the oil and—the holy grail of "since you're going, would you mind..." errands—buying anything made by either Playtex, Kotex or Tampax?

I remember thinking: Are you there God? It's me, Tim. If you love me like Jimmy Swaggart says you do, please drop a pack of the kind with plastic applicators in my lap right now, because otherwise I know I'll see one of my friends at Safeway shopping for Trojans two feet from my station in the feminine hygiene section.

I know what you're thinking. Grow up, little man.

And I did. In fact, I just got back from the store and guess what was nestled in the bag right next to the fat free Ready Whip, its packaging wispily decorated in pastel blues and pinks?

It wasn't the freaking Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Yes, humility slowly erodes as we ramble down that freeway with our partner. By the time childbirth rolls around, as the kids say, "Shit gets real." Although guys have usually bared every unsightly aspect of themselves by this point, all remnants of female modesty are quickly shed when a baby is brought into the world.

And the odd thing is, nothing is gross. Everything is surreal and amazing. By the time that veiny, blue little noggin crowns, you've seen a lot, but you've also worked your way slowly up to that moment.

From then on, no subject is sacrosanct or taboo. Feces is everywhere—on your skin, on your clothes, sometimes landing in perilous proximity to your mouth and mucus membranes. You talk about when your kid poos, how frequently, how much and what color. You compare amounts consumed to quantities expelled...

...and you talk about it with each other in the same manner you formerly discussed which appetizer to order or which earrings look better with that top.

The reason I'm bringing all this up is because the other day, my wife and I went toilet shopping. We traipsed down the expansive aisle at Lowe's and stopped at a massive display of the latest in bathroom barcalounger technology.

They had really cool names, like the "Cadet 3" and the"Archer." Needless to say, I was swept up in commode mania, and I'm not going to lie—my bride appeared equally stoked about picking out a new organic matter displacement device.

Ultimately, our crucible emerged. Scrawled on a sign next to the American Standard "Champion" were the words that closed the deal:

"Capable of flushing an entire bucket of golf balls!"

No words were necessary; we looked at each other like we'd just stumbled upon our dream house.

How life has changed.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Selling Myself to Myself.

Just curious—do you have a mantra? A credo? Perhaps some sort of slogan, tenet or delusional proscription to a paranoid manifesto?

You don't? Well this is awkward.

Ben Franklin had a million of them. Here's a little sampling:

"Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead."
"A good conscience is a continual Christmas."
"Beware of the old doctor and the young barber."

Speaking of barbers, not too bad for a guy with the same hair style as the dudes who live in Winnebagos and take money at those go cart tracks that just appear in the Super Saver parking lot, then vanish after some kid named Lonnie separates his shoulder after slamming into a stack of old tires.

Anyway, other humorist/philosophers have imparted wisdom upon the masses through thought-provoking axioms. Of course there was Will Rogers and Mark Twain, and who can forget that great sage, Bill O'Reilly, whose enlightened contemplations produced the following creeds:

"Seven wrongs and two saliva-spraying threats make a right."
"A loud voice cultivates a bushy beard on the cheeks of stupidity."

I'm certainly not going to clump myself in with the aforementioned well-spoken Caucasians. I would, however, like to share with you a slogan to which I've clung over the years with more resolve than a black leather man bag brimming with pornography:

It's only a matter of time before everyone figures out what a fraud I am.

I know, it sounds a little dramatic; I'm not saying this phrase applies to all aspects of my life and personality.

Just the big stuff.

I graduated from college with an accounting degree. Following that, I even passed the CPA Exam, thanks to a solid review course combined with a nice Santerian ritual involving herbs and divination. Did such bona fides bolster my confidence for that first day on the job, the moment I slipped on those shiny Florsheims and green eye shade?

Nah. I figured two, maybe three weeks maximum, until someone woke the hell up and got rid of me.

Five years later, just as I'd convinced myself that, although I despised rising each morning to cinch up the Windsor noose and strap on the ten-key, maybe, just maybe, I didn't suck at accounting.

What better time to change careers? I returned to academia for the necessary tools to pursue a career in my lifelong passion—graphic design. Did I truly believe that my talents merited being hired and actually compensated with cash paper?

Nah. I figured two, maybe three weeks maximum, until someone woke the hell up and got rid of me.

And now, twenty years later, I'm feeling it again—the paranoia and the insecurity, the raw anxiety I haven't felt since the Internet was just a twinkle in Al Gore's eye. But I'm not talking about a career change, it's more of a life's endgame.

For the past two years, with both my sister's encouragement and her hours of editing expertise, I've been writing a book. It's a kids' novel, formally known as middle grade fiction. Back in 2009, when I first began scratching out blog posts, she suggested that I write a children's book. I thought, "Yeah, right. Like any kid would ever want to read a book written by, you know, me."

She badgered me relentlessly, hearkening back to a more innocent time when her badgering included a physical component, like a sneaky and well-placed kick to one of my growth plates. 

Finally, I wrote a single chapter, the big chapter where everything comes crashing down on the main character. A story solidified around that scene. While occasionally I'd write chronologically, I would more often tap out scenarios to be inserted at various junctures in the story. Eventually, a beginning, middle and ending stared back at me from the soothing blue and white hues of Microsoft Word. A draft was complete.

Holy shit, I thought, you just wrote a book. It took two years, but you just put an entire story down on paper. How did that happen?

This past weekend, I attended a writer's conference sponsored by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Prior to Saturday and Sunday's full slate of speakers and breakout sessions, I participated in two roundtable critique groups, where an actual agent listened as each of us read the first five hundred words of our stories.

I was terrified; it was like one of those dreams where I'm in a room full of people and I'm the only one who forgot to wear clothes. I'd come up with every single one of those half thousand words that were being lobbed into the critical air of the conference room.

It was the first time anyone other than my sister and I had heard a single sentence I'd written, and wouldn't you know it, who pulled up a chair next to me but that same destructive muse with that same tired message:

Eventually, they'll figure out you're a fraud. Give up now and forget about it.

It pissed me off that time, and I would have slugged that muse in the kidneys if he hadn't have actual been the same person occupying my skin. How can I be a fraud? This is my story and I'm the only person who can tell it. So, you know, shut up, muse ass.

Even though I've just topped off the gas tank, I haven't even turned the key on this long, frustrating journey. But once I get through the traffic lights and merge onto that freeway, I'm only stopping to pee and restock my beef jerky supply.

I'll call you when I get to Fresno.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How to Overcome Writer's Block by Not Writing.

Lo and begorrah. I haven't posted to this consarn log in nary a fortnight!

Sorry, sometimes I enjoy talking like Pa Ingalls—the real one, not the dashing yet sappy actor who left us far too soon.

It's been ten days. Jeez.

Don’t think it hasn't been bothering me, though. For the past week-and-a-half, I've stood here at the literary urinal with the worst case of stage fright ever, and not even visualizations of babbling brooks and waterfalls have primed the prose from my creative renal system.

Apparently, my muse needs Meuslix.

When I've not been able to summon a topic in the past, I've turned to the pages of the newspaper for inspiration, where I can typically extract a nugget or two of lampoonable material from the day's headlines. But with the Boston tragedy still so raw, the atmosphere is not unlike the aftermath of September 11, where the premature use of humor seems almost ignorant  and patronizing to the human suffering.

In the days leading up to Monday's horrific events, North Korea's newly anointed divine psychopath, Kim Jun Eun, had been dominating the media's face time. I'd decided to learn more about the struggles of the North Korean people and read a book entitled, Escape From Camp 14. It's the story of a man who, after having spent his first twenty-three years in a North Korean labor camp, escaped to China, then on to South Korea and the United States. 

While I endorse this account co-authored by Washington Post journalist Blaine Harden, I wouldn't recommend reading it if you aren't prepared to encounter gruesome stories of a nation's institutionalized brutality on its own people over the past sixty years. Truly chilling.

So, yeah, like many of the world's with even a light dusting of compassion, I've been in a downright funk. And when you pen a blog that attempts to keep things buoyant, you tend to feel as if there are some pretty heavy issues that supersede your airy blatherings.

This morning, however, a new hypothesis needled its way into my medulla oblongata:

What if I'm done? Tapped? Sapped of my pedantical chi? Perhaps I've failed to acknowledge that my mental pantry holds only finite supply of ideas, much like the earth's helium stores which are slated to expire sometime around 2043.

Maybe it's time to come to terms with it. After all, who wants to make Shake 'n' Bake with pork chops that expired last Tuesday?

Think of all the ill-advised artistic follow-up works which litter the pop culture cemetery:

After recording the classic Frampton Comes Alive, Peter Frampton probably should have named the next album, Sorry, Dead Again. Or how about all the ill-fated spin-off shows, like  Joanie Loves Chachi?  Let's just say it's a good thing she loved him, because every one else wanted to strangle him with his own freaking mullet.

I don't want to be end up like Jack Tripper in Three's a Crowd or Joey in, well, Joey. Hey, if the tank is dry, there's no shame, which is why I tearfully bid you farewell, loyal readers.

Just kidding. I've got a prostate exam coming up. Who else can I tell about it?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

She's Thirteen Now.

Such a strange animal, indeed.

Then again, my wife says she's just like me, so does that make me a deviant curio as well?

Um, apparently yes, it does.

The thing is, being compared to a thirteen-year-old girl is a little strange when you happen to reside in the meat suit of a fifty-year-old dude. I'd like to think that any trace elements of testosterone still floundering through my varicose veins would nonetheless stand in profound contrast to the murky estrogen bloom staging in her pituitary region.

But, you know, I've been wrong before.

She turned thirteen today. Well, technically, she'll reach that age tonight around 11:46, the moment her slimy little body wriggled free and lay center stage in the doctor's nurturing palms, the stark klieg lights casting down upon my beautiful new burden.

A daughter; a second one, in fact. Holy shit.

When a man sees his baby girl for the first time, he doesn't think of all that stuff he's heard for the past nine months:

"Oh, boys are so much easier, especially as teenagers."

"Better get a membership to a rifle range. Then you'll be ready when the boys come a callin'. Heh, heh!"

"I hope she's not like I was. I had such low self esteem and, oh, did I make some bad choices."

Nope , he doesn't think of any of it—because he melts.

Every girl he's ever known...his girlfriends, his mom, his sisters and aunts and grandma...combine into a single conscious entity, delivering a singular message:

Don't screw this up, mister.

Throughout this thirteen-year odyssey, has she pissed me off? Hell, yes. I would say she's incited emotions which had previously been exclusively reserved for either Rush Limbaugh or historically inept football referees.

Have I occasionally yearned for at least one day where I wasn't challenged on even the most mundane of statements?

Absofreakinglutely. But I'm in deep, and I'll be treading water in this pool for the rest of my life.

She celebrated last night with a sleepover. Twelve girls, all of the early teenage persuasion, gathered in our smallish house for a nineteen-hour festival of giggly giddiness. Once the agreed-upon time arrived, they poured in quickly, attacking the pillow-sized bag of candy which Webster's Teen Dictionary apparently classifies as appetizers.

Oh, yeah, and my wife wasn't around. She and our older daughter had other business to address, so I stood alone among the savages, sweatily rotating one Costco pizza after another onto the smorgasbord as the prepubescent amoeba mainlined Dr. Pepper and spoke in tones barely below dog whistle pitch.

And while a nice beer or six may have smoothed out the evening's jagged edge, I needed to maintain a Lindsay Lohan defying sobriety, since I alone had to shuttle the dirty dozen to the bowling alley for the night's main event.

My bride joined the fracas soon after, tag teaming with me on cake and ice cream duty.

Incidentally, we purchased one of those foot-tall Costco chocolate cakes—you know what I'm talking about? It's got about twelve layers, any one of which could cause even Tim Tebow's virgin bloodstream to throw a lard-laced heart clot.

After bowling and sugar, we returned to our bungalow with the mob, my wife and I finally leaving them to their own devices. Dancing, according to our birthday princess, was next on the agenda, so I plugged someone's iPod into our family room stereo and retreated with bids of goodnight and sleep tight and don't be too loud or I'll be pissed as shite.

Two ear plugs and eight hours later, I arose to survey the damage. One girl lay asleep on a recliner, while the remainder formed an interlocking tangle of toxicity, occupying every inch of the floor that wasn't already covered in candy wrappers and dusty Dorito mole hills.

I asked my daughter if they'd left the heat on all night. They hadn't; all through this sleepless night, their bodies had generated every kilowatt of the room's oppressive bouquet.

Naturally, I thought. She's thirteen now.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Fly on the Wall: The Presidential Conversation You Weren't Supposed to Hear.

At last, a legacy congeals into actual brick and mortar.

Dang, it's about time; the world has teetered on pins and needles long enough.

Located upon a twenty-five acre spread on the campus of Dallas' Southern Methodist University, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum is slated to open April 25.

And according to the numerous sources I've dug up with the oxidized metal detector that is Google, President Obama and his four living predecessors-in-chief will also drop in to the hoedown for the slow clown.

By the way, why is it necessary to point out that all former presidents attending are still alive? I'd hate to see what Nixon looks like these days.

I'm guessing that Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter will probably sit together and pretend to save the seat next to them for Al Gore, the man actually elected president in 2000. Naturally, Gore won't show, but now they'll have a little buffer so George the Elder won't nestle in and hear the dirt they're dishing about the child he probably wished he'd left behind.

What I wouldn't give to catch a whiff of their confidential vitriol. Oh, well, let's just imagine, shall we?

Obama: Afternoon, gentlemen. Great to see you two. You're looking fit, Jimmy. Building houses for poverty-stricken families across the planet suits you…doggone it, look at those leathery hands of yours. What are you now, a hundred and seven? Granted, what you're doing doesn't achieve the same lofty altruistic heights that painting puppy portraits does, but you're no spring chicken, either. Heh, heh!

Carter: Well, you know, Rosalynn and I do what we can. Holy Christ, those Texas crickets are loud!  Are they coming from that field over there or inside the head of that mouth breathing peckerwood we're honoring today?

Clinton: Easy there, Jimmy. You and I are southerners, too.

Carter: And from what I understand, Bill, you asked an intern or two to move south, if you know what I mean.

Clinton: Touché, my friend.

Obama: Can you believe this place is a quarter of a million square feet? Damn. Maybe they should just move Gitmo here. Then they can just execute them all—you know—being Texas and whatnot.

Carter: I can't believe it's the second largest presidential library. The only book the guy read in eight years was
My Pet Goat, and I'm not even sure he finished it.

Clinton: Touché, my friend.

Obama: Yeah, well it's also a museum. It's gonna have the bullhorn he used at the Twin Towers and Saddam's revolver. Cheney suggested they be displayed together! Heh, heh!

Carter: Good one, buddy. Where is that Cheney, anyway? At his vacation bunker?

Obama: I heard he's pissed that there isn't a waterboarding station where you can get your picture taken like when you're riding the Six Flags roller coaster. He's not coming.

Clinton: Okay, let's cut out the smack talk, eh, gents?  This is a library, after all, and educational institution meant to both celebrate and enlighten. As George himself said in 2004, "the illiteracy level of our children are appalling."

Carter: You guys always make me feel so much better. Oh, looks like we're getting started. I knew I should have peed earlier.