Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In Sickness and In Health

My wife is sick.

It may have come from the 20+ degree fluctuations in temperature this last week. I blame El Nino for the bi-polar weather that has dumped close to two feet of snow on our heads, then jumps to a balmy 40o Fahrenheit, inspiring shorts and flip-flops to fly out of drawers and everyone to think we're living in the Bahamas.

It may have come from extended contact with any of her 30 cousins over the Christmas holiday. Lord knows what bacterial, viral, or homicidal specimens creepy-crawled their way from those cute little elementary school hands into my wife's ears, nose, or throat.

Regardless of the source, she is officially sick. The doctors have deemed it,


Evidently she's been infected by sinuses. I hope I don't catch the little buggers. I've gone my whole life without a single sinus, and I don't plan on catching one now.

Nursemaid to the Stars

I don't know if you realize this, but as a husband, it is your duty to care for your ailing wife in times of suffering. The clause “In sickness and in health” includes sinusitis.

It all began with a tickle, located somewhere in the back of her throat. Annie's voice sounded a little raspy, but we chocked it up to talking over the ravenous din of ecstatic cousins and exuberant aunts. But then, the aches and pains started. The soreness led to an all out whine of despair that bore a striking resemblance to Randy from A Christmas Story. Instead of,

I can't put my arms down!”, her wails of despair were saying,

My whole body hurts!”.

After a healthy regimen of over the counter pharmacological cocktails, cold washcloths, and love, it was obvious that I was losing the war against this vehement virus. I admitted defeat and she went to the doctor. She waited two hours for five minutes of face time with a physician who didn't have time for bedside niceties. A few routine pokes and prods and the verdict was in: SINUSITIS.

Pharmacists Don't Smile

Out the door she went, sinusitis in one lobe, prescription in the other. I got a phone call about an hour later.

They said I have to wait 25 minutes for the prescription. Will you pick it up for me?”

Of course. Go home and rest. I'll bring it by in a bit.”

A half an hour later, I head to the pharmacy. The lady at the counter retrieves my white bag from the sea of bins behind her.

There's a five dollar charge for flavoring.”

She got flavoring? What kind of flavoring?”

Watermelon. It's out of season, so there's a five dollar charge. Is that OK?”

Well, you can't remove the flavoring now, can you?” I joked. Anything to help get this Codeine infused swill down.

Have you ever taken these medicines before?” she responded with deathly seriousness.

They're not for me...My wife – I'm not Ann, I'm Chris.”

Have you taken them or not?” Her tone was tinged with an irritation you might find in someone surrounded by sick people all day.

No. No ma'am.”

I'll have a pharmacist explain them to you. CONSULTATION!” she bellowed into the shelves behind her. I didn't think such a small woman could contain such a deafening roar. Soon a pharmacist was before me, rattling off the specificity of each elixir and pill.

Quaff one teaspoon every 4 hours...

...Two pills the first day, one the next four, unless your a Capricorn on Thursday...

...Don't take if you are operating a forklift...

...Don't forklift if you are operating a tank...

...And that is all there is to it. I hope you feel better Mrs. Jasper!”

Bewildered, I proceeded to the exit and delivered the narcotics to my withering wife. I tried my best to impart the instructions to her and, in a semi-conscious state, she understood fairly well. We administered the first dose of antibiotics without a hitch. Attempting to deliver the Codeine proved more difficult.

The top was not only childproofed, it was adult proofed and possibly bear proofed as well. After a solid three minutes of prying, twisting, and biting, I successfully loosed the cap from it's mooring.

Is it flavored? I asked them to add a flavor.”

For five dollars, it better taste like prime rib.” I muttered. “It smells kind of spicy...”

An unsteady hand wielding a teaspoon of medicinal magic was soon in route for my wife's mouth. A squeamish face greeted the utensil and swallowed the medicine with reluctant force.

Eeeeuuuggghhhhh!!!!! Get me some water!” Evidently the spicy watermelon didn't help much. So much for that investment.

I Feel My Temperature Rising

When I got home from work, It didn't seem as though Annie had moved more than a few inches from the spot I'd left her in.

I threw up.” She greeted me with a dilapidated groan.

So you're feeling better! Swell.” I changed out of my work clothes and tried to assess the situation. She was very warm, so I got her a cool washcloth and laid it on her head.

The rest of the evening, we had the thermostat set at a balmy 55o. As we went to bed, Annie was wearing pajama pants and a t-shirt. I cloaked myself in a hoodie, sweatpants, socks, and mittens. About four hours later, all that was about to change.

I woke up at 2:30am in a pool of sweat. My mittens were strewn across the bed, the blankets were no where to be found, and I had no clue what was going on. But it was hot. Annie was barely awake and, upon hearing my rouse, she asked,

“I'm freezing. Can you turn up the heat?”

I begrudgingly obliged, peeling off layers as I stumbled through the house. I got back to bed, laid back, and heard,

“Can you get the thermometer? I think I have a fever.”

Another blind stumble to the bathroom found me back at the bed, thermometer in hand. A few moments later, the digital read out stated,


“Great. I'm glad we solved that mystery.” I returned to bed, pulled up the covers, and was met with a meek,

“Can you get me a box Kleenex?”

At 3am I was finally reunited with my REM cycle. The next morning was a slow one, but I made it to work. Annie had borrowed my car for the day, and about 11:30, she shows up at my office, bearing SUBWAY.

“This is for taking such good care of me. Thank you.”

And that makes it all worth it. I love my wife, even when she's feeling like death, and just as fun to be around.

About five minutes later, I get a text from the woman of my dreams:

“I almost just barfed in your car.”

That's what love is all about.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Skating, Unscathed

My wife is the eldest of thirty cousins. They range in age from 26 (my wife) to 10 months old – 10 boys, 20 girls. The day after Christmas, as a gift to both the cousins and their parents, the older cousins took all the rug-rats rollerskating. Five of us above the age of 20, corralling upwards of 25 pipsqueaks on wheels. If this sounds like the recipe for disaster, you're probably right. But if you've ever met my wife, you know she's crazy enough to handle it.

As we entered the sheet metaled warehouse that was the roller rink, I was bombarded by early 90's decor – space scenes muraled across the walls, jagged graffiti-esque lines scralling around the rink with chasing lights causing seizures among the faint of heart. An overwhelming odor of shoe spray and floor wax flooded my nostrils. The din of children laughing, wheels rolling on hard wood, and teen pop Bieber trash overwhelmed my ear drums. As my senses adjusted to this new reality, I began to acclimate myself to the new surroundings. I laced up my tan skates, tottered to the edge of the rink like an unsteady child on newly discovered legs, and circumnavigated a few tentative laps.

As I gained confidence in my wheeled abilities, I began to notice the other skaters around me. Although I hadn't seen these people before, I realized that at every roller skating event I'd been to in the last decade, I'd seen the same archetypal skating entities:

Roller Derby Girl

Jet black skates with canary yellow wheels. Striped stockings that end just below the knee, covering her muscular calves. Black hot pants that read,

“SLAMMAHGIRL”. Black jersey and matching wrist-guards. Braided brown hair tied neatly behind her head, and a determined grimace that makes my nervous to be skating on the same hemisphere as the determined amazon.

She skates with a force that commands any novice roller to be wary of he elbows and hip checks.

Grandpa Glider

Do you remember the days when a teenaged couple would go out for sodas at the local diner after a rousing skate at the local rink? White-walled tires and Brilcreem were the standard in the 50's and, for some, it hasn't changed. There is something endearing about the 60 year old couples who are still using the skates from their courting days.

Besides the gray hair and arthritic hands, you can spot these soda shop skaters by their classic skating style. They dreamily glide 'round the rink, kicking their heels back while neatly tucking one hand behind their back. An heir of propriety exudes from a geriatric skater – evidence that they were taught to skate in an age when skating was an art form akin to dancing a waltz or a polka, and it is their sole duty to perpetuate this graceful sport with all their might.

Hockey Star

This guy is the masculine foil to the Roller derby Girl. He's in workout pants and a hoodie, brought his own roller blades, and means business. If the rink would let him, he would bring his hockey stick on the floor to let everyone know he means business.

Although this Gretzky skater is more comfortable on the ice, he can skill cream any amateur on wheels that dares to stumble in his path. As rink rules frown on the practice of flattening children during an open skate, he generally prefers to leap over fallen munchkins, which is preferable, although still frightening for all parties involved.

The speed skate is Mr. NHL's forte. He barrels round the wood floor with the tenacity of a bull, trying desperately to prove the masculinity of his wheels against the more effeminate skaters who might defame his blades.

Homo-Erotic Inline Speed Skaters

As a bi-annual, recreational skater, you are bound to get lapped. It is just something to come to terms with. When you are passed by a skater, you think little of it. But when you are passed by two skaters, crouched for speed and wind resistance, the latter awkwardly grasping the gluteus of the former, you cannot help but feel emasculated.

Completely in-sync, these men share the intense love of skating with the Hockey Star and Roller Derby Girl, but do so in a more graceful manner. Each is in-tune with the movements of the other, arms and legs swinging in unison, focused on navigating the screaming teens and ancient lovers to beat their last time trial. Even their breathing is in-sync as they stream through the masses with balletic grace.

They are so focused on their craft that not even the scathing disdain that comes from the Hockey hooligans can break their composure.

Solo Skater Savant

His custom skates are freshly polished. His wrist-guards are monogrammed. He skates to the beat of a very different drum.

Objectively this man is an incredibly talented skater. Throughout the skate he practices tricks and gyrations that would make figure skaters cringe, seemingly for his own amusement. I would dare say that he was completely unaware of any other presence on the wood that day.

Contorting your legs into bizarre, cartoonish poses while on wheels may be a sign of virility and Casanova-ism in some cultures, but I do not believe that is the case in my own. It was sometimes painful to watch this character groove, slightly off-tempo, to the top 40 musical stylings that blared throughout the rink. I can only imagine that this was a cardio regimen prescribed by some new aged yogi, as he at times resembled Shiva the Destroyer, his arms and legs undulating in a meditative fury.

Passive-Aggressive Teen Bieber Freaks

One of these teenie boppers was having a birthday and, to her chagrin, her mom picked Orbitz Skating Emporium as the destination for her party. Mortified, she refuses to show that she is having fun. With her cadre of screaming airheads, she screams the immortal lyrics of Ke$ha and Justin Bieber at the top of her off-key lungs.

The unfortunate side affect of these squealing ladies, beyond my loss of hearing, was that, in the throes of musical ecstasy, they lost all ability to navigate. These pre-teens morphed from shrill 90 pound drama factories to a herd of moaning water buffalo, incapable of breaking away from the pop-drunk group think that drove them around the rink with ferocious blindness. Woe to the unaware skater who happens in front of this all-consuming ball of prepubescent power.

Uber-Serious Skate Ref

Every sport has rules. Every rule needs enforced. Every enforcer needs a weapon. Give a 22 year old a whistle, striped shirt, and a pair of used skates, and watch them turn from Playstation addict to keystone cop in two seconds flat.

It doesn't matter if you are wearing plastic Playskool skates or professional skate stars, you will receive equal wrath from these skating sheriffs. Do not stop. Do not push. Do not have fun on this roller rink.

There is a certain level of animosity that exudes from these enforcers towards any of the more proficient skaters in the rink. It is as if the ref's are once great remnants of Derby teams, Hockey squads, or speed skating duo's that, due to injury, have become washed up and are forced to relive their glory days as haggard sentries of the rink. They look down their noses at those of us who just skate for fun, and envy the wheeler who can still stand among the pro's. They are trapped in a purgatory of failure and disdain, bearing the scarlet letter of a referee's stripe. The whistle is a badge of honor. Their wheels will forever spin to serve.

Skate On, Sundance

I left that roller rink shorter, sorer, and more aware of a bizarre niche of American culture: the 21st century roller rink. I will still enjoy a good skate now-and-again, but will exercise caution the next time I venture onto that wooden floor. It's a vicious world that shows no mercy on the faint of heart.

Skate with caution.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Babies are Coming for You

This is a warning going out to anyone who considers themselves cool, tough, or bad-ass:

Beware of babies. They will destroy you.

Babies are dangerous. They appear to be cute, affectionate, little balls of fat and love, then when you've opened yourself up to them, they strike, like little toothless vipers. If you review the basic truths about babies, you will see that they are in fact out to take over the world:


Baby, preparing to rip me to shreds
The definition of a parasite, according to, is an organism that lives on or in another organism, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment. That sound familiar, mommies of the world? I know that many women love to play host, throwing dinner parties and Bat Mitzvahs, but this is a host of a different color. Not only do they embed themselves into a woman's stomach, leaching nutrients, but they also practice mind control. Take this, from fledgling blogger Julia Jones:

During early pregnancy, I noticed something different about myself.  I felt dumber.  Yes.  Dumber.  Like, all of a sudden, my brain decided to take a hike and I couldn't remember jack squat anymore.  I would be carrying on a typical conversation with my husband, stop talking mid sentence, stare at him blankly, then say, "I'm sorry, what was I talking about?"

This is an obvious case of mental manipulation on the part of this fetal fury that has since extricated itself from my friend Julia, only to wreak havoc on the known world. But this is not where the terror ends. Once they are out, it only gets worse.

Snuggle Vomiting

For those of you not familiar with the snuggle vomit, it is when a little “person” gets all cute, nuzzles against your neck like a cuddly baby raccoon, then proceeds to blow breast-fed chunks down your collar.

How can such a small entity create such a large amount of projectile waste? It ruins your shirt, dribbles down your neck, encrusts your hair, and cakes into in your ear. Then, when you think the little Linda Blair prodigy cannot spit up any further, they dig deep within themselves to call forth even greater reverse digestion fury.

This tactic is an obvious plot to destroy nice clothing, break our steely resolve, and make us go deaf in one ear from the venomous puke that spews forth from all infant infidels.

Baby Bums

I was in a restaurant yesterday, and I saw a baby dressed in a pair of sweatpants, a shirt that he'd obviously thrown up on, an oversized jean jacket, and a stocking cap. He looked as if he'd been sleeping on the streets of Boston, living off of cheap whiskey and guilt. If I'd come into that restaurant dressed in such a fashion, unable to walk, drooling all over myself and babbling like a deranged person, they'd have thrown me out like Sunday's garbage. But this little man gets the royal treatment. They are allowed to gallivant around, naked as jaybirds, flaunting their superior status and lowering our expectations of what is appropriate and decent. These babies' flagrant disregard for human dignity and decency is leading to a moral failure among all humans. People say,

“If a baby's doing it, why can't I? I think these sweatpants go well with my jean jacket.”

They don't. This is another example of how baby mind control is sabotaging this great nation. Soon we'll all be wandering around in pajamas and puke stained t-shirts. Those of us who haven't already.

Steal Our Good American Jobs

Did you know that 100% of hard working, red blooded, American jobs are being taken by babies? It's true. The person working next to you, was a baby, not long ago. They are very methodical, very sly, but they are all vying for our honest wages. Soon, all of us will be living in abject poverty while babies are raking in our millions.

Maybe you don't believe it. Perhaps you think,

“It'll never happen to me. I have a specific skill set that a baby could never learn. They don't even have efficient use of their opposable thumbs!”

Babies are fiercely intelligent. They learn at rates much higher than that of a regular human being. Within the first few years, they learn to walk, talk, and destroy entire houses with vomit, poop, and toys. After that, they are coming for your job.

Reproduction Mind Control

mind control laser locked on - set to stun
The most feared thing about babies is there ability to gain mind control of any woman between 18 and 40 and turn them into babbling baby wanting slaves. They dote. They coo. They speak in bizarre languages that only babies and other women can understand. Worst of all, they get these women to buy pregnancy magazines.

This would be horrific enough by itself, if not for the fact that, once they've been brainwashed by these adorable little munchkins of doom, they begin pressuring their male counterparts. They hint, they wish, they blatantly ask when they get to start “a family of their own”. If they are above 35, they reference a mysterious biological clock and its incessant time keeping accuracy.

Keep women away from babies. As the host, a women is useless to the mind powers of our fetal foes. Take my wife for instance - she loves babies so much that she actually agreed to watch and assist a baby's birth. The whole thing. And she doesn't even like the sight of blood.

If a woman you know has any of the above symptoms, it's too late for you. Suck it up and make the best of your inevitable baby making.

You may think it is too late to save the world from this barrage of bouncing babies. But with the proper protection, you can avoid this horrible fate and remain the tough, cool, man you claim to be.

Just don't be surprised if, one day, you wake up and realize that your leather jacket is in mothballs, your motorcycle is in pieces, and your wife is in labor with your third child. It's then that you'll realize that they've gotten to you too.

Consider yourself warned.

I'm watching you...

If you haven't figured out by now, this posting is completely satirical. Please do not assume that any of the above statement are in earnest, or any way heartfelt.

Thanks to Monica Overberg and Gabe Goodrick for allowing the use their son Kurtis, in the above images.

(The babies made me write this disclaimer. Save yourself...)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making love - Giving Gifts That Don't Suck

I love sweater tees.

I have simultaneous exuberance and loathing in my heart when it comes to Christmas gifts. Giving, receiving, buying, wrapping, exchanging, returning – it does not matter. There are few things in life that cause anxiety like Christmas gifts.

The Gift of Gift Giving

It may be hereditary, this holiday humbuggery that befalls me. Last weekend my father and I wandered aimlessly through stores as we sought out obligatory gifts for the ones we care for. We finally settled upon a few items that fit the people on our list – candy and trinkets, mostly. As we drove home, we agreed that the whole gift giving concept was flawed.

We are so fixed on the act of giving, we forget that the gifts we impart should actually have meaning. And that is where I fail. I can think of great things for people throughout the year, but when it comes time for Christmas shopping, I am vapid. I wander stores in a daze of lights, people exuding peculiar odors, and the impending doom of an empty-handed Christmas.

My grandmother, on the other hand, is so caught up in the gift giving conspiracy that she calculates, down to the penny, how much she gives each of her grandchildren each Christmas. We all get at least one gift, then, for the older among us, cash. The gifts are, at times, the most asinine trinkets and trivial bobbles ever dreamed of. In the past, I've told her,

“Grandma, just give me money. I don't need any gifts this year.”

But she insists that if everyone doesn't have a physical gift to open on Christmas, we'll feel left out, and probably cry ourselves to sleep while visions of familial guilt dance in our heads. So we get our gifts on Christmas. Regardless of their limited utility, I appreciate the gesture. She wants us to feel loved. While we may not always love the gift, I do love the love behind the gift.

What Do YOU Want For Christmas?

Don't ask me what I want. I know you have the urge, but restrain yourself. If I were to compile a Christmas list, it'd consist of the following:

A hand-held, digital audio recorder
About a dozen music albums
A few films, mostly underground or silver screen
A new pair of brown dress shoes
An FM transmitter compatible with my Blackberry
Multiple bottles of top shelf Bourbon
The Pabst Brewing Company


With all of these Christmas wishes, there are specific models, styles, and specifications to my desires. I have an esoteric love of non-mainstream indie music, I love older films, and am pickier about my shoes than most women are. The technology that I want, I want the specific models that I have researched and determined to be the best item for the job. Worst of all, most of the things on my ramshackled Christmas list are expensive.

When I attempt to explain any of these requests, it generally elicits an annoyed or bewildered look and the person buys the closest thing to my desired item. They find the most inexpensive equivalent, slap a bow on it and hope for the best. Upon opening it, I smile, feign excitement, and then try to figure out how I can buy the one I want without making anyone feel bad.

Upon proofreading this, I realize that I may come across as an ungrateful prick. That is not my intention. Nor am I trying to sound like a Scrooge. I am merely trying to avoid the quagmire of awkward gifting that inevitably occurs this time of year.

Seasonal Origami

Would you expect a cross-eyed five year old to successfully wrap gifts without using three rolls of tape and a healthy dose of saliva to keep everything adhered?

Then why is it that every year, regardless of my vehement protestation, I am forced to create these works of ephemeral abstract art that will inevitably be ripped to shreds by the recipient.

I am not in any way comparing myself with a visually impaired child who is 1/5th my age. I am, however, comparing my ability and desire to wrap gifts with that of a preschooler.

I prefer newspapers and electric tape, garbage bags and zip ties. Or the old 'Close your eyes and hold out your hands!' routine.

Making Love

There are exceptions to my disdain for gift giving. When I receive a homemade gift, my Grinchian heart grows three sizes. Whether it be culinary treats, fashionable yarnwear, or refabricated trinketry, I appreciate the thought that goes into a gift that is from the hands and heart of the giver.

My other grandmother gives out Christmas cookies every year. She must bake 500 cookies, from sugar cookies to turtles to traditional German anise cakes. I love them all, and they never last more than a week. One of my favorite cookies from oma's kitchen are the sugar cookies. There is something about those powdery morsels, slathered with pastel frosting and shaped like reindeer, Santa Clauses', and Christmas bells, that make my mouth water at the thought of them.

But after I was diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago, my grandmother decided that she was going to give me a healthier option for Christmas. So now, nestled in with all the other carb-filled delights in my Christmas package, I am chagrined to find my sugar cookies naked as Jesus in the manger – Not a bit of frosting on the poor little angels and stars.

Although I've tried to explain it to her, grandma has yet to grasp the concept of carbohydrates versus sugars. The cookie is chock full of carbohydrates, so is just as deleterious to my health without frosting than it is with the creamy delight. Do not spare me the savory experience of my youth, in an attempt to keep me healthy! They're cookies! Frosting or not, they will still raise my bloodsugar levels, so let them raise in peace.

Again, I am grateful every time my grandmother sends those barren cookies my way. As I crunch into the lacking treat, I smile. Grandma, in her own misguided way, is showing me she cares.

The Never-Ending Scarf

The all time best homemade gift I've received is a scarf from my wife. It has to be the only one of its design, and that is why I value it above every other neck protector I own.

Annie learned to crochet, specifically for this project, and set to work on a scarf for her beau. She chose a multicolored yarn that transitioned from red to orange to green, reflecting the autumnal ambiance that she knew I loved. Annie labored over the needle and lambswool for days, fervently looping and tugging, ensuring that every miniscule know was even and tight. My giraffe neck deserved only the best, and that was what she set out to deliver.

Somewhere along the way, Annie forgot to look up and check her progress. Before she realized it, she had created a scarf that was 15 fee long, but only 3 inches wide. More a snakes blanket than a human's scarf, Annie was nonplussed. But she was not defeated. In a move of pure ingenuity, Annie folded the scarf in half and proceeded to attach the two segments along the edge. The end result was a beautiful, thick scarf that has provided warmth and comfort to my neck for several years.

'Tis the Season

I know I shouldn't fight the inevitable. People are going to give me gifts. I want to show people my appreciation and reciprocate with my own trinkets of seasonal cheer. I will bear the anxiety of this tradition in stride, and, with any luck, I'll get better at it.

So don't feel bad if I give you a crummy gift. I really did try. And don't worry about giving me a crummy gift. I'll love you all the same for it.

And then I'll give it to Goodwill.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

25 is the New Dead

I'm getting old.

Now before you laugh, roll your eyes, or otherwise scoff at this admission, read those words again. Do not associate any sort of subjective tone, judgment, or analysis to the phrase.

It's true, isn't it?

I've recently become aware of a curious phenomenon. For over 25 years now, I've been getting older. While I was busy running, jumping, and playing, I was getting older. Cruising in my hand-me-down jalopy, I was changing. During that four year edification stint at Monmouth College, time was silently wreaking havoc on me; and now, through quantitative analysis, I've come to the conclusion that I have in fact been aging this whole time.

In the Eye of the Beholder

If she's a couch potato, does that make her a "Russet" Hound?
The realization came a few nights ago. Annie had turned in for the night, Ellie had given up on me and curled into a little ball beside me as I toiled away, recording a new piece of music. After a few hours of editing, I had finished the work and played it back for review.

As I listened to the music play back, I closed my eyes and rested my head in my hands. I allowed my body to disconnect from the world as my mind honed in on the details of the music, scanning for errors and discrepancies. As the song finished, I awoke from my physical dormancy. I blinked away the spots of light, my eyes struggling to adjust to the computer screen.

As I stared, my eyes refused to hone in on the information before me. I blinked, telescoping my head closer to the screen, then back out again. Eventually my vision returned to a semblance of its former accuracy, but even the next morning, my eyes were ever so slightly out of focus. I own a pair of low prescription reading glasses and have been wearing them with much greater regularity since.

I wish this case of macular degeneration was the only evidence I had of my own impending mortality, but as I look back at the last few years, there is more data supporting this hypothesis.

Back to the Future

This quarter century carapace of mine has long since departed from the posh life. It's been drug through more than its fair share of auto accidents, camping trips, sleepless nights, and chronic illnesses. Until recently, I can honestly say that my body has bounced back from everything it's been dealt; but since I've graduated college, something has changed.

My back hurts. I'm going to admit right up front that after long hours building theater sets, working out, or heavy lifting, I can feel it in my back. During the month of October, I was in a musical where I had to do some fairly strenuous gyration in stiletto heels (don't ask) and, about halfway through the production's five week run, my back was on fire. It was not only physically painful, it was also hard on my ego as I limped around like a senior citizen at bingo night.

Good Night Sweetheart

The nail in the coffin of my youth and vitality is the fact that the age of all-nighters has come and gone. In college, I could remain alert and youthful into the wee hours of the morning, for work or for play. Anymore, my body bids the world adieu after 11pm, whether I agree or not. The term “Hitting a brick wall” has never been as apt a description as when I am trying to work on a project and I pass that demarcation zone. It doesn't matter what I'm doing, where I'm at, but I am ready to be horizontal and unconscious.

In college, I once spent almost 60 consecutive hours awake, lucid, and producing meaningful content that resulted in A's and B's in multiple courses. I remember social occasions ending with a few friends fervently discussing nothing in particular while the sun rose over our cigars and whatever beer remained in the cases at our feet. I remember sitting up all night at Boy Scout camp, watching over Honor Society candidates, with nothing but a crackling fire to keep me company as I communed with the trees around me.

Once, a few hours of sleep could fuel me for days. Now, I contemplate sleeping over my lunch break.

25 is the New Dead

I am not complaining. I am not interested in hearing any “Just wait til you're my age...” remarks, so save them for your grandkids.

Everyone expects to hear groans and complaints about aches, pains, indigestion, and incontinence from those who have reached the venerable middle ages. It's as if you are deemed an invalid if you mention a hangnail before reaching 40. But as I've transitioned into adulthood, I've seen a large number of people in similar situations, lamenting the sudden lost virility of their youth.

Am I saying that I need a walker? By no means. Ask my wife – I have been claiming that I'll live to see my 125th birthday for a while now. I have every intention of reaching that destination, with all my wits about me, pants unsoiled.

What I am saying is that I've learned how I need to pace myself. I believe I can do anything I put my mind to, but I cannot do everything at once. When I worked at my grandfathers baler implement, there was a phrase we used for an old piece of machinery that had been poorly cared for:

“Rode hard and put away wet.”

The key to becoming a renaissance man may be to master one thing before moving on to the next. For the betterment of myself, as well as the longevity of my carcass.

Easier said than done.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Seasonal Affect

It's cold. For those of you who are not in in the Midwest, take my word for it.

My car thermometer read a balmy one degree Fahrenheit this morning as I mad my way out of the parking lot. I backed into the alley and, as I shifted into drive to begin my commute, continued to slide backwards. No matter how much my tires protested the backwards motion, I continued to move in reverse. After a few failed attempts to gain yardage, I opted to work with the forces of physics. As I backed down the alley, I hoped no one would come out of their garages and see me creeping down the lane in reverse. Once I reached the street, I was able to continue my journey facing the proper direction.

I've spoken to many people over the last month who've all made similar claims about this inclement iciness.

The weather puts me in a foul mood.”

I'm tired of being cold all the time!”

It gets too dark too early.”

I can't feel my fingers.”

My father, a born and bred Iowan, even left last week for the warmer climes of Houston Texas. This ardent opposition to winter got me thinking about seasonal affect disorder, a psychological disorder that has come to my attention in the last few years. Here is what the Mayo Clinic has to say about SAD:

“Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you're like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, seasonal affective disorder causes depression in the spring or early summer.”

Definition taken from

From this idea, I started creating a person that not only experienced mood swings or lethargy during the winter months, but was so brought down by the drabness of the snow and slush, that he actually detached from reality. The only thing that kept him attached to some semblance of this world was a woman he loved. I don't know if her love was reciprocated, or if she even knew of his existence, but his belief in her attachment is what keeps him tethered to reality, if ever so slightly.

As our disconnected character wanders through life, he gets lost in the monochromatic gray, misplacing the horizon and falling off the sidewalk, into the ashen ether. He is brought back to earth by a prescription, but whether that medicinal solution in actually a productive addition to his life is questionable.

I don't know where this character goes from here. The story may continue with another song, or essay, or some other medium. But for now, it's just seasonal affect.

Seasonal Affect

Drive around the town I don't know where to go
Stare at twinkling lights, amid the falling snow

I don't know
Lets run away
I don't know
Let's run away


Frustrated with all this madness
Curtsy the world insincere gladness

I don't know who
Lets get away
I don't know who
Let's get away


The land the sea the sky they fade to gray
Unsure of where to step, of what's terrain

I don't know who this life is for
Let's float away
I don't know who I am any more
Let's float away


The frozen ground it falls away beneath my feet
Barren tree tops they shrink away in this retreat

I don't know anything for sure
Let's fly away
I don't know where to find the floor
Let's fly away


The pastel doctors reign me in prescribing rope
Tie me to a lamppost in the park force-feed me hope

I don't what to do any more
Let's break away
I don't what I'm fighting for
Let's break away


Greeting cards wish peace on earth good will towards men
speak to me in foreign tongues and unfamiliar pen

I don't know who you are anymore
Let's fade away
I don't know how I've come so far
Let's fade away


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hot Pants and Common Sense

When I walk my dog in the mornings, I rarely see anyone on the street. I pass the brick cottages and neatly trimmed lawns, my inquisitive Basset Hound in one hand, a plastic bag in the other. We groggily meander the sidewalks, sniffing out traces of squirrels and Taco Bell wrappers. Listening to podcasts syndicated by NPR and PRI, Ellie and I generally make our way back to the apartment without event or catastrophe. Sometimes we encounter a stray dog, or a child on their way to school, but for the most part, it's a solitary journey.

This morning we saw something worth noting. It wasn't so much an interaction as it was an observation.

The White Mile

As we exited the apartment this morning, we were blasted with the frigid wind of a twelve degree morning. Ellie dove into the snow, painting it yellow as she relieved herself in the three inch powder. We then began our trot down the alley. Our brisk pace was not due to any love of exercise, but rather a vain effort to keep from turning into living ice sculptures.

As we rounded the block, we jogged passed a house that bore signs of life. On the concrete front porch of this two story brick bungalow, a frumpy woman, mid 30's, stood stoically smoking a cigarette. The woman in and of herself was not notable, except for her chosen wardrobe.

Hot Pants in the Cold Dawn

Her head was covered with a nondescript stocking cap ('toque' for the Canadians out there – or a 'tousle cap' if you are my grandfather). She had an over-sized ski jacket on that draped over her shoulders and overshadowed her mittened hands as she tried to light the tobacco stick. 

The woman's bottom half was clad in naught but a pair of hot pants. No shoes, socks, or slippers. No jeans, snow-pants, or even pajama bottoms. It seems that her need to ingest that cigarette had overwhelmed her desire to avoid frostbite. I realize addictions are fierce masters, but I always assumed that pants would take priority over cigarettes. 

I may be making some unfair assumptions. Perhaps, in her rush to put on her down jacket, gloves, and a hat, she left her pants sitting on the floor of her bedroom. Right next to her common sense.

I tried not to stare as she stood in the doorway of her home, seemingly not phased by the biting cold. Hopefully the incredulous look on my face was masked by my own teeth chattering.

The Smoker's Motto

I've always wondered about a smokers audacious ability to brave any weather for their cigarette. It's commendable, that dedication. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these smokers from the swift completion of their addicted vices.

But most have the common sense to put on pants before inhaling. Maybe there should be a new warning on cigarette cartons:

Warning: Excessive use of cigarettes can lead to a loss of common sense. And pants. It will eventually lead to frostbite, if the first two conditions occur.

This is what I take away from this naked legged woman from the suburban tundra:

Smoke. Smoke whatever you want. Smoke wherever you want. Smoke with whomever you want. Just wear pants while doing it. For everyone's sake.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Keep on Trucking

There is just something I love about driving a truck.

Please put the above statement in context. I drive a 2008 Toyota Matrix. A gunmetal gray hatchback that gets an average of 34 mpg. I love my car. I love everything about my car. It is the perfect vehicle for my life – living, working, and playing in a midsized metro area.

But when I recently drove my father's 2005 Ford F-150 Lariat quad-cab pickup truck, every logical reason for owning a sub-compact, fuel-efficient Toyota went out the window. The car fulfills every logical need I have for vehicular transportation, but the truck meets a more inherent, philosophical need. If you were to compare the two vehicles:

Toyota Matrix

Great handling
Easy to get in and out
Fold down seats create additional cargo room
Sits low to the ground – little wind resistance

Ford F-150

It's friggin' huge
Takes corners like a boat
You need a rope to pull yourself into it
Its a truck. It has a bed. What other cargo room do you need?
Fuel? What is fuel? This thing goes through it like water
You'd be closer to the ground riding a giraffe

Every Girl's Crazy 'bout a Pickup Man

It may be a deep-seated masculine impulse, or it may be something I learned growing up in a farming community in Southeast Iowa. Trucks are the gold standard in Lee County and trying to find a Toyota, Honda, Suzuki, or Hyundai dealership within one hundred miles of my old country home is near impossible.

In high school, I would drive my little auction bought 1993 Mazda truck to school, and squeeze into a spot between any variety of giant 1980's Chevy or Ford truck. Mud tire clad, lift kit jacked, PA system blaring, aftermarket Cherry Bomb straight pipe exhaust ripping through the sonic atmosphere, these behemoths of the Central Lee High School parking lot would roll through the rows like prowling lions, daring a smaller car to cross their path. The 454 big-block engines would roar out a warning to the lesser vehicles, lest they be crushed under wheel like the tin cans they were.

My truck? It was a wounded meerkat. Stay out of the way, and I'd be fine. Otherwise my little red rice burner* would be a little red rice cake.

A Truck of a Different Color

The truck got me through high school. In college, my Mazda went kaput and I inherited a 1985 GMC Grand Sierra from my grandfather – a loaner that served me well for the rest of my higher education. At Monmouth College, where the student body is largely comprised of suburban Chicago minds, I encountered a very different vehicular phenomenon.

As the country mouse among city mice, my truck signified a tough agrarian existence. My newly-acquired “farm boy” image was further heightened when I cut the shoulder-length hair I'd sported throughout high school. My summer job working for my grandfather's farm implement sealed the deal, as I proudly wore my WALLJASPER CONSTRUCTION hat throughout the school year. I'd somehow gone from the hippie/punk kid driving a little foreign clunker in high school to the down-home country boy sporting the hulking pickup in college. I cannot really qualify this change in perception as good or bad, but it was certainly an interesting realignment of reality. Over the next few years I wore my agrarian heritage on my sleeve as something that made me stand out at Monmouth.

That old GMC would go on to be featured as a part of the ZBT homecoming float, haul pianos, drums, and more than its fair share of students, and cart all of my personal possessions to my new home in Davenport, Iowa.

But as all things are cyclical, my life would lead me back to a foreign vehicle. The GMC didn't do well for my wallet as I zipped around the Quad Cities on sales calls. So I sent it back to the farm, where it could be free to roam as God intended.

And I bought a Toyota. The more responsible choice.

*I apologize for the potential political incorrectness of the term rice burner as a pejorative synonym for an Asian made vehicle. This term is common vernacular in Southeast Iowa, where an American owned car company was held in much higher regard than any foreign made vehicle.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

According to his Inability

Have you ever met someone who is not cut out for their job?

The newspaper I work for hired a new advertising account executive – fancy wording for an ad salesman. This is what I do. I sell advertising or, as I like to put it, I help businesses find clients and patrons through effective marketing. It can be a difficult job at times, but rewarding. I have learned a great deal through my work in advertising – about businesses, interpersonal communication, and rejection. These lessons have made me a better salesman, community member, and a better person.

The new guy seemed like a good fit for our publication at first. He was young, dressed with a dapper professionalism and a potentially excessive dose of gel to hold his quaff of black hair in place. As I met with the new hire, who we'll call Greg Parker for the sake of this story, I could tell he was enthusiastic about working for the paper. He'd had nominal experience in advertising, selling ads on fund-raising calendars and sports memorabilia for local high schools, and peddling ad spots in Mega Hunter – a recent manifestation of the phone book. He seemed to know some of the basic tenants of sales, had a good attitude, and we needed another sales rep. It was a perfect fit.

The First Day

He arrived at work promptly on his first day at 8:00am. He got to work, familiarizing himself with our management software, his client list, and the basic layout of the office. Having a desk adjacent to that of Mr. Parker, I answered questions, helped him find office supplies as needed, and tried to make him feel at home in his new environs.

“You want any coffee?” I offered as I strolled to the kitchen.

“Nope! I'm an energy drink man!” he replied as he violently shook a water bottle full of chalky, pastel yellow substance.

When I returned from the kitchen, he'd finished half the bottle. He was zoned into creating his email signature with tenacious concentration, so I passed by without a word, returning to my own task list for the day. Before I could get settled in, he poked his head around the divider.

“What do you use for an email signature? I can't figure out what to put in mine.”

I sent him a blank email, showing my signature at the bottom. I tried to refocus on my attention to the impending deadline of the next issue. Soon, Greg appeared at my desk. He had taken a lackadaisical route to my workspace, as if he were on his way back from the fax machine or copier. I find both of these options hard to believe, unless he was copying his newly minted email signature.

“Hey man! Are you into MMA fighting?”

I looked down at my computer screen for a moment, hoping that this question was directed at the wall – a likelier candidate for this question than I. I glanced up. He was still standing over me. Shifting his weight from one leg to the next, as if he wanted to engage in some mixed martial arts there and now.

“Uh, not really. I'm more into...working.”

“Oh, cool!”

He loped back to his desk, resuming whatever task was next on his orientation list. A few moments later, a little box appeared on my screen. Greg had discover Google Chat.
Greg: Where do I find my clients?
Chris: Under “Greg” in the client management program.
Greg: Koolio!!

A bit later, I heard from behind the partition,

“You're going to Paris in June? SWEET!”

Greg had discovered the companies online calendar. And my vacation, evidently.

“You'd better be careful over there man! You know there's a volcano over there? Iceland – or Greenland, I think. I heard Lindsay Lohan might miss her court date because of all the smoke. That's what TMZ's saying.”

“I'll be careful. Thanks for the...advice.”

The First Sale

I did my best to avoid him the rest of the day. He must have fared well enough, because bright and early the next morning, there was Greg, full of vigor and ready to start making sales. He consulted me on a couple clients, then dug in. About 10 am, he made a phone call. After a few minutes of chatter, he hung up.

“I think I might have screwed up.” He said blankly.

“Ok...” I replied, unsure how to respond to such a statement.

“Well, I sold an ad.”

Surprised by the speed of this supposed sale, I went back to check on the terms of this sale. As I reviewed the terms that Greg had agreed to, I realized that while he had sold an ad, he had grossly undercut the bottom line, practically giving away the ad space. I brought this to Greg's attention and told him that he should run any special pricing by the publisher before offering it to the customer.

Properly chagrined, Greg emailed our publisher, explaining what he'd done. Then he left for lunch, which would be followed by a visit to a client. I was having lunch in the office that day, so dug into getting some real work done in Mr. Parker's absence. About an hour later, I got a call from the new sales rep.

“Hey Chris! You at the office?”

“Yeah Greg, whats up?”

“Well, you know how I was heading out to Silvis to see this client? I kind of forgot all my stuff.”

“Do you have anything? Price sheet? Calendar? At least an old copy of the paper?

“ I don't think so. Can you bring me my binder?”

“No Greg. I will not bring you your binder! Stop by a restaurant that carries our paper, and at least bring that with you. Talk about marketing strategy, and avoid specific pricing questions.”

The Last Supper

Needless to say, he didn't make the sale. About three hours later, Greg came strolling into the office. He sat down at his desk, rummaged around a bit, and logged onto his email. A few moments passed before I heard an exasperated mutter behind me,

“Gah! What an asshole! I...I gotta get out of here!”

He stormed into the kitchen, then swept by me in a flurry, without a word. The door jangled as it bounced in and out of it's frame, standing ajar in Greg's wake. I looked at Elizabeth, my co-worker in astonishment. She solemnly observed,

“I don't think he's coming back.”

“Why not?”

“He took his nuts!”

The nuts she was referring to were the canned variety, cashews I believe. These were what he'd retrieved from the kitchen. We investigated around his desk for clues into this tempestuous behavior. His email was still up and on it was a reply from our publisher regarding his 'sale' earlier that day. The email was completely professional, albeit reprimanding in nature, but nothing to storm out about.

A few hours later, the publisher returned from his meeting. We explained the situation. At that point our leader made three unsuccessful attempts at contacting Greg Parker. It was clear that the newest addition to our organization was not coming back.

In retrospect, we should have seen the writing on the wall with this guy. But you want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes though, it's just not meant to be.

I doubt he'll be using us as a reference.