Category Archives: Personal

Slightly Embellished Story

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Someone close to one of the people who has vexed me most in later life wrote and lashed out at me with the phrase “Slightly Embellished Story,” stating that I write stories because I have a need to be a victim and relish the attention. I’ve written about this before and the ongoing likelihood that if you share your opinion and stories, even if they are completely yours to tell, people are going to use whatever tactics they can to knock you into silence. Or, worse, to question yourself.

I took some time to think about what I’d been told. While I didn’t let it pierce deeply, I did examine the implications. Only callous people disregard completely what they’ve been criticized for. We all go blind to our own foibles. I will admit that my brain glazes over when people scream or lash out in anger. I spent enough of my life around that sort of craziness. It’s almost totally absent from my day-to-day life. Those who don’t enjoy such lives simply can’t grasp how abnormal such anger is to most people living their lives.

In my case, I have grown so accustomed to this sort of manipulation that it works in reverse on me. I take a moment and consider what is really going on and what demons caused the person to write those words. In short, I’m appalled but fascinated. This sort of drama propels me to write MORE, not less.

Though the story is not mine to tell, I feel empathy for the person who wrote. They have lived a life diminished by things good people should not need to deal with, especially long term. They’ll never believe that I hoped for a long time that they’d find peace even if they had to build an entirely new life to do it. Gaslighting changes you fundamentally. Protecting secrets becomes an obligation. Ask any mental health professional about the consequences of being around addiction and pathology. We internalize what we cannot avoid.

Even as I write those words, I know I’m going to stumble and say and do stupid things. And I will also waste my remaining years making the same mistakes in the face of people who are not whole. I’ve been less than whole a few times in my own life.

One of the comments struck me as odd: “…you find a new audience to hear the same song/dance…” Which is weird as well as untrue. This blog, the one you’re reading. It’s been here since 2014. The previous blog on Blogger was there for several years before that. I imported some of the ancient ones here; some I edited and reposted later but many are in their original form. I don’t understand the criticism about my voice or stories “being new.” A decade of telling them doesn’t strike me as new.

This blog isn’t hidden. Anyone can read it. I used to allow open commenting. A couple of people with anger issues ruined that part for me.

I don’t post for secrecy. That’s a stupid argument to make. I post so that anyone interested can read what I have to say. It’s a one-way conversation. Unlike social media, no one has to even scroll past it.

Before that, I shared stories without embarrassment my entire adult life anywhere such outlets existed. Things happened to me that I didn’t choose. But I learned to embrace the hard things and talk about them.

If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ll read that I had a lot of family members who didn’t want to hear that we had some evil behavior in our family, didn’t want to hear that I had the right to change my name, and certainly didn’t want to be reminded of our right to choose our own paths.

All families are difficult. Being in one stuffed with alcoholics and abusers made learning to be independent of them difficult. We don’t start out understanding that people are scared of honesty or that someone might discover their dark secrets. They have to realize on their own that people know, anyway. It’s why if I get arrested or miraculously get a DWI, I will be the person saying so immediately on social media. Telling the secrets before they are outed robs them of their power. Most of it, anyway.

I never said I got it all right. In fact, I’ve said the opposite. One of my first blog posts was to point out that we are often wrong. Following that, I wrote a list of warnings about the dangers of writing anything down.

But I’ve been here, plugging away for more than a decade, telling the same stories that are mine to tell.

In 2014, I wrote another post about “Revisionists.” Even then, in 2014, I went through a period in which the haters almost silenced me. Several wrote and insisted that I was making so much of my story up. Years later, after DNA and research proved that countless stories of mine were true, they stopped trying to revise my life story.

As for the rest, I am a victim of some things. I’m certainly not a victim any longer, not for the most part. I don’t live a life full of drama, addiction, and secrets. My life isn’t perfect – but I have successfully reached a point now for several years when my sanity isn’t called into question. I continue to work to avoid people who can’t escape their lives.

Having said all that, that’s how this works: I write, you read. Or not.

If I’ve said something that you know is untrue, with the exception of those I asked to leave me alone, I’ll entertain any assertion that demonstrates how wrong I am. I don’t like to be wrong but I certainly hate to pretend to be right if I am not.

Otherwise, each of our lives is a Slightly Embellished Story.

Though the phrase was offered in anger, it did remind me to be wary of people. They are dangerous when wounded.

 

 

 

 

 

King of Kung Fools Rule

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The King of Kung Fools Rule: once you ask that someone leave you alone and not communicate with you, total silence is the only option. If you engage, you will be bogged down in a perpetual fight wherein you’ll be held into a perpetual account for exercising your right to be free of someone.

If you’re reading this, you should think of Carly Simon: “I bet you think this song is about you.” It’s not. It’s about me and about the lesson I have to learn over and over.

We watch in society as people with protective orders still deal with the people tormenting them. It’s incredible it requires that. Pathology drives people to ignore the wishes of other adults.

It’s hard. Believe me, I know. I’m a fool on my best day.

Despite what people at a distance from me might think, I’m a bigger fan of snark, wit, and pithiness than you’d imagine.

I don’t care what you have to say or what motivates you. If I’ve asked you to stop communicating with me, you can be sure that you’ve done or said something (or many things) that brought me to the decision. Even if I decided on the spur of the moment, it is still my right to do so.

Even though I’ve been on both sides of this issue when I was younger, I’ve learned repeatedly that when someone says, “Leave me alone,” you should leave them alone. No matter how you’re connected, whether you’re related, past friends, or any other relationship, real or imagined, when someone says “No,” it means “no.” Regardless of your past connection, an adult has the right to say “Enough is enough,” if not, “I’ll let you know when I’m ready.” Forcing a conversation when it is unwelcome is aggressive and indicates that you don’t understand that each person has the right to choose who, what, when, how, and where regarding their lives. Who they permit to interact with them is entirely their choice and not subject to veto.

Manipulators and abusers insist they have a right because of __________. (Fill in the blank with the most common nonsense abusers mention.) This insistence indicates either immaturity, anger, or pathological tendencies on their part. Do not engage further. No matter what explanation you provide, it won’t be good enough. They will move the goalposts, gaslight you, or avail themselves to the tactics that all manipulators attempt. The worst will misbehave by saying or doing things to provoke a reaction. These actions will escalate to horrific levels if you acknowledge them. Being kind to them won’t work. Being mean to them won’t work. Their insistence to have access to you is a warning sign that they need help.

Have I mentioned how terribly I have failed to follow my own realizations listed above? I am an expert in falling into the holes I’ve dug for myself.

If you do engage, they’ll eventually succeed in making you respond with anger. They’ll then triumphantly screech in mock horror (and glee) that you got angry. Your anger at their stupidity is normal. It’s a superpower to be able to ignore abuse like that.

My Mother was a Kung Fool like no other.

At each stage of my life that I exerted control, she’d enlist any available family member to guilt me into reconnecting. My love for her sometimes interfered. It was a long, exhausting cycle. Not too long before she died, I finally broke the bond. I’d had enough. I mean, really enough, not the ‘enough’ of ‘maybe I’ll change my mind later’ enough. I only talked to her again because my Aunt Barbara called me and told me she had stage 4 cancer. Even then, I felt like I violated every protective mechanism I had in place. This was especially true because I had another family that convinced me he was going to kill me. In my family, that sort of thing is discounted at your own peril.

Addressing the other common refrain: you’ll be called crazy, a liar, or heartless. (Or some other word you can find it an Abusers Thesaurus.) IF the other person is correct and I am demanding to be left alone because I’m mentally ill, irrational, or simply hateful, it still doesn’t change the fact that I’ve demanded to be left alone. IF you insist on continuing the attempt anyway, you become the problem. If I’m spouting off nonsense, let me continue to do so and the truth will find me. Even Obama made famous a saying to let fools do their own talking.

If you can’t let me, you’re afraid of my message and that becomes obvious to people watching.

If you’re the abuser or troll, once the word “Stop” or its equivalent reaches you, stop. If you can’t get help, because you have control and anger issues that need to be addressed.

So, again, I don’t want to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye, Dear Rug

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I have some unusual habits. For instance, I’m not a fan of a rug outside of the shower. Few people have good ones and others tend to smell odd. I’d rather clean the floor. Since the only product I use in the shower is a bar of soap, I don’t have the usual array of issues most people have in their bathrooms.

A few years ago, however, I spent a good deal of time making a personalized rug with dozens of pictures of people I know on it. It did cost a bit, but I wanted something personal and colorful. Once it arrived, I couldn’t bring myself to place it outside the shower, so I put in front of my bathroom sink.

A couple of people seemed unhappy that their faces were on a rug.  I promptly ignored them. If they couldn’t see the honor in having their faces emblazoned on a bathroom rug, I had nothing to say to them.

After years of faithful service, the rug has succumbed to hazy, indistinct detail. For that reason, I’m going to discard it.

I considered leaving it someplace, perhaps on a neighbor’s porch. It would be a great story if said neighbor recognized someone featured on the rug.

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I modified the famous bathroom scene from “Dumb and Dumber.” It’s on a 16X20 wood panel I had custom made. People are surprised when they use my bathroom and discover that it’s real. (See below for shower curtain explanation on the right…)

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This is my infamous Jesus/ Zach Galifianakis wood panel outside my bathroom. People often notice that something isn’t quite right about it but struggle to figure out exactly what.

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The above picture is the one I designed to be my shower curtain. It’s huge. I paid a bit for it to get it correctly sized. I still wonder what the tech who made it wondered as it was fabricated. I forget how odd it looks to be people who’ve never seen it. As with most of my other decorations, a lot of people think I’m joking about how I have things decorated.

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The above chalkboard is outside my bathroom. As you can see, it currently holds a drawing of my cat Güino my wife made. I added a Trump fart to the cat. That seems to be the only relevant news lately.

 

 

 

The Butterfield Story

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My Dad and Mom, sitting at the counter at Uncle Buck’s house. Between them, an “invaluable” Elvis whiskey decanter.

I didn’t put this story on social media. I don’t even like this story. It gave me no satisfaction in writing it.

This story has been idling in my folder of unsavory family lore for a long time. Recently, a person close to me was dealing with someone infected with the inability to see the damage their behavior had scattered across their family’s landscape. This story came to mind and wouldn’t relent. Some of us contain the seeds of our undoing. Barring a miracle from stopping growth, these seeds blossom and choke the beauty out of our lives.

This story, in some ways, is a biographical sequel to my Tontitown post a few weeks ago. The truth is that in the last few weeks, I’ve endured the ignorance, anger, and consequences of another life being snuffed out due to alcoholism. Anger, of course, is its sidekick all too often.

People sometimes point out that I seem to be uncluttered by my youth’s insanity. I often reply, “It comes and goes, depending on what I’m dealing with.” Writing about it is a catharsis for me. It helps me clarify and unmix things that most people think are better off unsaid.

“Don’t live in the past,” some say. “Talking about it won’t change it.” All of which is true in its way. It’s also true, though, that because some of my family members never processed the damage they carried, the demon of alcoholism found a comfortable home in them. They’ve damaged their families. Like dragons, they lie upon their accumulated secrets and scorch anyone who tries to venture close.

On a recent Sunday morning, I found myself finally confronting someone in my family with a plea for them to get help again. They responded in a way that is almost a trademark: with righteous anger, denial, misdirection, and lies. Reasonable people simply don’t lash out in uncontrolled anger, especially when their alleged accuser is being painted as nuts. It’s amazing that angry addicts don’t recognize this; they can’t help themselves.

I don’t know how much longer they might live. I know, however, that they have lost any chance of a meaningful legacy. No matter what else they’ve accomplished, their addiction will stain everything. I cannot reconcile the sheer stupidity of such a wasted life. Though my life might be outwardly devoid of accomplishments and honorific merit, I know that I’ve mostly succeeded in keeping the infection of my family legacy in check. The fact that I can even say this infuriates those in my family who can’t say the same.

And so, now that we are past the preamble…

My family fled the outer fringe of Tontitown after my mother discovered that Dad had been having an affair with his cousin’s widow. We lived with her at the time, following a fire that burned our trailer in Springdale. We moved from Tontitown to a half-length trailer on what is now Don Tyson Parkway. It was a backwater little forgotten and desolate place with several small trailers on it back in the early 80s. Before Don Tyson, it was a narrow dirt road. I drive by the remnants of the place almost daily. The trailer was tiny, much smaller than an average trailer. It was an ugly place but one which served its function of crowding poor people with no great alternatives together. At the time, no one could believe that my parents had decided to stay together. They fought constantly, and the little trailer served as a ring in which to contain their anger.

The evening had started with Mom bitterly screaming at Dad about sleeping around and not working enough. I can no longer recall the name Mom mentioned, but Dad had slept with a barfly since we’d moved. I do remember that it was at a place on 71 and Highland Avenue. Weirdly, Dad had briefly bartended there when we lived at City View before our trailer burned. Dad rarely remained faithful.

Dad was already drinking. Mom was committing the cardinal sin of pressing his buttons. I don’t remember who broke the first glass or dish, but soon a succession of objects was being hurled and shattered. I went into my tiny room but realized that I could be trapped there. I spent a great deal of my youth shoeless and tried to avoid shards in the soles of my feet.

I went back into the living room and saw that Dad had dragged Mom into the bedroom at the far end of the trailer. I watched as my Dad lifted a pistol and slammed it against my Mom’s face. Blood splattered across the edge of the bed, across my dad’s shirt, and my Mom. Mom had probably grabbed one of the many guns in the house. Dad often kept one under the mattress and the bed. She fell face-first onto the cheap floor.

Dad continued to use the gun to bludgeon her. I stood near the narrow hallway of the half-sized trailer. After the second bloody smashing sound, I ran through the front door, across the driveway, and toward Butterfield Coach Road. As had happened so many times previously, I assumed that this would be the night when someone would be murdered. While I can’t always be sure of my memory, my brother was with the Thibodeaux family not too far away and my sister was undoubtedly concocting some sinister plan in parts unknown. I stayed gone for hours. When I returned, the front door was open and neither vehicle was outside. I cautiously went inside and saw that nothing had been cleaned. Furniture was overturned and glass shards greeted me. Upon entering, the two tiny bedrooms for the kids were to the right, while the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and master bedroom followed to the end. I walked the length of the trailer, certain that I’d find someone dead there.

I can’t remember the next day. A few days later, I was at my Uncle Buck’s house with my cousin Jimmy. Uncle Buck and Dad were drinking, and my uncle told Dad he had to go back home and work it out. Dad just lit a Camel cigarette and said nothing. Later, my Mom and Aunt Ardith arrived. After Mom spent a few minutes screaming at dad, he said it wouldn’t happen again. Mom promised to kill dad if he laid a finger on her again. It was an oft-repeated threat. Dad insisted that he wasn’t going to drink for a while and certainly not to get drunk. Left unsaid was the idea that alcohol was to blame for the dark violence. My cousin Jimmy said what I was thinking: “One of them should kill the other one and get it over with.”

A few days later, Dad came home at a reasonable hour and ate his pan-prepared slab of meat. Mom often spent a great portion of her paycheck buying horrid pieces of meat for Dad to eat. She’d cook them in a cast-iron skillet or pan. I sat at the table, waiting for the coda of the other night’s savagery. Mom had bruises and cuts on her head, neck, shoulders, arms, and places unseen. I knew that her ribs were either broken or cracked. How Mom worked as a telephone operator all day without being able to take a full breath was a mystery. Given that she averaged six packs a day, maybe it wasn’t a surprise.

Dad kept looking at my mom, trying to make a connection. “I’m sorry,” he said, over and over. “You shouldn’t mouth off like that. My drinking isn’t hurting anyone.” Dad kept murmuring to mom. “You know I’m sorry, don’t you, son,” he asked me. “Yes sir,” I told him, unconcerned with the lie in the face of unknown consequences. I would have shot him in the face at that moment if I had a gun in my hand. I knew that he would respond with righteous anger soon enough. It was apparent he was not sorry and that he didn’t believe he had done anything wrong. His entire life stretched behind him; regret for his acts of violence and alcoholism seldom seemed genuine. He had killed someone and not altered his behavior. He’d beaten all of us with fists, bottles, and boots. Like most alcoholics, he also expected us to forgive him simply because he demanded it.

Friday, I came home and played my French Horn for an hour and read “The Lion, Witch, and The Wardrobe,” one of the C.S. Lewis books that kept me company. I don’t remember where my brother and sister were. Around 8, I heard screaming outside, followed by the familiar sound of car doors slamming. I jumped up and hit the on/off button of the small t.v. we had. As the front door opened, I heard another scream, this one no longer a test. Mom was screaming murder. Dad grabbed her by her hair and slammed her face into the metal door jamb. Blood squirted across the room. Dad kicked mom into the living room and then kept kicking her in the face, side, and legs.

“Don’t ever make me apologize again, you #$%$^ing @#$%! You’re the reason my life is shit!” Dad continued to scream similar obscenities as mom laid on the floor, covering her head and sobbing. “Help me,” mom yelled at me as if I could pull the gun from under the couch and shoot my Dad. The thought had crossed my mind several times. There were at least five loaded weapons under the sofa where I was.

He turned to me. “As for you, you fat fucking piece of shit, don’t you move.”

I sat on the couch. Dad opened the lower cabinet and pulled out a bottle of some lesser brand of whiskey. He opened it and drank at least 1/5 of the bottle without stopping.

Dad came back the short distance to the horrid living room and sat on mom’s back. He pulled her hair and lifted her head backward and continued punching her head. I was no more than three feet away. “I’m not sorry, you ^&*$%. I don’t have a drinking problem.”

He let her head hit the floor with a thud. Blood was on the floor, my Dad, and across the tops of my cheap K-Mart shoes. Dad got up and grabbed my French Horn in its case and walked over to the front door and threw it out into the night. He took my school library book and tore it in half and threw the pieces on me. As he threw the book on me, I peed myself. He went to take another drink of whiskey, and as he did so, I stood up and tried to gauge how to get outside. I knew that I was going to get a beating. Dad walked over, and instead of punching me, he kicked me with the bottom of his boot, knocking the air out of me and propelling me through the front door. I missed the steps entirely and hit the ground. Without hesitation, I ignored the pain and stumbled off into the dark. Dad stood in the doorway, holding his bottle of whiskey, calling out an obscenity toward me in the night.

Mom left him for a few days. She returned, of course.

A few weeks after that, Dad came home and found me playing my French Horn. It infuriated him that Mom wasn’t there. He wasn’t even drinking that night, not until after. Though I stopped playing as soon as I heard the rumble of the truck outside, Dad came inside the trailer and grabbed my instrument. Thankfully, he didn’t bend it. Instead, he held my hand on the top of the kitchen table and told me to keep it there. I thought he was going to get a knife and do the infamous fingertip jump trick with a knife. Surprising me, he swung a bottle of whiskey down on my middle and second finger. The only reason my fingers didn’t get broken was that his aim was off enough not to hit me directly. It was terrifying and painful. “I don’t want to hear you playing this faggot shit in my house! You hear me, boy?” The next time I was at Uncle Buck’s, I told him that Dad had tried to break my hand. He often asked me how band was going and if I was learning music. He was an accomplished musician himself and often tried to get me to switch to bass and guitar. Uncle Buck was livid. “Bobby Dean, if you ever do that again, I’ll see to it that the same gets done to you.” Dad just laughed. I wasn’t allowed to spend the night there that night. Even though Dad was drunk, he drove back home. He stopped near Tyson Elementary and grabbed me out of the bed of the truck and hit me until my head was ringing. “Don’t ever tell Buck anything again,” he shouted as he beat me. As I tried to climb into the back of the bed of the pickup truck, Dad punched me as hard as he could in the back. I felt that punch for weeks.

(The demand for secrecy is one of the surest and sickest signs of pathology when dealing with violent addicts.)

While Dad’s beatings were violent while he was drinking, I suffered worse during those times when he wasn’t drinking. I think those times more truly reflected the bottomlessness of his anger toward me and regarding his own life. Much of his adult life was preoccupied with his next drink. His drinking resulted in someone’s death, a death for which he was never held accountable.

Rinse, repeat.

Violence and anger are not the results of addiction; they are precursors that accompany its growth. They are symbiotic. They require that those around the person with the addiction be partners in the aggression.

The Hidden Blessing of 1974

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Before starting this story, I’d like to mention that a friend wrote to me two days ago to tell me about her memories of the area over by old Highway 68 and where the interstate now crosses 412. Because I didn’t get to see pictures of the area as I’d hoped, I had to rely mostly on my memory. I know that photo collections exist, but they aren’t publicly shared, which is a terrible fact to me. I’m the first to admit that I sometimes get a detail spectacularly wrong. My friend remembered the duplexes across the street, mainly because one of her best friend’s father owned them. I don’t remember the Afghan Hound breeder who lived nearby either, even though it sounds very familiar, like a half-forgotten dream. I enjoy the idea of my interconnectedness with people. We shared memories and places without realizing it. For her, the place I write about was full of interest and friendship. Truthfully, were I with other adults who cared for me, I would have discovered the same carefree love of the place. It was a beautiful area and one perfect for children with a bit of freedom and adventure on their minds.

This story isn’t exactly how I wanted it. Instead of worrying about the tone, mixed messages, or errors, I’m sharing it, just as I’ve shared anything else.

In one of my recent stories, I wrote about living where the interstate crosses Highway 412 now. We moved to Springdale after my 5th birthday; I don’t recall exactly when. I skipped kindergarten, though. Grandma made a cake for me for that birthday and my cousin Michael Wayne helped me demolish it. Had I known it would mark the end of my childhood, I would have escaped through the empty fields around us. We had lived in several places in Brinkley after Dad reunited with Mom. We lived in Wheatley because I remember being very sick on Xmas day. We lived past S. Grand until the house caught on fire. We also lived somewhere near the intersection of Pine and the main drag through Brinkley, as well off Highway 39 near the intersection of Highway 49. I’ve written before that we lived in more than a couple of dozen places as a family. I don’t count the other places or otherwise, the count would be up to forty.

After a couple of intervening places in Johnson and Springdale, we moved to a very small house owned by my cousin. As my Dad got a job at his shop, we lived close to where he would work.

48th street was a narrow pasture road to nowhere. Along the street were a couple of huge oak trees. Having spent a bit of time considering the details, the tallest one was definitely 70-80 feet tall. I could use the edge of a protruding gas pipe to lift myself up to the first horizontal branch. I loved that tree. Its branches were spaced almost perfectly for a reckless boy to climb them. Around 50 feet up, it took a bit of actual deathwish to get past a couple of the branches. I often used the tree as a refuge. The apple and pear trees were much thicker and harder to climb. The oak tree near the road also provided me with a bird’s eye view of a great deal of land. I was a better climber than my siblings, despite being more rotund at times and certainly less agile.

One evening, my family was at Goldie and Ellis’ house a bit further up the road toward the highway. By way of preface, my immediate family never played games together, unless you count hide-and-seek due to fear of actual death. We did not have “Family Nights.” Most of our social lives revolved around my Uncle Buck and his wife, Aunt Ardith. Uncle Buck was my Dad’s older brother. A few nights through the years, we went up to Goldie’s house and played board games at their table. I was completely out of my element. I didn’t know how to react. I certainly failed to understand how the two people playing the role of Mom and Dad could behave so shockingly different around other people. Because Goldie was the mother of my Dad’s boss and otherwise regarded as superior, expectations were different for her and her house. Given that these were never spelled out until after the fact, there were often misunderstandings. Misunderstandings involving children in my immediate family always resulted in physical violence while being shouted at incoherently; there was no discernible lesson nor clear tea leaves to read.

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This is a picture of Goldie on the left, with my Dad, Bobby Dean. It was taken while he worked for my cousin who owned the machine shop. The cousin also was one of the first Bobcat dealers.

Though it might strike you an incongruous, Dad loved Goldie in a way he couldn’t express to his own family. Goldie had experience with alcoholism due to her husband Ellis. Dad, even when not drinking, could demonstrate affection for Goldie in a way that confused me. In the case of his immediate family, familiarity did indeed breed contempt.

One of my favorite memories was one Friday or Saturday night when we were at Goldie’s playing Sorry!. It’s hard to believe that actually happened – that members of my family engaged in playing a board game. Our supper had been cut short due to Mom and Dad needing a drink before they went to Goldie’s house next door. Mom made some kind of horrible meat that night and nothing to go with it except bread. Since mustard sandwiches were a favorite of mine, I ignored the meat and made myself a mustard sandwich. For a reason that will never be known, this enraged my Dad. He back-handed me across the face and I fell to the floor. Everyone pretended I hadn’t just been smacked in the face. I waited a minute to determine if Dad was finished with his tirade. It was impossible to know. I ran outside and sat under one of the trees near the front of the trailer.

While we sat around Goldie’s kitchen table, Goldie asked me if I would like a bite of something. Goldie, being older, loved feeding children. I smiled and said, “Yes ma’am. Thanks!” She pointed toward the fridge and said, “Get yourself all you want.” I stood up and walked over to the fridge to open it.

I heard my mom say “Bobby Dean! Look at him!”

I knew my life was about to end but couldn’t determine why. I recognized that horrible and vengeful tone of my Mom’s voice. That tone was as hateful as any Nazi in WWII.

I froze.

Without understanding specifically, I was about to be punished for daring to open the fridge at someone’s house, even after being invited to do so. The truth is that my only real crime was having survived to that point and to be available for my parents to use me as a vessel on which to pour their enigmatic wrath.

Goldie said something I don’t remember. I’m sure it was similar to, “Bobby Dean, leave that boy alone. He’s just hungry and I invited him.” The tone of her voice as she spoke was filled with kindness and with the opposite of my Mom when she invoked Dad’s attention to me.

Behind me, I heard a chair scoot back and boots hit the floor. Just as I was about to wince, Dad grabbed me by the neck and pushed/dragged me outside. Since it was dark outside, I couldn’t imagine what I would be hit with. The answer was nothing. My dad grabbed me by the neck and top of my pants and picked me up and threw me off the end of the porch into the gravel of the driveway. It stunned me as I hit the gravel. I didn’t move. Dad threw me several feet into the air and across a decent distance. Even in pain, I knew that to play dead was my best option. Dad pulled a Camel from his shirt and lit it. He paced as he smoked. When he was done, he flicked the cigarette out into the dark without saying a word to me and went back inside. For all he knew, my neck had snapped when he threw me like a bag of trash.

I considered running and climbing the tree but knew the subsequent beating would only be worsened by my doing so.

I waited and sat on the bottom riser of the porch steps. A few minutes later, Goldie opened the door and said, “Come here, I have something for you.” I went to the door as she handed me a glass of tea and a piece of what turned out to be some kind of delicious cake. “Leave the glass out here when you’re done.” She smiled at me and went back inside.

I’m still at odds over how my parents handled our presence at other’s houses. Not that we had the opportunity very often, of course, but we were scared children who assumed that imaginary rules dictated our behavior. Regardless of how well-behaved we were, we still remained incredulous at some of the behavior of our parents. They could literally break the front door in anger on Friday night, while threatening to kill the host in a fit of anger, yet act as if wanting a soda was the same as defecating on the living room floor in front of all the guests. No matter what we did, punishment was likely. Growing older, it was a shock to realize that all of this resulted from a character flaw in both of my parents and actually had nothing to do with me as a child.

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A few days later, I was in the machine shop where Dad worked, waiting to see if he would assign some random and horrible work for me to try to do. With his mumbling, instructions were scarce at best. I’d take a furtive look around and steal a couple of sugar cubes from the coffee area. My cousin exited the shop floor where Dad was restoring another Chevy Cheyenne pickup. “Hey, how are you doing? Get you some sugar cubes if you want them.” He laughed. He knew I’d been pilfering the sugar cubes. He wouldn’t mind if ate one hundred of them provided he had some for his next cup of coffee.

Dad came into the office and lit a cigarette. “You can sweep the chat off the floor.” Miraculously, I understand his mumble. I went into the machine shop and grabbed a floor broom and starting pushing it. My right arm was killing me. The broom was a bit long for someone my height and the fact that my arm hurt made it cumbersome.

Dad and my cousin exited the office area and entered the expansive shop area where I was sweeping. My cousin good-naturedly said, “What’s the matter, did a girl whip your butt?” Because he was speaking to me in humor and kindness, I must have dropped my guard and lost all sense. “Nah, I got thrown off a porch.” I said it as a joke without any intent to bring up the incident at Goldie’s house.

Dad said something in anger. I knew he was coming for me and despite the fact that another adult was witness, I wasn’t sure I would survive. Acknowledging Dad’s violence, even in front of people who’d witnessed it a dozen times, was a crime punishable by excessive violence. When I watch shows wherein the villain threatens to kill all the hostages if the person says anything to the police, I find instant credibility in the storyline; it echoes perfectly the atmosphere of my Dad’s outlook.

I ran through the painting area in the back and out the back access where cars could be driven in and out to be sand-blasted, sanded, and painted. I never ran from Dad. Running always accelerated Dad’s timeline for violence. I didn’t look back. I ran to the left, turning where the walnut or pecan tree stood. (I can’t remember which it was. I should remember: it’s where I almost died and had an injury so bad I had almost 200 stitches in my head. That’s a story for another day) I ran across the expanse of yard and field, past the long garden toward the add-on attached to the back of the trailer. I turned to see Dad angrily striding across the grass. I ran around the end of the trailer and bee-lined it to my favorite tree. I climbed as high as I could possibly go. As comical as it sounds, I probably could have jumped and the top of my head would have popped through the top of that 70-80 foot tall tree.

A few minutes later, Dad stood at the bottom of the tree, screaming angrily at me. I pretended I couldn’t hear him. I wasn’t worried about him climbing as high as I was. I should have been. But that part comes later. Dad walked over toward the gravel to find rocks. He picked up a few larger ones and began to throw them as hard and high as he could in an attempt to hit me. To be honest, I know he was hoping to hit me. If I had fallen, he would have justified it easily as a case of a disobedient son. None hit me but several crashed through the foliage near me and below me.

I waited for at least an hour after Dad left. I climbed down a few feet every so often until I was sitting on the bottom limb. Scarily, Dad did not say anything to me for the rest of the day. I had no choice except to go inside and face the wrath. It did not come. That day.

The next afternoon, Dad said, “Go outside.” Knowing he was going to beat me to death, I went outside the trailer and down the steps. I followed him to the road and stood near the tree. “I put one of your toys at the top of the tree. Climb up there and get it down.”

I couldn’t imagine saying “No.” If Dad said a beating would be worse if I cried or objected, he felt it was his manly duty to literally flay skin strips from me to prove he was not to be trifled with. Anger that was slowly boiled always was more dangerous. To be clear, I cried, ragged tears of fear. There was no right course of action. I knew Dad was going to throw rocks at me as soon as I climbed the first branch.

Barely able to see and shaking like a leaf in the tree above me, I grabbed the branch and tried to climb as quickly as possible. After the first limb, I moved partly around the trunk to make the angle of Dad’s aim more difficult. As predicted, Dad started throwing rocks when I reached about twenty feet from the ground. I kept climbing. At about thirty, one of the rocks hit my leg.  It didn’t hurt much. It gave Dad more motivation to throw the rocks harder and begin to scream at me. From across the street, a man walked out on to his driveway. I have another story about him later.

“What the hell is going on here?” He shouted at Dad. I knew two things: he knew Dad was throwing rocks at me and he also knew Dad was violent. There’s no way he hadn’t witnessed many of the domestic violence episodes at our house and then two subsequent trailers there. I kept climbing.

Dad turned toward the man across the street: “Mind your f%%ing business if you know what’s good for you.” Dad turned back and ignored him. Somehow, he knew the man would go no further.

He kept throwing rocks. I looked up and could see that Dad had placed an empty whiskey bottle way up in the tree. I couldn’t imagine him climbing that high. Had I watched him while he did so, I would have caught myself praying that gravity would take him down to his death. No matter who is reading this, I can’t apologize for the certainty of the fact that our lives would have significantly improved by his absence. I would have mourned his inability to see another path in life, yet also simultaneously recognized the possibilities created by his absence. When he was in prison in Indiana when I was very young, I experienced life free from his volatility.

As I reached a point about ten feet from the highest point I’d ever climbed and grabbed the bottle. I threw it out of the tree. “I said to bring that f#$ing thing down!” Dad screamed. Without realizing it, I knew he was going to beat me regardless when I made my way down. For a second, I thought about throwing myself out of the tree the way I had thrown the bottle. It wasn’t a suicidal thought; it was the type of perverted self-preservation that abused children consider to be logical. It’s difficult to train oneself out of it as an adult.

However long it took me to get down from the tree, Dad’s anger built. Dad dragged me into the trailer, a sign he needed privacy to teach me a lesson. For his worse beatings, rarely did someone outside the immediate group of family hostages witness them.

It wasn’t the last time he tortured me with trees or even visits to abandoned houses and barns in the dead of night. Often, his whimsy was self-attributed to humor and prank. A few times, it was. Others, though, were dark indicators of the vast well of illness and unhappiness he suffered from.

As horribly as Dad beat me, he never beat the love of that tree out of me. In it, I could see above, beyond, and through the places around me, just as the cedar tree at Grandpa’s had done on a smaller scale.

Though it may be unfair, it is my turn to throw different rocks all these years later. My Dad is deceased and unable to defend himself.  I’m older now by a few years than he ever was. The little boy I was held no grudges. Just fear, and confusion. Those have been replaced by an appreciation for the absurdity and frequency of what I lived through. My story is one of thousands of children, even today. I try to focus on the humor my Dad could sometimes display. If he sat beside me today as I write this, he would call me a co#$su#$ker and laugh. He ran out of road before he could make amends. I like to imagine that my Dad could have been able to climb the beautiful oak tree with me and share the view of the world above Springdale in 1974.

 

 

 

 

 

 

High School Picture Vanity? (The Picture Rule)

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Do I have your attention with this horrible picture? Is it completely real or photoshopped? Who knows! Who cares? It’s more or less me back in 2005. I’ve posted it before. It makes me laugh, precisely because it makes me look like the “before” picture for both the South Beach Diet and John’s Guide To D-I-Y plastic surgery.

I enjoy the posts about people complaining (gatekeeping) about people posting their high school pictures. It’s true that it doesn’t “help” current seniors. Let’s be honest, though. High school pictures don’t seem to help anyone. Except comedians. We all love a crazy high school yearbook picture. We can’t help it.

They do, however, remind us that our idea of hairstyle and fashion was never as great as we’d imagined. This is the case of every graduating class in the history of… well, history.

I know it’s not an ironclad rule, but I distrust anyone who is truly upset about anyone seeing their high school pictures. Not only are almost all of them available online, but they are precisely the pictures more likely to survive the next 300 years because they are public and otherwise in the hands of so many other people. They are copied, indexed, and even included in genealogy websites.

What am I saying? You’re screwed if you don’t want people to see your pictures from school.

Years ago, I scanned and archived several years of Springdale High School’s yearbooks. I also uploaded them to all the relevant SHS FB class pages, for everyone to share and enjoy. It look me 100+ hours. It was a huge way for all of us to get acquainted again, whether we liked it or not!

By the way, a huge number of yearbooks are available on classmates. Get a free account and start looking. Other websites carry college yearbooks, too.

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The Picture Rule: If you’re complaining about the existence of your high school pictures, you’re probably at the mercy of either an exaggerated vanity or a profound scarcity of a sense of humor.

P.S. I have almost never been stymied finding EVERYONE’S yearbook picture, not to mention the address you lived at when you were 7. Your life is an open book, no matter how badly you want to stick it under the bed where no one will ever find it. The more you want to hide your pictures, the more likely your brother-in-law is passing it around secretly via text, email, or DM.

P.S. Redux: If you are desperate to find someone – or a picture of them – let me know and I’ll get enough details to sleuth them out in the interest of both lovingkindness and transparency.

Love, X

Don’t Come Knocking, Cowboy Boots Man

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On May 11th, 1985, my family moved from Cottonwood Street in Springdale to a house next to the Willis Shaw long-haul employee parking lot in Elm Springs. To be exact, it was 111 Jayroe Avenue. As for the date, I only remember because of the circumstances and that I wrote an erratic journal entry that day. Graduation from high school loomed close for me. I loathed moving away from town again. Although I can’t remember why we moved from Springdale, it seems like Dad wanted to be close to Mr. Dunivan’s house and car shop near there. (Mr. Dunivan was married to a paternal cousin. I grew up thinking he was the cousin, rather than his wife.) I was surprised that Mom and Dad were moving together; their feuds were becoming bloodier and louder. Barring a duel to the death in the street, I assumed that my graduation would be the apex of their shared hatred for one another, at least married hatred.

My brother left ASU and came home long enough to realize his best option was to be somewhere else. He joined the Army while we still lived on Cottonwood. My sister was long gone, on her circuitous road to disaster.

We rented a house next to the landlords in Elm Springs, one of whom was the postmaster at Elm Springs. I’m 75% certain of the last part.  Our house was literally next to the parking lot where the trucks idled. The constant hum and rumble of diesel trucks never ceased. I’m not using hyperbole; they literally never turned off. It required an adjustment, but once in the background, everything sounded crazily quiet by comparison.

Elm Springs was a great little town. We had our own version of Joe the Tiger King, a strange man who owned escape-prone large cats. He lived right off Highway 112, which cut through Elm Springs. The roads were ideal for running, biking, and walking. I lived in Elm Springs the first and only time I was a victim of a deliberate hit-and-run while I was running. I guess it would be a hit-and-run-and-running in that case. That’s a story for another day. The house was near the community building, on the opposite side of the employee’s parking lot across from the diesel lot.

It was from that house that my dad finally fled Northwest Arkansas to return to Monroe County. He never returned to live in NWA. He died a few years later. I could not understand why my parents had inflicted so many years on us by staying together. Individually they were treacherous. Together, toxic and flammable. It seems like they needed both victims and witnesses to their lunacy. It’s a great foundation from which to draw stories. Oddly, this is the house my Mom lived at when she went to rehab for the first time and before she lost her great job at SW Bell aka AT&T. For the golden era shortly after her return from rehab, I couldn’t believe she was the same person. The golden era of sobriety didn’t last long. She kept finding higher cliffs to jump proverbially from after her sobriety.

If you would have told me that my Mom and Dad would have voluntarily remarried one another after intervening marriages to other people, I would have laughed. They originally married on Feb. 12th, 1964. They remarried on Feb. 12th, 1993. Dad died 7 months later.

While we were in the Willis Shaw house, it was an erratic series of brutal nights. Rent-A-Center didn’t exist then. If it had, we would have bought 30 roomfuls of furniture. For reasons still unclear to me, one of my parents would buy or bring home a wide variety of glass furniture, or furniture that was easily lifted. I often amused myself by considering the purchase of a box of used plates from the Tontitown Flea Market on Elm Springs Road. (It used to be called the ‘original.’ Everyone misses it.) I could then stack them on the counter or table in huge piles, ready to be grabbed by beer or whiskey-scented fingers in anger. After each round of furniture melees, Dad would load the pieces into his truck and dump them at Mr. Dunivan’s, or burn them there.

I have a lot of stories from this place. This one, though, amuses me.

There were a few houses marked by greater-than-average savagery: my cousin Leta’s house in Tontitown, the tiny tin can trailer where Don Tyson now meets Butterfield Coach, the trailers on Piazza Road, and the Willis Shaw house, as I remember it in my memories.

Somewhere out there in this world, there’s a man who tells a terrifying story, one that began with his intention to check on the welfare of people in a house in Elm Springs next to the Willis Shaw lot. I call him Cowboy Boots Man. How long he had been out on the road in his 18-wheeler is something I’m not aware of. But I do know that he pulled in and walked across the street to enter the vehicle parking area where his truck sat, after at least 3 weeks of not being driven. Though my memory is a little dim, I think it was about 8 p.m. He must have been worn out from driving for weeks.

He probably heard a thunderous crash and perhaps a series of screams and shouts. I’ll remind you at this point that due to the trucks always running, the volume required to pierce the atmospheric blanket of noise must have been chillingly loud.

The back of the house where my room was had a bad door directly from it. This was invaluable on many nights. My bedroom was cavernously huge, as an add-on sat at the back. I had a couch. I also had an incredibly bizarre old organ that someone gave me. Because of my mismatched skill with electronics, I had modified it to allow me to input/output and to record with it. I wrote some truly strange music in those days. I could also record the rantings and violence of my parents. I didn’t keep those recordings, which is a shame, given the historical clarity they would have provided me later in life.

That evening, I’d left and taken a very long walk, after running earlier in the day. I assumed that upon my return that my mom and dad would have lost all interest in their violent fight. I was wrong. I looked into the living area, and the carnage was almost comical. My parents were screaming insults back and forth. Mom was sitting near the t.v. and dad was on the edge of the upended couch. He held a sawed-off 20-gauge shotgun in his lap. In one hand, he had a bottle of whiskey. The gun didn’t alarm me. I’d seen it pulled in a fight repeatedly. No one could guess the alchemy which determined at what point my Dad might lose his temper permanently.

I shut my bedroom door and just as I sat down on the cheap couch in my room, I heard a bang on the front door. Bang! Bang! Bang! Someone was at the door. That raised the hairs on the back of my neck. Interlopers made it very dangerous for everyone present. I opened the bedroom door. Dad stumbled across the mess of broken household items and flung open the front door.

“I heard someone screaming…” the man began to say. Just as he started to speak, Dad raised the shotgun at him. “What the f$%^,” the man half-shouted. I don’t remember what Dad said. It was both threatening and a little humorous. The man must have not registered that laws were inapplicable to my Dad in this state.

He asked if everyone was okay and took a step forward as if he was going to stick his head inside the door. Dad was initially surprised and almost fell backward. In the interim, Mom was rambling incoherently and angrily in the background. Dad took a swig of whiskey and then took steps toward the man. He hastily back-pedaled away, retreating to the edge of the concrete porch. He grabbed one of the wrought-iron decorative posts to steady himself. Dad flicked the light switch with the hand holding the whiskey bottle. The light came on, illuminating the face of the man who was only trying to help.

Dad raised the shotgun, and for a second, I knew he would cross one of the few remaining lines and shoot. He did. The gun blasted and Dad’s arm flew up with the shot. It sounded like a bomb went off inside the house. Even Mom stopped angrily ranting momentarily. The man stood frozen in place. Though it’s not quite right, Dad then asked, “Anything else, c#cks#cker?” and took another drink from the bottle and howled as he sometimes did.

It was a frozen moment. Without a word, the man turned and ran toward the street, even though he was wearing cowboy boots. Mom jumped up, or tried to, and fell face-first across the upended couch. She flipped over like a child’s toy knocked off a high shelf.

Dad turned off the porch light and slammed the front door. “Goodbye, c#cks#cker,” he said to himself. “C#cks#cker,” as I’ve probably mentioned, was almost a prayer word for him. He sat the whiskey on the shelf nearby and sat the shotgun next to it. “Imma going to bed,” he said. I know he saw me there, but thankfully he said nothing to me. He walked to my right and down the hallway to the bedroom on the righthand side of the hallway on the end. I went into my bedroom and went outside through the backdoor. I walked around the side toward the employee parking lot and waited.

I saw no sign of the man who just saw his life pass in front of his eyes.

No one else came by that night. No police. Though it will cause some strife to hear it, even if the police had come, it was easy to ‘persuade’ them to lose interest. Dad or Mom could have held up the decapitated head of the other, and I’m certain the police would have asked them to please keep the noise level down.

The next day, I peeked out into the living room early. Mom was still lying on the floor near where she fell. She’s moved a couple of feet during the night. Passed out, I presumed. I took a long run, wondering what the day would look like. Early morning fights were the ugliest. Fewer words, more bile. Unlike the other parts of the day, it was the one time when holding a cup of scalding hot liquid seemed to present the insurmountable urge to fling it at one’s spouse in anger. “The best part of waking up, is 3rd-degree burns on your face,” was my family’s version of the Folger’s commercial.

Hours later, when I came out of my bedroom from reading and before I had to go to work, Dad was outside, running his hand along the front panel of his truck. There were pellet dents all along its surface. The shotgun had been moved, so I assumed Dad put it away, either under a piece of furniture or under his truck seat. I could hear Dad cursing under his breath.

“Did Kack do this?” he asked. (A nickname for my Mom.)

I didn’t want to answer either way.

I chose the middle option: I lied. I figured he didn’t remember most of it.

“I wasn’t here.”

I wondered about the Cowboy Boots Man long after. Why didn’t he call the police? Did it cure him of his desire to help people? Did landlords ever check references when my parents expressed an interest in their properties?

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P.S. The picture is one from my parent’s second wedding at the Lutheran Church in Rich, Monroe County. I was the flower girl. In a twist, my dad, who loathed formal wear, wore a suit minus tie. I wore my beloved “get shot in Chicago” jacket with a glowing “X” on the left side, which is a story unto itself.

See The Silver Lining Of The Pepperoni

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The belt in the picture tells the story of healthier eating since February 1st.

I’m officially adding two words to my vocabulary: precovid and postcovid. We will need words to divide our lives easily into instantly recognizable periods. Both ‘precovid’ and ‘postcovid’ serve that purpose. Everyone can understand their meaning without explanation. All of us recognize the truth of the two words. “Remember before?” will be one of our go-to phrases in the ‘after’ of this.

My wife bought me a new belt last year. I don’t use it because it’s rigid and lacks the comfort of my old one. It’s also wider and feels like I stole Hulk Hogan’s WWE belt. Not that anyone missed it, but I’ll take comfort any day over the options of style, fashion, or common sense.

When I started, I had no way of knowing that the pandemic would hit. Once it did, it eerily served as a replacement for the therapy rubberband that many people use for behavior modification. Looking at the underlying conditions contributing to COVID told me, “Hey you, dumbass!” And not politely.

I’ve read a bunch of commentary in the last few weeks about people increasing in weight and girth because of being isolated. My case reflects the opposite. I’m not trapped at home. My job places me right in the beast’s barrel, so to speak. Even when I’m too tired to fuss over ‘what’ I’m going to eat, I’ve so far resisted “the call of the pepperoni.” As you might guess, I love a bathtub full of chips and salsa.

Despite my previous bitching and moaning about Walmart in the precovid days and their hateful self-serve kiosks, Walmart (and Harps too), has been an unforeseen blessing. I don’t give my praise begrudgingly; they deserve it. It hasn’t been perfect. But their presence has made life drastically easier for many of us, whether we’re isolated or at liberty due to being essential.

Please throw this praise into my face once we’re past the crisis and I return to my hobby of freelance bitching and moaning.

As the particulars of the epidemic mounted, I often looked at my weight and nervously shook my head. I’ve had a dozen chances to lose enough to determine if my blood pressure would no longer require medication. I’ve lacked the wit or will to make it so. That’s on me. Pepperoni and starches are my mortal enemy. My wife and I still have 400+ assorted candy bars in a closet. I’ve eaten none of them. However, my previous failures to stop hurting myself by overeating continue to be my burden.

I haven’t eaten from the cafeteria at work since the beginning of January. Most often, my breakfast, which I tend to eat between 5 and 6 a.m., consists of a can of green beans, tomatoes, or soup. It’s the spices added that add the delight.

From there, I’ve resisted the pull of fast food. There have been exceptions, but even then, I’ve relented from filling my cavernous yaw like a dump truck.
I had Pizza Hut one night, but ordered my favorite, one which sounds terrible to sensible people: thin crust, no cheese, minimal sauce, no meats. With 10 different spices and sauces. You’ll I know I’ve lapsed into sadomasochism is you see me attempting to eat Dominos; or rather, the box it comes in. Studies have shown that Dominos pizza isn’t actually food.

I’m waiting for the enchanted umbrella of consistency to slip off my shoulders. I know myself too well.

We all see the reminders to see the good, find those who are helping and try to peer into the ether to see benefits from our inescapable calamities. Mine is this: the virus was a knock on my front door. Let’s see if the lesson is transitory or lasting in my case.

P.S. I’m not bragging. It’s dangerous, because tomorrow might bring new challenges that derail me. For example, someone might give me a truckload of potato chips, pepperoni, or pasta.

It Was A Real Nail-Biter

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A lot of people bite their nails.

Nail biting even has a fancy-pants name: onychophagy. The existence of such a word grants the habit legitimacy. Many people don’t know that cigarette addiction also has a Latin-based word to describe it: marlboroism. Okay, that’s not true. In my defense, it took cigarette companies decades to admit they were lying about cigarettes. By lying, I mean how delicious smoke tastes and how delightful a house smells after everything is coated in a vile sheen of yellowish slime.

It’s more common in kids and teenagers, but a surprising  number of adults are nail-biters. I should know. I’ve written before that I’m one of those ignorant dolts who is guilty of doing it. My fingers sometimes resemble the talons of an angry dragon trapped in the bottom of an inescapable well. I’ve stopped sniffing glue, being comatose by a method of self-chloroforming, and narrowly avoiding the craziness of alcoholism that has ruined the lives of literally all my immediate family. But nail biting? You’ll catch me gnawing on my nails like a starving monkey, sometimes even doing the ‘typewriter,’ a word used to describe going from one nail to the next like a crazed typist after a four-hour coffee break at a Cuban coffee shop.

“1/3 of nail biters say they have a family member who does the same,” say some studies. Which leads to the question, “Why don’t they bite each other’s nails?” It’s no surprise that the tendency to bite your nails might be genetic; that’s true of a lot of disreputable behavior, along with addictions, sneezing when exposed to sunlight, and voting for people with insanity issues. (Although I’m struggling to think of any such people in the last few years. How about you?)

If you cringed, you’re not alone. Nail biting is great for movie visuals or as a cliché, but terrible as a personal habit.

Given the hyper-focus that our unfriendly worldwide pandemic has caused, we’re working to keep our fingers out of our mouths. (Except for politicians, who are exempted, along with their feet.) Before patting yourself on the back, though, if your nails are longer than short, you’ve created a repository for everything bacterial or viral you touch. You might not touch your own face, but you’re marking your territory as you live your life.

Irrelevant note: most men are uninterested in women’s fingernails. The pandemic gives you the right to stop concerning yourself with the time and money invested in decorating your fingernails like they will be featured in Architectural Digest. If it makes you happy, please feel free. If you’re looking for an excuse, you have it.

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Some Unhelpful Tips To Stop Biting Your Nails, stolen from websites and headlines:

Amputate the tips of your fingers.

Just don’t think about it.

Dip your fingers in the dung or the blood of your enemies.

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According to science, it’s hard to distinguish the line between harmful compulsive nail biting and regular nail biting. A good rule-of-thumb, though: if you find yourself individually flavoring your nails as garlic, lemon, chocolate, pepper, and Parmesan in anticipation of devouring them, you’re probably in need of some therapy.

When I was young, I would get irritated at my mom, who delighted in punching me, slapping me, or putting her cigarette on my arm when she caught me biting my nails. I think the irony of her irritation with me failed to register for her. That I also wet the bed, was beaten like a dirty Victorian rug, or was screamed at for otherwise normal behavior, all those things seemed to overtake biting my nails as important. I forgot to mention that the rampant alcoholism and smoking seemed relevant too. I made the mistake a couple of times by saying, “I’ll stop when you put out the cigarette.” Although you would think she responded sensibly, given the track record I’ve painted of her esteemed and cultured biography, it was more reminiscent of George Foreman’s first loss to Muhammad Ali.

When I was young, I’d find myself biting my nails regardless of what I’d been doing. Disgusting as it was, it probably granted me limited immunity to a variety of illnesses. You’d be horrified to know how true this is. Since you might remember that I loved eating ashes and burned food, maybe it isn’t a shock.

I went through long phases where I conquered my impulse to bite my nails. Heroin helped me for a while. That last part’s a joke. Heroin didn’t help at all. It made me edgy as hell, not to mention unable to afford cocaine.

You’re probably going to doubt this, but I tried the bitter paint-on polish more than once. As bitter and nasty as it was, I liked the taste and aftertaste.

At more than one point, I’d decided I’d need dentures. It’s difficult to bit one’s nails with dentures. (And even harder to do so without.) I was about to buy the inserts you can put on your teeth to make it impossible to chew with my teeth. I don’t remember what stopped me. But it was probably laziness. For people who wear them, they are immensely effective.

Maybe this world-wide pandemic will grant me the motivation to figure out what techniques can help me make this habit a thing of the past. I’m sure there’s a perfect combination of timing, technique, and application. Otherwise, I’m opting for finger amputation. Is finger-stump licking a thing?

 

Love, X

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.