Category Archives: Social Rules

A Lessonless Moment

The fiftyish man stood at the postal kiosk, talking to everyone and no one. His bright orange shirt clung tightly to him. Though he lacked apparent red flags, his monologue with the anonymous interlopers in the queue signaled that something was amiss. He lifted his orange shirt to reveal his exposed stomach, punching himself repeatedly and with force. He told the onlookers that he did several hundred exercises a day to keep himself in shape. Taken ‘as is,’ his boast was comedic.

Because I constantly have a voice in my head, my voice noted the presence of a couple of attractive soccer moms who were ill at ease with his behavior. I observed their reciprocal and careful acknowledgment of what they were witnessing. I nicknamed him “Milftrap” as a nod to his self-confessed physique. As the line continued to move, Milftrap continued his tenuous conversation. The materials in front of him, purportedly the reason for his visit, remained in front of him, untouched.

I left him there, hoping he’d make a connection with someone to satisfy him.

I knew in my deepest heart that someone was terribly wrong, though I could not attach a diagnosis.

Though my nickname for him amused me, the life behind his story left me a bit untethered.

Had I seen only the briefest glimpse of him as he bragged about his physique, I would have departed filled with a bit of comedy and a new catchphrase; as it is, I left with a bit of cloud in my head.

Shirtless In February

This is obviously not me.

A few times a day, even though it is February, I have a sudden urge to just take my shirt off. Initially, I attributed it only to weight loss. I guess there’s a word for this condition: “Detunicitis.”

It’s important to note that I just made that word up.

When we were young, no one wanted to be ‘skins’ in the horrible PE games that the bored coaches made us engage in. It’s why half the world insists on wearing a shirt in the pool, which makes as much sense as flippers in the bedroom. Except for Gary. He can keep his flippers on, thanks to a condition I can’t publicly discuss. (Gary, you be you, okay?)

While I’m complaining about childhood PE classes, it was kind of sexist that the coaches never made the girls play “shirts” vs. “skins.” Particularly observant guys pointed this out to deaf ears on the part of the coaches. No one ever understood the complex morality of being modest in such matters while encouraging cheerleaders to run around half-naked. There’s a disconnect there, much in the same way that we don’t want anyone to see us in our underwear yet we cavort around poolside wearing less than our imaginations.

But we need a word to describe the sensation that encompasses the moments of realization that we’ve transitioned from obesity to normalcy. Those moments manifest themselves perfectly in those moments at Target where you’re looking at the ketchup selection. And realize that you’ve yanked your shift off.

It’s a real thing.

And, as for the three older ladies at Harps on Thursday, please accept my apology. It only got awkward because they started throwing money at me. Coins. It’s part of the reason that you can’t take your Grandmother stripping.

Anyway, if you see me without a shirt on, just walk past me without comment – even if I’m receiving communion when you notice. If it doesn’t bother the pastor or priest you’ve got no dog in the hunt. (I hate that cliché.)

“f you’ve got smokes, light’em,” so to speak.

I’m struggling to decide if this post is a joke or real. I’ll let you know.
Love, X

NO Such Recipe

Being able to sound crazy is a home field advantage. Telling the truth while sounding crazy is sublime.

He looked at me and hesitated.

I knew what he was thinking. “Go ahead. Ask.”

“What’s your secret, X? It’s like you’re training for something. You’re still you. But something else, too.” He was uncomfortable. I’m known for saying outlandish things without context. Doubly so if the other person initiates the conversation. (And triply so if the conversation is personal.)

“Do you have moments where you almost see the world differently? Where things fall away?” I asked him. “Like ‘The Matrix,’ but real? I’m being serious! As if the things you thought were important were illusions and vice versa? Like a hidden truth just becomes obvious.”

He nodded. “Yeah.”

“I had one of those moments. I saw myself as this other person, the one I forgot. And I just knew I wasn’t fat anymore.” I laughed. I love seeing the looks on people’s faces when I tell them this. Telling someone that all your previous issues evaporated simply because you suddenly ‘know’ the truth of something sounds ridiculous.

“Hmmm. I don’t know how to get there from here. That’s not specific advice!” It was his turn to laugh. “And yours wasn’t just eating. How did you do the other things?”

“Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not about thinking. Move toward the things you want. Weight loss, being happier with what you have, another job. As for the other things, those are things I should have always been doing, anyway, just like being more careful about what I put in my mouth.”

He made a face. “Yes, but what specifically can I do? Not guru stuff, the actual things I can do.”

I returned his grimace. “Stop doing the things you know aren’t healthy or the ‘you’ you’d like to be five years from now. Start doing the things you know you should be doing. Whatever you do, commit to it and be okay with things being awkward and failing a few times until they aren’t. It took a lifetime to get where you are, so start now. Eat less. Eat more healthily. Do things that you actually like to do. And think about how they impact your other choices.”

I could see the simplicity of such ridiculous advice as it reached him.

“Keep it simple. Whatever you do, don’t do it unless you can picture doing it for the rest of your life. Don’t pay for pills, drinks, or expensive programs. You already more or less know how you would like to spend your time. Now go find a way to do more of that and less of the other.”

“Ha,” he said. “I think I can do that.”

“I know you can. I don’t possess any magic that you don’t. You saw me do it. Now let me watch you figure out how to do it.”

I wondered if he might be the next to succeed. I think so. I hope so.

In the last few months, I’ve had versions of this conversation with several people. Most expect a specific recipe for success. There isn’t one.

The Piper


This post ends with the punchline.

A while back, I wrote about the fact that I would start writing more things that cross people’s lines. For anyone close to me, you already know that I don’t have a problem with cursing or other objectionable language – especially if such language is creative. Everything is context.

It is probable that people who don’t know me well will have a problem with me not having a problem.

The reason this fascinates me is that I’m the same person in that respect I’ve been most of my adult life. Acknowledging that my comfort zone is far wider than other people in no way negates whatever version of me that you hold in your head. One of the great realizations in our lives is to come to understand that each person in our lives has a different version of ‘us’ inside their heads. There is little we can do to alter that version of us.

If you think I’m the kind of person who doesn’t curse, you’re wrong. I adjust my audience accordingly, especially if I know that someone has a problem with coarse language. It’s a delicate balance that requires a bit of ‘squish’ on everyone.

Likewise, my turn of phrase goes directly to the idea of paying for the consequences of our words and actions. The original idiom implies misbehavior or tomfoolery that comes due.

My turn on the old cliché goes a step further. I don’t mind paying the reasonable consequences of something. Paying more than reasonable becomes onerous. From that was born my extrapolation of the phrase to be both humorous and accurate.

Don’t make people pay more than is due for errors, words, or deeds.

“I don’t mind paying the piper. I just don’t want to blow him too.”

If You Can’t Shake The Can, You Can Always Shake The Skillet

“If you can’t shake the can, you can always shake the skillet.” – X

I resurrected this phrase of mine today for someone’s social media post. They referred to J-Lo and Adam Levine’s Super Bowl performance last year, implying that if they looked like J-Lo, they’d be out there shaking their tailfeathers too. It’s a bit ridiculous, given that the people involved are attractive and know how to smile. (Hint: it is the smile and enthusiasm that galvanizes other people’s attention. Turn the smile and enthusiasm toward another person and you have the only successful recipe for convincing someone you are interesting and interested.)

I’d also like to mention that it is a bit weird to think that they’d shake their tailfeathers like J-LO if they were as attractive. It would be the same act, except with the perception of desirability or a feast for the eyes. The act itself? The same. Their claim in some way that’s hard to pinpoint dismisses the observer’s ability to find a wide range of people to be attractive. If you think there is a single standard for beauty, you’re wrong. And if you think that people can’t look at your defects and find something worthwhile, you are doubly wrong. People forget that a defect is not a defect to everyone. Many men find J-Lo’s most notorious physical asset to be unattractive. As for Adam Levine, he is a beautiful man. But there’s a lot about him many women dislike. In both J-Lo’s and Adam’s cases, their wallets are beautiful too – which helps alleviate many of the issues with their appearance. That is exactly what a smile, attentive ear, and other subjective things bring to the table. There is no single standard.

The quote goes directly to the heart of using what you have.

For those with sublime inclinations, it also could be used as a way to say, “Show love through food.” Though food is a necessity that sustains us, anyone who doubts the intimacy of preparing food for someone you love is a fool. It is an expenditure of time and energy, resulting in the simple pleasure of enjoying the food you need to live. It is magic to take a mundane task and add a dose of love and appreciation to it. As you get older, you find yourself wondering if ALL the true moments are hidden in plain sight like this.

The reason I wrote the phrase originally was to remind people that all of us have our peculiar likes, dislikes, fetishes, and inexplicable things that ignite us. Bald? Big nose? Scars? Thin? Heavy? Big hands? Small hands? High voice? Low voice?

No matter what it is, someone appreciates it.

It bothers me when people forget that their familiarity with their own perceived defects blinds them to the fact that someone else might appreciate them – and especially their alleged defects or faults.

You shake the can, or you shake the skillet.

Use what you have. Pivot. Be enthusiastic about the ‘you’ that you bring to the world. That’s worth all the money in the world.

It is in the act of realizing that you bring something to the table that makes love, life, and happiness possible.

No matter who you are, you can shake your can or skillet.


If you show attention and enthusiasm, most defects are rendered invisible.

Stop being in a rush to tell people you’re not attractive to someone – or a lot of people. You have no idea.

Not All Accidents Are Bad

I still surprise myself forgetting that danger is relative. And that taking measures to be safer often results in greater danger. Most of the things that harm us drop out of the clear blue sky. Often literally, as my life will attest.

A few days ago, I arrived home to see that my sister-in-law was parked in the driveway. She drives a truck and isn’t the best at navigating the available space. Because I don’t obsess about such things, I parked in the street in front of my house. If you’ve forgotten, our neighborhood is incrementally becoming a parking lot. I knew it would be a worsening problem as the neighborhood aged. I let neighbors park in front of my house as a courtesy. I try to be aware of traffic, given that visibility is often blocked in both directions. People speeding make it a certainty that one day I will be smashed as I leave the house.

A little later that afternoon, I planned to leave. As I walked across the yard, I watched a young Latina woman exit the house directly across the street. She saw me walking to my car. I got in and noticed that she was going to back out.

I decided to wait, to give her a chance to more safely back out without being concerned about my movement. I could have gunned it and swung backward and into my own driveway; again, I was being safe. People get distracted when leaving. A couple of the neighbors use someone leaving as an excuse to pop halfway out the front door and shout long instructions or admonitions at those leaving.

As she backed out, for a second I thought she might hit me. Realizing that was absurd, I decided not to honk my horn. She kept coming. Before I realized it, she had backed into my car, toward the back end. My car rocked with the impact.

It was at that moment I hit the horn. I’m a genius like that.

How she thought she had enough room to make such a lazy turn out of the driveway is anyone’s guess. How she ‘forgot’ I was there in the .5 seconds since we both walked out is another guess. Since we are all human though, there are a million possible reasons she had such a monumental brain fart. I’ve had them, too. It’s wise for me to never forget it.

To my credit, I got out of the car laughing, especially when I saw the fright on her face. When I spoke Spanish to her, she was quite relieved. “My husband is going to kill me!” she said. Her left back bumper was caved in considerably. Mine wasn’t. It was popped in a bit with a lot of scratches and cosmetic damage. I looked hard at it and said, “No police, no insurance. The man who lives at the house you’re visiting should be able to pop yours out without breaking the bumper. If something else comes up, you know where I live.” I thought she was going to run and hug me. The relief on her face was obvious. “Cars are just transportation for me. No one was hurt and the car will drive exactly the same. We’re good.”

I could see the reluctance on her face to accept the fact that I was just going to laugh it off and let it go. She finally did, though. She left happy.

In one respect, I’m glad for the accident. It reminded me that my initial reaction wasn’t one of anger and that I’m still the same person. I WANT to always be that person. It is the ideal ‘me’ that I hold in my head.

I don’t want my car to be banged up, but safety, people, and keeping a calm outlook trump it all. I made that woman’s day. It could have been much, much worse for her.

Love, X


The birds accumulated on the wire, arriving in bursts, their weariness from flying already subsiding. They stared down at the humans below as the drama escalated. In exchange for a short life, the birds have the freedom of flight and a disavowal of worry. As the people below shouted against the earless wind, the birds rose in unison from the wire. They flew away, destination undetermined, God’s creatures simply living. The people below briefly glanced upward, seeing the momentary beauty, then once again turned to the needless and cyclical fray of their lives. The birds receded from sight.

I see

We say ‘eye contact’ as if it really is.

Our focus slides off without knowing anything about others, limited to a dismissive and cursory glance. We are afraid to be caught observing other people as if watching and experiencing people is a crime against which we have no defense. So much of our life is spent hiding our attention, interest, or admiration. “Listen more closely,” people tell us. But also, “Observe more closely.” That’s where our humanity reveals itself. – X