Friday, March 30, 2012

Managing my mid-life crisis

The male mid-life crisis is a difficult subject to bring up around some people since it exists primarily as a physiological condition. Yes, us guys have to deal with such things like an unwanted horizontal expansion at the waistline or an accelerated retreat of the hairline we at least can exercise to fight the growing bulge or buy medicinal remedies to battle an asymmetrical war to keep something fuzzy on our heads. No, this is something that affects guys on a far deeper level, see I will be honest here and write something that should be self-evident, adult males never really grow up. Society, our jobs, and more importantly our wives may say we have to behave and act dignified and responsible but deep down most of us would like nothing better than tell the established social order to kiss our asses and fly off on some juvenile adventure.

For some mid-life crisis suffering guys, adventure comes in the form of a fast sports car. The thrill of going down an open highway with the accelerator pushed to the floorboard brings back carefree teenage days when their highest priority was getting a cheerleader with big boobies into the backseat of his car. Speaking personally for myself, while at one time I did own, what was to me, a very special sports car I was far more into slowly cruising Ocean Boulevard of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina checking out the young ladies. For reasons I cannot really explain the second I went five miles over the speed limit every fat deputy sheriff and fanatical highway patrolman in Georgetown county would be on my tail flashing their blue lights. Anyone who has to pay car insurance would know speeding tickets have a way of severely cutting into a person’s spending money. Since spending money for me is a still a hard thing for me to come by, I still relish taking life slowly.

Other guys dealing their encroaching mortality choose to fling all decorum to the winds and hook up with a hot young lady who at the very minimum could be their daughters. These individuals are nearly always very rich and can deal with such things as vindictive ex-wives actively seeking revenge. Thankfully, I am immune, on many different levels, from ever having that sort of problem. The most obvious reason is that I am married to a wonderful lady who is a tax attorney with many friends in both state and county government along with several law enforcement officials. Hypothetically speaking if I ever got caught straying (I know a few of you all out there are laughing over that thought) my butt would not be worth a pile of cold cow manure.

The main purpose for this ambling collection of mental brain droppings is that I have recently found myself pondering my own mid-life crisis. The growing list of daily aches and pains that hint at real old age, the increasingly frantic pace of American life, and my steadfast hate of suburbia have pushed me more and more into dreaming about a way to escape from it all.

Fast cars and young women will remain strictly in the realm of fantasies unless I win the lotto and since I have not bought a ticket my odd of winning are even worse than they usually are. Even if I did win with my wife being an attorney, any winning would have to be signed over to her a nanosecond after I receive them. Leaving me to believe it might be best to for me to avoid the entire issue.

I could go the route of being a narcissistic asshole but there are a multitude of those types around these days that have raised the trait to such a high artistic level I willingly bow at their accomplishments. Plus, I am such an easy going and laid back guy I just do not have required energy to stay constant at it.

Recently this lack of mid-life crisis direction has begun to bother me, I can understand being a slacker with the more time consuming and boring avenues of life but even though my choices are limited, I cannot neglect this important part of my manhood. Thankfully, the answer up and slapped me aside the head a couple of days ago as I was brazenly wasting time surfing the internet.

I have often dreamed of buying a sailboat and catching a nice wind that will push me down to the Caribbean but the more logical part of my mind has always quickly reminded me I have absolutely no experience at the little things like navigating an ocean going craft. The lack of money to purchase and operate this hypothetical craft has also been a bit of a buzz kill on any plan to emulate my hero Jimmy Buffett. Despite my closely related wish to be a pirate they have had a lot of bad press lately so just taking the first sailboat I come across would not work.

What I have found is that if I lower my sights just a little I probably could manage a smaller, more affordable, sailboat that would allow me to putter around the intercoastal waterway that stretches from New Jersey down to Brownsville, Texas. Made up of bays, inlets, salt-water rivers, and sounds it allows a wannabe sailor like me to travel very close to the ocean without facing the full force of the whoop ass it can put on some silly fool in a small boat.

My ideal little sailboat appears to be one about eighteen to twenty-foot long that has a small cabin with a bunk inside where I could catch a nap. Like I have said, I am not looking to cross an ocean. Just a small sailboat I can putter around in during the day and if my frustration level begins to exceed my capacity to manage something that would allow me to find a quite cove, toss out an anchor, and forget about the rest of the world for a while. As I have perused the websites dedicated to the selling of used sailboats of the size I am now interested the prices can range well within something that is at least theoretically manageable.

Now there are a few obstacles that I will need to find a way around, first and foremost I have no experience or even basic knowledge of sailing. The local community college does offer a sailing course with lessons on a nearby lake so that does not appear to be a showstopper. Other small issues are the costs of marina fees, repairs, and upkeep for a sailboat that I would insist remain on the coast. Continued funding for those expenses are trickier since college is quickly approaching for my son as is braces for my daughter, which one of those will ultimately cost the most is up in the air right now.

A more esoteric problem might come from the lovely Dragonwife who even now thinks I waste too much time contemplating my bellybutton fuzz, the tragedy of empty beer bottles, and the eventual fate of the universe. I can imagine how she would react with me trying to slip away down to Charleston to go sailing while weeds in the lawn need cutting, shrubs need trimming; walls need painting, along with a thousand other chores that are always demanding my attention. On second thought, maybe buying a lotto ticket and hooking up with some nubile young babe ain’t such a bad idea after all.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

At the turning of the page

Most people have forgotten about the lives they lead the day before the human species learned it was not alone in the universe. It’s understandable really; the world back then was defined along some very narrow parameters making it very hard for anyone to step too far out of bounds. The subject of aliens, when it was even mentioned, was something for science fiction movies or egghead scientists wanting to waste taxpayer money scanning the sky with expensive toys. It was a sensible ignorance based on history and common sense; humans had been to the moon and sent probes to all the other planets in the solar system. Aside from speculation and a few tantalizing hints of microbial life on Mars the universe looked cold and empty. If the cliché about ignorance being bliss was true, the world was living in a golden age about to come crashing to an end.

For those who resided in what was then called the developed world the concern of the overwhelming majority revolved around keeping their comfortable lifestyle and being entertained. It seems insane now but the system was built around people becoming permanently indebted to huge companies just to obtain new products also bought on credit that were purposely designed to be obsolete and be replaced repeating the cycle. The supposedly educated masses of the developed world willingly accepted this dictatorship of distraction.

Those living in the non-developed world largely suffered from the traditional human afflictions of poverty, famine, disease, and old style tyranny. In these old nations a ruling elite protected their positions by promising special privileges to one small group as long as it brutally oppressed others. It was dictatorship by old-fashioned brutal oppression summed up by a few doing unto others before everyone else ganged up and did something bad to them.

The one commonality between the two ruling elites was how they reacted to those that attempted to threaten the status quo. At the very least those that challenged the dominate mindset would find themselves ostracized by the ruling class, the media, and fellow citizens who liked how things ran. At worst, those that confronted the accepted way of thinking became enemies of the state, imprisoned, tortured, and eventually killed.

For many like me, raised up in the old United States our lives seemed predestined to be one of special considerations and near endless possibilities. My dad’s career as a high-speed attorney and my mom’s as a pediatric surgeon meant I saw nothing even approaching hardship as a child. To the best of their ability, they tried to impart a realization on me that other Americans were not so lucky but I was young and despite my parent’s best efforts more a product of an affluent culture than anything else.

In other words, the day before the world changed forever I did not think or care very much of anyone beyond myself. The struggle for survival after first contact radically changed my perceptions, as did it for the human race in general with genocide and extinction staring them in the face.

The day before first contact, I was a sophomore at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina with lazy study habits and an even worse attitude. It was the middle of March and the warm weather of early springtime was making me care even less about the few courses my parents had forced me to take. After finally dragging myself out of bed on a whim I showed up outside one of my girlfriend’s classes with what I thought was a great idea.

Sheri Hamilton strolled out of the Sanford Building oblivious to the fact that I was sitting in the iron bench beside the walkway. She was wearing the loose purple sundress that to my eyes had a habit of seductively clinging to her beautiful athletic body. Throw in how the late morning sun was reflecting off her blond hair and my over active hormones were screaming at me to pull her off into some quite and secluded corner of the campus. Instead, I limited myself just to sneaking up behind her and grabbing her butt to cop a quick feel.

Sheri and I had been dating for a month or two at that time and she was fully aware of my juvenile ways so her quick reflexes allowed her to easily pull away and slap my face in the span of a few seconds. “Jason Stevens,” she indignantly yelled back at me, “what have I said about you treating me this way in public.”

Being so full of myself at the time while I did care for Sheri, I had had no illusions about being in love with the girl. She was an incredibly attractive woman who I knew was crazy about me; I was just using her feelings to get what I wanted. “Sorry babe,” I said while giving her my most charming smile, “hey I was thinking, maybe we should star spring break early and head up to Virginia Beach right now and hang out at my folk’s condo? Tomorrow you and I can be making love on the beach as new day begins.”

“Jason,” she said with a sigh, “you know I have a philosophy class tomorrow. Can’t this trip wait until the weekend?”

Sheri was a charming and intelligent woman but I knew her schedule and could read her like the proverbial book. “Babe, I know old Professor Carter has a crush on you lets you skip his lectures when you want, as for the rest of your classes the semester is winding down and I know you are very comfortingly passing everything.”

I could see the wheels turning in her very pretty head. “What about your classes?” she asked.

My response was an incredulous, “Are you kidding me!”

Sheri turned away from me unexpectedly and began walking in the direction I knew to be her dorm. For a couple of seconds I was actually at a loss as to what her sudden departure meant. “Well,” she said still walking away from me, “are you coming? You can’t expect me to go around naked anyplace but the bedroom and some private spot on the beach now do you?”

Unfortunately, for Sheri, it was the worst decision she ever made.


We left the campus a couple of hours later in the Camaro my parents bought me listening to some radio show talk about the scores of strange objects that had been spotted in the skies all over the world. I remember looking over at Sheri and joking about how aliens always pick inbreed rednecks to have close encounters with, she laughed while looking at me adoringly and I felt like the king of the world.

We were on the road until our respective desires got the best of us early that evening. A convenient Radisson motel in Norfolk,Virginia gave us the to chance eat and rest. That night in our motel room, our young and demanding bodies clung to each other many times until we were both spent. We unknowingly awoke to a new world just now taking shape outside.

The Radisson we stayed at was just off the I-264 highway very close to the Norfolk Naval Shipyards. The night before the restaurant was filled with a bunch of navy personnel. Sheri, wanting to play some mind games on me flirted with a couple of officers last night as we ate our dinner. We learned they were in town for a training conference and took Sheri’s flirtations far too seriously, so much she and I decided to head back to our room after dinner instead of hanging out at the bar.

I never thought much about military types and when I did, it was not good. My assumption was that they were less intelligent than I was and far more prone to senseless violence. My parent’s moderate social and environmental activism had inadvertently bred in me the idea I was above war-like behavior despite the fact that my father had served in the army himself before going to college.

The morning Sheri and I left the motel room we were surprised to see many of those same navy officers standing out in the parking lot looking up and pointing at something taking place in the sky. The expression of utter shock on their faces was enough to penetrate my neatly self-absorbed world. Wanting to know what was going on we quickly joined them in the parking lot.

Up in the sky were what looked to be scores of jet fighters twisting and turning in the air trying to out maneuver some strangely shaped object. I honestly did not believe my eyes the couple of times it came close enough for me to catch sight of it. Whatever it was it was fast and could turn at right angles while the pilots in the interceptors pulled high-g turns just to keep pace. Desperate to understand I tried asking the navy officer nearest to Sheri and I what was going on.

He was talking on his cell phone and did not hear me but did state to the others officers near him, “Got Roger on the line and he says it got too close to Langley Air Force Base, a camouflaged air defense platform was able to launch several missiles with a few making direct hits. That seemed to damage the thing and allow fighters to be scrambled.”

Minutes passed with more fighters arriving on the scene. All of us on the ground watched missiles and cannons flash with the unknown craft taking more and more hits. A line was apparently crossed when it began firing back in some way, huge explosions followed with American fighters falling from the sky in flaming pieces. Just when the unknown craft looked like it might shoot down all the jets a huge roar began that caused everyone to finally take some sort of cover.

I pulled Sheri to the hopefully secure spot of a brick utility building whose door one of the naval officers had kicked open. I turned around just in time to see what appeared to be a large missile impacted on the ship. After the explosion, it tried to fly away but this time there was visible damage and smoke coming from it. A primal scream of victory came from everyone until we noticed the damaged craft was drifting our way. The surviving fighters continued to pound until the craft crash-landed into a collection of businesses about a hundred yards away.

The navy officers immediately ran towards downed vehicle and feeling I should be a part of what was going on, I joined them while leaving Sheri behind. I glanced back once to see her scared and standing next an old couple who had come outside after the craft had came down, it was the last time I saw her alive.

The craft had skidded to a halt next a gas station, part of me inwardly smiled at the thought of aliens jumping out and complaining they just wanted to fill up and buy a soda before going on to Mars or Jupiter. The naval officers I was in the middle of had looks of pure concentration and crept towards the craft as if it might attack them, a disturbingly possible thought since humans had done their best to bring it down. Righteous indignation flooded my mind, what I had just witness was the arrival of advanced sentient beings from another star system and the first thing we humans do was try to kill them. It was one last bit of old-fashioned innocence that along with many other things were about end.

The craft was roughly spherical with six similar shaped but smaller pods attached on the sides. Two of the six pods were destroyed with another heavily damaged. Somehow, I found myself surprised that the skin of the craft was not smooth and featureless but was made up of hundreds of detailed indentations and protrusions of various shapes. Someone muttered “possible sensor points” as if anyone of us had a real clue about the craft but it was the best explanation for that moment.

Sirens sounded off in the distance drawing ever closer and the small group I was with grew larger as basic human curiosity began to overwhelm the primitive desire to run and hide. A bizarre sense of expectation hung in the air with everyone knowing the hammer had not yet completely fallen on what had begun here.

Minutes passed with police and heavily armed SWAT teams arriving and taking up positions all around the alien ship. Realistically we should have backed away sense no one had any idea if there was a radiation danger but we were all dumbfounded at the impossible sight in front of us. With so many people now surrounding the ship a collective sense of security developed, so much some now spoke openly about the ship being an unmanned probe or the crew being dead.

When the hatch of the craft suddenly opened, we all instinctively jumped back, when the first rounds were fired from the inside many paid with their lives for not leaving when they had the chance. Several of the nearby cars and people dissolved in balls of flames and flying metal. I was able to take cover behind a neighboring building along with several others but still wanted to see what was going on so I crept close to see around the wall.

Two beings had emerged from the downed ship, they looked to be a little taller than the average person but had three legs and arms. The legs were attached to the torso like a tripod while two of the arms on the aliens were attached at the shoulders like humans, while the third spouted from the center of the creatures chests. The heads were triangle shaped and connected to the body with a segmented neck. The faces of the aliens were what chilled me to the bone; three large black eyes stared out at our world while where the mouth should have been was a collection of squid-like tentacles hanging down about six inches.

The aliens seemed unsure as to what to do next until the SWAT and police began to open fire on them. Each alien carried what looked to be a cannon connected by some sort of cables to a large backpack they carried. Human small arms bullets ricocheted off grey body armor they were wearing. A high-pitched whine began to be heard emanating from the cannons and when the sound peaked, the two began blazing away literally blowing everything they hit into tiny pieces. They even swept the building my little group was hiding behind and within seconds, it was reduced to rumble. Only a five-foot length of the back wall remained for us to hide behind.

It was clear even to a civilian like me we were all in deep trouble, SWAT team survivors desperately crawled to new positions and returned fire but the aliens began to move away from their ship and eliminate them when their location became known. They moved on their three legs with a curiously smooth motion making it clear that like humans they were apex predators of the highest order. My first thoughts about dying began to appear in my head figuring the aliens would eventually concentrate their fire on what small amount of weak protection we had left.

After what seemed like an eternity, the cavalry came in the form of six Apache helicopter gunships. The aliens actually seemed puzzled by their appearance and stopped firing long enough to look them over; it was a fatal mistake. After acquiring the targets, two of the attack helicopters opened fire with their 25-millimeter chain guns. The rounds landed center of mass on the aliens turning them into a fine paste. Whatever their armor was made from it was no match for what the Apaches fired.


With the aliens dead the first thought that came to my mind was Sheri, I went running back to the motel only find most of it destroyed. Sheri would later be found in the rumble; her body crushed when one of the explosive rounds the aliens fired detonated inside and caused it to collapse. Troops arrived as I was trying to dig her out and everyone in the area was quickly carted off, whether they wanted to or not, to some undisclosed location along with what pieces of the aliens they could find and their ship.

The United States government could not hide the incident even if they wanted to, as a stunned world watch amateur video of the battle and news reports leaked out of similar events in Russia and China. Some on the media did complain that humans had brought the destruction on themselves but deep down everyone knew the aliens never had any intention of coming in peace, something that was proven a little over a year later when their mother ship entered Earth orbit. Humanity’s age of ignorant bliss about the universe had ended in the space of a single day and another had begun where our future and the fate of the Earth itself was very much in doubt. 

(Author's note: What the Hell is this shit you may be asking. Well in the last six months I have seen two "non-fiction documentaries" on how the United States government and the rest of the world in general would respond to an alien invasion. Both shows had some serious real scientific talent speaking about how we could defeat a far more advance technological species trying to take our planet. One show was on the Discovery Channel and the other was on National Geographic. I have included You Tube videos to both shows so nobody will think I have gone completely off the deep end. This story is a prequel to a similar one I did for Friday Flash Fiction several months ago. On a deeper level I wrote this story just because I was stuck at the house and freaking bored out of my mind. Leave comments if you make it to the end of this incredibly ridiculous story.) 


Sunday, March 18, 2012

F3 Cycle 72 "Standing in Judgment"

Flash Fiction Friday Cue: Use the photo for one scene in your story; it must have at least two scenes.

  The day Mary Bain was murdered I saw her standing on the side of the road looking out towards the river off in the distance. As I passed her on my way to my second job, I did not think much about it other than the fact that she looked like she was waiting for someone. It was cold that day and the jeans and sweater she was wearing looked normal enough but draped across her shoulder was a purple bag stuffed to the point it looked like it might explode. Deep down I sensed loneliness and a despair in her that ate at what small part of my soul I had left.

  For a second I contemplated pulling off the road to check if she was okay but just as quickly thought the better of it. Mary was just another of those hopeless cases high school educators encounters every few years while teaching in rural backwaters where the word of God rules everyday affairs and the locals are instantly suspicious of anyone even remotely intellectual. You learn quickly living in the Appalachian foothills of upstate South Carolina outsiders like me do not get involved in gory mess that many of the residents call their lives, even if you have some acquaintance with the family.

  Mary’s dad, Phillip Bain, was a high school dropout and disabled Iraqi War veteran whose humvee was blown up under him resulting in a brain injury and an extreme case of Post Traumatic Stress making it impossible for him to hold a job. In the best of times, Phillip suffered from terrible headaches and in the worst, dealt with memories that haunted his mind. He and I had were introduced to each other at the local VFW since I had done three tours in that hellhole myself as an infantry platoon leader with my National Guard unit. That made it possible for the two of us on occasion to bridge the divide of mistrust that would have normally existed between a man suspicious of everyone in authority and me, a former officer and college graduate.

   As for Mary's mother, for the most part she had abandoned her daughter to concentrate on raising the children she had with her second husband. This left Mary drifting between her disabled father and elderly paternal grandparents who regularly went around town proclaiming the Rapture was imminent. Everyone in Mary’s life had failed her from the day she was born, and in a way, I failed her worst of all.

  Seconds later, I glanced up at my rearview mirror for one last look but she was gone. Absentmindedly, I figured one of the cars that had passed me going the other way had quickly pulled over and picked her up. Caught up in my own affairs I had no idea she had gone missing until the news three days later that her lifeless body was found washed up along a riverbank.


  The morning after I learned the news I found myself sitting in my empty classroom waiting for the morning bell to ring. Looking at the thirty unoccupied desks in front of me, I got the eerie feeling they were judging me in every aspect of my life and that Mary’s phantom was the prosecutor. Given the number of ways I had failed over the years, I figured it was an open and shut case.

  Like Mary’s dad, I had my own demons to contend with over what I had seen and done in Iraq. After my last deployment I came home to Long Island and found my marriage damaged beyond repair and the middle class lifestyle I took for granted spoiled and worthless. Teaching was the one refuge I had in my personal storm, until I started seeing the same soulless eyes in my privileged American students that I saw in the poverty stricken and fearful Iraqi kids who lived in a war zone. For all the wrong reasons the American kids whined about how tough and unfair their lives were and when I could not take it anymore I left it all behind and went looking for someplace I might be able to make a difference.

  What I found was ignorance and a closed society that rivaled anything I saw in Iraq. Now saddled with alimony and having to provide most of my own teaching supplies I find myself sacrificing the very students I left everything behind hoping to help.

  Outside in the hall the sound of the kid’s voices were exactly like the day I first met Mary. It was my freshman algebra class and I quickly found myself struggling to supply the level of work her keen mind demanded. Mary was a gifted student and in a better place, she could have done anything she wanted with her life but Fate was cruel and had saddled her with too many obstacles.

  The bell rings and my students file in and take their seats. Some look at me expectantly while others seem in a daze. None have Mary’s abilities and in fact I see little hope for most of them. However, that is not for me to judge, I am a teacher and I must try.

  “Mr. Blake, are you okay?” One of the girls sitting in the front row asks.

  “No,” I say, “in fact from today on I will be asking far more of you as you should demand more from me.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A man of style I am not

There is not one personality trait or characteristic about me that even hints at the tiniest microscopic particle of what can be described as style when it comes to clothes. After years of observation, it would seem that I suffer the same fate as the common moose, a creature said to be put together with spare parts from other animals and designed by a dysfunctional committee. I have never been one to be all that concerned with clothes to begin with but on the rare occasion where I am required to dress up the results are usually a disaster of comic proportions. To save what small sliver of dignity I possess I avoid the whole problem of clothes by staying with my tried and true attire of surfer t-shirts and cargo shorts during the summer and exchange those for blue jeans in the winter, which brings me to my first issue.

While many have commented over the years saying how much they think it is cool that I am so tall, I stand nearly six foot-six inches, I tell them try finding clothes that fit someone my height. Searching for something as simple as Wrangler blue jeans that meet my waist and length requirements can become an epic quest. Just recently I spent the better part of a Friday morning searching three different Walmarts, two Targets, and a really out of the way Kmart for jeans and coming up with a huge goose egg. Since in the best of times shopping for me can be compared to someone shoving bamboo sticks under my finger nails going to the huge corporate chains with policies that hurt their own workers and those of their suppliers make it even worse.

The problem is not that I am excessively fat along with tall; I found plenty of Wrangler jean waist sizes ranging up to forty-six inches. I am forced to assume that my thirty-eight waist and thirty-four length is either not produced that much or there are a bunch of tall goofy looking guys like me I just never see.

At each of my visits to the monolithic and uncaring corporate examples of American hyper-commercialism that day I tore through the blue jean stacks looking for my size. It must have been quite the sight because at each store I had frequents visits by the salesperson in charge of that particular area. They were all young ladies who seemed a combination of both curiosity and fear at someone making a mess of their area. On the other hand, if I was earning little better than minimum wage and dealing with spoiled Americans who generally believe all creation revolves around them I would not be very motivated to assist some giant troll-like creature tearing through piles of blue jeans. 

The problem was finally solved after I returned home and finally decided to order the jeans I needed over the internet. Once again, the corporate lackeys of Walmart under cut even the home website of Wrangler blue jeans itself on the price of their products by several dollars. How they did that boggles my mind but I am sure it is far from a good thing for the workers. Adding insult to injury, Walmart charges less than a dollar for shipping for even the smallest orders.

The second problem I have with clothes are the rare occasions whenever I have to formally dress up for some event. While it is difficult for me to buy jeans for everyday use finding a suit that fits me with all my oversized appendages requires a formal fitting that pushes the cost into a range reserved for those for more upwardly mobile than me.

Way back in 1993 when Dragonwife and I were dating, she was invited to the wedding of one of her college sorority sisters up in Washington DC. It was going to be one of those high-class shindigs and since I was also invited, we had to travel down to Charleston to one of the formal wear stores for men where I picked out a nice suit.

For an hour or two, I stood on a raised platform while a tailor made measurements on the pants and coat so he could adjust them to my height. At the time, I was still taking classes at the coastal community college where I got my ever-nifty associates degree from so I used a chunk of my GI bill to pay for the suit, which was cool since I wore that bad boy to my graduation.

For the most part I paid no attention to the little tailor dude who mumbled to himself as he used a chalk-like substance to make reference marks on first the pants then the coat. After the fact, I realized the twit had made some backhanded comments about my long legs and what I admit are gorilla-like arms. I have no idea why I rubbed the little fellow the wrong way but he was damn good at how he adjusted the suit. Not only did it fit perfectly giving me an unheard of sense of professional style, over the intervening years I was able to let both the pants and the coat out as I expanded laterally.

It was not until last year right before the Disney cruise that I had finally exhausted the suit’s ability to compensate for my physical expansion. Since two evenings on the Disney Magic would be formal dinner nights, I had to scramble for something to take its place. In a honesty I simply did not have the funds or desire to try and buy a new suit so I settled on just purchasing a basic sports coat.

That proved problematic, all my odd lengths and widths made buying a modest sports coat a huge pain. At one place a blazer that fitted me perfectly cost four-hundred dollars, which on the Disney cruise was a couple of nights of drinking at a bar so I gave the jacket back to the salesman and walked out laughing. Eventually I found a cheap black sports coat at a big and tall shop that even had a piecemeal service so it could be somewhat adjusted to my arms and torso.

We picked up the jacket a week before the cruise and it was a total disaster. Standing in front of the full-length mirror at the store the coat looked like something I might have borrowed from television’s Herman Munster. It fit so badly I actually felt mentally and physically uncomfortable. For the most part I do not care what people think about me but more often than not the first question a new person usually asks after seeing how tall I am is do I play basketball. When I answer with my noticeable Southern drawl "not since high school" I am usually classified along the lines of the fictional Forrest Gump. As false stereotypes go it is not the worst someone can be labeled with but it is still irritating and something I would rather avoid.

Looking in the mirror and seeing how that awkward sports coat seemed to be draped over my shoulders the cliches about "clothes making the man" and "you never get another chance at making a first impression echoed inside my head. As much as I wanted to have it correctly tailored, we did not have time so I just stuffed it into a garment bag and tried to forgot about it.

The cruise, as expected, was a fantastic trip where there were so many activities my family hardly knew if we were coming or going. Some nights we stumbled into our cabin so exhausted we collapsed on our beds and were asleep in mere minutes.We were so caught up in all the events I totally forgot about the ill-fitting jacket and when the formal nights came I donned it without caring how it looked.

On the cruise professional photographers constantly roam the ship taking pictures of the passengers having fun and on formal nights somehow there are even more. So, Dragonwife, Darth Wiggles, and myself had our pictures taken many times on both of the nights I had to wear the jacket. I realized that my sports coat looked like crap but by then I was resigned to the fact.

Making matters worse Dragonwife was able to make reservations at the very formal and adults only restaurant on the Disney Magic named “Palo”. Both Dragonwife and I ate at the swanky Palo’s on previous Disney cruises so I was familiar with how all the other patrons would look, of course back then I still had my trusty well tailored suit. At least I had the ability to take off the new sports coat once we are at our table. I just wish I had taken a closer look at the jacket before we left our cabin during the nights I wore the thing.

While sorting through boxes of pictures Dragonwife found the professional photos taken during the cruise last year. Wanting to relive the memories I soon joined her on the family room floor and began cringing at the site of me wearing the sports coat. On several of the pictures I had my arm around Dragonwife, a couple of Disney princess, and another with Captain Jack Sparrow I hope no one asks about nor will I openly discuss. On each of those pictures, I saw a tag dangling on the underside of the left sleeve of the cheap and accursed blazer.

Like I said at the first, I realize I will never be a stylish person but I am truly okay with that, it is just I do not want to embarrass myself anymore than I have to. Something about that tag hanging down about two inches from my sleeve just screamed illiterate country bumpkin/redneck far more than I am comfortable. Sure enough, I went downstairs and dug the coat out of my closet and there was the tag still attached. Somehow, before the next formal occasion I will cough up the money to get that damn thing fitted.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Feeling like the bug that impacted the windshield

  With all due respect, to the former First Lady Nancy Reagan after this past week I wish the reason my brains felt like eggs frying on a hot skillet were because of drugs. Even now, there is serious debate going on in what few active brain cells I have left about the possibility of sending both my precious children to military boarding school.

  When you last heard from me, I was playing, largely unsuccessful, mediator in a titanic battle of wills between my lovely bride, Dragonwife, and my son, Darth Spoilboy. Since last Friday several deals, for both a new Kia and several used cars fell through for any number of reason you might be able to guess. As time went on though, the main issue became how Dragonwife and I wanted to go slow and look around for the “right” car figuring we could juggle the duties of driving him to and from work with the vehicles, we already own. However, the hormone-crazed teenage Spoilboy wanted something bought immediately and became increasingly aggravated with what he saw was our glacial pace.

  Both Dragonwife and Spoilboy heavily searched the internet all week looking for a car or truck that was dependable and at the right price but when the former would find something the latter would more than likely shoot it down. All I can say when that happened was thank God for the Carfax internet service. Because without a doubt everyone involved in this car buying quest had an extensive re-education in the fact that private citizens selling some sort of car or truck on their own could lie with professional grade level making the ubiquitous used car salesman green with envy.

  For example, last Thursday an individual listed a nice looking Ford F-150 truck on Craig’s List that upon discovery by both Spoilboy and Dragonwife curled their toes with glee. For Spoilboy it was the appearance of the truck and the reasonable price. Dragonwife on the other hand liked the low mileage and the fact that its purchase would turn both Spoilboy and me into suburban yard working serfs for all eternity.

  Yes, I had more than a small interest in shooting this deal down but by this time I was near mental collapse and just wanted this torture over and done. Luckily, for me the Carfax report showed over twice the listed mileage the owner stated and a couple of accidents he completely forgot to tell us about, which shot down the deal. Spoilboy had jumped the gun a little and had already arranged a meeting with this person at a halfway point between our respective locations. Upon reading the Carfax report for some reason neither Dragonwife, Spoilboy nor myself remember to call this guy back and cancel the meeting. Ooops, I hope the shit did not wait very long at the Applebees we were supposed to meet.

  Now you may be wondering that if this is the worst things got why I am whining more than usual? Thank you good sir or madam, I will gladly tell you what sent this week into an abyss of despair.

  Sometime Wednesday evening I heard a loud and very shrill scream from the upstairs family room. Dragonwife is currently involved in an extensive E-bay selling frenzy and while reviewing her Pay-Pal account discovered over two-hundred and fifty dollars in charges from a weird social networking website catering to little girls. In short, Darth Wiggles completely without our permission reactivated her membership in this site and accidentally or on purpose ran up those charges. Dragonwife and I went through this once before with her and after getting the charges withdrawn by the company setup several internet blocks to prevent her from even mistakenly navigating back to that website.

  I am no expert but I am still trying to figure out how she did it. The blocks I setup were extensions offered by internet browsers we use on the family computers. One of my buddies, far more knowledgeable in this stuff than me, has suggested some internet companies willfully attempt to undermine the type of website blocks I used and that I should go out and purchase software dedicated to the job.

  The second issue unrelated to the purchase of a car for Spoilboy involves his girlfriend. If you look up the definition of “clingy” in the dictionary, you will see a picture of this young woman beside the word. Frankly, she has bothered me for a long time with her incessant talking and ability to bend Spoilboy to her whims. Several times, I have had to remind my son that before he makes any plans with his girlfriend he is to confer with his mother or me first. However, over the last few months Spoilboy’s girlfriend has felt the need to show up at our house very early in the morning on the weekends and hang out with him all day. This has gone way beyond the normal range of visits in both number and durations forcing my wife and I to put a limit on the time they spend together.

  Everything finally came to a head Friday when I learned Girlfriend had an issue with Darth Wiggles hanging out with them in the family room upstairs. Somehow, she felt that a public area in our house could be reserved for the sole use of the two lovebirds while Dragonwife, Wiggles, of me were restricted downstairs. My son Darth Spoilboy was not ready for my volcanic eruption and the news that if I got any hint she was mistreating Wiggles in even the smallest way they would never see each other again. I also gave the Spoilboy today to break the news to her they were only going to see each other two days a week outside of high school. It is my hope that once Spoilboy is fully engaged in his part-time job and working to keep his grades up that the two will drift apart.

  Now as Saturday closes hopefully the worst is over. While it may seem we went around our elbows to get to our thumbs, early this afternoon we bought a 2012 Kia Rio. Much to my surprise it looks like I will be driving the Rio since it is far better on gas mileage that either the Toyota Corolla or the Honda CRV. As much as Spoilboy hates it, he is now the “owner” of the Honda CRV, the breaking point came after we looked at one of his beloved Jeep Cherokees. Once again, the Carfax report showed huge issues with the car that the used car dealer did not want to discuss.

  Dragonwife showing her ability to scare the living Hell out of any salesman and wheeled and dealed a Rio with several exceptional nice bells and whistles at a damn good price, one of them being an extended subscription to Sirius Satellite Radio. Yes, I have already preset Radio Margaritaville on the radio along with my usual NPR stations.

  In closing, I am now sitting at the patio table on my backyard deck nursing my fifth Landshark Lager. The four empties are standing guard along the rail as I look out at my fine collection of weeds sprouting from my much-abused lawn. It is my sincere hope that things begin to unwind around here and become less complicated. If not, at some point I can feel a road trip down to Cocoa Beach, Florida coming on and once I get down there I am sure the siren of call of Key West might become overwhelming.

Not that anyone wants to know but yes, that is what I looked like this morning, and secondly, screw Newty.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Adventures In Car Buying for a Teenager

My son, Darth Spoilboy, reached yet another milestone in the road of life last Wednesday and if I am very lucky the complications that have ensued since then will not kill me. First a little bit of a back-story on how things got to the point they did last night.

While I honestly feel my son takes after me in many of my easygoing personality traits, when it comes to something he truly wants, he can become quite driven and obstinate like his attorney mother. Such was the case with his desire to have what every teenage boy wants after he gets his driver’s license, his own car. If I remember correctly, we had not even made it out the DMV building when the refrain, “Dad, when can you and mom buy me a car” started.

Since then his persistence has only increased to the point there have been times I have been forced to stick each of my index fingers into my ears and start singing Margaritaville in an attempt to seek some relief. This tactic provides quite an effective block to his whining, unless I happen to me in the middle of Walmart buying groceries. In such a situation people tend to stare, grab their small children, and give me a wide berth.

Anyone even faintly familiar with my dislike of shopping in general would be correct in assuming I have been sorely tempted to use such a tactic in the crowded grocery suburbanite stores that surround me. Far too often, I have run the aisles of the local grocery stores looking for some obscure item only to finally locate it but have two middle-aged WASP chicks blocking my access while intensely discussing some horrible aspect of their comfortable American lives. Fortunately, I possess the barest minimum in commonsense that prevents me from ever using such an approach. But, I digress.

Now understand my family and I do enjoy a comfortable American middleclass lifestyle but we are not awash in money. Making matters worse like other teenage boys my son’s tastes in cars has leaned towards unreasonable sports cars and curiously enough certain brands of SUV’s. His desire for a sports car is logical and to give my son credit he understands when my wife and I explained to him how a snowball has a better chance spending a day in hell than he does of owning a Mitsubishi Eclipses while he lives with us. Now we do own a 2004 Honda CRV and have offered to let him buy it from us for a very, very cheap price but while he has a fascination with the Jeep Cherokee model of SUV he turns his nose up at our offer. He would rather own a junkie, used sedan than a well-maintained SUV that even now sits in our garage.

This has created something of an impasse, which has forced each person involved into a defacto agreement that when Spoilboy saved up enough money or got a job we would then go buy him a car. Over the intervening months Spoilboy was inching ever closer to saving up the required amount of money purchase one doing chores around the house and small jobs like tutoring and teaching basic piano to a couple of kids. Of course, he was also looking for some sort of real part-time job which until very recently had proved fruitless.

Now we are almost caught up to the present day but I have one more little item of essential information to drop. I learned the week before last that Spoilboy had gone on a shopping spree with a large portion of his car nest egg buying what amounted to a load of crap. While this development did not put him completely back at square one it did extend the time for which he would be required to toll in near servitude here at the house unless some new factor presented itself.

This new factor appeared last Wednesday with the call from one of the local fast-food joints that my son now had a job. That night I sang to the stars and danced a funny little jig that my blessed son had entered the ranks of working stiffs and had left the land of slackers. This milestone, while exceptionally joyous, did force the hand of my wife and I requiring us to go out yesterday and begin the process of buying Spoilboy a car.

Folks, the vast majority of my hair passed on to follicle heaven years ago and what I have left is just enough to make me look like an uglier and disgruntled version of the beloved  Albert Einstein. By all accounts given the humongous stress from yesterday, I should make the late Telly Savalas look like some unshaven hippie.

The first issue started just as soon as I walked in the door Friday morning after working all night. After I left for work Thursday night Spoilboy and Dragonwife located a small Ford Ranger on Craig’s List that had low mileage, which they wanted me to call and get some more information about. Understand, I freely admit I have a significant Southern accent but this guy made me sound like a New York Yankee. As best I could, I followed his directions but ended up in some serious “Deliverance” country before giving up and turning around to take care of a few, much delayed personal errands.

Matters were only made worse when I arrived back at the house and had a very late brainstorm to look up the advertisement myself on Craig’s List and found a second number to call along with an actual street address as to the location of the small, rural used car dealership. Calling this second number connected me to a more understandable person who described the truck well enough to give me the idea that even I wanted to see it.

Time was the biggest issue by then, both Spoilboy and his sister Darth Wiggles would soon be home soon, so I had to wait for them. I am sure you can guess that by the time we made it to this backcountry used car lot the Ford Ranger had sold. Spoilboy was understandably disappointed, to the point his frustration was showing and my maximum irritation level was being reached.

The next segment of this quest came when we called Dragonwife on the cell who told us to drive all the way across Columbia and meet her at a Kia dealership. This was during rush hour traffic with me not having slept more than two hours. We arrived at the dealership to find the poor salesman that apparently approached my wife doing his best to climb up a light pole in an attempt to get away. Luckily, I was able to mediate the near hostage situation and get negotiations back on track.

Over the intervening two to three hours, the poor salesman jumped through many hoops while Dragonwife and I test drove several rather nice models. Now understand Dragonwife is an attorney and does not pass gas unless she reviews all the possible legal ramifications so when we were not on a test drive she was doing the financial and safety specification mumbo-jumbo dance with the salesman who was acting increasingly dizzy and disorientated.

Unfortunately, after everything we went through we did not buy a car, which tested Spoilboy to the extreme and required Dragonwife to mentally decompress for several hours from her legalistic frame of mind after we returned home. I on the other hand, grabbed several beers and fled upstairs seeking refuge from my son and wife.

This brings us to Saturday morning with all the relevant parties rested and me planning to buy a new bottle of tequila at some point. Everyone please say a word of prayer for my poor soul, as I sit here at the kitchen table pouring out my experiences I figure I will need all the help I can get today, at least until I get my bottle of tequila.