Friday, September 25, 2015

The Day She Left

She was walking ahead of me as we transversed the airport.
I couldn't believe she was leaving, even though I'd had the date mentally circled in my brain for months now. Somehow her leaving never felt real until it was actually happening.
As we rode the escalator up to the departure deck, I gazed up at her body which was highlighted by the sun as it shone through the skylight above making her appear almost angelic or magical.
I was fighting with my emotions as if they were wild animals.
The drive from the room, the apartment, the place on this Earth that we had shared so closely was silent.
Yet in my brain I'd had a millions things to say. How I wanted to express my love, convince her to stay, tell her I needed her more than anything and that we could just tear up her ticket and run away and be happy together till the end of time.
If it had been a movie I'd been watched the cliches would have nearly made me sick.
Reality was smacking me in the face, hard.
The silence was like a wall between us.
She looked back at me as I lagged behind and gave me a smile.
A smile?
Was she happy? Trying to cheer me up? Being strong for the two of us?
It had been my first love. I was so young and I had fallen so hard and so quick. She was older. So caring and sensitive, yet I always felt that she wasn't as invested emotionally and psychologically as I. I knew she had been protecting herself and me.
I had never been so aware of each step I was taking as every one of them brought me closer to the moment when she would disappear down a narrow corridor towards another existence without me.
This wasn't her home. She was a visitor. It was never an option to stay.
Or was it?
A small part of me was trying so hard all this time to convince her not to leave. If only I could be funnier or dress better or make her feel as special as any person could feel? If only I could do those things I wanted to believe so badly that she would, in the end, choose me and not board that plane.
And yet, here we were. At an airport. As planned.
Was this how fairy tales ended? Didn't the guy get the girl? I had done all that I could and was I actually going to lose her?
And then we stopped.
It was time.
A muffled voice was calling passengers to present their tickets.
She looked at me as only she could.
And then we both started to cry.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

How to Ask a Girl Out in High School

So, you are in high school and you think you've found the girl of your dreams. You don't want to mess things up you say? Well, you've come to the right place as I've been where you are so many times in my past and said and done the wrong things enough to be considered a Rhodes Scholar on the subject. Do you want to get the girl? Follow this advice.

Approach with confidence. Nothing says "don't date me" louder than a total lack of spine. Check those feelings of self-doubt, no matter how strong, at the door. If confidence is generally a challenge for you, consider an accessory like a hard-to-place accent or freshly baked cookies.

Timing is everything! Attempt to catch her at a moment of weakness. Tears are your friend and your queue to enter. If you are lucky she will have just been asked out by a real loser making you seem relatively cooler in comparison.

It is important that she is alone when you approach so you can have her undivided attention in case you decide to perform some magic tricks. Don't perform magic tricks.

In all likelihood she will be surrounded by her girlfriends, who are like a pack of wild dogs. If they believe their friend is under attack, and they will, they will rip your face off. Bring raw steaks.

Don't forget about hygiene! Any extra washing or positive aromas or sparkling teeth are a plus. Now is not the time to show off your acne or your recent ability to grow a handlebar moustache.

I can't say enough about being prepared. Stretch, warmup your vocal chords, liberally apply moisturizers and memorize all of her posts on social media in the past 12 months.

Open with a compliment about her appearance. Don't be too descriptive or graphic or overly verbose. You may be the next Shakespeare or star soft porn director, but now is not the time to show off. Keep it simple and appropriate as if your grandmother happened to be around. Don't bring your grandmother.

Make small talk. This is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that you are down-to-Earth and normal. Ask her about something general and non-personal like school, music, or taxation.

Don't be too subtle. It is okay to be transparent about how you feel in your comments. If you are aiming for actual transparency, consider opening your science textbook on a more regular basis. It may not be safe for you to be around other humans.

Tell her you like her and want to go out with her, but not in those words. Strike a balance between perplexingly vague and creepy.

Obvious signs to watch for that she is not interested include, but are not limited to, shrieking, constant warning of imminent bear attacks, vacant looks by her where she looks as if she is dying a slow death and being tasered.

If you have gotten this far, good job! You may now proceed and ask her out on a date. You may never know if she is truly into you or is using you as part of a detailed plan of revenge. Thankfully you don't care.

Present a detailed date proposal analyzing the costs, benefits and risks of plans A through H and then step back in anticipation of a standing ovation followed by a brief question and answer period. 

With plans set, excuse yourself. Walk off slowly and proudly on a grassy field in the gleaming sun towards the horizon like a general returning from war. You are a hero and the things of which statues are made on.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

My Year on the Sidelines

Hey! Come check out my piece on spending much of the past 12 months injured and trying to cope without sports.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Medal

So there I was, standing on the podium, having just received my medal.

What a feeling! 

I closed my eyes and let the wave of applause from the appreciative and excited audience wash over me. Wow, this feels good!

"You'll never receive a medal, let alone a plaque or a certificate!" my father used to say to me as I stood in front of his bursting-at-the-seams trophy case in our basement. Why he decided to make a trophy case out of cloth was as bewildering as it was inspiring, especially to my best friend Andy's dad, who owned the local fabric store.

I was never sure if my father was just trying to motivate me the only way he knew how or just being honest because his father was never honest with him and he swore to his father on his death bed that he would not only earn countless medals, but also always be truthful to his children even when it became readily apparent that they would never earn their own medals. My grandfather appreciated this honesty, even if it was quite narrow in its scope.

For a time, as a child,  I thought my dad had said I'd never have any metals in my life and I remember racing home from school with a bag literally overflowing with scraps of aluminum they were just going to throw away at the elementary school. "Those idiots!" I laughed to myself as I sped home dreaming of my father's embrace and pride at my literal bounty of aluminium. To this day I can still hear his derisive laughter in my ears. Why did he have to stand so close to my ears?

"Aluminum? A soft metal? Is that the best you can do? I didn't raise a young boy of 9 to love aluminum! And I was talking about medals, with a 'd'! Learn to listen to me as I speak words to you using my mouth and occasionally my tongue based on my rudimentary understanding of speech! Do you fully understand that concept, or do you need me to act out a short scene?" I hated when he threatened me with acting. He was a great actor, that wasn't it, it was just that the acting made me realize just how poor my own acting skills were compared to his.

He'd go on and on about medals he'd received in wrestling competitions, at dog shows, and during the rare wrestling competitions that evolved organically into a dog show. He won them all even though he didn't even own a dog on the grounds that he felt dog ownership was "so last week" and that human dog relations were ready for a revolution. He'd tell me all about his radical, scary and inspirational ideas about the future of dogs vis a vis humans while waxing his muscles depending on the current sheen of his muscles at the time. It had to be just right so no one would be blinded or bored by their dullness.

Had I used his words to motivate me? My wife said that I had. My mom said that I had. My barber didn't say anything as he was a selective mute, but cut hair like it was his chosen career to do so. He once cut hair like it was going out of style, but it was affecting his business too much so he changed. He also wore the same sweater to work for 12 consecutive days once because he believed that it was either good luck or at least better luck than the current state of non-luck he was experiencing. On the 12th day he burned the sweater and then promptly won at bingo that evening which led him to burn a single sweater on the anniversary of that day each year.

I knew, deep down inside, that my father pushed me in ways he'd never know including some ways that he would know because how could you not be aware when you were physically pushing someone using your arms with your eyes open while the person being pushed is saying "you are pushing me, you do realize?" and "enough with the constant pushing" and "you must stop, the neighbours are starting to stare, more than usual, which must be causing them significant eye strain".

As I remembered the past, I stood there on the podium smiling in a way unlike I'd ever smiled before. I had practiced for the occasion. I had run fast, just like my coach had suggested. I had initially countered with a suggestion of starting fast, but then slowing down just to throw people off and then he suggested alternating slow, fast, slow, fast every 5 seconds if my main goal was confusing others and giving my knees more than I bargained for. We continued this way far into the night and then up until race time when he threatened to shave my hair and sell it to the local bedding store, which he knew I was opposed to a variety of levels, including level 1. I sprinted away from him and his shears and won the race. The glory was mine and I couldn't wait to go home and run my fingers through my hair in front of the mirror, so my hair could watch this time.

I left the podium and stood under an arch for photos and grew slightly jealous that the photographers were a little more interested in the arch, but I let it go, as it was a really nice arch. Maybe in a different life the two of us could have been really close, or as close as a man and an arch can be in this country. I knew that the arch reminded me of something, "probably just another arch" I thought to myself, and even though I knew I was right, I wished I wasn't. It was confounding contradictions like that both drove away countless girlfriends and roommates all who insisted on keeping the toaster and led me to meeting my wife. She was lover of fine wines, sharp cheeses and confounding contradictions and I hit in out of the park on all three. Those hours we spend looking around in that park trying to find all that I had irresponsibly hit out there, was when we fell in love.

And there she was now, walking towards me with a huge smile on her face that seemed to indicate that she has happy and that she could even take that smile to a whole new level if the situation came up. I ran to her and lifted her up and momentarily wished that I could twirl her above my head as if she was a baton. I wished I owned a baton for those moments, however fleeting they were. After placing her down, I tried to hint that it was my turn to be lifted, but my hints were either too subtle or she was ignoring them as she told me she would if I ever hinted at something just after leaving a podium.

We walked off the track, hand in hand, and left through the exit, which also functioned from time to time as an entrance. I commented that sometimes exits were just exits and other times exits were actually entrances to something else and that if you thought about it, exits are quite beautiful and also quite scary. I went on to share a hope I have for the future where all the people of the earth can join together and live in harmony and that all exits and entrances can be rendered obsolete.

My wife turned to me and asked me to shut up. She rarely made a request for me to shut up, and when she did, it was usually in writing. She always wanted me to cease talking immediately and to maintain that level of silence until I believed she would want me to make noise again, with the only exception being comments about the changing of the weather as she liked to be kept appraised of any and all weather changes.

As we approached our car in silence, I remembered the day we got married and how we ate croissant after croissant after croissant. How fresh and exciting our unique brand of reckless-French-pastry-consuming love was! Sometimes, even today years later, when I walk past a bakery, the amazing buttery smell of the croissants recently removed from the ovens makes me shudder and clutch my stomach and remember the bliss of our wedding day up until the consuming of the croissants went a little too far.

Sitting there in the car as we drove to the airport to fly home, it occurred to me that I had achieved everything I had left home all those years ago to achieve. I'd found a beautiful and supportive wife, I'd earned a medal that my father never believed I'd win, and I'd conquered my irrational fear of flying in airplanes thanks to hours upon hours of therapy. True, I'd fallen deeply in love with my therapist which almost cost me my marriage as well as my desire to earn medals from running, as I always believed that a love one has with a therapist is a medal in and of itself. Thankfully, I came to my senses just in time. And to think I initially scoffed at a smelling salt company as a sponsor.

Sitting on the airplane, I close my eyes and relax into my seat and drift off to sleep. I had a reoccurring dream where I am walking with my wife in an open field, holding my pet bunny rabbit from my youth under one arm and a giant croissant in the other. In the dream, I then realize that I was the pet bunny rabbit from my youth all along and my wife is my dental hygienist and the person I initially though was me was actually a giant stack of soggy newspapers. Then the dream transitions again and now I'm the croissant and my wife and my father are eating me and laughing all the while hurling insults at me about my inability to earn even a certificate seeing as I'm a croissant and I'll soon be eaten. The dream ends with the two of them licking the crumbs off the ground and then hopping away like bunnies while I settled down to an evening of commercial-free TV.

I wake, shake off the feelings of doubt and fear and being literally consumed by close family members and am overwhelmed with a desire to stand on a podium again, only this time, with freshly polished teeth.

How to have a normal conversation

I'm finding that so many people are having a hard time having normal conversations in this day and age. Here is my list that aims to help those conversationally challenged avoid the traps and struggles that I have personally encountered before I learned how to talk "normally" to other humans, often of the opposite sex. Good luck, in advance, in your pursuit of normality. It's nice and warm there.

1) To start, always look the person you are talking to in the eyes as looking at their right ear or left knee may be considered strange. Don't look them in the eyes too intensely or for too long without speaking, as you may frighten them away. Think of each potential talking companion as a small squirrel, mostly for the added humour. Also remember to blink occasionally if, for nothing else, to maintain proper levels of moistness for your eyeballs. 

2) Say "hi" or "hello" or "howdy" or any other regularly accepted word of greeting and avoid opening with anything too personal or confrontational or Klingon. Try to keep it short as you don't want to dominate the conversation early on. It's not a war or a chess game, and instead, more of a collaborative effort like if the two of you are trying to free yourself from a single straight jacket that you somehow found yourself inside of. By the way, if that happens, you can skip the initial pleasantries.

3) If asked "how are you?" keep your answer to five words or less that in no way addresses the actual question in any real or honest fashion. The reality of how terrible or horrible or mythical your feelings or existence actually are do not matter to anyone else at all. Remember to ask the other how they are, and try to find a proper level of interest in their response so you don't come across as either extreme: bored or creepy. If you are the rare person who is able to nail being both bored and creepy at the same time, save it for your loved ones. Now is not the time.

4) Engage in small talk which does not mean that you need to curl up into the smallest ball you can or to crouch down next to something tall thus giving yourself the appearance of smallness. Instead, it means to talk about insignificant things while at the same time acting like they are of huge importance. Or to talk dismissively and peripherally of important things as if they are insignificant. Practice in front of the mirror ahead of time if you must. Remember to feign interest during this stage of small talk even if it feels like a small part of your soul is being vacuumed through your ears.

5) Your goal, in case you have forgotten, is to appear normal at all times regardless of the cost, while also making the other person feel smart, funny and, if possible, young and attractive, or at least younger and more attractive than they already feel or else they may not be interested in continuing this conversation. It it's helpful, try thinking of yourself as a plastic surgeon. I'm not sure at all why that would help you, but if it does, then use it!

6) Important! If talk of the weather comes up, and it will, you must avoid all sarcasm and eye rolling, and instead, act like you love discussing the weather and couldn't imagine doing anything better at the current time. Don't worry, if all goes well and either a friendship or relationship is forged between the two of you, there will be countless future opportunities for sarcasm and eye rolling. 

7) Questions of the other person are okay, but remember this isn't an interrogation! Keep the questions purposely vague and impersonal almost to the point where no one, including yourself, knows exactly what you are asking. Experiment with adding a questioning inflection to non-questions and vice versa. Another great idea is to speak entirely in hypotheticals or to ask questions that at first appear rhetorical, but in the end neither of you are sure if they require an answer. A good time will be had by all. It is almost impossible to ask too many questions, as the other person will invariably remember they had to wash their hair before you reach the saturation point.

8) If asked about yourself don't forget your goal is to appear normal at all costs. Now is not the time or the place to share your bordering-on-wacko ideas about alien invasions or government conspiracies or aliens and the government colluding to conspire to invade the country you invented that you are both King and supreme leader of. Share enough to pique their interest and keep them coming back for more. One suggestion is to start sentences off with a bang and then abruptly get distracted and never finish the sentence. You want to appear worldly, without seeming other-worldly, and you want to come across as sharp and witty, without sounding like a loser and a know-it-all.  

9) If the conversation slows down, don't be afraid of the silence, but also don't embrace it. A little dead air is fine, but actually trying to hug it will look really odd.

10) Jokes are great! Normal people tell jokes of their own and laugh at attempts to be funny from others. Keep the jokes "clean", medium-brow and tasteful and, if you must laugh, keep your own reaction somewhat muted so as not to sound too much like a farm animal. Resist any desire to tickle the other person, or to slap their back while laughing. If physical contact is meant to be apart of your future together allow it to develop organically, and by that I do not mean among organic vegetables, although there are no rules against that either.

11) When and if you need to leave by all means do not curtsy or sing a song or do the worm unless the other person has done one first, and even then remember, it may be a trap to expose you as weird. 

12) If you have no interest in ever seeing this person ever again for any reason, make non-committal plans to meet again keeping the details as convoluted and hard to decipher as possible without dulling the interest you must feign. Think of your words of commitment like breadcrumbs dropped on a path in the woods that birds will most likely eat shortly after they are dropped making it impossible for your father to save you from the witch who plans to eat you. If you are unable to let the other know directly of your non-interest, weakly use an out-of-order phone number or an obviously made-up-off-the-top-of-your-head email address. 

13) If you feel something odd in your stomach as you are about to leave it is most likely either food poisoning or love, or a combination of the two. If it is love, tread lightly and do not appear too desperate. Take the other person's temperature, but not literally, or at least not literally at this stage in your possibly blossoming relationship. Baby steps. Ask for a phone number or see if they want to grab a coffee. See if they want to be social media friends, but try to give yourself time to race home and delete anything too weird from your account first. Whatever you do, make sure you keep a level head and do not get carried away and suggest anything bizarre like melting cheese as art or reading books to the raccoons under your deck or violating those archaic patent infringement regulations that have always annoyed you to no end. If it was food poisoning all along, return home and drink lots of fluids.

14) Similarly to #12, if your companion shows interest in you, but you don't share those feelings let them down as softly as you can while making sure that they got it. Pretend the shoe is on the other foot, but please do not actually try your shoe on the other foot. Not normal! Remember they are a human being with feelings and act accordingly.

15) Finally, it is time to leave and regardless of how this conversation is ending and what, if anything, is happening next do not skip, preemptively remove your wig or high five yourself while leaving unless you are a whole lot cooler than me, which is definitely within the realm of possibility.

An Open Letter to My Cat

Hi Piper.

I hope you are well.

I have some things, complaints if you will, that I've been meaning to share with you for a while, but I just could never find the time. 

Please don't take this letter the wrong way, and I know once I say that to a fellow human it is usually a trigger for them that they almost definitely will. You? Well, you are a cat and I'm not at all sure of your ability to pick up on nuances like that. I don't want to underestimate you, and in general, estimating in any sense rarely comes up in my life when interacting with cats.

Where to begin? I guess I could ask you a variety of questions on a wide array of topics, but since it is 2am and I should get to sleep, I'll get right to it. 

For starters, you make me sneeze. A lot. All the time. I just sneezed before typing this letter and the countdown is on before the next eruption.

Also, my eyes must be rubbed all day and night until they are puffy and watery. And I itch and itch and itch! I just can't stop! My fingers are constantly covered with red dots that I must scratch or rub incessantly. All of the sneezing, eye rubbing and itching is starting to greatly affect my personal and professional lives. Women I am trying to date think that I have nervous ticks and evil eyes and that I cry too easily during movies (and once during a public service announcement about the benefits of quitting smoking). 

My coworkers act like I should be quarantined. Even my boss is starting to wonder if I have a drug problem as my nose and eyes are suspiciously either red or crusty and I often look like I haven't had a solid sleep in weeks (that part is true). I try to tell them that cat hair is making me cough and wheeze, but the boss and my coworkers are looking more and more unconvinced as time goes on.

Doctors, experts and random passersby on the street have told me that I am highly allergic to you. In my weaker, more paranoid moments (Friday evenings through Monday mornings) I have this unshakable feeling that you are doing this purposely to me in your efforts to bring me down. Like you have been sent here from the cat world, to infiltrate my house, cozy up to me like you were a friend, and then slowly put in motion the plot to destroy me. One small step for felines?

But, you are so cute and I have a soft spot for cute and furry animals. You know where that spot is - right between my lap and my neck. I know, it's large. Hard to miss. 

I’m sorry that I used to call you Furball. I understand now that a name like that may be considered offensive from your point of view. Those feline sensitivity classes I was court-ordered to take for 8 consecutive weekends were highly constructive.

You shed a lot! There are always piles of cat hair wherever I look and you never even lift so much as a finger to help clean it up. And don't tell me that you don't even have fingers, as I have heard the excuse a thousand times. I do feel some regret, because if I had planned ahead, I could have made quite the wig or small rug or at least better insulated my bedroom with all of the hair you have so graciously left for me around my apartment.

I've also been told that your hair is literally floating around in the air in my apartment and that I am breathing it in constantly throughout the day which goes a long way towards explaining the constant wheeze I have and the incessant coughing as well as the odd and slightly disarming texture that my skin has developed over time which one friend once described as animalistically coarse.

You are also quite the chatty cat! You meow pleasantly in the daytime when you'd like some food and it is quite lovely. However, something changes within you when it turns to night time when I'm trying to sleep. From the second I turn my light off and close my eyes, you howl and whine very loudly. Whatever you think that I've done, I'm truly sorry - I just want to sleep. I'll buy you some tuna in the morning.

I’ve tried to explain that going outside at night just isn't an option as there are raccoons and coyotes nearby. You'd be attacked and I'd never forgive myself, until after a short period of mourning, when I'd buy a new cat. I've said too much!

Those wild animals are vicious and always hungry and, how do I say this nicely, you are a bit on the large side. I'm sorry! In one sense, it's all my fault as I am the one that feeds you, but, in another, much more accurate sense, it is yours. It's hard to hear the truth sometimes, Piper, but you could cut back a bit on the eating.

A smaller you would be able to actually jump up on to the couch without assistance. A slimmer you and you'd be able to walk past the mirror with pride. A thinner you and you wouldn't entirely block the heat vent and I'd have to rethink all of my large cat remarks that I know hurt you on some level. I am insensitive when I'm freezing cold.

Finally, if you don't mind, I'd love for you to stop using my couch, chairs, and pants as your personal scratching posts. Stop thumbing your nose at the store-bought scratching post I bought! And yes, I'm fully aware that you don't have neither a thumb nor a protruding nose.

It seems that no matter how often I trim your nails, they grow and grow and are always very sharp. I'll be laying there on the couch after a long day and you will walk across me and it feels like you are poking me with nails. A friend once asked if I considered having you declawed and I haven't as that it cruel, but I wish you'd just let me know when it is time for me to cut your nails without clawing me or the furniture. That is not meant at all to sound like a threat, more just a plea from one sane being to another, shorter, more defenseless, easily sold or traded or given away being.

Anyways Piper, I hope this letter is not too harsh and that you understand where I am coming from. Just a few small changes on your part and our lives together can be even better.

with love


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Published at last!

It's official, I'm now a published writer!

Check out the September issue of The Bitchin' Kitsch, a creative writing zine based out of Wisconsin.