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I recently attended my forty-fifth high school reunion. It was good to catch up with what people had been doing for all these years, but two things struck me immediately.
First, I do not remember going to school with so many old farts. I admit I was ultra-shy and self-conscious in school, but you would have thought I would have noticed it. The bald heads and gray hair should have been dead giveaways. I guess I paid too much attention to me to notice everyone else, but it embarrasses me to think I couldn’t beat some of these potbellied old geezers in wrestling. And I won’t even get into how amazing it is that they made weight to wrestle in the weight classes they did.
Second, I am convinced there is something in our hometown water. All the men were bald, balding or at least had copious amounts of gray hair, but all the women’s hair were perfect. Hardly a gray hair in sight. I’m thinking there is something in the water—or it’s because they haven’t been living with women all these years.
I’m joking, of course. Ha-ha. If there’s one thing everyone says about the Class of ‘72 is they can take a joke. Ha-ha. Especially those guys who used to hold me down and give me wedgies and swirlies in gym class. And even if they are offended, I won’t see most of them until the fiftieth reunion. I’m sure they’ll have forgotten all about it in five years—I’m counting on dementia kicking in for most of them by then. Ha-ha, I’m joking again. We are all a loooooong ways away from dementia.
(A funny story. In the same building we had our reunion, the Class of ’67 was having their fiftieth reunion. One of my classmates mistakenly went into that room. He said he didn’t recognize anyone, and even the names didn’t seem familiar, but he was thinking, “Man, I’ve aged well.”)
So if you have a chance to go to your class reunion, go. Although we didn’t think about it at the time, it was the last thing we did before our lives began. You’ll be amazed at how people turned out who you were sure would be shepherds or on death row. I’m looking forward to my fiftieth reunion. By then we’ll be discussing hip replacements, brands of adult diapers and what flavor of Ensure is the best. Ha-ha. I’m joking again, of course, but I hear the strawberry Ensure is amazing.
I’m gardening again, because I love it so much, or at least that what my wife says. She says I don’t like it as much as cooking, cleaning the house or doing laundry, but it’s certainly one of my favorite hobbies—sadly, she tells me fishing and watching sports on TV didn’t even make the list. I would have thought they would at least be in the top ten, but you can’t argue with the facts.
I garden, of course, for the unfathomable joy of knowing I’m keeping millions of helpless little bugs from starving to death. Every night I go to sleep secure with the knowledge that no tomato hornworm, potato beetle or squash vine borer will go to bed hungry if I have anything to say about it.
My first attempt at growing something was back in South Dakota when I was young. My mother let me plant some seeds in our small garden. During the night an older neighbor boy dug a marigold out of his mother’s flower garden and planted it where I had planted the seeds. The next day I was amazed and proud of my gardening prowess. It didn’t occur to me that a seed doesn’t just become full grown overnight … or that I had planted radish seeds. I’m not always the sharpest tack in the box. Sometimes I’m not even a tack, and often I can’t find the darn box. If ignorance is bliss, than blatant stupidity is euphoria. I don’t think I was ever more depressed than when they finally revealed the trick to me.
I think my gardening ability is inherited. It’s in my genes. My grandmother had an amazing green thumb—I think it was the result of an untreated infection—and she was also good at growing things, even with the thumb. I tend to exaggerate in this blog at times, but I swear I can remember my grandmother growing tomatoes so big that I couldn’t hold them in one hand, beets so large they were bigger than both my fists put together, pumpkins that came up to my waist and watermelons so heavy I couldn’t lift them by myself. No joke, that is the absolute truth—although now that I think about it, I was only about three or four years-old at the time … so maybe it isn’t as impressive as I originally thought.
With gardening it’s like Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, “It’s always something.” If it isn’t the bugs eating everything, it’s not enough rain or the weeds taking over. My grandmother always said weeds were good things because they shaded the plants from the hot sun. I guess there is some deep meaning to that, but I’ve never been able to figure it out.
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When I was in high school I had a plan to be a multimillionaire before I retired. Over the years I have worked hard, saved, refined and altered the plan until I am on the verge of fulfilling my dream. If just the last few things fall into place, I’ll have it made. Most important of those: the Powerball has to be five.
I’m joking of course. I don’t have the luck to stake my future on winning anything. When I go to a casino, I hand a hundred bucks to the nearest cashier and head for the buffet. It saves a lot of time pulling down that stupid handle on the slot machines and the results are the same. I can’t win anything. I once went to a convention with my friend Lucky. They had a raffle with lots of great prizes. I bought a couple handfuls of raffle tickets and didn’t win a thing. Meanwhile, Lucky has his winnings piled chest-high around him.
Lucky: We should have taken your pickup instead of my car. I don’t know how I’m going to get all this stuff home.
Prize Announcer: And the winner of the grand prize of the new Chevy Silverado pickup is … Lucky!
Me: Holy cow. How many tickets did you buy?
It extends over to fishing. I have a friend, Franny, who can catch fish in a bathtub—why he fishes from a bathtub instead of a boat is beyond me. Every time we go fishing he out fishes me two to one. Three to one when he puts his line in the water. We can use the same bait and lures, and it doesn’t make any difference. He’ll be pulling in fish so fast he’ll start complaining about his arms being sore, or he’ll stop and take a break because he needs to rest to let his breathing return to normal from the constant exertion. (Quick tip: When you tell your fishing partner who has caught nothing but a half a clam shell in the last two hours that you’re going to take a break because you’re tired from pulling in so many fish, make sure you have a good hold on the boat to make it harder for him to throw you overboard.) We can switch sides of the boat and exchange rods and it doesn’t make a difference. He catches the fish and I don’t. He once asked me to dig a sandwich out of the cooler for him. I handed him my rod to hold while I got him a sandwich.
“Hey, I’ve got a fish on your rod,” he said with his legs wrapped tightly around the seat’s pedestal as I tried to throw him out of the boat.
I can’t say I have all bad luck. I have a beautiful, bright understanding wife who lets me put her in this blog as long as I mention that she’s a beautiful, bright understanding wife. I also have three good kids. I’ve known parents with teenage kids who counted it as a good weekend when they didn’t get a call from law enforcement. When my kids were teenagers they were smart enough to know how not to get caught. I count myself lucky for that.
Speaking of family, this weekend I went to a family reunion. I saw cousins I hadn’t seen for decades. What struck me more than anything else after all these years is how much alike we looked, and by that I mean we’re all old. It was a good time. Everybody got along and caught up on what had been happening in each other’s lives. I know that doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but when I was a deputy sheriff we would get calls from funeral directors requesting a deputy stand by at a funeral because they were afraid there might be a fist fight between family members. We also got calls from attorneys requesting a deputy in the room when the family settled Grandpa’s estate, because some of the family members really didn’t get along. Everything went off without a hitch at our reunion without one single police officer—I did see a couple members of the National Guard, but I think it was just a coincidence.
So I guess all and all I can count myself lucky to have the family I do, and especially my beautiful, bright, understanding wife. Sometimes a guy can be the lucky one even if the Powerball isn’t five … but I’d still like to catch a fish.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers, mothers to be, people who want to be mothers and anyone who has ever had a mother. ( Did I miss anyone?)
I once knew a guy who bought his wife a present for Mother’s Day.
“I am not your mother,” she snapped and stomped out of the room.
I get my wife a Mother’s Day present every year. She is not my mother either, but getting presents makes her happy, and when she’s happy, I’m happy. Or more correctly, when she’s not happy, very soon I’m not happy, also. I joke about my wife often on this blog, but she’s actually done the best job she could of raising our kids considering the huge handicap she has–here of course, I’m referring to me.
People often say I take after my father. Physically I have to agree. He was a slender good-looking, extremely intelligent man who literally oozed modesty, and I would say that description fits me, except the modesty oozing out of me prevents me from doing so. My mother, on the other hand, was a heavy set Slavic woman who constantly struggled with a weight problem. She didn’t wear shoes most of the time. The souls of her feet were calloused and thick as … well, shoe leather. I once saw her step on a nail. It stuck in her foot but never drew blood because the callous on her foot was so thick. Barefoot, she could still outrun most of my sisters’ boyfriends—they timed me in the hundred yard dash with a calendar, so I’m not sure which of my brothers or sisters got the speed gene, but it wasn’t me.
When Mom got excited or angry, a Bohemian lilt came out in her voice. Sometimes she would throw in a few Bohemian words or phrases, although she didn’t speak Bohemian. It always made me smile, which wasn’t a good thing when I was the one getting yelled at. To this day I’m not sure what she was calling me. I like to think it was: My precious little modesty oozer.
My mother loved to sing and could play the piano by ear. (Again I’m not sure where that gene went.) She was a great cook, seamstress and card player. She loved to laugh, a big full laugh that often left her breathless. The only flaw I can remember is she loved polka music, but I guess nobody is perfect.
For most of her adult life, my mother was an old fashioned, stay-at-home housewife who cooked, cleaned and waited hand and foot on her husband. (With a few changes, I take after her in that respect.) One day she went into the work force and was promptly elected chief steward of her union. She enjoyed it. This obedient housewife was suddenly sitting in on contract negotiations and standing up to The Man for workers’ rights. It was something she’d accomplished outside the home, and it made her happy. I think being happy was my mother’s one goal in life, and often, mostly through no fault of her own, she failed at it. I will confess that as a teenager I bore some responsibility for that.
Mom died way too young from the cancer that curses her family. She never saw our youngest daughter or any of her great-grandchildren. When I was young, she was often the only one who I would let read the stories I had written. She believed I could write, but never lived to see me published. The last two years of her life, I watched that large robust woman shrink to little more than a hundred pounds. She was unable to get out of bed on her own, let alone outrun her daughter’s boyfriends. For a long time, when we knew a cure wasn’t coming and it was just a matter of time, I worried that I would remember my mother as that frail, sick creature racked with pain and struggling for each breath as she lie in the hospital bed. I didn’t want that. It wasn’t who she was. She’s been gone for decades now, and what I remember are her laugh, her singing and the Bohemian lilt … and it still makes me smile.
I’m often asked by different people if I’ve ever smoked, i.e. doctors, dentists, optometrists, insurance people and a Walmart greeter. (I think the greeter was just being nosey.) The truth is I smoked for a little over a year starting when I was eighteen. By the time I was twenty, I was no longer smoking, but I was chewing snuff, the original nicotine gum. As is often the case, the cure was worse than the disease. I chewed tobacco far longer than I smoked, until one day I realized I didn’t even like the taste of tobacco. I had never ordered tobacco-flavored ice cream from Baskin Robbins or sprinkled tobacco over meatloaf to enhance its flavor. The only reason I was chewing tobacco was to get rid of the nicotine urge that plagued me. After a time it occurred to me—genius that I am—that if I stopped chewing, the nicotine urge would eventually go away, and I wouldn’t have to put up with a taste in my mouth I didn’t even like.
I’ve been tobacco-free for years now. I can’t even remember exactly when I stopped, although at my age it could have been yesterday. But I know I never paid a buck a can for Copenhagen, and I spent twenty-six years in law enforcement without chewing, so it’s been a few decades at least.
When I was young, I once lived in an apartment with three smokers. It was a short term thing. We all knew we would be moving out in six months. The only guy I knew before I moved in I’ll call Abe. Abe had put the whole thing together and had invited the other two, Dawg and Pinkie—don’t worry about Pinkie; he’s not important to the story. If we had been four women, there would have been about a hundred and twenty-three different apartment rules, and that would just be for the bathroom. There would be silly things like: take off your shoes at the door; don’t fart in the living room; flush the toilet every time you use it; don’t use someone else’s toothbrush to clean out the toe jam on your feet …
The women would go grocery shopping and sit down with a calculator to make sure each woman paid the same amount for everything. We threw some money in a pot at the beginning of each month for food. If it ran out, you were on your own. We only had two rules: Don’t burn the place down, and no alcohol allowed in the apartment. Abe was a recovering alcoholic, and he thought his fragile sobriety would be better protected if he didn’t have to be tempted by twelve cases of beer beckoning to him every time he opened the refrigerator door. The rules didn’t bother me. I’ve never been a pyromaniac or a booze hound. Dawg on the other hand was an un-recovering alcoholic. It became clear within the first couple days that Abe had asked Dawg to live with us so he could put him on the straight and narrow.
After a couple weeks of nagging, Abe finally talked Dawg into going to an AA meeting with him. I was sitting on the couch watching TV when Dawg walked into the apartment.
“How’d the meeting go?” I asked.
Dawg looked at me with wide eyes and an absolutely stunned face. “They expect me to stop drinking … FOREVER!”
It was the last meeting Dawg went to and by the end of the six months, he was hiding a bottle in his room where he would go every now and then to have another swallow or two. They say to give something up, you have to want to. Dawg wasn’t close enough to Want-to to hit it with a sniper’s rifle.
In case you’ve forgotten—I know I did for a little bit—this is about smoking. All three of my roommates smoked and I did not. This was a time when people could still smoke indoors, and our apartment was normally filled with a thick cloud of blue smoke that sometimes made it hard to see the TV, the other people in the room and whatever was on my plate that I happened to be eating. Which since we cooked our own meals was probably a good thing. New research has shown that secondhand smoke isn’t nearly the danger they once thought it was, but there were times after sitting in the blue cloud for a few hours that my lungs would hurt.
I often wondered why the smoke detector didn’t go off, until one day I tested it, and it didn’t work. Dawg said it had been constantly chirping so he pulled the battery out. I guess we were okay because we had the rule about not burning down the apartment.
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Announcer (in a deep, manly, announcer voice): Stay tuned at the end of this blog for a chance to win free prizes. Now excuse me while I go smoke a couple more packs of cigarettes so my voice gets even deeper and manlier.
When I was young I used to have a fairly good-looking physique, or at least a fairly human-looking physique. Today I stand naked in front of a mirror and the mirror and I both shield our eyes and throw up a little in our mouths. Some species of ogre is staring back at me from the mirror, and not even one of the better-looking ogres, but an ogre that couldn’t get a date for the ogre prom if his life depended on it, an ogre that even the other ogres tease and make fun of for looking goofy. And where did all this hair come from? It’s as if an evil Tinkerbell splattered me with magic hair dust. I have hair everywhere. It crawls out of my nose and ears. Every inch of my body has hair. I’m slowly turning into a giant ogre Chia Pet.
My energy is gone, too. Have you ever heard stories about young men who would work all day chopping down a forest with a pocket knife, then go out drinking, partying and carousing with women all night, and without going to bed, go out and chop down another forest in the morning? Young men who would go for days without sleep and have the energy of someone who just got up from a full night’s rest? When I was young, I was one of those guys who heard stories like that, and I could listen to those stories for hours—or at least until I went to bed at ten—and it wouldn’t tire me out at all. Now just writing about it makes me want to take a nap.
I haven’t been to the doctor to get checked yet, but I know what the problem is. I’m coming down with Old Age. It’s a hereditary thing. My father was afflicted with Old Age as was his father before him. It runs in our family. I think my grandfather was born with it, because I don’t remember a time when he didn’t have Old Age. My father got Old Age when I was a teenager. It made him very stupid. I remember wondering how a thirteen year old like me could be so much smarter than someone his age. It of course was the Old Age that made him stupid. He did go into remission eventually, and by the time I reached my thirties, he had recovered considerably with the intelligence part at least.
Old Age is a disease that carries an embarrassing stigma with it like an STD. People will deny they have it, especially women, and they go to great lengths to mask the signs and symptoms with special creams, paints and dyes. For some it works for a while, but it’s like zombies putting on lipstick and hoping nobody notices they’re zombies. There’s an old saying, “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you’re the only fool you can fool all of the time.” (Or something like that. I can’t remember. Loss of memory is one of the symptoms of Old Age.) I think it applies here. You can put a Band-Aid on a goiter, but eventually people are going to notice the goiter.
Old Age is a chronic illness with no known cure. Complications from Old Age are the leading cause of deaths worldwide. (Okay, I’m guessing here. To know for sure would require extensive research and it’s easier just to make stuff up.) As devastating as this disease is, I don’t know of a single organization working on a cure or even a vaccine, and I know why. Old Age effects mainly the elderly, and nobody cares about a bunch of wrinkled old Chia Pets. Wait until cute babies and sweet little kids start coming down with Old Age, then there will be fundraisers and telethons up the wazoo. Well I for one am not going to wait that long. Starting right now, I’m going to work endlessly until at least ten o’clock to find a cure for this scourge of humanity. If you have a few thousand or an extra million dollars laying around—my motto: no donation is ever too large—and want to help with a good cause, you know how to get ahold of me. Just be very careful that you get the address right, because there are a lot of scams out there.
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I have great gums. I’ve had three dental hygienists tell me so. Recently one told me my gums were all twos and threes with maybe a borderline four, but it was nothing to worry about. I don’t have a clue what any of that means. I would have asked her to explain it to me except she probably would have and don’t have any extra room left in my brain. My head is already filled to capacity with all the information it can hold. If I stick another fact in my head, one of the ones already in there gets pushed out and splatters all over the floor. (I always try to blame the mess on the dog, but my wife makes me get a pail and mop and clean it up anyway.) It wouldn’t be so bad if I could choose which fact came out—I could do without knowing who Magellan was (the first person to go around the world) or my phone number when I was eight (115), but which fact comes out is completely random. I could lose something vitally important such as how to do CPR to save a life or the full lyrics to Don McLean’s American Pie. I’m sure someday they’ll find me wandering aimlessly around in my bathrobe with wet pants. It won’t be Alzheimer’s or dementia. Just a new fact will have pushed out my knowledge of how to find the bathroom.
Where was I again? … Gums! That’s right. I have great gums, and I take good care of my teeth. I haven’t had a cavity in over thirty years. I have my teeth cleaned once a year, and it only takes a few minutes to have it done. The dental hygienist said she was amazed how little plague build up I have, although she didn’t give it a number. So I have well-cared for teeth sitting in excellent gums—mostly twos and threes—and they are falling apart faster than a car whose warranty has just expired.
For the last month I’ve been fighting a toothache that turned out to be two toothaches. My bottom tooth broke off a few years ago, and I had to have a root canal and a crown put on it. My excellent, almost prize-winning, gums decided they were too good to associate with an inferior tooth—they can be arrogant little snots—and started pulling away from it, exposing the root. The pain was just slightly more than a railroad spike being driven into my jaw with a sledge hammer. I got that fixed and found that the pain I’d had before had a few advantages, such as masking the pain from the tooth directly over it where the nerves were dying.
My father had bad teeth. He blamed all his ills on them, backache, headaches, the Cold War and disco. He finally had them pulled out and got dentures. He still had headaches and backaches, but the Cold War and disco are gone. Maybe he was on to something. Anyway, because I’ve been in pain for a month, I’m not a very funny guy. So while I can’t give you a big belly laugh right now, maybe I can give you a chill. Check out my new light horror novel from Wings ePress. It’s available at most online locations.