One of my old professors labeled me a “storm chaser.” She gave me that moniker after she pointed out that many of my jobs were located in fairly dangerous or unhealthy work environments (such as the 9th Ward post-Katrina, submarines, boats during hurricane season, Iraq, and so on). I never saw it that way until she made note of it.
I always thought I took calculated risks. High percentage risks, actually. I’ve thought I was actually a little skittish with most of my endeavors. I was never in the first wave of any of those “dangerous” jobs, save the one time that I was on a crew boat that beat Hurricane Ike’s landfall by six hours or so. Parts of post-storm New Orleans were still scary when I got down there, but you stayed away after nightfall. Iraq could still be pretty hairy at times, but it was nowhere near as rough as it was in 2004 or 2005. You get the point.
And there are still plenty of crazy things that I won’t ever do, like gator rasslin’, skydiving, bungee jumping, or dating a woman who belonged to a sorority. So I actually think I’m a bit a milquetoast, when you get right down to it.
Additionally, I have no interest in outstaying my welcome or putting people I love in an uncomfortable position. I’ve been living with my grandmother since I came home from Iraq. I help out with the expenses, buy groceries, etc. But my presence and my opinions have grown so loathsome to certain people that it’s put her in a terrible position. They want me gone. She’s been firm in her resolve, but I know it has to exhaust her.
I need to get out of here. But there’s not much of anything in Alexandria. Besides, it appears I need to be far away from certain people, lest I have a repeat of this morning’s ordeal (which involved being blocked in my driveway and screamed at). Baton Rouge has gridlocked traffic, violence on par with a Third World nation, and too many reminders of past failures. I’ve had my fill of New Orleans. I’d rather visit it occasionally and not grow to hate it again. Working offshore again holds no allure. Iraqi jobs are drying up rapidly; the pullout there is all but complete by year’s end. So I went ahead and applied for some jobs in Afghanistan. Maybe I’ll get some calls. Maybe I won’t. But it’s painfully obvious that I don’t fit in around here anymore. Maybe it’s time to start chasing storms again.
|“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill|
I sent out copies of my manuscript to a few friends recently. I let a couple of my buddies from Iraq read it, mainly for fact checking. Their feedback was very enthusiastic, perhaps overly so. Then again, they’re a pretty cranky lot and they lived through most of the worst moments with me. Not exactly the most impartial audience.
A couple of close friends are reading it right now. I get random texts/emails when they stumble across something that amuses or intrigues them. But they’re pompom wavers for the most part.
I also sent a copy to an old friend from grad school. He has several published articles. His first book should hit the shelves sometime soon. He got his PhD a few years ago, after working with the most brilliant professor in LSU’s History department. He knows how to write. We weren’t the best of friends, but we were more than acquaintances. I knew he would give me an honest assessment of my manuscript.
I got back a six page critique last Friday, along with the 100 pages (which were dripping with red ink). He gave me a good and proper smashing. I deserved it. I desperately needed some constructive literary input, and he provided plenty. I knew I would have to make some major cuts in order to whip this book into shape, but it looks like a complete rewrite might be the only thing that salvages it.
Some of his gripes are easily remedied (formatting, phrasing, typos, etc.). Other aspects will be a struggle, hence the need for a complete rewrite. His biggest beef is my tone. After giving his comments some thought, I wholeheartedly agree with him. Initially, this was a painful realization – so much so that I didn’t reread his comments for a couple of days. I had to steel my resolve to pick it up again. That first reading stung, because I knew he was right. But subsequent reviews of his comments didn’t bother me so much. It’s actually the best kick in the pants I’ve had for my writing since my first semester of grad school. There’s an excerpt from his critique that I’m never going to forget, because it shook me to my core. If it wasn’t so long I’d consider getting it as a tattoo, so it could serve as a permanent reminder to get over myself:
“Your lack of personal confidence comes through in your writing. You’re your own worst enemy. Any good writer should be self deprecating. But there’s a fine line between self-deprecation and self-loathing. You don’t seem to like yourself very much. And since you don’t, how are we supposed to like you? … (You either need to) embrace your inner asshole or write with more compassion. I think of Bukowski: he could be a monster, but there was some compassion in his writing that overcame his worst tendencies. I don’t see that kind of compassion here. Bukowski was a poet, and that gave his writing a lightness and beauty that kept his realism from getting too ugly. You need more poetry and less ugliness in this manuscript.
I’m sure your intention was different, but in these pages you come across as racist, sexist, xenophobic, bitter, immature, and most of all – angry. Is this how you want others to perceive you? I’m not sure if your anger was due to the lack of sleep you got in Iraq or the fact that you were working 84 hours a week, or both. Whatever the reason for the exhausting, unrelenting misanthropy in these pages, you’re misrepresenting yourself.”
And there you have it. Before I “put pen to paper” again (albeit in a virtual, electronic sense), I’m taking a step back. I need to purge myself of counterproductive influences (bad habits and negative people need to go away ASAP). I’m rereading some Bukowski and Hemingway, because they are the masters of the style that I aspire for. Simply put, they didn’t screw around when it came to their presentation. Their sentences snapped. There wasn’t any fat in their good books. When they were angry, there was good reason for it.
On the other hand, I told a lot, but I didn’t show much. As a result, I didn’t give proper context for most of my frustrations over there. And then there’s just other stuff that’s simply whiny angst. It needs to go away, along with a bunch of other boring, repetitive junk. Once I’m done with a few weeks of “reeducation,” I’ll hack my old manuscript to pieces and start over. Hopefully I can find a story worth sharing once it’s done.
In the meantime, I wish everyone with a copy of that old manuscript would shred it or use it for litterbox lining. Whatever works.
I hadn’t visited my grandfather in a couple of days. I woke up feeling really guilty about that, so I darted up to Winnfield first thing this morning. Last night I got a couple of secondhand accounts about his improvement, but I didn’t put a lot of stock in them. I previously received a couple of phone calls from family members who were excitedly jabbering about seemingly miraculously progress, only to discover that there was no change when I’d see him. I braced myself for another heartbreaking day. That way, I wouldn’t be disappointed.
When I walked into his room, it looked like nothing had changed. He was in his bed. Eyes shut. He moaned and frantically flapped away at his gown, tubes, and restraining net. He has to wear mittens that look like mesh sleeved ping-pong paddles whenever he’s unattended. It was either that or slap on wrist restraints in order to keep him from yanking out his feeding tube and catheter. We decided the ping-pong mittens were more humane.
Isn’t dementia just lovely?
“Hey, old man,” I said. “You’re tearing yourself to pieces. I thought that was the hot blonde nurse’s job.”
My grandfather and I always traded sarcastic and ribald barbs when he was healthy. Even if it’s just a one-sided conversation these days, why should I stop now?
He responded with “…ehhhhhhh…” and more flapping.
Sigh. It looked it was going to be another one of those days.
“Hey, it’s Wayne. I love you. Do you want me to sit you up? Do you want some water?” If I ask him simple questions, I’ll usually get a grunting affirmative or a whine that means “no.”
“Get me out of here!” he moaned. Clear as day.
Come again?! I asked him if he wanted to get out of bed and sit up for a while.
“Yes, Wayne. Get me out of this bed now!”
“You got it.” I raced to the nurse’s station and asked for some help getting him out of bed. A few minutes later, I wheeled him out of the room. I asked him if he wanted to go sit out on the front porch, even though it was drizzling and windy.
“Yeah. Maybe I’ll catch pneumonia and die soon.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help myself.
“I’m serious! I’m tired of all of this!”
“So am I,” I replied. “I’m tired of seeing you helpless and unresponsive. I’m tired of seeing you with a bunch of tubes hooked in to keep you alive. But if you get yourself sick, I’m going to drive up here and punch you in the nose.”
That made him laugh. The only other time I was able to make him laugh since he got sick was when he grunted for some ice a couple of weeks ago. I told him I’d bring him back a blonde and a popsicle. That way he could have something hot and something cold. I know that’s hacky, but hey, it worked for my audience at the time.
I pushed him out onto the porch. He sighed with pleasure when a cool breeze hit us.
“Well, where have you been?” he asked.
“I’ve been around. You’ve just been asleep or out of it every time I come up here.”
We made small talk about my brother’s new job. Then he asked me when I had to go back to Iraq. I told him that I wasn’t going anywhere as long as he’s in this place.
“Please don’t go back there,” he pleaded. He opened his eyes and stared at me for a few seconds. Then he closed his eyes and sighed. “Please.”
“I’m never going back to Iraq. Stop worrying.”
“Alright! Now what time does our flight leave?” He slapped his chair’s clip-on tray. “The plane can’t take off if this is still down!”
He was dead serious. He thought he was strapped into an airplane seat. Then he asked me for the numbers.
The numbers? What did he mean? The lottery results? The imaginary flight number? The time? The date? I told him the time and date.
“Ah, good,” he said. “I never know the numbers anymore. They took my watch away, you know.”
The rainfall picked up, so I wheeled him back to his room. The nurse hooked in his feeding tube. Then she brought in a food tray for his roommate. He was not happy about that arrangement.
“I want some dinner!”
“I can assure that you’re eating right now.”
“I want what he’s having,” he muttered, as he waved a thumb towards his roommate’s plate.
“Well, I don’t think the doctor has signed off on solid foods yet. You’re getting lunch in a bag.”
“Well, what’s in the bag?”
“Uhhhh…looks like chocolate milk or brown gravy. Maybe it’s chocolate gravy. How does it taste?” Then I tapped his belly for emphasis.
He laughed again. Two laughs in one day. Alright, this day was already golden.
Once he started to “eat,” he got tired and spacey. My great-aunt’s pastor came in to visit for a few minutes. My grandfather smiled and told him that he was glad that he came to visit, especially since he had to walk all the way from Bunkie to Winnfield. The preacher and I both shrugged at that one. After he left, my grandfather asked me who the second in command was.
“Who are we talking about?”
“That man has a long walk back to Bunkie. Who did he leave in charge while he was gone?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m sure the folks in Bunkie are just fine.”
“Okay, good. What are the numbers again?”
So I told him the time and date. They did take his watch away, after all.
Then he started to doze off. I asked him if he wanted to get back in his bed. He said no. I told him that I’d let him take a nap in his chair, but I would have to put his ping-pong mittens back on before I left. He agreed to that, but he asked me to not strap them on so tight. Then he stuck his thumbs out whenever I tried to slip the mittens back on.
“Are you doing that on purpose, old man?”
“You know me. I’m a stubborn old man. I’m just sick of this situation.”
“Yep, I know.”
I don’t know how many more good days that I’ll get with him. In the meantime, I’ll savor days like this. I’ll try to dump the bad ones from the memory banks once he’s gone. And I’ll just try to keep myself together in the meantime.
I went through my hard drive last night and found a few things that made me laugh. Some journal posts from 2009 were delightfully silly, as was an old resume of mine. No wonder my last patch of joblessness lasted so long! I used to have a five page resume. Once I compressed it down to two pages, KAPOW! Here come the callbacks for job interviews! But I’m a longwinded blowhard who has to learn things the hard way. Alas.
I also found a picture from two years ago. I forgot how bad I used to look. Voila!
What a bloated, alcoholic mess I was!
This story is old hat for everyone who read my manuscript, but I was a physical and emotional wreck when I worked offshore. I was stuck in a vicious circle of long hours, bad food, no exercise, massive booze binges during my free time, and no fulfillment whatsoever. My wakeup call came a few days before my 35th birthday. I had to take a helicopter out to a diving boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. We had to be weighed before we boarded the whirlybird. When I hopped on the scale, I was horrified to learn that I weighed almost 200 pounds. I’m 5’9”. I have absolutely no business being that heavy.
There were some warning signs along the way, but I tried to ignore them. I would huff and puff while hauling sonar gear from our truck to the boat. I would be exhausted after two or three sonar mesotech drops – tossing the tripod and handling a few hundred feet of cable would destroy me. I would get stabbing, twisting chest pains when I was pissed off, especially when I was watching an LSU or Saints game. I honestly have no idea how close I was to a heart attack, because I was too scared to go to a doctor.
Well, that day was my nadir. I resolved to get back into halfway decent shape during that chopper ride. Every time I worked on a large boat or a rig that had cardio equipment, I made use of it. When I was on a boat without gear, I’d exercise in my bunk room, up on the heliport, or out on the weather deck. Even if it was nothing more than jogging in place for half an hour (and looking like an absolute idiot in process), I’d try to do it every day I was offshore. I wasn’t home much, but I tried to run for at least half an hour a day, regardless of the weather. I still drank like a fish and ate a bunch of crappy food, but I did lose about 10 pounds by the time I left for Iraq. And more importantly, I passed a comprehensive physical exam before I left.
Once I got to Iraq, I lost another 20 pounds. I had no access to alcohol, which certainly helped drop a few quick LBs. I also tried to run at least three miles a day, and I cut out most of the junk food. I’d have one “cheat day” a week, but I ate a whole lot of baked chicken & fish, egg whites, and steamed veggies. I also sweated off some weight working in 140 degree heat. I eventually got down to 163, which was probably too skinny for me. I had to punch three additional notches in my belt to keep my pants on. When one of my friends saw this picture, he told me that I looked like an AIDS patient. That was when I decided to start lifting weights again.
Now my exercise routine is an hour’s worth of weight training MWF and a three to five mile run MTWThF. I take the weekends off unless I’m feeling especially energetic or stressed. I hover between 175-180 now, due to the weights and nutritional supplements. I feel good about my physical appearance for the first time in ages. I’d like to put on at least another 10-15 pounds of muscle mass, but I’m not going to hang myself if that doesn’t happen. I can lift more weight and run longer distances at age 36 than I did in high school. I can get pissed off and stressed out without feeling like I could drop dead from a heart attack. So I must be doing something right. I’m probably going to switch my workout routine to one that’s more conducive for gaining mass, but I’m not expecting any dramatic changes overnight.
I made some major lifestyle changes, but it was a series of baby steps. I used to hate working out. Now I’m addicted to it. If I skip a scheduled workout, it will ruin my whole day. I used to eat horribly. Now I eat fast food about once a week. The same thing goes for my alcohol intake. I might drink once a week these days. And I don’t need to get drunk to have fun or escape boredom anymore. Sure, I’ll cut loose once in a blue moon, but I’m perfectly content to nurse one or two beers if I’m hanging out. But most of the time, I don’t even need that anymore.
And that’s my advice to anyone who wants to get healthy: one step at a time. If you’ve been inactive for a while, you’re not going to destroy the gym when you get back in there. Instead, learn to slowly ratchet up the intensity of your workout routine. And don’t worry about embarrassing yourself in the gym. Chances are there is at least one other person in there who’s in even worse shape than you, and very few people will pay attention to how much you’re lifting or how fast you’re running anyway. I’ll make the occasional peripheral glance at a lithe female in spandex or running shorts, but I usually pay no mind to anyone else in the gym unless they’re blocking my equipment. Slowly drop the bad crap from your diet, otherwise you’ll probably get bored with steamed vegetables and revert to cheeseburgers. If you don’t take vitamins, make them part of your morning routine. Don’t fall for the crash diets; you need balance in your food intake. Get a workout partner. You’ll keep each other motivated.
Don’t get discouraged if you have a setback along the way or if you can’t see any dramatic changes in the mirror. Indulge yourself every now and then. An occasional catfish poboy, cheeseburger, pizza, or beer won’t kill you, but you have to view those foods as treats, not staples. Instead, ask yourself, “Do I feel better?” “Do I have more energy?” “Are my stress levels lower?” Once you adopt a routine and stick with it, I can assure that you will answer “yes” to those questions.
Don’t get frustrated if you can’t recapture your shape from high school. That person is long gone. Instead, learn to accept who you are now and embrace the positive changes that come your way. I’m currently in the best cardiovascular shape of my life and I’ve never been stronger. But I still have plenty of goals. I want to complete a marathon one day. Maybe I’ll never do it, but I’ll probably knock out some more 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons before I croak. And that’s significant progress, given the shape I was in two years ago. I want to add more muscle mass and definition. I’ll probably never have a bodybuilder physique (that’s almost assuredly a losing battle against genes, metabolism, and age), but I think I could achieve the same build Henry Rollins had during his 30s and 40s. Maybe I’ll only put on another couple of pounds, but I’m already comfortable enough with my body that I can wear a tight t-shirt and I don’t worry about a protruding gut. I’d like to eventually bench press and squat at least double my body weight. But I’m satisfied knowing that I can already throw around more weight in the gym now than I ever thought possible a year ago.
We all have to break down sooner or later. I want my physical decline to come later. And I’m also a superficial ass. If another female comes my way, I want her to look good. So I should return the favor by staying in decent shape. Besides, maybe I can rope her in before she realizes just how awful I am spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually.
We’re a week away from commemorating the death and resurrection of everyone’s favorite Jewish cosmic zombie (and all-around swell guy). I loves me some Jesus, but I’ve spent most of my life at odds with organized religion. I didn’t deliberately seek an obstinate path, but I’m forever cracked when it comes to any sort of routine approach to worship. I go numb whenever anyone tries to talk me into any sort of regimen that involves putting on a suit, awkwardly congregating with a bunch of strangers, and listening to a listless and intellectually bankrupt sermon/money hustle. My eyes glaze over and my mind wanders off to topics that make cavemen happy (like fire, nubile women, explosions, picking up heavy things and putting them back down and picking them back up again, more fire, and beef jerky). So please do yourself a favor and count me out of your forthcoming Easter festivities. We’ll all avoid undue awkwardness and heartache.
Why the resistance? I suppose that requires a bit of exposition.
For the first five years of my life, I didn’t receive much exposure to religion. I don’t think my biological father was too keen on any activity that forced Mom to leave the house, so we didn’t go to church often. Instead, we were supposed to hang around the house and serve as his hand servants. For Mom, that meant cooking, cleaning, and plopping out a kid every 1.5 years. My brother and I served as beer gophers. My sister was a baby, so her cries for food and diaper changes merely served as a nuisance for him. Then we all took turns as his tackling dummies once he got sufficiently drunk and angry.
Shortly before my fifth birthday, Mom decided that we had endured enough. She told me that her breaking point was when I started crying around 5:00 PM, because I knew that my father was coming home from work. Mom called my grandfather, who sprinted from Louisiana to Oklahoma, beat the snot out of my father, scooped Mom and three little kids into his car, and drove us back to Alexandria. While I’ve always admired my grandfather for being the tough old goat who finally gave my father the severe beating that he so richly deserved (and rendering him a nonentity for the remainder of my life, save a handful of unwelcome visits over the past 30 years), I’ve always walked around with at least a twinge of guilt because I was the one who forced Mom’s hand when it came to ending her marriage. I realize that it’s not altogether rational, but there you have it.
ANYWAY, Mom decided that her kiddies needed some religion once we got back to Alexandria. She was raised Pentecostal and rebelled against it during her teenage years, hence her marriage at 17 and hightailing it out of Alexandria ASAP. But six years later, she decided that her kids needed to go through the same indoctrination that she had fought against heretofore. So we started attending Sunday services at the First United Pentecostal Church. I always described that first encounter as an experience akin to James Brown’s evangelical church in The Blues Brothers, except it was entirely white. The congregation jumped, shouted, ran all over the assembly hall, and spoke in tongues. G.A. Mangum’s sermon was chockfull of fire, brimstone, and eternal damnation. I had never experienced anything like this before, and I was terrified.
Well, so much for guidance and reassurance. When I explained my confusion with people flopping, jumping, and screaming to my Sunday school teacher the following week, she explained to me in a sugary sweet voice that those people were simply experiencing the wonders of the Holy Ghost. Furthermore, I was going to straight to hell because I refused to let the Holy Spirit into my blasphemous little heart. Because you see, I was already hellbound. She and several of the kids in my class had already told me that my whole family was damned because Mom was divorced. I guess she would have redeemed us all if we had just stuck around, remained punching bags for an ill-tempered addict, and dug through the trash for food scraps because my father drank up the whole week’s paycheck.
Great. Not only had I already been pegged as hardscrabble white trash at school when my kindergarten teacher made all of the free lunch kids get in a separate meal line, but I was also destined for the fiery pits of hell. I was reminded of this every Sunday. The only time I caught a break from harassment was when I got to spend Friday nights and Saturdays with my grandparents. But the rest of the time, I was already persona non grata and I was five. I believed all of this shit, because I didn’t know any better. I’m amazed that I didn’t become a juvenile delinquent, addict, or attempt suicide at some point, but I think part of the reason why I stayed on the straight and narrow was because I didn’t want to give those bastards the satisfaction. But I’ll argue with anyone that our weekly dose of religious nonsense helped screw up the rest of my siblings and partially contributed to their subsequent issues with drugs and the law.
I spent the next ten years or so dealing with this crap on a weekly basis. There was a clique of kids whose parents were well-established within the church, and one of their hobbies was making me miserable on Sundays. Being a shy, awkward kid, I sat there like a pussy and took it for the most part. Kids are mean, vicious little bastards in general, but this particular batch of little bastards also got to incorporate the threats of damnation when they ganged up on me. Every little thing that I did at that church was scrutinized and nitpicked. I rode the bus to the church. The little bastards decreed that was because my mother was too busy wallowing in whoredom to bother to drive us herself. Maybe she just didn’t want to deal with a room full of judgmental assholes. But that didn’t matter; I was damned. We were too poor to wear suits to church, but the little bastards twisted our cheapness into me being disrespectful and irreverent. So I was damned. If I wore shorts to an outdoor function, I was damned. Unless it was a swimming party, where I was damned because I stripped off my t-shirt before diving into the water. I was also damned because I had a TV and listened to secular music. I was actually honest about that, unlike most Pentecostal families that kept their TVs in the closets when company came over. But I was damned.
Lessee, what else? The adult services continued to scare the shit out of me, and the spirit never compelled me to holler gibberish or flop around like a headless chicken. So I was damned. And then a few of the really vicious little bastards took to pelting me with spitballs or slapping me in the back of the head with hymnals, Bibles, or fists. The Sunday School teachers would let their antics slide (these were the golden boys after all), but I was the one who would get yanked up by the ear, dragged into the hallway, slammed against the wall, and screamed at if I dared to whip my head around or roll my eyes when I got harassed. And yes, my inability to sit there like Christ and take a beating without complaint meant I was damned. So I eventually learned to go into zombie mode while the little bastards tortured me. It actually turned into a valuable skill to utilize later when dealing with sadistic football coaches, boot camp, crappy jobs, Iraq, crazy girlfriends, etc. So thanks, little bastards! You were my preseason workout for the miseries of adulthood!
I finally put my foot down once I started high school. Football and weight lifting gave me just enough self-confidence to deal with the little bastards. I was still pretty small compared to my teammates, but I was more than capable of throttling the twerps at church. I brutalized a few of those guys, and I loved every second of it! I figured since I was hellbound anyway, I might exact some reciprocity on the way! Once I got bored with thuggery, I just started cutting Sunday School class. Then I told Mom I was done with it. When that didn’t work, I told her I didn’t believe in God. And when that didn’t work, I told her that the next time she forced me to go, I’d leave in handcuffs. She finally fell for that ruse.
I’ve had my struggles ever since. Anytime I showed even a passing interest in another church, the POA pamphlets and videos about the cultish nature of every other stinking denomination made their way home. Alright, fine. Y’all want it to be a zero sum game for my soul? You got it. I’m hellbound, so I won’t play ball with anyone. Happy? And every time I went back to church to placate Mom or the grandparents, someone would come up to me and make a dig about damnation before the Sunday service was done, which effectively ruined the day for me and swore me off religion for another couple of years. So it got to where I only went to that church for the Christmas concerts, the “Messiah” play, and Easter (which is when the congregation was on their best behavior, lest they scare off some potential new members with deep pockets).
And then I just settled into a period for most of my 20s where I was agnostic, bordering on atheistic. I was so angry that I relished every attack made on Christian fundamentalists, regardless of its merit. That’s why I listened to a lot of Norwegian black metal in the ‘90s. That’s why I jumped out of my chair and roared like a maniac when Marilyn Manson screamed “Who wants to go to Heaven with all those asshole angels?” He might be a schlocky cornball, but he struck a nerve for a lot of kids who were fed up with religious browbeating.
I guess my wakeup call was when my grandfather died of cancer in 2001. That moment for me wasn’t a spiritual reawakening out of fear (after all, I’m hellbound, right?). It was just a realization that if there is an afterlife for good and decent people, then he had to be one of the people who got to punch that ticket. And if he couldn’t pass the pearly gates, what chance did the rest of us have? Anyway, I just had a feeling of peace when we were burying him. I knew he had to be somewhere better than here. And that began my stumbling, fumbling path towards where I am now. I wasn’t even deterred by old G.A. recycling the same old fire and brimstone riff during my grandfather’s eulogy. What used to terrify me now just sounded like a CC DeVille guitar solo: a bunch of screeching and no substance. It was almost quaint. Almost.
I try not to go down the rabbit hole with wacky religious demagogues anymore. There have been a few exceptions over the past 10 years. I loved screwing around with the crazy, homeschooled fundamentalists camped out in LSU’s Free Speech Alley. These wacky creeps look just like some of the miserable lot that hounded me during my youth, and they follow the same playbook as the Westboro Baptist idiots – verbally berate all passersby and try to get some sap to engage in an argument with them. They’re probably praying for a physical altercation and the ensuing lawsuit, because I couldn’t figure out how these people ate, unless they got a “love offering” from the rest of their cult. I always took the road less traveled when it came to these boobs. Instead of screaming in protest or just ignoring them altogther, I would wait until they accosted some hapless student and then I’d holler, “No, wait! You convinced me! Take me home with you!” When they’d screw their faces in confusion and mumble, “huh?”, I’d screech “Only kidding, assholes! I heart Satan!” or something equally obnoxious.
These days, the only time things get awkward is when I have to deal with family members who want to argue that the Earth is 6,000 years old. I never understood why faith and science had to be mutually exclusive, but progress is the devil for a lot of folks around here. And why does it matter if I view most of the Old Testament as allegory instead of literal interpretation? I’m damned anyway, right? And I’ve given up trying to discuss the subtleties and nuances of Muslims I met overseas, because we all know that they’re just a bunch of barbaric savages who want to enslave and kill the rest of us, right? Why the hell should I have the audacity to offer eyewitness accounts of people who fly in the face of that preconceived notion? Based off my experiences, the only differences between an Islamic vigilance squad and the people who made my childhood utterly miserable is a lack of state sponsorship, a hesitance to throw stones (have some conviction, you pansies!), and whole lot of denim and hairspray. But what do I have to go by other than my lying eyes? I’m damned anyway, right?
So there you have it. Y’all enjoy your Easter. I’ll celebrate mine alone. It’s for the best.
I haven’t watched TV on a regular basis in a year and a half. When I was in Iraq, I’d take an occasional peek at televisions in the dining hall or the weight room. I only see it these days when I’m running on the treadmill at my local gym or when I’m visiting friends. I really don’t miss it.
The news is the worst. 99% of it is unrelentingly negative. The only positive thing that I can say is that almost all news anchors on cable TV are highly attractive these days. Before I left for Iraq, it seemed like Fox News was the only news channel that was honest enough to admit that sex sells, and they trotted out a murderer’s row of hot blonde babes. And while I’m very leery of Megyn Kelly’s prior history as a litigator, as well as her modern day persona as a creepy, Stepford-ish, country club Republican, that didn’t stop me from drooling over this broad for years. She could read the phonebook for four hours and I’d be spellbound.
So imagine my surprise when I came home and discovered that CNN had seriously ratcheted up their babe quotient. My new favorite news honey is Alison Kosik, who sifts through the morning’s tea leaves and predicts the latest financial disaster. My absolute favorite part of the morning news is watching Ms. Kosik’s live reports from the NYSE floor. Every day, dozens of old men hip check this delicate flower while she tries to remain composed for the TV cameras. I’m not sure if they’re trying to pinball her across the trading floor for instigating buyer’s panic, trying to feel her up for a nanosecond, or both. Nevertheless, it makes for riveting television. This is a brilliant move on CNN’s part, because if you’re going to tell people that their economic ruin is imminent, you might as well sugarcoat the presentation. Give those poor bastards some eye candy before they sell their wives and kids into chattel slavery and build an improvised fort from hubcaps, couch cushions, and Spam tins.
My morning run is a ping pong betwixt Fox and CNN. I don’t watch MSNBC at all, because they truly are the loony Bolsheviks screaming in the wilderness. Note to GE/ComCast, if you want to attract an audience outside of Fifth Columnists and tinfoil hat enthusiasts, you need to ramp up the babe quotient ASAP. And tell your dopey moonbat editorialists posing as journalists that I’ll respect their screeching entreaties that we need to pay more taxes when GE hands back one stinkin’ dime to the Treasury, even though they made billions in tax-free profit last year.
But I digress.
And besides, this just ain’t getting the job done.
Sometimes I feel like a hopeless rat on a wheel while I’m running on a treadmill and watching talking heads on CNN. It’s like I’m voluntarily hurtling towards the abyss in 3 to 5 mile increments. Every day, these well-coiffed and impeccably dressed goobers shriek that the crisis du jour will bankrupt and kill us all. But it never does. And every day, I get on the damn treadmill and fall forward in an upright manner until I achieve my optimum heart rate. And for what? So I can add another couple of years on the tail end of a mostly futile and unfulfilled existence? So I can stay in good enough shape that women can’t point towards my physical repulsiveness as an excuse to reject me out of hand? Instead, they can blame my awful disposition and innate creepiness. But I guess that’s progress, so I’ll keep working out.
So is the world really coming to an end? If so, are the illuminati trying to make it a bit more palatable by having exquisitely beautiful people pull back the curtains? Or is it simply our modern age of instant information that makes everything seem so awful? You never had to strain your neck to find misery in this world. You just get in real time nowadays.
This will shock most of you, but I’m usually a “glass half-full” guy while taking all of this in. After all, it’s hard to take beautiful people seriously when they’re trying to sell you a message of “holy shit, we’re all gonna die! But first, a word from our sponsors!” Such presentation lacks gravitas. I think there needs to be a rule that we dust off curmudgeons like Jack Cafferty, Brit Hume, Tom Brokaw, and Ted Koppell when the shit truly hits the fan. An “in case of dire emergency, break septuagenarian out of glass” law, if you will.
We live in a world with nuclear meltdowns, civil war, Kanye West, ethnic cleansings, Snooki, crippling deficits, Dane Cook, and bedbugs. It’s horrifying if you let it get the best of you. But it can’t be so bad if there’s still time for the silly human interest stories at the tail end of each hour’s news cycle. So in the spirit of whimsy, I leave you with a picture of a monkey riding a pig.
Gahhhhhh! I said a monkey riding a pig, not a monkeypig! In the name of all that’s holy, kill that thing!
Ahhhhh. Much better.
A couple of weeks ago, my brother, his girlfriend, and I took a short trip with Mom through LaSalle Parish. She showed off an estate sitting right off Highway 84 that recently went on the market. It consists of a picturesque two story house, a shop building, and a massive garage. All of that is perched atop a fairly steep hill, which overlooks several acres of oak and pine. It’s quite lovely. I never pry Mom about her finances but I hope she and her husband can acquire it, provided that the price is reasonable.
After taking a look at the property, we drove into Jena and had lunch. We passed by the estate as we drove back to Mom’s home in Whitehall. Mom interrupted her conversation with the rest of us and said a quick prayer out loud, which I will roughly paraphrase as, “Lord, please deliver us this home if it is according to Your will. Amen.”
“Geez, Mom! Isn’t that kind of selfish?” I asked. I was only halfway teasing.
“Hey! I made sure to ask for only something that He will deliver by His will! Besides, our house is tiny and our yard floods every time it rains! It will be nice to have a bigger house and a hill that lets the water run off!”
“But that still seems like a copout,” I retorted. “If I follow your logic, I can pray for anything as long as I drop in the ‘by Your will be done’ disclaimer. Doesn’t that add a lot of clutter to God’s day planner?”
“This sounds like one of your oddball thoughts. I don’t follow you,” Mom sighed.
“Check it out. I’ll give you a slightly more exaggerated example. ‘Dear Lord, please allow me to marry a Playboy Playmate with more curves than Horseshoe Drive and legs longer than the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway. But don’t deliver me just any bubble-headed blonde bimbo. Give me one with brains, personality, and a soul. By Your will be done. Amen.’”
“Okay, that’s just silly,” she muttered.
My brother piped in. “Is it? Maybe there is a girl just like that who’s waiting for Wayne. He’s smart. He’s been around the world. He’s not like most of those cheesy guys who usually marry those broads.”
At this point, I turned around in my seat and told him, “You and I rarely agree on anything, but that is a damn good point. It might be the most salient point you’ve ever made.”
“Thanks!” he gushed.
“You two boys are just silly,” Mom snapped. “I can’t believe you’re making light of this.”
“C’mon, Mom,” I pleaded. “That’s all I know!”
Well, not really. But I figured that wasn’t the time or place to argue about it. And Mom is (somewhat) justified in praying for this deal to come to fruition. Her home is small and the yard does flood every time there’s a heavy rain. It would be nice if they could acquire that big house on 84. I just know that I’d be uneasy about requesting divine intervention when it comes to real estate transactions. Like I noted earlier, on a good day I tend to view God as a deity with a pretty full plate. On a bad day, I feel like we’re an abandoned science project. This planet is chockfull of ugly and selfish people who won’t stop hurting themselves and each other, and we use the flimsiest pretexts to justify our awfulness. Tell me how we’re any nobler than a terrarium that went neglected during Spring Break.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Jesus and Buddha and Shakespeare and Einstein and Hulk Hogan and all of that jazz. Nevertheless, most of us stink.
ANYWAY, I do know that I rarely pray for myself these days. Whenever I do, it’s pretty brief. My most fervent praying/begging/bargaining with God has always been for other people, like when my best friend was deployed to Iraq in ’04, which was an absolutely bloody and terrible time over there. Then there were my dealings with a soldier in Iraq last year. He was standing right next to his battle buddy, who was vaporized by a mortar. He looked like he was about to become unhinged, possibly suicidal. I didn’t eat for a week; I was so scared for that kid’s soul. As far as I know, he’s okay now…as much as one can be when you deal that type of horror.
And then there are my recent petitions for my grandfather, which most of y’all are well aware of by now. They’re putting a feeding tube in him today. I’m highly ambivalent about that, but it’s not my call and I’m not fighting the people who made that decision. More than anything, I just want an end to his agony.
Now that’s not to say I haven’t made exceptions. When I first got to Iraq, I prayed for strength to endure whatever came my way. I guess those were answered. And I did last week when I was vomiting with the force and speed of a shotgun blast, and then when I had a nasty blackened funk hanging over me. I’m much better now, so thank you Tiny Baby Jeebus.
Most people are surprised when I tell them that I didn’t do a lot of praying in the bunkers, when I had a scary near-miss with a mortar out in the open, or when I was in a chopper taking incoming fire. It was too late for absolution when those types of things happened.
You never knew when it was coming. If it was your time, then your ticket would get punched JUST. LIKE. THAT. At least that’s what I hoped for. I didn’t want to bleed out while I tried to cram my guts back in. That would have been the worst. But you couldn’t spend every waking minute worrying about it, so I just pushed it to the back of my mind. I honestly spent more time worrying about how KBR would screw us over on a daily basis and if LSU would ever get a competent quarterback than I did worrying about death and damnation.
So I’m not holding my breath waiting for God to answer my latest smartassed prayer request. And besides, I have a general rule of thumb when it comes to meeting hot babes. If she’s an 8.5 or higher, I’m probably not even going to bother. She’s either already taken or she’s heard it all before. And most babes who are considered to be “most beautiful” have no personality or humor whatsoever. They never needed to develop it. Their whole identity and worldview hinges on their physical beauty, which is ephemeral. And most women are already insane for the most part, so reality doesn’t matter to them most of the time. So why in God’s name would I want to deal with some hot neurotic mess?
Tiffany, I think we shared “a moment” at Comic-Con. Have your people contact my people and we’ll do lunch.