Tuesday, November 25, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different

In case you begin to think that all I think about is bad stuff, here's an abridged version of a comedy routine I did as part of a comedy benefit.

Intro (Sung to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song):

Now listen to a story ‘bout a man named Mitch

Livin’ in Virginia like a dumb sumbitch

Then one day he said “I’ll make jeh-la-TOE”

So he packed up his shit ‘n’ moved to New Mexico!

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This is the “R” rated portion of the show. So if you’re easily offended, now would be a really good time to get up and leave, while you’re still under the mistaken impression that I’m a nice guy.

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OK, let me explain to you how this is going to work. Though my very life itself is considered by many to be some sort of cruel joke, I’ve never actually done stand-up before. My area of expertise—if you want to call it that—is as a comedy writer. As a matter of fact, I once made a living writing jokes for a DJ for the princely sum of fifty cents a joke. Since I haven’t had the time to memorize this stuff, and make it sound spontaneous, I’m going to read it to you instead. (Smiles at audience.)

Spontaneity—it’s real important. Just like sincerity. And if you can fake them both, you’ve got it made.

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As you all know, this is a benefit to help raise money for a new liver for Ray Trujillo.

Actually, I heard Ray has already received a new liver; trouble is, he received one from Mickey Mantle.

Anybody here who didn’t get that? Substitute David Crosby for Mickey Mantle. Funny now?

Honestly, Ray already has the new liver— the money is for the onions to go with it.

Really, the money is to cover travel expenses. Ray didn’t go anywhere— the liver’s the one with all the frequent flyer points.

Ray, if you’re here tonight, here’s an important tip: nobody in this place would make a good donor.

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You may also know me as the guy who recently published a couple of articles in the local paper about How to Get a Job and How to Keep a Job Once You’ve Got One. I’ve done this to make life a little easier for the younger generation about to leave school and embark on that lifelong journey in the world of work. The articles are filled with important info such as: your teacher can’t fire you, but I can.

A lot of it is getting people to look at things with a different point of view; for example: I once hired someone, and she didn’t show up for her first day of work; when I called her to see what had happened, she said that she “forgot” (air quotes) to tell me that she took a job elsewhere. Then she came back to me a few weeks later, looking for work, when she got laid off from the job she took instead of mine!

She didn’t act like there was anything wrong with doing that. I was gentle with her, but what I should have said was: (snooty voice) “Let me explain this to you in a way that will be relevant to your experience thus far.

OK, so like some guy invites you to the Senior Prom.

You spend lotsa bucks buying your prom dress from the finest store in town: The Hot Spot, purveyors of fine slutwear since 2004.

You get your hair done, your nails done, you get a new tattoo, you get a Brazilian bikini wax for your landing strip.

Finally the big night comes… and he doesn’t show. You wait up half the night and finally get up enough courage to call him on his cell to find out what happened— is he hurt? Is he dead? He answers the phone and says that he “forgot” (air quotes) to tell you that he got another date for the prom.

Mortified, you hang up the phone.

Weeks later, you’re still alone in your room, still wearing the prom dress, the corsage a wilted ruin pinned to your bosom. (Clutch hands to your chest.)

The phone rings. It’s him! You recognize the special Snoop Dogg ringtone you programmed just for him. You go ‘Hello?’ and he goes ‘Yo’ and he says ‘hey, remember how a couple of weeks ago, I asked you out to the Senior Prom? And you go ‘Yeah…?’ and he goes ‘and remember how I “forgot” (air quotes) to tell you that I lined up someone else to go with?’ And you go ‘Yeah…?’And he goes ‘Wellllllll…’ And you go ‘Yeah…?’ And he goes…

‘The bitch wouldn’t fuck me. You wanna go out tonight?’

Now what are you going to say to him?

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Our town has a sensibility and style all its own, especially among the young people. For example: there was a guy who, for a brief period anyway, drove his pickup truck up and down Bullard Street with a custom-made grille on the front of it that consisted of a single word (and I am not making this up): P – I – M – P, PIMP. Mind you, most of the time he did this he drove alone—gosh, I wonder why? Aside from the absurdity of some skinny little white kid driving around town pretending to be a pimp, what kind of girl would see this and say, “Gee, I want to ride around in the pickup truck with PIMP on the front of it! That’ll be so cool. People will think I’m a ho! I’ll be the envy of all the girls at school.” Yesirree, that’s a chick-magnet for sure!

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Here in New Mexico, immigration is a really big, complex issue. Many people look at it as a matter of homeland security; they’re worried about the possibility of an influx of potential terrorists. Me, I’ve got bigger concerns. I think the biggest threat to the safety and security of the people in this town is the uncontrolled influx of massage therapists.

Man, those people rub me the wrong way!

I don’t want my aura balanced, OK? I like it wobbly!

Let’s put this issue in perspective, shall we?

  • This town has one taxicab.
  • This town has two RV parks.
  • This town has four Chinese restaurants.
  • This town has seven coffee shops.

…but this town has at least thirty licensed massage therapists listed with the state, plus still more who have less formal arrangements. Oh yes—and two or three people who are not only licensed massage therapists, they’re licensed massage instructors— so that they can train even more massage therapists! That’s kinda like when a vampire bites you and what happens? You turn into another vampire! Where will it all end?

Last night I went through the drive-thru at Burger Time and the person who took my order said: “OK, that’ll be $7.83. Do you want a massage with that?”

I predict that it’s only a matter of time before the competition for the minds, hearts and bodies of the residents of this town will get nasty, maybe even violent. How about this:

“Saturday! Saturday! World Massage League presents a no-holds-barred Cage Match between Mangler Masseuse and the Therapist of Terror! They’re oiled up and ready to rumble! Watch all the spine-crackin’ action live on Pay-Per-View! THEY’LL RUB YOU RAW!”

For the legion of massage therapists who are starving to death here and need to find another way to make a living, here’s a list of stuff that this town really needs:

  • A good BBQ restaurant
  • A 24-hour restaurant like Denny’s
  • A restaurant serving Korean, Thai, Japanese, Pan-Asian, Vietnamese, Mongolian BBQ—anything but Chinese!
  • More assisted-living facilities
  • More daycare centers

…and I think somebody with some political clout should arrange for New Mexico to follow in the footsteps of the great state of Nevada so the empty hotel downtown can be turned in to a real tourist attraction: Madame Millie’s House of Whoopee. Now, those are the kind of massage therapists this town needs!

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As long as I’m talking about things near and dear to the hearts of so many of us here, let’s mention the latest buzzword: “sustainability.” Nowadays, it’s all about sustainability. Any day now I expect to see the following commercial:

(Announcer voice) “Hi, I’m Al Gore. I wrote the book on sustainability. That’s why I use Viagra. Why should Bob Dole have all the fun?”

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Here’s another hot topic: biodiesel. In case you don’t know what that is, there are folks who have converted their diesel-powered cars to burn used cooking oil. They say it’s eco-friendly, and they get the used oil for free. You have to ask yourself, though— if this catches on, how long do you think that used oil is going to remain free? Real soon now there’ll be a sign in front of McDonalds: “Free Big Mac with an 8 gallon fill-up.” Now that’s what I call an inconvenient truth.

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Can somebody explain this for me? Day-of-the-week-panties. What are they for? I guess when somebody comes up to you and asks “Do you know what day it is?” you’re supposed to go (mimes lifting skirt): “Woooooooo! It’s Wednesday!”

Wouldn’t it make sense to embroider the day of the week upside-down, so you can bend over to read it?

What about if you’re wearing jeans at the time—do you use a periscope stuffed down there to check out what day it is?

Wouldn’t it be easier just to check your Day-Timer instead?

I saw the other day that they no longer just sell packages of seven pairs of panties with the days on them; they also sell 5-packs, too. What’s up with that? Is that so you can party like Britney on the weekends?

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Now, unlike Twana and Derby and some of you folks out in the audience, I didn’t grow up here. I grew up and spent most of my adult life back East in Baltimore Maryland— except for four years spent in the DC suburb of Fairfax Virginia just before my wife and I moved here.

I didn’t like life in Fairfax, mostly because it was the same wherever you looked. Folks at my job used to act snobby about where they lived: Alexandria versus Arlington, Clarendon versus Chantilly, Sterling versus Vienna. So fucking what? There’s at least one Applebee’s in each of these places, so how can it possibly matter?

People who live in suburbs like that kid themselves about a lot of things. Certain things, things that are somehow related to your “quality of life” take on great importance— so much so that you ignore the big picture.

For example: not far from where we were living, there was a “gated” community of “townhouses.” Now, if you’ve ever been in a big, old, primarily East Coast city, you’ve probably seen townhouses; these were not like those.

First off: one of those really important features, like I mentioned before, is to have a two-car garage… which takes up the entire first floor of the townhouse— which is barely wide enough for the garage.

Right next to the garage is a narrow flight of outside steps leading up to the front door, and because the distance from the curb to the house is so narrow, the stairs are as steep as Machu Picchu in Peru. I mean, Mel Gibson could have staged the human sacrifice scenes from “Apocalypto” on these steps. You need a bottle of oxygen waiting for you at the top!

There is no room in front of the townhouse for a flower bed or lawn chairs or a used refrigerator or anything like that, and since you’re paying good money for your two-car garage, you don’t ever park on the street. As a result, the “community” looks like a set for “The Stepford Wives” before a day’s filming; you’re sure that somebody lives there, but you never see who.

Speaking of never seeing, whoever lives in this community must have some selective blindness—I’ll explain why in a minute. I’m convinced that every morning the residents must climb down that flight of steps without lifting their heads up.

It’s kind of like men in a restroom. Ladies, you may not be aware of this but there is a code of conduct to be followed in the restroom if you’re a guy (a straight guy, anyway): eyes front, little or no conversation, no looking anywhere near your neighbor in the next stall. I can pretty much guarantee that the guy pissing next to you will not lean over and say, “Hey, pal—nice penis!” or “Your mom must be very proud of you.”

So it is in this “gated” community in Virginia. You walk down the steps, open the garage door, get in your car, drive past the gate, and head off to work or the mall or wherever, trying hard not to look across the street—because right across the street, just outside the gate to this expensive enclave, this exclusive edifice (I swear to God, I am not making this up), there’s…

A Taco Bell—complete with a drive-thru and speakers blaring “OK, so you want a Number 6 with a side of guacamole and some super nachos. That’ll be $7.83. Drive forward, please.”

You’re paying all than money to live next to a Taco Bell! Hell, in our town you can live next to the Taco Bell for practically nothing.

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The suburbs are hell. In fact, Satan himself lives in the suburbs. He lives at 666 Mockingbird Court in a cul-de-sac. I used to live next door to him, at 668; yes, I was the Neighbor of the Beast.

His son, Damien, known in the neighborhood as “Demon Spawn of Hell” (coincidentally, that’s what they called me when I was growing up), was really popular in school. All the dyslexic kids hung out with him because they though they were selling their souls to Santa.

Can you imagine Satan living in a “gated” community? With one of those guardhouses at the entrance? The guard would be something like this:

“You’re here to see who? The Prince of Darkness, the Lord of Flies, the Adversary? Waitaminute, let me check the list of residents. Hmmmm. Oh, here he is—Bub, initials BLZ. Right there above Bush, initials GW. Cheney? I can’t tell you anything. He’s at an undisclosed location.”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Alternate Universe

In an alternate universe, I was born with more upper body and arm strength than I possess in this one. In that universe, I think I would be a very different person from the one I am now. Time for another nugget: I am uninterested in sports of any kind. As a matter of fact, the personal ad I placed in 1995 that caught the interest of the woman whom I eventually married (Starr) read:
A man who hates sports, puts the seat down, asks directions, and treats women as equals-- am I for real?
(That's why the URL for this blog contains "mi4real.")

But I digress.

I think my disinterest in sports stems from the fact that because I was weak in the arms and upper body I was simply no good at throwing a ball, climbing a rope, swinging a bat or other common physical activities. (To this day, I am unable to chin myself, do a push-up, etc.-- though the torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder provides a good excuse for being out of shape.) Also, like many kids, I was not willing to practice and develop the skills-- if I couldn't hit the ball, I was not going to keep swinging. I remember at summer camp being in a swimming race and realizing that I was too far behind to catch up... so I just stopped swimming; I just didn't see the point to continuing. Perhaps I am psychologically, as well as physically, unsuited to sports.

My theory is that if I had been more capable, I might have been more interested-- and I might have turned out to be a couch potato watching sports hour after hour on TV... instead of a couch potato who reads books hour after hour.

Hey, at least I got the girl.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Things That Make Me Cry

Needless to say, the events of recent weeks have provided plenty of opportunity for me to choke up with tears. For me though, it usually only lasts for a minute or so before I get it under control.

Lately, I have been pondering the whys and wherefores of what causes me to cry. I have noticed over the past several years that there are some things that will cause me to choke up, and that doing so is an almost Pavlovian response to certain situations; I may not even consciously realize that a triggering event has taken place-- but I feel the tears coming on anyway, and I will then try to figure out what the cause was. It distresses me that I am unable to control this reflexive reaction.

Here are some of the things that will cause me to tear up:
  • Heroism
  • Sacrifice
  • Achievement
When I hear/read/see something wherein someone acts heroically, or makes a sacrifice for others, that will set me off. It doesn't even have to be real. Also, witnessing someone strive for something and winning, that will do it, too (I was teary-eyed throughout Barack Obama's acceptance speech).

When I saw my father in the hospital, there was a white board in the room. Someone, probably my brother, had written:
His name is Malcolm, and he is a hero.
Starr then added:
He is a gallant and valiant man.
Then I wrote:
I only hope I can do half as well.
The reason we all felt this way was because of what my father did, one of his last conscious acts: when he felt the stroke coming on, he didn't call 911; instead, he got dressed, got my mother dressed, left $120 on his desk in case my mother might need it, and then, finally took the two of them downstairs to the building lobby.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Next Time

There are times when I'm thinking about some aspect of my life that I'm unhappy with as a result of something that I've done (or not done), and a thought pops into my head unbidden: "Next time it will be different." Some part of me, way down below the level of conscious thought, is convinced that I'll have the opportunity for a do-over. Trouble is, a do-over in this context would mean that in my next life I'll get my chance. I've never really believed in reincarnation, but some part of my brain seems to.

This brings me to another nugget: I have no religious faith, and never have. There are times when I am almost jealous of people whose faith comforts and sustains them; I've tried to be a believer, but to me it's roughly the equivalent of those people who think you can be "cured" of homosexuality.

Uzumaki

There is a Japanese horror movie called "Uzumaki" about a small town where people become increasingly obsessed with spirals. I also recall a scene in "The Wicker Man" where a little girl shows a beetle tethered to a pin by a thread tied to one leg; the bug walks in one direction, spiraling closer and closer to the center as the thread wraps around the pin.

That's how my life feels these days.


Here's what you need to know to understand:
  • I am the co-owner (with Starr) of a dessert shop in our small town.
  • We are open 7 days a week, from noon to 9:00 PM Sun-Thu and noon to 10:00 PM Fri-Sat.
  • I am working in the store all day, every day (except one day per week that Starr works for me).
  • I typically arrive for work one to two hours before opening and stay somewhere between 1/2 hour to an hour after closing, so I spend somewhere between 70 and 80 hours a week working.
  • I am the only person who manages the finances (including settling the cash drawer) and orders supplies. We have a trusted employee who can run the store alone, but is not involved in these management responsibilities.
  • The store has been profitable from day one-- but not enough for the two of us to live on; Starr supplements our income by freelance editing.
  • We have a large number of local, repeat customers. Many of them know us personally and really want us to stay in business and thrive.
  • We are involved in the community and provide meeting space, gift certificates and cash contributions to many area organizations.
  • Many people in the community look to us as examples of successful business people, especially since we are committed to being open nights, weekends, and keep regular hours (unlike many businesses in town that seem to be open only when they feel like it).
So here's the spiral: we can't live on the store's income, can't afford to hire someone to manage it, probably couldn't find someone to buy it, and don't want to close it outright and disappoint all those who have enjoyed the place and made it a part of life in the town.

On a good day, I see lots of people who are glad we're here. On a bad day, I remember how much money I used to make working for somebody else in the technology sector. On a good day, I feel like we're performing a valuable service for both locals and visitors to the town. On a bad day, I realize that my physical as well as mental health is weaker than it was when I started the business more than 5 years ago, and that I don't feel like I have the strength I need to make a change to the situation.


Meanwhile, I'm circling the drain...

Rules of the Game

For me, suicide is not an option. I promised Starr that I would not kill myself, because she has already had to deal with the suicide of a loved one and I care about her too much to put her through that again.

While I can understand why some people feel that they have little choice but to end their lives, I think some people commit (or attempt) suicide for selfish reasons: "That'll show them!" They fantasize that everybody would gather around the coffin and say, "If only we had known, we would have acted differently."

It's that "if-only-we-had-known" thing that has me conflicted at the moment. One the one hand, I'm writing this blog to tell people what is going on inside me-- but on the other hand, I'm not sure that I want to wave a flag and shout "Hey! Over here!"... especially to people I know.

Currently I have made a rule for myself that I would not mention this blog to anyone (not even to Starr), but I expect that somebody will stumble upon it at some point and/or I'll change my mind on keeping it close to my vest. Similarly, I am hesitant to enter much identifying data into my profile or these posts, but when what I'm posting warrants it, I'll add the details.


Some of the future direction that this blog takes will depend on what comments (if any) I receive.

There is a wonderful company known as Despair Inc. that publishes a line of "Demotivators" meant as an answer to all those motivational posters and the like that many of us who have survived working in an office environment are all too familiar with. They recently came up with a Demotivator poster on the subject of blogging that reads:
Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.

I am trying to avoid being one of them. I've got a lot to say, but I hope to say things in manner that will make people want to read it. The writing itself is therapeutic, but it helps if I can feel that there's somebody out there.

One other rule: I may edit, tweak or even delete all or part of any post at any time. Get over it. I've made one change, for the sake of clarity: wherever I have entered one of my "nuggets," it will appear in green.

My Mother, Sinking Fast

I'm going to backtrack briefly, to set the stage.

In mid-September, my parents came out for a visit, something they have done every year or so since we moved here in 2003. They flew from their home in Baltimore to Albuquerque, then took a puddle-jumper from Albuquerque to our town.

The visit did not go well. Everything was OK the first day, but that night something happened. Apparently, the medication my mother was taking caused her to wake up in the middle of the night; sometimes she would awaken as the result of a nightmare. I don't know what transpired, but whatever it was caused them to cut the trip short; Starr drove them back to Albuquerque and put them on a flight to Baltimore the next day.

Starr did not give me too many specifics at the time, but my mother's behavior was a glimpse of what was to come.

In the six-week period between the visit and my father's stroke and subsequent death, my mother had stopped taking the medication that troubled her, per her doctor's advice. Whether it was the suspension of that treatment or the stress associated with my father's illness or the natural progression of her dementia or some other reason we are unaware of-- who knows? Whatever the cause, my mother:

  • Kept forgetting that my father was dead... so we had to remind her, and hurt her, again and again;
  • Often chose the wrong word for something, so we would have to try to figure out what she meant;
  • Wanted to go home-- and vehemently denied it when we tried to convince her that she already was home;
  • Frequently was belligerent, even violent, and accused us of being cruel to her, conspiring to steal from her or other crimes less clear.
After spending two days with her 24/7, my brother and sister-in-law were grateful that Starr and I arrived in that we provided some respite. Also, Starr has had plenty of experience since both of her parents had some sort of dementia before they died. In some ways the situation even felt familiar to me as well-- but that didn't make it any easier to take.

Did you ever read the back of baseball cards when you were a kid? Usually there will be one or more (sometimes trivial) facts about the guy whose picture is on the front. From here on, I will refer to them as "nuggets." Here's one such nugget for you, one that is fundamental to my life, that --for good or ill-- defines me: I have never loved my mother, and usually haven't even liked her.

When I was in my early teens, I had one of a series of major arguments with my mother. I recall how she stopped hitting me and reached down to remove her shoe so she could hit me with that-- I was getting to be too big for her to effectively use her bare hands. When she reached for her shoe, I grabbed her, dragged her to the ground and told her that the next time she hit me I would hit her back. From then on, whenever we argued she would run to my father and ask (or berate) him to do something about whatever it was I had said or done-- she never struck me again.

I mention all this because after several days of dealing with her behavior while all of us were hurting, my mother got angry and slapped me. I didn't hesitate-- I slapped her back. Her dementia, my respect for others, the knowledge that my father lived with her for sixty years without hitting her (that I am aware of), my understanding her pain and feeling my own, none of that mattered to me; all I could think of was that, after more than forty years, I had kept my promise.

Another nugget: I don't like myself very much, and have never felt that I was a normal human being. Seeing how other people naturally loved and cared about their parents was one of the reminders that I am different, and damaged somehow.

Are you beginning to understand why I feel the need to tell this to someone? And why I would rather tell it to an unknown person than to those who (ostensibly) know me?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Why Am I Here?

Why am I here, blogging into the void?

There are a bunch of ways to answer that. One is that I feel the need to tell someone about what I think and how I feel. In the old days (I am too old to use the catchphrase "back in the day"), someone who listened to you was called a friend-- but I don't think I have much in the way of friends anymore... or at least none that I feel I can burden with what's on my mind. I suppose I could hire someone like a psychologist/psychiatrist/counselor/shaman to be a surrogate-- someone who is an expert on fulfilling the listening function that a friend provides, but without being 'invested' in me... but as a child I was required to spend a lot of time with such people, and I am wary (plus I don't feel like going over my childhood with them).

So you, dear reader, get to listen to me... provided that you exist. Even if nobody reads this, it's OK; way back in the pre-digital era, people used to write in their diaries-- and not all of it was a recap of the day's events.

But what made me start this now? After all, I've had this account for more than a year, and I don't even know what made me sign up in the first place. Well, what got me to the point of (figuratively) bleeding all over the keyboard is the fact that I received an e-mail from my brother and sister-in-law that mentioned, almost as an afterthought, that my mother's condition continues to deteriorate.

Here's the lead-in to the above: on Wednesday October 29, my 83-year-old father suffered a massive stroke. He was operated on sometime that day or the next. On Friday the 31st, my wife Starr and I flew to Baltimore to see him. After meeting with the doctor and reviewing the CAT scan, etc. I made the decision to take him off of life support Saturday the 1st; he died Sunday morning the 2nd.

That was only the half of it. The other half is that he had been caring for/covering for my mother in the face of her increasing dementia, and we all decided pretty quickly that she was not capable of living by herself.

What happened while we were there is part of the next installment. Stay tuned.