The Pickup Criterion

(Today’s post is part one of a two-part story. Part two is here.)

When Kendra and I first met, I was 19 years old, and she was 16. We dated for two and half years before marrying in 1991. (I used to like to tell people we had to get married ‘cause she got me in trouble—never mind that our first child would not arrive for six more years.) I had a GMC S-15 pickup, with an extended bed and a big V-6, which was an important criterion her dad was looking for in a potential mate for his eldest daughter. Evidently he had a lot of items that required towing and hauling, so a nice, sensible boy with a truck (and of course good parents) was just the ticket.

When I was younger, my mom had given me the excellent advice that when you’re considering seriously dating someone, a girl you think you might marry, you need to get to know her family intimately well. Because if she’s close to her family, you’re not just marrying her, you’re marrying all of them. My family was of the opinion that you don’t want to marry someone who’s not close to their family. Now, just to be clear, your mileage may vary. If your spouse’s family revels, for example, in getting hopped up on crack and moonshine and hunting endangered species with large, illegal artillery, probably it’s better if you guys maintain some healthy distance from those folks. (Just sayin’.) But my mom’s wisdom was spot-on for me.

I enjoyed hanging with Kendra’s family almost from the very start, from her mom’s perky exuberance and can-do attitude, to her dad’s viciously sarcastic sense of humor, to her tiny 8-year-old sister’s ability to plow through a dozen tacos in a single sitting—not unlike a commercial woodchipper, albeit one with long, blond hair and blue eyes. Kendra’s family and I were made for each other. And anyway, once I had fallen for Kendra, I had it baaaaad, and there was no turning back. Even so, I cannot lie: the fact that her dad owned at least four smokers and was himself an impresario of the occasional smoked meats extravaganza was a definite bonus.

I had already proposed to Kendra months earlier (as romantically as a clueless, inept 20-year-old boy knows how in an evening at the Olive Garden), and she had already foolishly accepted, when came what would become known to me as “the call.” Ken asked if I could come over and bring the truck. There was something he needed to go pick up. I said, “Of course.” And why wouldn’t I? (I had already made out with his firstborn, so it seemed a more than reasonable exchange.)

So I topped off the tank and headed over. ‘Cause that’s the type of sweet, innocent boy that I was in those days. When I arrived at the house, he had me park in the driveway as he shuffled around in the garage, looking for something. I innocently, dutifully obeyed and offered to help. “That’s okay. I’ve got it,” he said, as he came out carrying two trailer hitches and a toolbox.

He went to work attaching one of the hitches as I looked on, innocently. “So, what are we going to pick up?” I asked, rather innocently. He responded, perhaps not as innocently as would have made me most comfortable, “Oh, it’s a surprise.”

When he finished attaching one hitch after just a few minutes, he said, somewhat mysteriously, “We’re gonna take this other hitch, just in case. I’m not 100% sure the one I put on is the right size.” And he set the toolbox and the spare hitch on the floor in the cab. I started to climb in on the driver’s side, and he asked, “Hey, do you mind if I drive this time?” Of course I didn’t, so I tossed him the keys and walked around to the other side. And off we drove. Innocently.

(Today’s post is part one of a two-part story. Part two is here.)

If you’re married, what was your courtship like? What did you “bring to the party” that made you worthy of your beloved? How did you know they were “the one”? (Or “the two,” as my pastor is fond of saying.) Why do you think trailer hitches always have to be so flippin’ complicated?

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?

Laser Eyes (Part 2 of 2)

(This is Part 2 of a 2-part story. Part 1 is here.)

The day of the procedure, you have to have someone there to drive you home, either because your eyesight’s not at 100% until your corneas can heal over (which takes a few days), or because they give you Valium to mellow you out for your time in the chair, or I guess possibly because, you know, they’ve blinded you. So Kendra went with me. It was mid-afternoon, and several other people were also there, sitting around in the big, executive-looking waiting room, either to have their own eyes blasted or to drive their groggy loved ones home. We checked in, then strolled casually to some comfy chairs, each of us selecting a magazine to peruse while we waited.

During our previous visit here for the initial consultation, they had led us into a maze directly behind the waiting room, a kind of hodge-podge of doctor’s examining rooms and tiny negotiating rooms like they sometimes have at car dealerships. But today, when my time came, a young woman took me to a completely different part of the complex. This place was in a storefront-type building in a strip mall, so the entire front was a wide tinted glass wall that faced the parking lot. She led me down what was more or less a long hallway, the wall of windows immediately on my right. So they could regulate the temperature along that wall, the windows were covered floor to ceiling with copper-colored metal shades.

Where the hallway ended, we turned left and passed a couple of restrooms. She took me into a large, dark room where there were three or four permanently reclined chairs, the kind you lie in at the dentist. She directed me to a chair, then brought me a couple of Valiums and some water in a tiny Dixie cup, the same kind you’d use in the bathroom to swish after brushing when you were a kid. She said I’d need to wait for it to kick in, checked her watch, and promised she’d come back to get me in a few minutes. She left, and I lay back and closed my eyes.

I drifted there for several minutes, ruminating lazily about all those tiny details I’d be able to make out now, things I might have been missing before, and gradually it also dawned on me that my bladder was approaching its full holding capacity. You know what it’s like when you’re lying in bed and you realize you need to go; once you’ve had just that initial thought, you’re past the point of no return. When the girl returned a few minutes later, I sat up and asked her if I could use the restroom before we went back. She looked…concerned. “Uh, number one or number two?”

I chuckled. “One.”

Still she looked perplexed. “Do you think you could hold it until after?”

I chuckled again. “Not bloody likely.”

She furrowed her brow, contemplating. “Okay. Do you remember where it was? We passed it coming in.”

“Sure,” I said, dropping my feet to the floor, which seemed much spongier now than when we came in.

She lunged at me and slipped her arm under my armpit. “Whoa. A little wobbly. Do you need me to get you some help?”

I played it cool. “I’m fline. Smeally.” Outwardly, I was being polite, but inside I was thinking, Seriously? I’ve been going to the bathroom myself now for like, what? Three hundred years? And also, Wow. Her face is kind of melty.

In spite of my stubbornness, she insisted on helping me back out into the hall. As soon as I saw the men’s room there at the corner, I knew I’d be fine. I walked towards the door. And overshot. Badly. Although I managed to get my hand up to keep myself from falling—at first, anyway—in so doing I grabbed a handful of metal blinds. I then promptly raked down them as I crumpled to my knees there at the windows. And this in full sight of all the terrified people down the hallway in the waiting room.

Try to imagine the sound of dragging your hand ceiling to floor across metal blinds pressed against glass in a long hallway. This sound was not unlike that. You’d probably imagine this to be a very loud, very dramatic kind of noise. And you’d be right. Every face cranked towards me, wrenched in horror. I can only imagine their thoughts, What in the world’s going on back there?!?

The girl helped me up and wrangled me into the men’s room. “Are you sure you’re going to be all right? I can get somebody, a guy, to come help you.”

“Scromningulaind,” I assured her, waving her off dismissively. “Nit’s vend.”

She slipped out and closed the door, I think unconvinced. I placed a hand on the wall and conducted my business. In my memory, I had perfect aim, successfully navigated and with no undue overspray. Of course, for all I know, it was into a trash can or a sink or a drain in the floor or against the wall. But I’m sure it was fine. I finished up, I think put everything away and closed up, washed what I’m pretty sure were my hands, and staggered back out into the hall.

She was waiting there for me and helped me into another dark room, where I lay into yet another dentist chair. A doctor I couldn’t see gave me some instructions, which I obediently followed. Honestly, at that point, they could have handed me a gun, Jason-Bourne-style, and told me to shoot a hooded guy in the corner and I would absolutely have done it. (For all I know, they did.)

The actual procedure was kind of a blur, dark, with lots of popping noises and weird lights. The only part I remember vividly is that when they fired the laser into my eye, it looked like my eyeball filled with gray ashes—from the inside. That was the only moment I was frightened about losing my eyesight. But I was also very drowsy, so the feeling passed quickly.

I don’t remember leaving that day. I don’t remember whatever instructions they gave to me. What I do remember was awakening the next morning in my own bed, rolling over, and seeing my alarm clock—clearly—for perhaps the first time in my life. I cried a little. It was the best money I ever spent on myself.

Have you ever been high in public? What happened? Were authorities involved? When you write “gray,” do you spell it with an “a” or with an “e”? (I anguished over that decision today.)

Laser Eyes (Part 1 of 2)

(Today is part one of a two-part story. Part 2 is here.)

I’ve had poor eyesight for as long as I can remember. Primarily farsightedness. My mom took me to get glasses when I was in the third grade. I wore them for exactly one day and then never put them on again. Finally, when I was 16, although my eyesight was decent enough that I passed my driver’s exam, I couldn’t deny that I really couldn’t see safely at night. So I caved and got contact lenses. (That’s a story perhaps I’ll tell you another time.)

When Kenny, our first child, was about to be born, Kendra convinced me that I couldn’t risk not being able to see at his birth, particularly if he came in the middle of the night and I didn’t have time to get my contacts in before we’d have to leave the house. So I went and got glasses again. I spent a lot of money and selected very carefully. But later, when I saw the pictures from the hospital, I just couldn’t stand how I looked with them on. I think the problem is that if I wear glasses large enough to offset my nose, it looks like I’m trying to be all Hollywood. And if I wear glasses that are “cool” and the appropriate, “normal” size for the rest of my face, it’s impossible not to notice that they could fit handily into either one of my cavernous nostrils. Although that might make for convenient storage and quick access, it’s hardly practical. More importantly, it’s ugly.

So, still burdened by contacts and my backup ugly glasses, one day at work I was discussing my dilemma with a friend who told me about Lasik, laser surgery for your eyes. He had had it done, and he said (and this is an exact quote): “It’s the best money I ever spent on myself.” I didn’t need a lot of convincing. This was some twelve years ago, when Lasik was still pretty expensive—something like $1600 per eye—not like today, where you can have it done in the back of a van that comes to where you work, and if you bring in a Dr. Pepper can, you get a 10% discount. But after some research (and seriously begging Kendra), we set it up. And this is where our story begins…

Now, I don’t know whether you’re familiar with Lasik, but if you actually listen to what happens during the procedure, although the assistant tries to make it all sound routine, my consultation went something like this:

ASSISTANT: The Doctor has performed this procedure more than 38,000 times over the last 22 years…with-an-82%-success-rate.

ME: Excuse me? What? What was that last part?

ASSISTANT: Nothing. Here’s how it works: Using a highly precise scalpel, in an in-office procedure, The Doctor will make a minuscule, half-moon shaped incision…directly-onto-the-cornea-of-your-eye.

ME: I’m sorry. Did you say…

ASSISTANT: Then with another very precise instrument, The Doctor will open the flap he’s created…exposing-the-inside-of-your-eyeball-where-it’s-possible-although-not-likely-and-anyway-we-have-a-really-good-success-rate-and-it-almost-never-happens-that-infection-could-be-introduced-and-you-could-lose-your-sight.

ME: Uh…

ASSISTANT: Then The Doctor…blasts-a-loud-banging-super-high-intensity-laser-directly-into-your-eye-burning-away-living-tissue-and-kind-of-carving-it-into-a-shape-he-likes-and-thinks-will-probably-help-you-see.

ME: A…

ASSISTANT: Finally, The Doctor…blasts-the-dead-flesh-out-with-a-shot-of-air-and-lays-the-flap-back-over-and-because-the-surface-of-your-eye-is-basically-aqueous-it-uh-more-or-less-heals-itself.

ME: So what I hear you saying is that…

ASSISTANT: Do you have any questions?

ME: This “Doctor”: He’s like a real doctor, right?

ASSISTANT: Real enough. He’s got like a plaque in his office and everything.

ME: Um… Can I get a Valium beforehand?

ASSISTANT: We wouldn’t have it any other way.

ME: Do I need to sign anything? Like a waiver or something?

ASSISTANT: (laughing) Oh, my God. That’s hilarious! YES! Like, a bajillionty forms! I’ve heard it’s less trouble to do a house closing on a haunted mansion that’s a portal into hell and where serial murders were committed.

ME: Let’s light this candle.

Coming on Friday: The Actual Procedure…

Have you ever had a procedure done that the staff acted was like a completely simple, normal thing, but was actually terrifying? Have you ever had a procedure performed that was against your better judgment, but your vanity wouldn’t let you off the hook? Which do you think is better: Taco Bell or Taco Bueno? Justify your answer.

Jive Talker

The earliest memory I have of my Uncle Roger, I must have been around 5 years old. Grandma was babysitting me at her house. (I think Mom was at work.) But Grandma had to go somewhere and she couldn’t take me with her, so she called Uncle Roger to come pick me up. I never really spent much time around Uncle Roger, mainly just at holidays, so I was a little nervous having to go with him all by myself. But he was always kind and had a warm smile and an easy laugh, which reassured me. So when he got there, I made the climb up into his giant brown Chevy pickup. (Uncle Roger was a Chevy man, just like Grandpa.)

I remember I literally had to put my hands on the floorboard, about waist high, and throw a knee up to get in. And that was just the first step; I had to repeat the maneuver to make it up into the seat. I remember sitting there, my feet barely over the edge, on that plasticky tan bench seat, that kind of pre-vinyl, nowhere-near-leather they used to put in trucks to keep them cheap. (An added benefit Grandpa taught me once was that you could literally just rinse out the cab with a hose, so long as you kept it on low and you were careful not to spray any of the electronics or let the foam under the seats get wet.) Not only did I not ride in a car seat—they hadn’t been invented yet—but nobody even wore seatbelts back then. Like Jeff Foxworthy says, “That was in the days when the kids weren’t too good to go through the windshield with the rest of the family.”

Uncle Roger’s truck smelled like work: cigarette smoke, concrete dust, and Hai Karate. I don’t remember what was playing on the radio when we first left Grandma’s, but I vividly remember the Bee Gees’ magnificent “Jive Talkin’” came on, because when it did, Uncle Roger turned it up and sang along—falsetto and all. It was early summer, not too hot yet, a beautiful day to just drive with the windows down and sing along with the radio. I remember thinking he was being unintentionally funny.

Uncle Roger was a tower of a man, well over six feet tall, with big, cool glasses and a full head of hair, thick and bushy, bordering on a white man’s ‘fro. Of course that sounds funny now, but he was very handsome, certainly considered so in that day. I’d place the year at close to 1975, the summer that song would have first been on the radio. I think it was before he and Aunt Chuckie were married, but I honestly don’t remember. Uncle Roger was thick, not fat, but muscly. He had gone to the Navy after high school, and traveling the world had agreed with him, finished the job of making him a man. By all accounts, he was a stand-up guy, a friend to everybody, a gentle soul.

It’s just a snapshot, of course. I don’t remember where we went that day or what we did, just him picking me up and singing in the truck.

After that, I lose him.

Uncle Roger died suddenly when I was twelve. He was 30. Grandma was worried about him because she hadn’t heard from him in a while, so she asked his best friend to go check on him. Turns out he was really sick, essentially trapped in his apartment because he was so weak. When Uncle Roger wouldn’t answer his door, his buddy kicked it in, found him unconscious in his bed, and rushed him to the hospital. He was there for weeks, and he seemed to be getting better…but it just wasn’t meant to be. He never left Intensive Care.

Because I wasn’t old enough to go into ICU, I didn’t even get to see him then. So I’m really thankful that I have that memory of him. Every time I hear Jive Talkin’, it brings my Uncle Roger back to me, and I’m five, and the windows are down, and he’s singing.

What’s your favorite memory of someone you loved but lost? Is it just a snapshot, or are you lucky enough to have a whole album? Please share your picture. I’d love to “see” it.

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