Friday, September 30, 2011

Being Boys

Boys never grow up. They do, however, grow old.

When not in the presence of a girl, boys of all ages are endlessly entertained and amused by poop stories and farts. They continue to exchange ‘your momma’ jokes with their buddies decades after they should have stopped. Really the only difference between an eight year old and a twenty-eight year old is the eight year old can’t buy his own video games yet.

Don’t believe me? I’m comfortably into my 30’s but in my department I’m the youngster, as my coworkers are all in their 40’s and 50’s. Just this week I busted out my atomic fart app (BOOM, iPhone!) at lunch and we giggled like school children all the way back to the office.

My wife still shoots me the same bewildered/disappointed ‘grow up’ look she did when we were seventeen. We call it her seminary look. We sat next to each other in seminary. I’d do things like read 1 Corinthians 13:34 for the opening devotional and hi five my buddy seated behind her before sitting down. The guys would laugh and the girls would get mad and I’d be quite proud of myself; that is until I caught a cold stare from the girl of my dreams (Neither of us are sure why she married me. I’m afraid to question it). Now I get that look for teaching our children that the Los Angeles Lakers are all criminals and would be in prison if they didn’t know how to play basketball (Again, I don’t question it).

There’s an old adage “You’re only as old as you feel”. Well that’s a lie because I feel I can relate to children and teenagers just as well today as I did when I was one. I don’t “feel” old, my joints and bones disagree. Getting out of bed in the morning is a symphony of cracks and pops; and not the good kind coming from a bowl of Rice Krispies.

I used to slam into people and the ground fifty times a day playing football and I’d pop right back up. Last week I hit the ground once during a rugby game and had serious concerns that my entire rib cage might have shattered from the inside. (For those over thirty, have you fallen recently? Try it and tell me how you feel.)

I used to be able to roll out of bed cold and play pickup basketball for hours. Now I’ve got to stretch for five minutes before going on a long walk.

I used to be out looking for something to do at 10:30 at night. Now if the phone rings after nine I worry somebody must be in jail or the hospital to be calling that late.

Here’s where the gap between my mentality and my reality get me in trouble. Occasionally I’ll run across a situation where either I believe I can still do something or I’m challenged by some young punk to prove I’ve still got it. Of course the mature thing to do is just let it go, but as we’ve established men and maturity are rarely simpatico.

Case in point: I was playing basketball with my nine year old son on our adjustable hoop in the front yard. We usually keep the rim at 8 ½ feet and on occasion, during our one on one games, I’ll show off my 6 inch vertical leap and dunk it (gotta show him whose boss). We decided that his jump shot had progressed to the point where raising the rim to 9 feet would be appropriate. He then commented “And also then you won’t be able to dunk.” Incredulously I replied “Pump the brakes there son, back in the day your old man could throw down. I can still get 9 feet.”

The ridiculous thing was not that I made such a claim or that I felt I had something to prove to my son. The most ridiculous part was that I actually believed I could do it. I’m 6’2 with my shoes on. I weigh two hundred and shut your mouth pounds. “Back in the day” when I could “throw down” was over ten years ago when I worked out or played basketball nearly every day.

There was no turning back though. I was committed. I stepped back, palmed the ball and sized up my objective. A shuffle of the feet and three bounds later I was ascending towards my goal with the ball at the end of my extended right arm. I got just high enough to slam the ball into the side of the rim. This sent a shockwave reverberating straight down my spine. Upon landing on the ground it felt as if a balloon had been inflated underneath my shoulder blade. Immediately I regretted the last 50 seconds of my life. The cherry on top of this crap Sundae was my son looking at me and saying, “Told you.”

I hung my head and went inside with more than just my pride hurting. I told my wife what I’d done and she looked at me and said, with all the patience and compassion you’d show a puppy that’d once again peed on the floor, “Why’d you do that?”

Because I’m a boy. That’s why.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mount Tough Guy

Everybody knows somebody who’s a tough guy. He grew up in your neighborhood or you went to school with him. These guys were not messed with except by somebody who didn’t know any better. That of course ends badly for the uninitiated. Tough guys earn their reputation, well, by being tough. Beyond their actions though, they’ve got to have the look. Their whole being suggests they are not to be trifled with and summoning a cold deadly stare is as natural to them as breathing.

Most people when pressed can provide a story they witnessed or a legend they’ve heard of the exploits of such a person. These local tales, however, are only fully appreciated by those who know them or know of them. These regional tough guys are impressive I’m sure but hardly household names.

Then there are the professional tough guys. Boxing, kickboxing, UFC and MMA are full of real life tough guys that get paid for their tough guyness (spell check tried to get me killed by autocorrecting that to gayness). Much more famous than their neighborhood counterparts but still marginalized to the circles of fanatics that follow them and their sport.

Of course there are far more fake tough guys in the world than true legit bad A’s. Hollywood is rife with fake tough guys. Acting is after all their job and some people are paid to “act” tough. Still these actors are better known than the previous groups and therefore the ideal field to choose my Mount Rushmore of Tough Guys from. So the task then is to find real tough guys who also act tough. Guys whose characters you wouldn’t want to cross and the actor who you wouldn’t want to confront when he finds out you left him off your tough guy monument.

Here’s a reminder of the Mount Rushmore scenario, say aliens land on our planet and we are not home, or humanity is forced underground for several hundred years and upon re-emerging are curious about us. There is really only one way to ensure that important information is preserved. Carve a monument on the face of a mountain and tuck the critical data in the hall of records behind it (in this case their films). With that said there is obviously limited space so here are my nominations.

Chuck Norris

Really you could just fill all four spots on the mountain with Chuck. J.J. “Lone Wolf” McQuade, Col. James Braddock, Major Scott McCoy and Ranger Cordell Walker. Done and done. But Carlos Ray Norris’ toughness extends far beyond the characters he plays.

He joined the Air Force right out of college and while stationed in Korea began studying martial arts. He earned a black belt in Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwan Do and became the Professional World Middleweight Karate Champion. He was undefeated from 1968 to 1974, when he retired. He was the first westerner to be awarded an eighth degree black belt. His good friend and student Steve McQueen, also a real life tough guy, convinced him to go into acting. His childhood idol? Tough guy patriarch John Wayne.

Just Google Chuck Norris and you’ll find hundreds of “facts” about him. His favorite, and mine, “Before the boogey man goes to bed he checks his closet for Chuck Norris”. Classic.

Signature move: Roundhouse kick

Tough Guy quotes (not that he needs them): “Sleep tight sucker.”, “My kind of trouble doesn’t take a vacation.”

Dwayne Johnson

The Rock! Is there a tougher name that one could be widely known by? I submit to you there is not. The People’s Champ, The most electrifying man in sports entertainment, The Brahma Bull, The Great One, The Rock! The Scorpion King, Beck, Sarge, Driver; not to mention Road Block in the upcoming G.I. Joe sequel. His career spanning from the WWE to the big screen is permeated by toughness (we’re looking the other way on the whole Disney phase).

The very sight of this 6’5 behemoth is the picture of intimation. He started off as an accomplished football player at the University of Miami, where he played on the ’91 national championship team. A back injury slowed his football career and pushed him towards the family business, professional wrestling. Descendant of a long line of pro wrestlers, sports entertainment was in his blood. The first ever seven-time World Champion, he raised the WWE to new heights before taking on Hollywood. He, like me, has a fear of spiders. Do you think that should disqualify him from the list? “IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK!!” The Rock will take you down Know Your Role Boulevard which is on the corner of Jabroni Drive and check you directly into the Smackdown Hotel! If you smell what The Rock is cooking!

Signature move: Rock Bottom

Tough guy quotes: “Just bring it!”, “Lay a smack down on your candy arse.”, “I’ll give you one more chance to shut your mouth.”, “God can’t save you from me.”

Bruce Willis

Really just Lieutenant John McClane and “Yippee-ki-yay mother $%@*&#!” is probably enough for me to justify him being on the list. Walter Bruce Willis, the son of an American soldier, was born in Germany and raised in New Jersey. After working as a private investigator and security for a nuclear power plant Willis pursued a career in acting. He’s played a slew of tough guys in addition to his most famous role in the Die Hard movies. He’s the only one on the list whose tough guy persona is almost entirely embodied in his on camera work.

With his shaved head and steely stare he personifies tough. When stacking him up against other Hollywood tough guys he won the “I don’t want him knocking on my door for being left off the list” competition. Willis will also very soon be linked to the above mentioned tough guys as he is currently filming G.I. Joe 2 with Dwayne Johnson (he'll be playing the original Joe) and Chuck Norris was recently added to the Expendables ensemble of tough guys that already includes Willis, for its sequel. Yay!

Signature move: Reluctantly saving the day.

Tough guy quotes (the ones I can print): “This is the '90s. You can't just walk up and slap a guy, you have to say something cool first.”, “I was born without a conscience.”, “After all we've been through, I'd hate to have to beat you to death.”, “You're gonna tell me what I wanna know, or I'm gonna beat you to death in your own house.”

Clint Eastwood

The very definition of tough guy. Eastwood came into this world at 11 lbs 6 oz. foreshadowing the larger than life figure he would become. Before going into acting he served in the military as an Army lifeguard and swim instructor. The Man With No Name, Dirty Harry, Josey Wales, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Kelly’s Heroes, Unforgiven (probably my all time favorite western) and Gran Torino. A truly impressive resume but he made the monument because even at age 81 there’s still nobody foolish enough to cross him.

This icon came up in macho western films but showed he’s a tough guy no matter what time period with characters like Harry Callahan and most recently Walt Kowalski.

Signature move: His scowl can stop a man’s heart. (It’s true)

Tough guy quotes: “Get three coffins ready.”, “My mistake. Four coffins…”, “God is not on our side because he hates idiots also.”, “You've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” “Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have f----- with? That's me.”

From Unforgiven alone: “That's right. I've killed women and children. I've killed just about everything that walks or crawled at one time or another. And I'm here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you did to Ned.”, “Any man don't wanna get killed better clear on out the back.”, “It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have.”, “All right, I'm coming out. Any man I see out there, I'm gonna shoot him. Any sumb*tch takes a shot at me, I'm not only gonna kill him, but I'm gonna kill his wife, all his friends, and burn his damn house down.”

P.S. This is what the end of the world looks like.

Friday, September 16, 2011


I am a scaredy cat. There I said it.

Fear of the dark, the boogey man, heights, needles, evil clowns, dentists, vegetables, spiders, Roseanne Barr; I’ve got it all. Of course as an adult I suppress my natural response to such things. I shamefully hide them and pretend they don’t affect me, but sadly they do.

One of my favorite traditions is hanging Christmas lights; that is until I have to climb on the roof. Then it turns into something resembling an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I get near the edge and I cling to the shingles like a capuchin monkey grips a banana, all the while doing my best James Stewart impersonation.

Speaking of Hitchcock, I can’t shower at a hotel/motel without being full of trepidation and I’m very suspicious of any and all large bird gatherings. (Good evening to you, sir! Good evening to YOU.)

My nightly bedtime routine is a sight to behold as well; I make my way around the house shutting off the lights and double checking all the doors. I purposely leave the closest light to my room on until last, not because I won’t be able to see in the dark but because I don’t want to be alone with the dark. I flip that last switch and haul buns around the corner before anything can get me.

And this paranoia is amplified when I’m home alone. I actually turn off the lamp simultaneously diving onto the bed superman style, so whatever’s under there can’t get me, and quickly pull the covers over me. That’s right my covers will protect me from whatever evil monstrous creature might be lurking in the dark.

That’s actually what prompted this little confession. I was lying in bed the other night on top of the covers because it was warm. My mind flashed to a character in a movie I’d recently seen (P.S. You are a jerk M. Night Shyamalan and you ruined King of Queens for me too). Afraid she may actually be in the now dark room I retracted both feet, which were hanging off the end of the bed, and tucked them under the sheets. (Much better)

What safeguard did this provide you ask? Why did I feel less threatened nestled safely under the shield of my cotton\poly protection? First, I don’t know. And second, shut up. I know it’s ridiculous but it did the trick.

As long as I can remember it’s been like this. It’s a chicken and the egg kind of deal (with me being the chicken of course). I don’t know if scary movies are the cause or if the movies perpetuate my pre-existing fears. In any case scary movies and I don’t get along.

With regret, all too often, I watch movies that have the potential to adversely affect my life. As a child I had a reoccurring nightmare about twin girls and a long hallway that I later learned was a scene from The Shining. I used to regularly go camping by myself. Thank you Blair Witch Project for putting an end to my solitary enjoyment of the great outdoors. My wood centric fears don’t stop there either. Even Disney screwed me over, forever ruining backward mirror writing and the name Karen.

Oh and forget about the ocean; I can’t even swim in a lake, a pond or a semi-murky pool without worrying about being eaten by a great white. (You hear that Spielberg?! I hope you’re happy.)

Do you have a predetermined plan of action for when you drive by a corn field at night? I do. I lock the doors and drive with a vengeance. If anything pops out of that corn and is hit by the car I’m not stopping to see if it’s okay. I’ll keep driving and I’m not looking back. No diminutive Amish looking kids are taking me out.

Unfortunately Mr. King’s personalized reign of terror also extends beyond film to one of his many literary works. I don’t tread anywhere near storm drains for fear of the children snatching clowns that live in them. “We all float down here Georgie.” [A chill just shot up my spine]

With Halloween right around the corner I’m all but assured a fresh opportunity to develop new irrationally charged mildly debilitating compulsions to be shamefully concealed in the company adults and children alike. Yay!

I’d ask for your phobias but I’m afraid of what you might say.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Close Encounter

Trust me, I know this will sound like a dream or like I’m making it up but this terrifying story is absolutely true. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if it hadn’t happened to me.

I found myself in a room, with only a fuzzy recollection of how I’d gotten there. The walls were plain and the environment sterile. Although I was alone I sensed it would not be for long. Surveying my surroundings I could see the room was lit almost entirely by artificial lighting.

Before I could move, the surface I was laying on began to rise from the floor. I felt a weight on my chest, like being restrained by a thousand blankets, but in place of alarm I felt oddly comforted. Out of nowhere an odd cylindrical device appeared hovering in front of me. It must have been examining me because it swept across my face from left to right emitting an unearthly buzz at certain intervolves and then as quickly as it came it disappeared and the weight lifted.

Alone again the foundation on which I rested descended back towards the floor. Just then I heard sounds of distress and anguish coming from the other side of the wall. Immediately they were almost completely drowned out by the sound of mechanical machinery. A wave of panic swept over me as I lay there helplessly wondering if whatever misfortune occurring in the adjacent cell was meant next for me.

Suddenly a blinding light emerged directly over me. Simultaneously, very calmly and silently, it entered the room from somewhere above and behind me. Its face was covered by a mask of some kind but from the genteel high tone of its voice I gathered that it was probably female.

She wasted no time setting to work on me. First she jammed a long probe into my mouth. I can only imagine it was with the design of extracting vital organs as a vacuum of some sort engaged and began to pull with great force. Somehow I remained calm. Not knowing what it wanted I wasn’t going to show any signs of weakness.

When attempts at extracting my organs through suction failed she moved on. Without word and without warning she plunged a metallic instrument into the open cavity where the first probe still remained. A sharp pointy apparatus whose sole purpose could only be for torture. Then the interrogation began; she questioned me about my family life, my occupation and inane details about the events of that day. Instinctually I began to speak before I could stop myself. Ashamed at how easily I had succumb to this clearly superior being, I tried to console myself that through the pain and torture my garbled words might not be understood.

As she continued to poke and scrape at the soft tissue in the recesses of my skull I wanted to cry out, to beg for mercy, to attempt to break free and run. “Why are you doing this to me?!” I thought. “What do you want from me?! Please, I beg you, let me go!” I had to steel myself against such thoughts for I knew from the tone of her voice that any such supplication would be met with cold indifference. Something that could remain so calm and even friendly while carrying out such unspeakable acts was no doubt past feeling. I gripped the sides of my support with white knuckled fury and desperately tried to remember happier times.

With a new probe she injected a liquidy substance down my throat. Surely this was some sort of advanced enhanced interrogation method akin to water boarding. I fought hard now gasping for air as I attempted not to swallow the liquid and bile filling my mouth. I found unexpected relief from the suction probe still actively engaged. Unwittingly it seemed that her multiple uses of torturous techniques were momentarily canceling each other out.

Finally another figure, her superior from what I could discern, entered the room. Eyes just as cold and empty as the last, this overlord perched opposite from my tormenter. Again the tone of its voice was friendly like the last only deeper, male perhaps. Calmly he produced a reflective sphere and slowly started to circumnavigate the interior of my mouth as if inspecting the work of my afflicter. When he was satisfied he got up and left.

I was then escorted down a long hallway and released into the marvelous light of day; a sight I feared I would never see again. I was free. I don’t know how long I had been held or why, all I knew was that it was over. It was only then I realized they had put something in my hand before liberating me. I looked down to see a card with a date on it, exactly six months from that day. Horror welled up inside of me at the thought of repeating this encounter in six short months. I immediately tried to block it from my mind with a vague inkling that I had previously repeated this exercise.

Believe me I know how this sounds. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. Please I implore you, not to dismiss this or scuff at my wild tale because one day soon it might be you.

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