No matter how comfortable you are, if you wake up needing to go to the bathroom, you should go immediately. (Get out of bed first, though!) Additionally, as you age, the likelihood that you will misjudge your capacity to navigate the delicate balance of comfort versus biology increases exponentially. Young people read this and think it’s stupid. Older people read this and say, “Genius!” The difference between those two perspectives is experience.
Such a facile word, one rapid syllable. It is supposed to mean “expressing discomfort, surprise, or dismay.” Generally, it also is used to convey a gut-punch or calamity. A recent copyright dispute brought up the previous and singular connotation for the word.
As happens in life, the word transitioned for me without my recognizing it. It was an incremental change until the lever sprung, and it suddenly acquired a different meaning, much in the same way you peer into the eyes of someone you’ve known and see a depth that you’d skirted around unknowingly.
Oof: a sudden emotional reaction, usually characterized by intense pleasure or divination.
The word now carries a paralyzing and gossamer overtone for me.
I’ll ask you to whisper the word internally, in a quiet moment. Find a place, person, or time in your guarded heart of memories and say the word as you vividly remember it. If you pay homage sufficiently, you’ll be able to see “oof” in the same way.
The word is mine now.
It is shorthand for the unuttered but not unfelt contagion of bliss or glimpse of what lies beneath.
I have been advised that Werther’s Original candy is, in fact, catnip for a divorcée.
This is otherwise known as “The Ashley Rule.”
“The bitterness of knowing the truth is that it is impossible to unknow.” The same idea has been expressed in many ways. I see “the truth hurts, but lies are worse” frequently on social media. Like all universal knowledge, it becomes fuzzy and self-referential the more you try to grasp it.
Knowledge changes us, even if we turn the recognition of it away from prying eyes or panic that it will change us. Whatever we are is already essentially invisible, leading us to hold close the changes we can’t share. In part, it explains why people suddenly seem to change; they trapped their truth until it couldn’t be contained. While the catalyst might have exploded in a single moment, the ability to reveal ourselves is frightening.
We learn something, we figure another thing out, or knowledge breaches our defenses. When we compare it to what we knew before, it’s inescapable that we’ve changed too. Whatever malleable ideas make us a person, a new insight either dents us or expands us.
For those of you who don’t know the agony of insight, it often results in paralysis. Whether you understand that something fundamental to you cannot be right or that you’ve spent time furthering people or a life that you didn’t seek, it is at once liberating and confining. If I were a betting man, I would predict that the postcovid world will shatter us as we wonder if our attention wasn’t in the wrong direction. I do hope it continues to break us of our obsession for things.
Some of my insights include the idea that if God exists, he cannot be an interventionist. Unseen dangers fly above and around us and narrowly miss us with ridiculous frequency regardless of who we are or our accomplishments. That youth and health are no more a guarantee of a long life than any other factor. That certainty of the world or myself is the surest sign I am about to reminded that I am ignorant of both. That love is the glue that both expands and contracts.
Of all my insights, I think the one that traps us most might be that we are indoctrinated into the false promise of security by the right choices. It’s possible to make only the right choices and still fail – or be unhappy. It’s a bitter truth. With the finite number of breaths I was given, how could I possibly know what would lead me to a satisfied life? Not one without agony, because such lives are absent.
I find myself inside the pinball machine, bouncing from one reaction to the next – even as the tally of my remaining steps allotted to me fades. Because we’re human, I suspect you also often look out into the world and deeply feel the disparity between who you are and your place in it.
I have no answers. As I’ve aged, I’ve been glad to see that so many people have admitted that they are struggling for meaning and unsure of themselves. Those who seemed to have surety and confidence often are better at distraction or demeanor. A few years ago, I told a graduate that “the secret to life is most of us are winging it.” His dad, though a brilliant man, told me, “He is not ready for that certainty.”
With love comes turmoil. With life, hardness.
As late as yesterday, someone told me to “choose your hard.”
Yet, I dance with paralysis and truth.
“Truth is written in the dirt.” – X
Although similar thoughts have passed through my porous brain over the years, I admit that the “Brooklyn 99” episode with Gina forced me to laugh out loud. I’ve said “blank” or “unintelligible mumble” in the past. Gina’s use of “redacted” was funnier, perhaps in part to the fact that not everyone would use the word in everyday conversation.
Have something you’d like to say but not say it? Want to curse but can’t? Have something potentially offensive? “Redacted” is your word.
In much the same way that saying “Karl” (from “Sling Blade”) denotes sharing a deep feeling for me, I find “redacted” increasingly serving in that capacity, too.
I made a gif to commemorate the word’s increased usage in my private vocabulary.
No exceptions are permitted for location or bystanders, either. Yes, that includes church, work, or whether the Pope is sitting on your couch.
“As sorry as I was to hear of my brother’s passing, I’ll bet the news bothered him a LOT more.” – X
There’s a considerable risk in people misunderstanding you on a good day. Many of us tend to judge others with the worst possible filter. I’ve found that good people can understand and appreciate contradictory and sublime behavior. Those who don’t just aren’t my people. Old age and experience, if we’re lucky, gives us more latitude in recognizing this.
The greater danger is people hearing what you actually said, and you having no defensible context to mitigate it. So much of life is context, and much of that isn’t immediately explainable. “You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” is a cliché for a reason.
The joke that started this post? I’m sure people can and will get angry if they choose to. They’ll claim I wrote it as an insult to Mike. It’s not. He would laugh his ass off reading that joke. About one hundred times over the years, I threw one of Woody Allen’s jokes at him: “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Years later, I threw in another one: “My relationship with death remains the same,” he said. “I’m strongly against it.” When Mike and I were young, we both read “Death Knocks,” a story (turned play) by Woody Allen. It was a sometimes topic of hilarity, even though Mike did not like Woody Allen as he grew older. Mike and I both made many bargains with imaginary devils and deities when we were young.
Only those who can imagine hiding in the space between the bed and the wall in the dark and waiting for a parent to come for them in a drunken rage might be able to understand the connection between bargaining and gallows humor. I have a list of stories about these incidents, and some of them surprise me by being funny. If you’ve read my blog, you can see that I’ve largely refrained from identifying some of my family by name. Despite this, I still infrequently find myself at the receiving end of hateful criticism.
When we lived at City View Trailer Park in Springdale, Mike swallowed an incredible amount of tobacco juice. Several of us had played and fought down at the retched pond that once stood at the end of City View. Mike spent much of his time between punches proudly with a mouthful of tobacco. He puked violently on the floor for what seemed like a full minute. That black juice stained the purple carpet deeply. No amount of cleaning could remove it. We’ll talk later about how someone thought purple carpet in a tinderbox trailer might look attractive. When the trailer burned, the stain obstinately remained. The carpet was dark, of course, but the underlying stain plainly stood out. Years later, when Mike and I spent the night at Mom and Dad’s house on Highway 49, Mike compared that stain to dealing with being helpless all those years, or nearly so. That was the same night we discovered that a nest of yellow jackets inhabited the other bedroom’s west-facing window. That’s a story for another day. As for the tobacco, despite attempts to make Mike stop, he dipped most of his adult life. I have at least three dozen pictures of him spitting into a bottle, cup, or a family member’s potted plant to prove it.
After Dad died, my cousin jimmy recommended that I watch a particular Billy Bob Thorton movie. Most people have never heard of “Daddy And Them.” You’ll be shocked if you take a look at how many stars joined this movie. Because it was set in Arkansas, it accurately grabs the absurdity of white trash living and wraps it in comedy. (A difficult feat.) After Jimmy twisted my arm and made me watch it, I did the same to Mike. In it was one of the jokes my brother and I shared as hilarious. Here’s the joke:
“Hey! Do you know what Dad would say if he were alive today?” One of us would reply, “No, what?” Dramatic pause. “Let me out!” With the last line, we scratch the air in front of us with both hands as if we were clawing our way out of the coffin. Last year, an Irish veteran stole the joke and shocked funeral attendees by having a pre-recorded tape of his voice shouting to be let out played during his service. Mike thought it was hilarious and an excellent way to separate the humorless from the good people in a crowd. “Can you imagine how tightly wound up Aunt Elsie’s panties would get if someone did that?” was part of his reply.
I have to say, though, that despite the immense teeth-gnashing my brother and I often shared, our deplorable and macabre sense of humor was unrivaled. Marines and serial killers alike cringed if they accidentally overheard our nonsense.
No matter what you’ve read and heard on sitcoms or dramas about the impossibility of confining an involuntary laugh at a funeral, my brother and I separately were a disaster; in combination, we probably deserved the death penalty. Some of the fault lies with my Dad. Even when he wasn’t drinking, he could say some of the most outrageous things devised by a human being. He once called the preacher a “co$$su$$er” in front of about 50 people just to get a leg up on him. In a twist of fate I’ve written about before, Dad and the preacher somehow became friends.
My brother Mike once unknowingly used an open mic at a funeral home in Brinkley to improvise a bit of comedy regarding our Grandma’s teeth. The funeral director sheepishly ran into the outer area to grab the mic from my brother and tell him that it was a ‘hot mic.’ It’s essential that you know that my Grandma was one of the two closest people I ever loved. Despite that, I laughed. I cannot think about that incident without losing a little bit of my soul to laughter. I’m convinced each chuckle puts me a foot further into purgatory.
There’s no greater or sublime pleasure having someone who is both smart and willing to go the extra mile for a laugh, joke, or smile – even if it burns down a few villages on the way there. I give Mike the win, though, because he could tell jokes that I wouldn’t. That’s saying a lot.
Not too many months ago, I sent my brother a collection of hand-written postcards, each with a joke from comedians we both loved. As with index cards in my back pocket, I’m also a fan of prestamped postcards for quick notes. Even while we were uneasily bickering, I wanted him to know that humor was still a big part of my life. (Even if I’m old, boring, wear a lot of black socks as leisurewear, and get too excited by an early buffet.)
Mike would see these words as a compliment.
Because of our relationship, I tend to expect someone to emerge with poison in their hearts to attempt to silence me for joking. Those who know me also know I’ve written multiple times about the fact that they have my permission to mock me to the end of the world when I’m gone, especially if it is funny or creative. Mike was not someone to pull back from a bastardly comment. The same quick and violent tongue he sometimes used to wound me also created some world-class humor. For everyone who knew Mike and watched him in action on solemn occasions, the Bobby Dean in him could not be confined or controlled. Trying to do so was just catnip for his enthusiasm to up the ante.
It’s not reasonable to accuse me of glossing over or attempting to sugarcoat Mike’s life. Equally so, I have to tip my hat when it is merited. Both of us emerged from childhood with a scorched-earth comedic streak. It probably saved us as many times as it caused us grief.
As it turns out, Mike was indeed there when death came for him. His birthday would have been November 1st, the day after Halloween. For some, it is All Souls Day. When I sat to finish Mike’s ancestry record, I noticed that his two children are the same age I was when our Dad died. Mike was 20,062 days old, the mentioning of which would irritate him due to my occasional reminder that I still keep a tab of how many days old I am.
My job is to remember the Mike who put a fish under the driver’s seat of my 1984 Oldsmobile in the middle of summer during a visit to Aunt Barbara’s. (Without telling me.) Or the Mike who read “Lord of The Rings” in almost one sitting back in the early 80s.
Please don’t fault me for taking refuge in contradictory stories about Mike. But if you do, I’ll accept that charge. Given the arc of my origins, I find this potential sin to be minuscule.
P.S. The word “acolate” is mine, one devised to denote eulogic remembrance, perhaps a day too late.
Reaching the age when you are looking through old photos and realizing that you are the only one in the picture still alive.
It truly comes for us all.
Because I’ve maintained my ancestry account for so long, I’ve had at least 20 instances where I realized that I needed to update someone’s life by posting their death. For several, I’ve not only been the first to do so, but the only one. In time, others often see a death marked with a ‘hint’ on their trees and borrow my initiative. I try to gather the enthusiasm as soon as possible to post all the pictures I have of the person who has died. I find it increasingly hard to imagine hoarding pictures from posterity; while I might possess a picture, I’m merely its custodian.
I can imagine what Paul Edgecombe from “The Green Mile” felt when he was cursed with long life. Part of the arrangement was that he had no choice but to witness the passing of everyone who shared his life. While I’m in my early 50s, I can feel the pain of someone who reaches 80.
Getting older presents us with more opportunities to hold the disparate ideas of bittersweet and melancholy simultaneously.
Because I love pictures and genealogy, the two hobbies often coalesce and focus my attention to the passing of people – as well as the infrequent but inescapable realization that the deaths accumulate behind me.
As the drive to pass along one’s bloodline and family name increases, so too does the unintended likelihood that many of the ancestors involved were adopted or the result of a union outside the official tree. AKA: The Macho Bloodline Conundrum.
Having worked with many family trees, I can say without hesitation that this is more likely to be the rule rather than the exception. Behavior and decisions were much more easily overlooked or concealed in the past; DNA has eliminated many of these variables, especially in the last 4 generations of family. Through the span of history, however, every family tree tends to have many dead limbs and invisible branches.
Earlier in the week, I was driving to work. My kayak was in the shop to have bullet holes repaired, and a nun stole my bicycle Sunday night. At 4 a.m., I typically see a lot of craziness, including what must be a fair share of inebriated drivers. They could be drunk, too. If you’re not keeping up here, you might be 3.2 sheets to the wind yourself. Before the last bend in the street to reach the roundabout, I noted a large commercial truck was coming toward me fast – and on the wrong side of the road. Instead of braking, I absentmindedly moved to the left/wrong lane. The truck passed me on the right, heading away from me. As I rounded the outer fringe of the roundabout, I noticed one of the stop signs was plastered flat again. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that I had switched to the wrong lane about 30 seconds before. I don’t worry about the police, as they typically are some of the worst drivers I see that early in the morning. I don’t blame them. What do you have to do wrong to get assigned traffic patrol at that hour?
Friday, my tire pressure system went bonkers again. (For my car – not my kayak.) I did the magical reset thing again with the hazard light. (This is true. For my car, you have to hit the hazard light rapidly with the key turned to an unfindable spot in the ignition. Weirdly, you then let a lot of air out of each tire in a clockwise motion as the horn honks for each tire. It sounds like a prank, doesn’t it?) I then drove around the block to normalize the sensor. Exiting the car, I realized that I drove around with my phone on the top of the car. I did the same thing a couple of years ago. Since I can’t remember one of the steps to do the magic pressure reset, I use the internet to look it up. For some reason, I instinctively leave my phone on top of the car, just as my ancestors must have done when crossing the prairies of the West.
My wife and I never use real butter. It’s not because we loathe cows, although we do. The last one we had insisted on standing on the coffee table while we tried to watch tv. The wife wanted to make something called Texas Sh#t Cake. Technically, it’s Texas Sheet Cake. Basically, it is 22 lbs. of what amounts to fudge instead of frosting. Legally, you can’t eat it unless you have full coverage dental insurance. The cake almost killed my mother-in-law, by the way. Strangely, it’s a funny story. I’ll bet she tells the story a bit differently than we do. A couple of days later, I surprised my wife by making baked sweet potatoes for her. I thought real butter would make the skins more palatable. And easier to eat. This doesn’t make sense anyway because she’s one of ‘those’ people who don’t eat the skins. She’d be a terrible cannibal, FYI. Even though I microwaved the butter for only 20 seconds, as soon as I pulled it out at eye level and removed the paper towel, the hunk of butter exploded, spraying butter onto my head, covering my glasses, as well as covering every inch of the available counters, cabinets, and floor as it sprayed. Somewhere, I heard a cow laughing at me. It took me forever to clean the kitchen. Luckily, I was wearing my reading glasses during the mishap.
Earlier in the day, I had to reach something over a pile of inaccessible supplies. Typically, I could be described as “stupidly clumsy.” During a typical day, I find myself climbing like I’m a jungle gym assembly tester. It’s just intrinsic to the insanity of what passes for a career. (Note: kids, stay in school unless it is welding school or rodeo clown school.) I was about 6 feet off the floor. I stepped off the side of a pallet of stuff onto a series of large boxes. As I soon discovered, they were literally large boxes with very little content. Just as happens in the I-fell-through-the-ceiling-from-the-attic fail videos, instead of stepping down a foot onto the top box, I crushed through at least 4 feet of empty space. I’m certain I made a long and quick series of nonsensical faces as I plummeted. I didn’t break anything if you’re worried about property damage. Until I took a shower and discovered that the soap burned, I didn’t know I left a piece of skin somewhere in that large box. Note: the pandemic has greatly worsened the safety of millions of workers. I’ll breathe a sigh of relief when we go back to a large, stifling bureaucracy to protect us. I’m not sure I can survive much longer, having an employer watch out for my best interests.
Thursday afternoon, I went to the store to get a cartful of delicious diet tonic water. Evidently, I’ve crossed the threshold into addiction. Since my mask usage proves my breath already smells like a dead hyena, I’ve decided that the sewage water aftertaste of diet tonic water doesn’t really detract from my overall personality. I did wonder why my wife insisted on a 12-foot long couch, though. As I rounded the aisle, I noted a flu shot table in the middle of the aisles, with an attentive nurse seated there. Near it, an older rough-looking gentleman was provoking his counterpart, seated in a wheelchair, to give his birthday already. He said, “Okay, it’s 1962.” Because I was in a great mood, I shouted, “1962? Jesus that’s old!” as I went by. Everyone looked at me – and then back to the man seated in the wheelchair. We all laughed. The only other option was for someone to shoot me. A few minutes later, as I was loading my cart full of diet tonic water, I saw the man roll by. “1962!” I hollered again. He laughed. When he was done, laughing, he laughed some more. I got him one more time near the registers. I’m certain he told that story later. As I was putting the 80 lbs of delicious diet tonic water in the car, a bag ripped, and one of the bottles rolled under the car. I searched for that bottle, even after backing my car away a bit (at risk of life and limb in that horrible parking lot.) I never found it. I can only imagine that someone picked it up with enthusiasm until they noted it was a bottle of diet tonic water. At that point, they probably cursed and hurled it like an insult at a slow waiter.
On the way out of the store, I stopped at one of those automated Lottery ticket checking devices. Of the 22 entries I had, none paid. Out of the last 34 tickets I’ve purchased, none have been winners. This is the longest losing streak I’ve ever had – unless you count the totality of my adult life. “This is so 2020!” I told myself as I crumpled the tickets and discarded them. “Hindsight is 20/20” is going to lose the publicity race and be replaced by “That is so 2020.” Sorry, Raven.
Also this week, I discovered another thing I could do well by not trying. I also rediscovered simultaneously that many people take themselves way too seriously. Holden Caulfield might call them a phony; I’d call them exasperating.
On a similar note, I played “crazy website snipe” a couple of days this week. Using the social media of a couple of genuinely deranged friends, I hid/blocked a torrent of stupidity forever. I can’t be the only person who notices that some people should have the ‘share’ option ripped from their fingers. Meanwhile, I watched a couple of people suffer from trolls and lesser people. Life’s too short and you’re making your cool friends irritated by tolerating the people you wouldn’t invite over for dinner, anyway.
Here’s a reminder, for those who need to know:
The Social Media Wisdom Observation
Say what you will about social media, but it has destroyed the mistaken urban legend that people get wiser as they get older.
We don’t get wiser; we get more sure, which tends to be a dangerous thing.
If you can’t drink diet tonic water, shout potentially hilarious and/or awkward things at strangers at the market, or drive on the wrong side of the road, my conclusion is that you shouldn’t be ice skating, either.