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Thinkin’ about Rufus

We have these really great friends whose son Drake (not his real name) is roughly 168% boy. He’s a great kid with a good heart, and he’s really smart. When I picture Drake, even now, in my mind’s eye, I can only see him smiling. But because he is all boy, and because our public school system’s really set up to benefit only the children who are willing to sit, silently comatose, and have lessons taught at them as they follow a tax code’s worth of Draconian rules… Well, let’s just say he struggled when he was five.

Unable to sit still, and also unable to stop asking “Why?” every fifteen seconds or so, Drake was constantly on the dark side of his teacher’s moon. Let’s call her Mrs. Manacle (not her real name). Mrs. Manacle had a really hard time keeping Drake under control, and Drake likewise had a really hard time with a sweet, smiley young woman constantly trying to keep him under her control. But then one day Drake stumbled upon, quite by accident, a magical technique of psychological judo for which Mrs. Manacle was wholly unprepared.

When Mrs. Manacle would ask Drake to do something, some task with which he had no intention of complying, or to answer some question that might as well have involved a slide rule and quadratic equations (keep in mind that he was five), he would simply look far into the distance, forlorn, and respond, “I’m sorry. I can’t right now. I’m thinkin’ about Rufus.”

And when Drake was thinkin’ about Rufus, there was simply no reaching him. It was as though he shut down emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, fortress walls and impenetrable forcefields surrounding the very essence of his being. He was C-3P0 in The Empire Strikes Back, blown apart mid-sentence by offscreen stormtroopers. Mrs. Manacle could tell that Drake was truly, profoundly affected by thinkin’ about Rufus. Often, his eyes would well and glisten with tears that never quite pooled enough to fall. And when it was so evident that she was not going to be able to break through, Mrs. Manacle knew she had to back down.

Drake skated by for some time on the “thinkin’ about Rufus” ruse. However, as is most often the case with elaborate plans masterminded by five-year-old kindergartners, Drake had not thought through the calendar and realized that eventually, inevitably, Mrs. Manacle would have access to his parents, at which point she would no doubt ask them that most probing of inappropriate questions: “Who is Rufus?”

In fact, at the very next teacher meeting, where Drake was not present, but where both his mom and his dad sat down with Mrs. Manacle, to chart out elaborate strategies and plans and a coordinated effort to help ensure that Drake’s academic performance in kindergarten would not suffer, because as everyone knows, that phase of life is so critical for five-year-old boys to one day get themselves into the right college, which as everyone knows, is the only way one can procure sufficient employment in adulthood, the question surfaced.

His parents looked at each other, confused, as the words hung there in the air, a mist not yet fully dissipated. Drake’s mom, Andrea (not her real name), was first to break the awkward silence. “I’m sorry. What?”

Mrs. Manacle repeated herself. “Who is Rufus?”

Again the parents looked at each other, baffled. Mrs. Manacle realized she was going to have to do what she had not wanted to do: delve into this family’s personal business and press for that most difficult of resolutions. So she explained. “Well, sometimes—often, actually—when we’re doing work in class, I’ll turn to Drake and ask him to answer a question. Or I’ll ask him to complete some task—some center, some activity, some craft, whatever. And he’ll draw up, his eyes will water, and he’ll say, ‘I’m sorry, Mrs. Manacle. I just can’t talk about that right now. You see, I’m thinkin’ about Rufus.’ So of course, I feel like I have to know: Who is Rufus?

Andrea choked. She chortled. She wheezed. She snorted.

Mrs. Manacle wriggled uncomfortably in her seat. Clearly, Rufus was a person of some importance, someone very significant in all their lives, who just as deeply was felt as a wound in Andrea’s heart as in sweet little Drake’s.

And then Andrea full-on laughed. She roared. She guffawed so hard that she gasped. Tears came. But not like Drake’s tears. Tears of exuberance. When she was able to regain her composure, she began to explain. “Rufus,” she began, “is a cat.”

“Well,” she corrected herself, “actually, Rufus was a cat. Bryan (Drake’s dad, not his real name) and I had a cat for several years named Rufus. We still had Rufus when Drake was born, but he died while Drake was just a baby. Drake didn’t actually know Rufus. Not really. I mean, I guess, sort of through pictures. But he wasn’t attached to Rufus. It seems, Drake has found a way to avoid doing his work. I’m so sorry.”

Mrs. Manacle no doubt realized she had been bested. It happens. It’s a hazard of the position, certainly. One learns, one moves on. Notes were made. Adjustments to plans and schedules and files. And the jig was up for Drake. Sadly, he would have to start “Thinkin’ about Lucy” or about “Peanut Butter” or about “Snowflake” instead. The “Rufus” work deterrent was taken from him, Benedict Arnolded by his own kin.

Now the beauty of the “Thinkin’ about Rufus” technique is that it’s available to anyone. Kendra and I use it. And I would encourage you to as well. The next time your boss wants to have one of those difficult conversations with you. The next time your spouse walks in and says, far too seriously, “We need to talk.” When a creditor or representative of the IRS is hanging on the other end of your phone to discuss “terms” or perhaps “irregularities.” You sigh deeply, inflating your chest fully with air, and find it within yourself to moisten your eyes from the inside. And you apologize with authenticity and say, “I’m sorry. I really can’t talk right now. I’m thinkin’ about Rufus.”

What works for you? How do you passively-aggressively avoid conflict (or perhaps work)? Has your child ever managed to put one over on their teacher? What did they do? Wouldn’t grown-up life be so much better if we all had a little “rest time” built into our workday?

Changing Up

To my faithful readers (all five of you):

I’m planning some upcoming changes to brannongolden.com soon—well, soon for me…as soon as I can get around to them, anyway. I just wanted to let you know in advance because things are probably going to break and look ugly/ier for a little bit until I can get it all sorted out. Here’s why:

I’ve been using the tagline, “I write…so you don’t have to,” for about four and a half years now. My original premise when I first purchased the brannongolden.com domain was to “pimp my wares,” which is a nice way of saying, “letting people know what services I may equitably provide them.” No, wait…switch those around. People often refer to starting their website as “hanging out a shingle,” but I don’t think that means the same thing now that it did in, you know, medieval times. Now it has a different connotation (to me, at least.) And nobody wants to see that hanging out on the web.

Anyways, several months ago, back when we were visiting Greece (the country, not the musical), I decided that I wanted to start blogging in a manner that entertained me. And if anybody else enjoyed it as well, that would just be gravy. (And who among us doesn’t like gravy? Am I right or am I right?) It’s like that old saying, “Misery loves company,” so I figured at least a handful of people would tag along. (Turns out I was aiming too high.)

I’m a huge fan of the genius of @badbanana, he of the Twitter fame (407,232 followers?!? Seriously?!?). He once tweeted, “Misery loves company picnics.” So true.

So here’s what I’m gonna do (or, as Kanye might say it, “Hee’s what I’ma do”):

I’m going to simplify somewhat. My plan is to move to only words, since that’s what my mom says I’m best at. (And she’s my mom, so why would she lie to me…right?) The home page at brannongolden.com will have two halves, something like “Serious” and “Less So,” or perhaps “Business” and “Fun.” The “Less So” (which on my site now I refer to as “Sillier Things” in the menu options above) will lead you here, to my dumb blog. The other half will be building out what’s now “Serious Work.”

While I had hoped to spend more time entertaining people and giving them the opportunity to laugh (hopefully sometimes even out loud), and just have kind of a respite from all of the seriousness of our lives, I also have to kind of be a grown-up (or something) and be more serious about the writing I do for a living. I much prefer being a doofus online, but of course that’s not paying any of my bills. (Despite my incessant begging, you guys have just been no help in that department.)

At some point, I’ll also be changing over my Facebook structure. My plan is to create two new pages. One will be the same obnoxious smarmy feed you’ve come to expect from me there, and the other will be a “serious” one about the kinds of business services I can offer (like exorcisms and exotic dancing at bachelor parties, bat mitzvahs and kids’ birthdays). The downside to that is that, if you’re my Friend on Facebook, and you want to keep seeing the “fun” stuff, you’ll have to “Like” the page I set up for that. I’ll then reserve my “normal” Facebook profile for family and personal things that actually are related to my friends, and not just me, and not just me embarrassingly screaming for attention. (I haven’t decided yet how I’ll accomplish the same thing on Twitter.)

So, any questions? Certainly I welcome your feedback. (Not that I’ll actually take any of it into consideration, of course—but I prefer to leave you with at least the impression that you are valued in our relationship). Does anybody really even care? Do you think Sarah Palin seriously has a shot at the White House at some point in the future? (Whether yes or no, please defend your position.)

Running Narcissist

Most mornings it takes me longer to get ready than it probably should. I often find myself distracted, looking in the mirror and nit-picking all the details about myself that I don’t like. I know a lot of people are really down on the whole idea of allowing yourself to have a “negative body image,” but I can’t help feeling like mine is not only justified, but actually kind of earned. Because I enjoy cake, like, a lot more than is reasonable. And I don’t particularly care for exercise.

People often say to me, “Whatever, dude. There’s no way you don’t like running. You talk about it a lot. Why would you run so much if you don’t enjoy it?”

If  you’re close to me, you’ve probably heard me explain this before. But it’s the God’s-honest truth. About four years ago, when Will Smith was promoting his zombie movie, I Am Legend, I read an interview with him online. Will (and yes, Will and I are on a first-name basis, in case you were wondering) lost twenty pounds for that role. Here’s what he had to say about how he did it: “If you’re willing to run 30 miles a week, you can have whatever body you want.”

I’d never heard it put so simply before, but that made perfect sense to me. So I just started running, literally within a few days. It was slow going at first, maybe a mile and a half. Gradually I worked my way up to three miles at a time, then five, then even eight. But just so you know, what Will said was not entirely true. Even when I did finally make it up to 30 miles a week, I still didn’t have Halle Berry’s body. (In fact, she wouldn’t even return my calls. But that’s a whole other story.)

The background that led to me becoming a runner actually goes back even further. When I started working at an Air Force base several years ago, I had a Bowflex. I actually used it for more than just to hang clothes on, and let me tell you: those suckers do work. I was stronger than I had ever been, weighing about 175 lbs. My coworker friend Paul convinced me I should try the gyms on base, because we could use them for free, and they had everything you could want. He got me hooked on free weights, and I lifted regularly. At one point, I even sold my Bowflex. At the height of my regimen, I topped out at 196 lbs. (Now, that’s a lot—I am not a tall guy.) Certainly I was strong and had big muscles, but I hated any kind of cardio, so I never did any. So while yes, I was big and strong, I was also overweight. How I felt then reminds me of an old bit from Cheers. One time when Norm (the heavy-set guy) came in, Sam asked, “What are you up to, Norm?” Norm responded, “My ideal weight…for a man eleven feet tall.” I secretly worried that although I felt I looked pretty good—broad shoulders, big biceps—my heart was just going to explode one day.

After I left that job, for the next year or so I laid off the weights, went through several phases of eating healthier, even fasting regularly. By the time I heard Will make that statement, I was in the low- to mid-160’s range, and I guess I was just ready to hear it. His little insight was the catalyst that got me started. At my peak running condition a couple of summers ago, when I was routinely running 25–30 miles a week, I tipped the scales at a whopping 147 lbs. While I haven’t consistently maintained that wonderful-feeling weight, I remain convinced that running is my own personal magic weight pixie dust.

What have you done for your health that works for you? Do you stick with it? If not, why do you think that is? And if you do, HOW do you? Do you have a “positive body image”? If you could have anybody’s body, whose would you want? What excuses could you start eliminating today to move yourself in that direction?

In Your Dreams

Dreams are a funny thing. In fact, today’s blog post comes to you almost directly from my dreams. (It’s 4:00 AM as I’m writing this. ) Sometime in the night I was dreaming that I should write a post called something like “Live Alive” or “Live This Day” or “Live Today.” It was going to essentially be about making sure you take advantage of today, carpe diem—or perhaps, because dreams are often so jumbled, per diem. Also in this dream, I was watching cartoons on TV in my parents’ old house at 2:00 AM. So there’s that.

Although I haven’t had it in a long time, I used to have this recurring nightmare where scary hooded people in brown robes would be trying to talk to me, but I could only hear their voices as gibberish. I could tell that what they were saying was important, but I just couldn’t make it out. First they’d be far away, speaking loudly, just not loudly enough that I could quite hear. Then, all of a sudden, they’d be right up in my face, whispering, barely audible, but I still couldn’t understand what they were saying, like they were speaking in tongues or something. (Usually I would have this nightmare when I was sick and sleeping with a fever.) Even just recalling it now reminds me of that freaky movie Phantasm, which I watched just once with my good friend Heath. The bad guy, the Tall Man, worked in a funeral parlor, making normal people into tiny dwarves, reconstituting them from their own cremated ashes to become slaves who would mine for him in his own dimension. (It was a romantic comedy, obviously.)

Once when I was in graduate school, I mentioned the voices dream to my friend Christine, and she said “Oh, everybody has that!” Then she told me about her worst kind of freaky dream, which she called “bed spins.” What she described wasn’t like the bed bouncing around in The Exorcist, but more like when you come home from a day at an amusement park, sick and disoriented from riding rides. You probably know what I’m talking about: Even though you don’t feel all spinny, when you lie down and try to sleep, the room keeps rotating around you. (She said a night out drinking also does that; although I joke about that sometimes, I’ve never actually done that.)

One recurring theme I actually enjoy in my dreams is when I can fly. There’s always some “trick” to it, though, like I have to keep kicking to stay airborne. The faster I kick, the higher I can go, lifting myself slowly up over fences and onto rooftops. (That’s pretty high for me.) What it feels like is akin to swimming, only in the air. “I’m Superman! I can fly!”

I hear people talk all the time about a recurring dream where they’re naked or in their underwear. Honestly, I’ve never had that dream. If I started having a dream like that this late in life, I’d probably suspect something was going on like that episode of Northern Exposure where everybody’s dreams got switched around and Maurice was all freaked out because his recurring dream had him wearing women’s underwear, and he was afraid whoever ended up with his dreams would tell everybody and embarrass him.

Strangely, my worst nightmare is one where I learn that my high school was auditing its records and discovered that because I went to vo-tech, I didn’t actually have enough classes to graduate, so they rescinded my diploma. As a result, I was no longer qualified to be admitted to college, so then all of my colleges stripped me of all my degrees. I mentioned this dream once to Roger, one of my professors in graduate school, and I asked him if that kind of dream ever goes away. (Roger was an older guy, in his mid-60’s or so.) He laughed and said, “No, it just changes into different variations.” Then he told me about his recurring dream: He’s late getting to his class to teach (as he often was in real life). He walks into the classroom and starts immediately, all flustered, and everybody’s looking at him all strange, and he begins to realize he doesn’t recognize any of these people, and he’s actually walked into the wrong room, teaching the wrong course to the wrong students. But at least he was wearing pants. And he was nobody’s mining slave dwarf.

In your dreams, whose underwear are you wearing? Did you watch too much TV and too many movies when you were a kid? (I suspect I may have.) Do you have any weird or scary recurring dreams? What’s wrong with you, anyway? Weirdo.

Stop Sign Runner

You may not be aware of this, but sometimes people do foolish things when they’re kids. One of my best friends from childhood has a birthday coming up tomorrow, and as I was thinking about him this morning, I couldn’t help replaying in my mind some of the crazier things I let him talk me into over the years.

The area where we grew up in Oklahoma was wide open rural country. There could easily be a quarter mile or more between your house and your closest neighbor. While this made it awkward (and often unpleasant) when you required some neighborly favor such as to borrow a cup of sugar—especially on one of the 348 days of the year in Oklahoma when it’s either windy, freezing, raining, or blazing hot—certainly it also had its advantages. One of the greatest of these was that there was never much traffic around, even on the bigger roads. I can recall hours and hours of time I spent as a boy just riding my bike on major streets, for miles and miles, and very rarely seeing a car.

Of course I’m a parent myself now, and there’s no way I’d ever tolerate such nonsense. Whether it’s true that things actually are worse now than they were when I was a kid, or just that because of 24-hour news cycles and the Internet we’re more hyper-aware of kidnappings, assaults, and the occasional pelting of an innocent pedestrian with a watermelon thrown from a car, I have each of my kids outfitted with an elaborate homemade knockoff of Lojack. Furthermore, I’ve equipped each of them with great skills at screaming loudly and ferociously biting, kicking, scratching, pulling hair, gouging eyes, stomping toes, breaking fingers, racking, vomiting, urinating, and setting you on fire. (It’s what Jesus would do.) When I was a kid, I never thought about that stuff.

When a youngster comes of tender driving age, having so little traffic is a terrific perk. Back in the day, if your parents were cool, you had multiple opportunities to practice driving without all the accompanying anxiety that you were going to smash into somebody. Most of the roads had pretty level sides too, with lots of grass in the bar ditches on either side, so even if you had trouble keeping it centered, you weren’t gonna do too much damage.

Random Aside: When I was a little kid, I remember one of my dad’s buddy’s favorite “jokes” was: “You know why they call them ‘bar ditches’? ‘Cause that’s where you jump to when you see a ‘bar’ a-comin’!” “Bar” of course being a clever hillbilly rendition of the word “bear,” and thus the joke. Never mind that if an actual, live bear were to see you jump down into the ditch in front of him, it would in no way dissuade him from proceeding to maul and also subsequently eat you. Bad jokes often yield bad advice. Nevertheless, my dad’s buddy would laugh heartily each of the million and eight times I heard him tell it. But I digress…

Because of these optimal learning conditions, we country kids—most of us, anyway—became exceptional drivers. (An unfortunate side effect was that we also learned to speed at an early age, because everyone did and what did it matter, anyway? You weren’t going to hurt anybody but yourself because nobody else was around.) Another phenomenon resulting from minimal traffic is the magical stop sign “float.” When 99.98% of the time you arrive at an intersection with a 4-way stop and no other cars are present, one tends rather than to stop, more to slow to an appropriate speed and then to press gently on through. And out of this was born my genius friend’s magnificent combination scientific/philosophical discovery…

Johnny (not Johnny Davis, but Johnny Ward) figured out that when you’re driving in the country at night, you can see other people’s headlights coming from a great distance. Therefore, as you approach an intersection—say, two or three hundred feet out—it’s very easy to look both left and right and see if another car is headed your way. And if no one’s coming, you can “safely” gun it and just blast through the intersection, stop sign or no, at top speed. After he did this for a while, it further occurred to him that if a police officer happened to be sitting there in the dark waiting for the odd speeder or stop-sign-runner, he of course didn’t want to get caught. So his brilliant innovation was to turn off his headlights before blasting through. It was a stroke of genius that occurred at a magical time, and papers should have been written about it and presented at international conferences.

When he taught it to me and suggested I try it as well, I asked him what might happen were I to approach the same intersection from a direction perpendicular to the one in which he was traveling, and we both tried to blast through that same space simultaneously with our lights off. He tried to convince me that statistically the odds were in our favor. If you know me, you know my position on math. It’s not that numbers don’t impress me; it’s more so that I fear and loathe them.

Then he suggested that perhaps we work out an agreement where we only use the lights-out trick when we’re traveling on North-South roads, and not East-West. Again, those of you who know me know I can barely tell time on a clock with hands, let alone tell you what direction I’m going. So I practiced what I believe remains the best advice for teenagers to this very day: I abstained. Who (besides Johnny) knows what I was missing?

What were the craziest (like, most dangerous) things you did when you were a kid? Was there anything wild you wanted to try but didn’t and, looking back now, you regret? Why do you think that TV show “Real People” was canceled? It was great. (Plus, I had a super-crush on Sarah Purcell.)

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