Category Archives: Personal

Nothing Is The Same

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My 4-lb. book arrived today: “The Stand,” by Stephen King, the uncut edition. I’ve read it before, although the last time was many years ago. Given the backdrop of the lunacy of the superflu in the book, this book seems both macabre and appropriate.

It’s fitting on several levels. Most importantly, there’s a minor character in the book who shares my birth name. The Walking Dude kills him. After 53 years and 5 days, my footprint on this world isn’t much more lasting. My greatest achievement has been to avoid the certain path that my upbringing imprinted on me.

When I opened the packaging imprisoning the book, I handed it to my wife, saying, “It might be the last book I ever read.”

“Don’t say that!” she chided, even as the weight of it surprised her.

Like everyone else, we both knew that it could indeed be the last book I buy. I said it in humor, an absent-minded quip, motivated mostly by its length.

We may have all passed innumerable and unseen last experiences.

It’s always been this way.

The difference today is that few of us can keep the curtain closed  – or our furrowed brow of concern camouflaged behind busy lives. It’s the pace of our previous lives that kept us from sitting in silent concern.

For many, the whirlwind is subsiding, leaving the evidence of unexamined lives and unappreciated pleasures.

The Stand ended with victory for the world,  as it continued on.

Nothing was the same.

And so it will be for us, if we are lucky.

 

Harp’s Violin

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One of the surprise Xmas gifts I bought Dawn was a tiny violin for her to play when her mom and sister whine.

My wife and I went to the Gutensohn Harps yesterday. Our main purpose was groceries. We ate lunch from the delicious deli bar upfront. The food was amazing. As always, we took a minute to cry and complain about the disparity of quality, selection, and presentation between Gutensohn and the store over by our house. I could hear tiny violins playing in the background as I whined. Harps, if you’re reading this, I’m asking you to replace the entire store in east Springdale. After I ate, I found the manager and heaped praise on her for the incredible store.

I have only so many tears to cry. I may need to take Dawn’s tiny violin to the grocery store with me from now on.

An Echo of September

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In early September 2017, I had an issue with an angry driver as I walked along Friendship Road. I wrote about it back then. Luckily, nothing happened that couldn’t be taken back, mostly because I blew it off instead of escalating it. I had an escape route planned, one involving a precarious run through the brush.

The driver was in a distinctive red and white vehicle with antique plates. He thought I was Latino. My instincts told me he’d probably done some fairly aggressive or harmful things to others over the years. People like that tend to until they’re forced to stop.

The picture is of the beautiful curve in the road where I was accosted. Until this week, when I walked there, I wondered where the idiot was.

Over the years, I’ve kept my eye out for that racist lunatic. I’ve walked hundreds of miles without unluckily crossing paths with him again.

The timing was a bit coincidental for me this week as I recalled the incident.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about another road rage incident a couple of weeks ago. It involved a distinctive vehicle with vanity plates that made it crazily easy to identify. I wrote that knowing I could find out who it was strangely comforting to me. I wouldn’t want to be the angry gentleman who hit the back of my car on purpose, knowing that my victim could find me in about thirty seconds.

My post earlier this week happened independently of my discovery of the other road-rager near my house. Eerily, the two drivers look amazingly similar.

As I drove home this week on a cold, rainy afternoon, I was listening to Trump on NPR, not paying close attention to anything specifically. I’ve driven the route a few hundred times in the last four years. I casually looked to the right and almost hit the brakes. I slowed to a crawl after checking for traffic behind me. The vehicle from 2017 was sitting in plain view off the main road. It’s a distinctive vehicle. There was no doubt it was the same one.

I wondered if the man who had assaulted me three years ago would be amused if I stopped and knocked on his door. He wouldn’t remember me. He’s undoubtedly victimized many people who’ve had the misfortune of crossing his path. Should I speak Spanish to him to trigger his racism? All that time ago, he seemed to hyper-focus on my perceived “Latino-ness.”

Instead, I drove by. I laughed. Perhaps a bit maniacally.

This morning, I looked up his address, his house, his name, his picture, his life, and his ancestors. He would be very uncomfortable to know that a random encounter and his racism from three years ago could have aligned with an entirely accidental recognition of his vehicle.

Don’t be alarmed that I took the time to find out who he was. It’s one of the few things I do alarmingly well. Luckily for the guilty, it is the mystery and curiosity that drives me, rather than a desire for justice or revenge. Unlike both those angry white men might do, especially if they could do so in secrecy, I wouldn’t inflict harm on them for their stupidity.

As I read about his ancestors, I wondered what is wrong for him. I wondered if anyone else in his family knows that he lets his prejudice run free as he drives around. His wife has a mutual friend with me on social media. It’s a small world.

His, a small mind.

The Realtor Who Also Owned the Road

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This is a dumb little anecdote about something that happened to me after work a few weeks ago. I mentioned something had happened to my wife but didn’t want to talk about it. Yes, it was a crime. I chose not to call witnesses though, so I don’t think it counts.

After work, someone suffering from road rage attempted to perform his dark arts on me. I was first in line to make a right turn when I first encountered this gem of a person. The traffic coming from the left was obscured by buildings, a fence, and utility cabinets jutting out into my field of vision. Combined with people driving as if Doc Brown was counting on them to get the 1.21 Gigawatts needed to travel in time, these details make the intersection more unsafe than many. I’ve seen 5 or 6 great accidents at this intersection over the years. Because of this, I not only never go past the white ‘stop’ line on the pavement, but I also do not pull out to turn right until I am 100% certain that oncoming traffic has stopped. Invariably, there is at least one vehicle going 50+ mph through the red light. As a result, I get honked at every once in a while.

There’s rarely a day that someone doesn’t do something stupid and/or dangerous when

I’m coming home from work. (Sometimes, admittedly, it’s me!) Even though it’s hard to believe, I ignore them, even if they bring me to the brink of death or despair. If bacon hasn’t killed me, traffic probably won’t.

I pulled up to stop at the red light. Immediately, someone behind me hit their horn as if they were playing Family Feud with a hand that weighed fifteen pounds. I peered into my rearview mirror. The idiot blaring his horn was a white middle-aged man with whitish hair and beard. (Let’s face it: it’s almost always a man.) He was inarticulately shouting at me and giving me the finger. I ignored him and waited for the light. He hit the horn three more times in the four seconds it took for the light to change. Then he bumped me. Literally a bump. He was driving a truck. Because it was a low impact, I opted to just ignore the idiot. I’m not one to worry about the paint on my car. I didn’t feel like finding out exactly how stupid and irrational he might be by getting out of my vehicle. If he ran over me, I’m not sure my gut would clear the universal joint on the rear of the truck. Being dragged is no way to get from one place to the next.

I turned into the right-most lane, as required. I then indicated a lane change and moved to the left, as the right lane is reserved for a right-turn-only further up. Mr. Idiot hit his horn again. I looked back and realized that he had changed lanes and was right behind me. Because I’m averse to idiots, I went to the right again so that I could detour and get away from the idiot. Mr. Idiot blared his horn again and changed lanes. I couldn’t help but laugh. I could imagine his face turning beet red. Mr. Idiot gunned his truck and went around me. Because he is an idiot, he took a page from the Idiot’s guide and hit his brakes. Knowing he would do so, I’d already slowed down. He floored it and then came to a stop at the next light, behind a green Honda. As he did so, I changed lanes and stayed slightly behind his spot in traffic. His driver window was now down and he was flipping me off and gesticulating like a swarm of bees had attacked him. His horn was still blaring in time to an imaginary metronome based on anger. The light changed to green. It’s important to remember that my only crime to this point was stopping and waiting to make a turn until I could safely do so.

Much to my delight, the Honda didn’t move. I’m certain that the Honda driver was confused by being honked at repeatedly. I noted that Mr. Idiot had a Realtor vanity plate as I passed, as well at two bumper stickers. I hoped that the green Honda would now be the focus of this Realtor nutcase.

At the next light, I heard the horn again. Mr. Idiot had ignored the must-turn lane and forced his way back to the lane I was in, several cars ahead of him. I could only assume he was late for his penis-enhancement surgery. I went back to the right lane, behind a slower car. I knew that Mr. Idiot was going to catch up to me. I couldn’t wait to hear what poetry he might recite in my direction. As he pulled up, I looked to my right, away from him. I had already turned up NPR to an ear-splitting volume in my car. Terry Gross had never played so loudly. I couldn’t hear a word he said. After a few seconds, he gunned it. As he did so, I quickly made a right turn at the next intersection. He had no means of getting back to me without killing several people.

I knew he was a nutcase. On a hunch, I drove down the road and pulled into one of the business parking lots there. I walked over to the edge of the lot and sat on one of the utility cabinets. Within two minutes, Mr. Idiot came roaring up the road. I knew that he would turn around and try to find me. He passed me going at least 60 mph. I waved as he passed, as I felt like I owed him the chance to recognize me sitting there. He didn’t acknowledge me. Note: the speed limit where he was exceeding 60 mph was half of that.

We might have been friends, if he hadn’t been such a douche in a god-awful hurry.

Apart from the vanity plate, he had two bumper stickers on his truck, neither of which surprised me, given his general attitude. You’d think he’d stop and consider that his vanity plate makes him extraordinarily easy to track.
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P.S. There’s no point in telling me I should have called the police, or stopped to get his information when he bumped me. It’s a waste of time and effort on multiple levels. In my defense, I wasn’t angry. I thought about wasting my time and the police’s time by reporting the crime. Instead, I noted the license and make and model of the truck and laughed. It’s enough to know that I could track him down if I were so inclined. Someday when I’m motivated, I’ll write a letter to let him know that he needs help. I’m certain that he’ll appreciate the concern.

He doesn’t know who I am – but I know he is. And that’s enough for me.

 

 

Avoidance, Part Two

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As with the post two days ago, this is personal. Don’t gatekeep me or question my motives. It’s my story to tell. Although it happens with less frequency now, I remind anyone with gatekeeping tendencies that such criticism reflects on those doing it rather than those accused by them. (Gatekeeping arises either from silencing behavior or apparent superiority, neither of which reflects well on those doing it.)

I wrote a post about my personal take on struggling with someone prone to alcoholism. Anticipating tsk-tsking, I expected a bit of passive-aggressive blowback, along with a few people surprising me by sharing something personal. It surprised me to see that several people shared their own personal stories in the ways they did. Some wrote in the comments, while some shared with me in other ways. Those who commented on the post itself would be astonished to read the range and emotion of those who wrote me privately. Alcoholism and addiction have ruined a lot of lives, most families, and destroyed the possibility of relationships among those around them. Alcoholics and addicts are ghosts who haunt us, whether they are dead or alive.

We’re wasting a lot of our time with this issue. Time wasted on those who won’t help themselves or each other is time we can’t recoup. In an ideal world, this is easy: if you need help, you get it until you’re better. Anything else tells us you’re not in control of your mind or life. Any of us can succumb to addiction. No matter who we are, we all need to get help, whether we are the addict or the person standing next to them. In my ideal world, society gives such help freely and for as long as needed.

No one escapes this. You can fool yourself if you want to. It’s your right. But the lingering effects of addiction stay inside those around the addict.

Conversely, it’s why we are so joyous when someone gets help and leaves addiction in the past. It reminds us of our frailty and also of our ability to live better lives. I could have easily drowned in addiction. No good person turns their nose up at someone who had the ability to rise above.

For every such post I write, I’m amazed at the depth of things all of us seem to share. One person surprised me with the depth of what she told me. Though I wasn’t seeking affirmation, she gave it to me and reciprocated by telling me that what I wrote needed to be written. The pathology of secrecy seems to have angered her as much as anything else. She identified with the crazy-making of being expected to pretend that her life wasn’t affected by a deep undercurrent of pathology. She’s like me; she needs to understand it and talk about it. Not everyone in her orbit sees it that way. That disparity angers her. We can talk about the weather if we need to fill the minutes of our lives. Doing so to exclude the more important and difficult conversations leaves only damaged people in its wake.

Another person who reached out failed to engage meaningfully with the gist of the post. It’s easy for me to judge why that happened. I’d probably be wrong. It’s not wrong for me to admit it disappointed me and rang a broken gong in me to have it sidestepped. She has the power to reach out and heal herself and many people. It’s her story to tell – or not, though. I don’t know how she manages. I would have lost my mind already. I’m hypocritical about my opinions on this. It’s not cut-and-dry.

Most people interacting with me, especially those who did so privately, insist that the only way to live a good life in the shadow of angry alcoholism is to save oneself when they angrily fight the world to continue their addiction. All universally insist that the pathology of such alcoholism ruins everyone who tries to mitigate the effects instead of fleeing it. One woman compared it to domestic abuse and with the same consequences. Most males who are angry alcoholics are guilty of abuse. It’s no secret.

Interestingly, I think most saw the difference between an angry alcoholic and a garden-variety alcoholic or addict. While it might not be easy to put in words, it’s easy to recognize when you’re dealing with one.

A couple of people told me that they had to abandon everyone around the alcoholic too, even when they were close to them. They said that the enablers felt cornered and inevitably lashed out, too, in defense of their choices and their allegiance to the alcoholic, whether based on love, secrecy, shame, or necessity. One person told me she had to learn a new set of skills to deal with the manipulations, accusations, and fallout. Only talking to a therapist made her realize that she couldn’t rescue the alcoholic or those around him – and that she’d lose everything positive in her life and herself if she tried. She still misses someone she once shared much of her life with. Her old friend is still alive. She’s ruined and bitter, but still alive. She blames the world for her choices.

I’m hard-wired to cut out the danger of staying in the sphere of people who have demons they refuse to address. It’s a dance I’ve done several times, in large, looping cycles with different family members during my life. It took me most of my life to hit the wall with my mom. I’ve dealt with the backlash of other family members telling me the same tired “it’s your family” nonsense for my entire life. There’s no obligation to allow biology to demand allegiance that strangles me. It’s possible for everyone to live their own lives if they can release the pathological need to require obedience to family. (The same family that damaged you.)

When I was younger, I was fooled often by the demands toward family allegiance. I fought it. It is that very kind of groupthink, though, that enables families poisoned by shame or secrecy to perpetuate it. If we demanded authenticity and open discussion of everyone in our lives, family included, none of this nonsense would survive very long. Our excuses would be outed immediately. Those who needed both intervention and accusation to get help would be forced into the sunlight quickly. We don’t do that. We whisper in the shadows and tolerate otherwise unacceptable abuse.

I’ve read hundreds of stories of people who’ve successfully burned their bridges. All of them say that the only way to succeed is to burn the bridge and stop looking at its remnants once it is gone. People will judge you in the best of circumstances.

I’m guilty of ignoring the necessity of consistency. As we get older, our lives become narrower and the number of people we’ve shared our lives with shrinks. I don’t know how others deal with knowing they’ve chosen to reduce their lives when people show they can’t behave like we need them to. It’s hard to excise a family member, no matter how other people might characterize your decision.

Until someone can be honest and bridge the gap between reality and fiction for me and I can stop being forced to roleplay, I will stay away again. I’ll work on my guilt. I’m not abandoning the alcoholic. Rather, it stops me from lashing out in anger because of the crazy-making. People had the ability to bridge the gap but chose not to. They’re just dealing with their lives in their own way. Those are their choices. I wish they chose otherwise. To me, it seems as if the alcoholic is still controlling all of us who don’t put our foot down, abandon secrecy, and live for those who aren’t reducing us.

I don’t want to be reduced anymore, or dreading a phone call or random, strange texts at all hours. That’s not joy. That’s disability. I’m messed up enough without feeling obligated to do this dance.

If I can’t tell reality from fiction, I’m out.

Continuing to let the shadow steal the minutes from my life is pure absurdity.

Avoidance

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This is a personal post. It’s not designed to anger or offend. These are just words, written imperfectly by me without a great deal of redaction, except to protect people’s privacy, even when such protection isn’t warranted. For the gatekeepers who inevitably say, “Don’t put that on social media,” it’s likely that you’ll continue reading, anyway. We’re all voyeurs. Surprisingly, our lives are amazingly similar, no matter what veneer we cast to cover our craziness.

On another note, I’m writing this as myself. It’s my story and one that is mine to tell. Anyone who feels they have the right to question the content or motive of what I share should probably put on a life jacket and then go find a lake to jump into.

It isn’t easy to engage meaningfully with someone if you can’t determine if they are connected to reality or not. With addicts and alcoholics, it can be an exhausting exercise in futility to invest your time and energy communicating with them. I’ve dealt with angry alcoholism all my life. I’m still terrible being myself around it – if that makes sense. It’s one of my most profound faults. I know that the only rational choice is to jump away from this type of addiction due to the short length of time we each have to live. Knowing and doing are opposite sides of the canyon for me. I get irritated with myself when I forget the lesson I’ve learned at least a dozen times.

Like most people, I happily find that my phone rings less often. When it does ring, I find myself dreading to know the identity of the caller. If there’s a voicemail, I don’t even listen to it, all due to one caller. The stupidity of it all is disheartening. I don’t want to dread the call.

While it might be an excuse I differentiate between garden variety alcoholism and angry alcoholism. The impacts of the two kinds yield staggeringly different results. I’ve struggled with an abnormal number of angry alcoholics and rarely had issues with the boring ones. I suspect that most people know exactly what I mean, even if they can’t put it into sensible words.

The truth? I can’t stand angry alcoholics. They give regular alcoholics a bad name. Am I kidding? No, not really. I owe it all to the angry alcoholics of my youth. Each subsequent angry alcoholic stupidly things he or she has magically figured out something new or that he or she has everyone fooled.

If you don’t have a daily connection to the world around an alcoholic, as is the case with many of our friends or relatives who are elsewhere, it’s especially difficult to navigate the pitfalls of maintaining a real connection. We all recognize that we lose touch with the essential part of someone’s life and personality in the best of circumstances. Illness or addiction further erodes our connections. You can forget the idea that you can peacefully navigate someone’s alcoholism AND discuss and address their addiction out in the open. You’re going to get burned.

I’ve learned that anyone who can openly discuss their addiction, previous or current, is probably going to do well in life. Those who demand silence are the worst kind of addict. They’ll ruin your life to avoid dealing with their issue.

The very nature of addiction demands secrecy. Once you see past the curtain that addiction demands, everything you see is infected by that peek.

I’ve found myself in that position. I can’t get past the inability to know if I’m dealing with someone communicating with me authentically.

An alcoholic put me in this position last year. Only by accident did I discover that he’d fabricated an elaborate and false narrative around almost all of his life. He’d lost his job, his health, and his ability to be rational. By accidentally comparing facts with a family member of his, the complex web of falsehoods collapsed. It was a confirmation and revelation, one which still makes me feel guilty; initially, it brought up the anger from a few years ago, when the same alcoholic almost caused me to have a literal nervous breakdown.

Those of us with self-doubt don’t respond well when guilt is thrown into the equation. Because of the malignancy of the alcoholic’s need to maintain the façade of normalcy, I even doubted what was plain to me – and my instincts, which have been honed by a lifetime of exposure to such behavior.

The revelations that erupted from the mess changed the way I looked at the last twenty years. It corrupted my memories of anything that happened since I was a child.

When I tried to force a confrontation to get past it, it went to a very dark place. It’s one that I haven’t pulled myself out of in regard to the alcoholic. I spoke in anger – and righteous anger at that. It sounds unfair to say it, but righteous anger in the face of that kind of behavior is the most human response possible.

After a while, another family member of the alcoholic who was my touchstone for the alcoholic’s reality told me that there was no upside to keeping me informed. While I understood the family member’s fatigue of the melodrama that resulted from the collision between reality and fiction, it robbed me of my ability to distinguish the truth. They stopped bridging the connection between us. The alcoholic used deceit and misdirection to avoid real conversations about the consequences of his addiction.

The result of this, however, is that it’s been almost insurmountable for me to talk to the alcoholic, which makes me feel even guiltier.

My upbringing has damaged my patience in dealing with such behavior. It’s easier to stay sane and balanced by avoiding the spectacle of addiction consequences.

If I talk to the alcoholic, I’ve no way to know which parts aren’t true. Given the huge disparity between this,truth and fiction that I discovered last year, I’m convinced I’m still being “had.” While I can talk to the alcoholic, it almost feels like roleplay – and I’m an actor forced to adopt the role that I’m crazy and that the alcoholic is normal.

It pisses me off.

My guilt with the recognition of the abhorrence I feel toward having fake conversations makes me immobile. I can’t call – and I can’t answer calls from the person.

I would love to write the person in question and have him write in return. That option, though, is not available for reasons that don’t make sense. The alcoholic can read and write as an incident involving my blog proved.

So, I can superficially engage while struggling with my guilt and distress, or I can continue avoiding contact. Given that the family member of the alcoholic probably doesn’t want to expose old wounds again, I’m left with terrible options. All of them diminish me and diminish the alcoholic.

Many people, like me, have lesser lives because we’re forced to exorcise people from our lives to live with any joy in our hearts.

It’s an imperfect world.

I sit. I wait. I dread.
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P.S. “Agreeing to things just to keep the peace is actually a trauma response. When you’re doing this you’re disrespecting your boundaries. No more making yourself uncomfortable for others to feel comfortable. You have control now. Use your voice. Take up space and use your voice.” – I close with these words because someone posted it on their social media around the time I was having the most difficulty with this issue. There’s no doubt that these words would evoke an anger response, for reasons that are complicated to explain.
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A Personal Story

 

 

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This is a personal story. It explains a sensation that infrequently overcomes me. Maybe you’ll find something interesting in it.

I’m re-watching “Breaking Bad.” When the episode “ABQ” came around, it hit me like an anvil, exactly as it had during the first watch. Not only is the episode one of the best television episodes ever made, but it also resonates with me like a gong. It’s not just the contrasting complexity of circumstances in the show; it’s the familiarity I feel when I observe people around me as they incorrectly calculate risk and probability. On a long enough timeline or with sufficiently strange variables, darn near anything is likely to happen to any of us on a given day.

On Saturday, Sept. 28th, 1991, around 11:30 a.m., a plane crashed on the trailer I lived in. I was inside, watching a movie, and attempting to forget the fact that I had called in for the first time from work that Saturday. Like Walter White, I was deep inside my own head until the pilot crashed. I too looked up toward a crisp blue sky, seeing a jacket and parachute slowly descending toward the ground. It was surreal, unnatural, and moments passed before I saw the plane, followed by the pilot dead at my feet.

Every time I mention the story of pilot Joe Frasca crashing and dying, someone new comes forward with a crazy tidbit to demonstrate how intertwined we all are.

Because I watched “ABQ” again, I now find myself looking up like an OCD sufferer. It happens every time that something drags me back 29 years ago. The urge will pass, as it always does.

The concentric, albeit hidden, circles that surround us also bind us.

One lingering effect of the plane crash back in 1991 reminds me of the bewildering complexity of probabilities. It’s why I look at lotteries a little differently than most people.

We’re all on the timeline. Sooner or later, it’s going to happen.

Whatever ‘it’ is, it is coming.

Ready or not, the anvil awaits.

Parking Lot Oscar Goes To…

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We stopped at Conway to eat. Interestingly, I had an interaction with a homeless man wrapped in a large, dirty blanket. He spoke with such a soft voice that I could barely hear him. I gave him $5. He reminded me so much of Omar from “The Wire.” As I waited for my wife to go to the restroom again, I watched the cashier take the bill from the young man and hold it aloft with the very tips of her fingers of her left hand. She didn’t realize that she was also making a very disgusted face as she did so. I’m not judging her. The young man didn’t either. He was laser-focused on getting something to eat. Whatever else was going on, his hunger was real.

After departing Conway, my wife and I had another conversation about being careful around people. Being a hypocrite, I ignored my advice several times already. I used to joke that someone beating me up might accidentally render me better looking.

I don’t worry about getting killed by a stranger, either. It’s obvious to everyone that pepperoni and Mexican food will be my assassins.

As my wife and I arrived at the hotel, we heard a car horn beep a few times. I didn’t see anyone. My wife thought it might have been directed toward us. In general, I ignore all horns until I have reason to believe they’re directed at me, such as the case when the hood of another car suddenly comes through my windshield. This behavior will serve me well, provided I survive to an older age.

On the third trip back to the car, I heard someone shouting. “Hey, you from Arkansas?” I heard a deep male voice shout but couldn’t discern from where it emanated.

I heard it again. As I walked toward the exterior of the hotel, a large man exited his car. Jokingly, I said, “Yes, can you tell by how dumb I sound?” He responded by saying he was from Arkansas, too, and proud of it. He couldn’t be a hog fan. It seemed odd. We were both in Arkansas.

The man had tears running down the right side of his face. He held out his right hand. In it, his driver’s license. My alarm bells rang like they might at a fancy wedding. He began to weave a tale about where he was from, his brother, a pastor, and his mom in a hospice home somewhere in what seemed to be at least two different places.

It’s important to note that in general, I’m a softie. There is an element of danger in these encounters. There are unicorns – cases in which the person truly needs a hand. Honestly, almost all of them are scams.

I gave no sign that I was aware of the long con unfolding in front of me.

As he talked, I already imagined his turn at the podium as he accepted his Oscar for Best Actor. He made Jennifer Love Hewitt look like an amateur as he spun his verbal gold to me.

I love a great scam if it’s creative and intricate. I consider it to be performance art.

He proceeded to tell me about his mom in hospice. He turned and said, “____, give me that envelope.” I didn’t catch his wife’s name. Until he said her name, I didn’t realize anyone was seated in the front passenger seat, despite it being fully light outside. I didn’t need to see proof of anything. His license had blown up the facade of his performance for me. I would have been a fool to cut his act short, however.

Nevertheless, his wife made an angry face and fished an envelope out of the console. The man reached inside the car to retrieve it. He opened it and then pulled out a letter that had seen much use. Across the top, it read “Hospice” something. He then mentioned his daughter in the car. I didn’t see her. His speech then went up three gears, and he recapped his initial spiel and fluffed it up with an additional fifty details. It was impeccable. It’s the best such rehearsed plea I’ve heard.

I got out my wallet and handed him a $20 bill. On a whim, I stepped toward him, very close, and reached out to him with my left hand. As his hand came up, I crossed my right hand over to shake his hand and gave him the bill. It’s difficult to describe, but the veneer of desperation he had on his face disappeared for a split second. I was watching his wife from the corner of my left eye. As I stepped toward her purported husband, her head swiveled rapidly toward me; her disinterest vanished as she seemed to go on high alert. In her defense, with my head freshly-cut, I do look like a skinhead weirdo. The reactions of them both convinced me they thought their scam was successful.

“I just wanted food, sir,” he said, even as the bill expertly vanished into his right front pocket.

I shook his hand and nodded. “Good luck on wherever you’re going and whatever you’re doing,” I told him. “I mean that.”

Before I even got back to my car, I looked back. Their vehicle was already disappearing around the backside of the hotel parking lot.

I don’t know how they’ll find him to let him know about his Oscar nomination.
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P.S. I hope his mom stops violating the laws of physics by being in multiple places simultaneously. Had it not been dangerous to bring up, I would have gladly critiqued his story for him so that he could adjust from the errors I caught and improve his act. Practice makes perfect.
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Cursed Crossed Crosswalk

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Due to a medical condition known as laziness, I didn’t take a bona fide pre-dawn walk this morning, as is my custom when I’m out of town.

I did take one later. It was coolly fresh and the riverwalk was mostly devoid of the pests otherwise identified as “other people.” It was divine. I listened to music and noted a few clever hiding places that homeless people had managed to find and use in the chilly weather.

Having miscalculated how far down I walked, I traversed an expanse of wet grass and exited onto a busy arterial street. Due to construction on the right, the entire swath of the sidewalk was gone.

Given that the road was marked with substantial 4-foot white letters, a series of bright white perpendicular lines, as well as signs on all sides indicating “Crosswalk” for both sides of traffic, I thought it would work like I’m accustomed to. The Indy 500 roar of engines proved me wrong. I waited. I waited some more. Because I’m brilliant, it dawned on me that I might have to dash to the middle and then proceed the remainder of the way if traffic abated. It was obvious no one was going to stop, despite the multitude of indicators they were supposed to.

I waited for a couple of minutes. As a considerable gap appeared ahead, I waited and stepped from the curb. Just as my foot hit the pavement, a car miraculously zoomed out of a parking lot on the left and took the right turn onto the arterial street, going at least 30 mph. It was very close when it popped out. The driver of the compact and ornately decorated Honda hit the horn and brakes. He came to a complete stop, a little inside both lanes.

As expected, his morning cup was filled with angst and cow manure. He opened the driver’s door and stepped out. He looked like his car if you can imagine what I mean. His hat was on backward. He, of course, wore a bright blue sports jersey advertising an unknown athlete.

“What the f you doing, man? This ain’t a crosswalk!” He seemed excited to see me – except for all the wrong reasons.

I pointed at the markings literally at my feet and then the diamond-shaped “Crosswalk” sign.

“Whatever. I got places to be. Get the f out of the road!” He started to get back in the car.

As he did, my mouth did what it does best: it overpowered me. I’m proud of it, though, if only because it didn’t get me killed this time.

“Jesus loves you!” I shouted.

“Yeah. And?” He asked. It was perfection.

“And everyone else thinks you’re an asshole!” I shouted as he stood there, shocked I had one-upped him.

Behind him, a driver honked his horn, which ratcheted up the man’s obvious anger issues. I hot-footed it across to the median as the Honda driver slammed his door and hit the gas, screeching away.

I’m going to miss him. Jesus misses him, too.

But really.

Everyone else assuredly thinks he’s an asshole.
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P.S. I’m glad this happened because it resulted in a great story. Plus, the Honda jerk will live forever on the internet. I sure hope he figures out what those strange lines on the pavement mean, though, if not those weird signs dotted along all the roads. It’ll save him some trouble.

Robin Hood of the Retailers, Version Aldi

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I’m not going to share the ‘why’ of my previous oath to avoid Aldi grocery stores. Suffice it to say that they earned my dislike. Unfortunately, I carried the prejudice forward for years. Once bitten, twice shy, at least for this guy. It’s for the same reason I don’t buy meat products at a Dollar General. Russian Roulette is a game I like to watch in action movies – not participate in when my gastronomical choices are at play.

Aldi has many fans. People like blood sausage, too, as well as watching baseball on television, so popularity doesn’t equate to sensible. The store chain does have a few things going for it. It’s like the “Frugal Hoosiers” made famous in the tv show “The Middle.” The chain does have the “Twice As Nice Guarantee.” I’ll take the expectation of a safe, quality product or my money back. You don’t have to sing and dance for me – just meet expectations. Anything else strikes me as a means to acknowledge that you’re cutting corners on a square house.

“There’s a sense of discovery at Aldi that you don’t find in a traditional grocery store,” say many fans.

Yeah, like discovering the off-brand version of the mustard I had to buy tastes like a chicken fart.

I don’t mind that an Aldi store doesn’t have staff answer the phone. I don’t need to talk to a head of lettuce before I shop. It’s stupid, though. Just my opinion. Any corporation which reduces a customer’s ability to interact isn’t customer-focused, no matter how prettily they paint such an arrangement.

Location quality varies, as is the case for many retailers. Even I often forget that it’s unwise to compare one location of a business with another. There’s too much volatility between managers, cleanliness, and adherence to quality standards. Sometimes, a great manager can rescue an otherwise failed store. The Kroger Superstore in Hot Springs, for example, is spectacular, while the Kroger in my original hometown is… not. One of the Springdale Neighborhood markets is operated as if it’s a psychological experiment geared to determine how much people hate themselves. Harps Foods is so inconsistent in quality that I’m still incredulous that the individual stores are operated by the same system. I dare anyone who visits the Gutensohn and Lowell locations to challenge me to a pie-eating contest to decide the truth of my opinion.

On a whim, I stopped at a local Aldi earlier in the year. I went home a different way, and Aldi was locationally convenient. It didn’t hurt that I had recently suffered blunt-force head trauma. I don’t know what came over me, but the urge to eat a bowl of fish aquarium pebbles and stop at Aldi penetrated my reptilian brainstem.

The smaller footprint of the stores and parking lots of an Aldi store make a trip less invasive than a similar trip to the airfields found at Walmart. The smaller footprint of the stores means you might not find everything you need, either. Like your sanity.

I didn’t have a quarter, so I did the hands-full shuffle. I found some interesting items. One of the items I bought was inedible. (No, I didn’t attempt to return it.) On the next visit, I had a quarter. I stuck it in the slot for the cart, and it literally stuck. None of the carts would come out. I went inside and waited a couple of minutes for an employee to make eye contact. I told them the cart corral was needing attention, and I couldn’t get a cart. Eye roll. “There’s no one to deal with it.” Back to checking. Aldi’s employees often must do multiple jobs simultaneously. It’s not their fault: it’s corporate’s fault. Like Walmart, they ‘save’ money by eliminating jobs. Many of those jobs lost would have allowed for attentive customer service and real-time listening when things go awry. I didn’t get irritated at the cashier.

I can only hope that this attitude of cost-cutting doesn’t one day find me in the O.R. needing a suture to sew up my own abdomen.

For my next trip to Aldi, I withdrew $20 from an ATM and then stopped by the car wash and made change for quarters. I drove back to Aldi and parked on the outer perimeter of the parking lot.

I then went to the cart corral nine times. Each time, I inserted a quarter and ‘rented’ a cart. I took each cart to the edge of the parking lot and used the nine carts to make a large arrow facing the store. I’m no Banksy, but I did feel a twinge of stupid pride when I finished my artwork with the shopping carts.

I then went back to the cart corral and took out ten more carts, one at a time, by paying a quarter. I left them loose to the left side of the return corral. Because I always carry white index cards, I left a card on the first few indicating, “Free Cart. Please leave loose.” People observed me doing all this but didn’t comment.

Was it petty? Yes. Worth it? Yes. I was also paying it forward, though, even as I entertained myself.

One of the women shopping exited the store and told me she had watched me assemble the arrow on the other end of the parking lot. “It’s stupid, isn’t it? Just hire a person and keep the store tidy.” Due to her appearance, I was sure she was going to scold me. Her face was pulled back so tight I could hear her ears yelling in pain. She was nice, in any case.

People saw the loose carts with the cards on them, and each smiled and grabbed their free cart.

I felt like Robin Hood of the Retailers.

Imagine. Free carts, with each of us leaving them for the next person. Like a typical store not corraling us into doing their jobs for them.

If I can enter a store and not worry about expired food or being unable to shop easily, I’ll pay for the entirely reasonable expectation of a normal shopping experience.

When people ask me, “What do you like best about Aldi,” the only thing I can tell them is, “I don’t have to go there.” The second-best thing is, of course, the feeling of walking out of one of them.

If I have to choose between Aldi and Walmart, I’ll choose a lobotomy.

If I make the mistake of going to Aldi again, I plan to take 500 quarters with me. I’ll let you imagine what I might do with such a quantity of quarters.
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P.S. If you’re a fan of Aldi, I’m not worried about you reading all of this. It’s a lot of words.
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