Friday, June 9, 2017

Reflections on a Beach Trip

There was a group of gentleman (I would guess in their 50’s) that occupied a suite on the first floor of our condominium. Each morning, they would emerge from their room between 9-10 AM and begin a solemn procession to the beach. The convoy was always led by someone carrying an LSU flag and they would place it beside the large tent they erected each day. Once base-camp was established, they would spend the remainder of the day drinking and enjoying a sacred kinship with mother-nature. There was one among their number (we will call him Bob) who would randomly break into applause throughout the day. Initially I believed this to be a non-verbal response to the appearance of a woman in a bathing suit, but as the day wore on the clapping appeared attributable to Bob’s Bud Light intake as opposed to any external stimuli. Once sunset was upon them, the lead man would again take up the LSU flag and the procession would reverse itself.

--------------------------

Someone had systematically removed the letter “L” from all signage around the swimming area. The result was that the entrance sign read “Poo Hours” (followed by the allocated defecation times) and the other two signs were labeled “Poo Rules” as if they were making a case for the superiority of feces. This drew an involuntary chortle from me each time we visited the pool and my wife speculated that such tomfoolery was the result of some teenagers. I choose to believe that the vandalism was perpetrated by a group of retirees.




-------------------------

Pool vandalism aside, our condominium was a tightly-run ship. The elevator reminded all guests that “overly boisterous” behavior in and around the common areas would not be tolerated. I remarked to my wife that the overall boisterousity of behavior would be difficult to objectively quantify.

Furthermore, the guidelines posted inside the unit – subsection 7 – prohibited the unreasonable volume of all “phonographs, radios, television sets, and musical instruments.” Either the rules pre-date the structure, or they are dealing with a wave of hipster retro audiophiles.

-------------------------

I am grateful that my son is still unable to read. We visited several gas station restrooms on our journey, and the percentage of male genitalia with a cell phone number is staggering.

--------------------------

Making the pool signage even more ironic, my daughter’s swim-diaper sprung a leak on our last day there. I was talking to another gentleman in the pool when she jumped in beside me. As she rose to the surface, I noticed what appeared to be an algae trail behind her. Once I realized the situation, I grabbed her out of the pool and wrapped her in a towel. Wishing to alert my wife and son without alarming the rest of the guests, I utilized all of the subtlety in my arsenal to explain that our daughter needed to go UPSTAIRS TO THE POTTY [wink, wink, nudge, nudge] before disappearing. I briefly toyed with alerting my new friend, but he taking a cringe-inducing open-mouthed lap around the pool and it was battle conditions.

Fortunately, my flight took me past a couple who were inseparable from their portable Bluetooth speaker (and the house music loudly emanating from it) so my daughter’s “I go poo-poo pool” statements were inaudible to most everyone but me.

When I got upstairs, I had to put her in the tub and hose her down while she emitted gurgled screams of, “No Daddy!!!! Please No More!!!!” as I loudly replied that if she kept struggling it would only be worse for her. In hindsight, I judge those in the adjacent condominiums for not calling the police.

-------------------------

One of my son’s fondest memories from the trip would have to be the garbage chute. The concept of placing refuse into a metal drawer and having it disappear upon reopen was nothing short of magical. 
He asked where the garage went, if there were people inside of the chute catching the garbage, and most importantly, why we were still taking our garbage out to the road like Neanderthals when such a contraption existed. My wife and I pretty sure that he utilized extras napkins to bulk-up the trash bag so we would need to take more trips into the hall.

-------------------------

In a telling irony, I noticed far fewer Salt Life car decals while at the beach than I do in my land-locked state of residence. This leaves two possibilities:

  1. Arranging one's life philosophy around the ocean is better in principle than practice.
  2. Those who actually enjoy living in close proximity to the ocean find it unnecessary to spend extra money to remind complete strangers that they enjoy living in close proximity to the ocean.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Ode to a Key Ring

For over two decades, you have remained steadfastly by my side. You were witness to the day my parents first entrusted me with independent access to my childhood home. You endured my ill-advised carabiner / belt-loop phase despite the fact that it placed you in unnerving proximity with my braided leather belt and stonewashed jeans. You swallowed your pride when I felt the need to affix you to a lanyard and leave the slack dangling from my back pocket (as if I was expecting the call about a head-coaching position at any moment).

You sat atop the dresser of my childhood bedroom as I constantly reinvented my identity via the artwork on my wall. You heard my endless hours on the guitar attempting to accurately recreate a riff to the point I did not have to prompt others to identify it. There are even a few occasions when you slipped from my pocket necessitating a return trip to a friend’s house which led to a conversation that would never have occurred otherwise.

You wordlessly bore the shame of my early automobile purchases. When I willingly gave money to someone in exchange for a white Chevrolet Cavalier (with optional Rally Sport fun package) you held your tongue. When I optimistically traded that car for a used Pontiac Grand Am, you allowed me to degrade you with the ignition key.  

Perhaps most importantly, you were being nervously fidgeted in my hands the first time I spoke to the woman who would later become my wife. You had a front row seat for the moment that she agreed to marry me and when we nervously slipped on the key to our first apartment. You sat on the table at the closing of our home anxiously awaiting the ceremonial moment we were passed the keys.

You laid upon a rolling hospital table the moment I met my son and became a father. You were dropped multiple times in our panic to rush that same child to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night when he could not catch his breath. I dropped you as I attempted to situate my daughter for her first car ride and often misplaced you in the sleep-deprived stupor parenthood bestows.

Currently, you find yourself festooned by evidence of my career (USB flash drives), my low sales resistance (I’m talking to you Books-A-Million “Millionaire’s Club” key-tag), and my improving taste in automotive manufacturers (I'll see you in Hell Pontiac). I even leave the unused gym membership tags just because I like making a show of moving them for the cashier at Kroger to scan my loyalty card.

If your longevity continues, you will likely bear witness to the day I am forced to say goodbye to my Mom and Dad. You will be there when each of my children start Kindergarten and eventually experience heartbreak. Someday you will become a bargaining chip when they insist they are old enough to drive somewhere by themselves. You will provide me a tactile distraction when I am faced with the prospect of watching them acquire and adorn their own key rings and all of the emotional implications that come with such a seemingly pedestrian act.   

I am ashamed to admit that there were times I was tempted to trade you in. Lured by the promise of magnetic quick-release fasteners and color-coded key tabs I tried newer models but always found myself crawling back to the tried-and-true circular cotter. I have even come to appreciate the resistance to change inherent to your design. I am given multiple chances to rethink whether an item is “ring-worthy” as I attempt to pry your metal bands apart with my thumbnail. Even the existing residents seem to protest once a new addition is at the halfway mark of its journey and I have to force them down to make room.   

Most miraculous of all, you always seem to contain one unidentifiable key. Is it to the old apartment and I just never removed it? Did my parents change locks and I kept a copy of the replacement and its predecessor? Am I, in fact, a highly-trained government assassin suffering from amnesia who will one day discover the key opens a safety deposit box in Prague filled with passports, paper currency, and intrigue?

Regardless, I know that you will be there for me. Providing both a practical service and a shamelessly-exploitable metaphor for the cyclical nature of human existence.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Vasectomy Story

Having decided that my wife and I had graced the planet with enough of our offspring, it was time to make a decision regarding long-term birth control. My wife was presented with a myriad of options ranging from injections and I.U.D. devices with names that could be easily mistaken for canine dental appliances (ParaGuard is my current favorite) to surgical options like tubal ligation.

However, the only real option for us was for me to get a vasectomy. It was cheaper and less invasive than a tubal ligation and by any objective standard it was time for me to take one for the team. So I called the local urology practice and explained to the receptionist that I wished to permanently retire my reproductive jersey.

She explained that I would need an initial consultation appointment after which I would discuss the different “packages” with the billing specialist. Unaware that there were different levels of male sterility, I asked what she meant by “packages.” Was there a platinum package where I was rendered unconscious during the operation versus a value bundle where I was asked to place a wooden spoon between my teeth? She indicated that all would be revealed on the day of the consultation.

If you have never spent time in a urology waiting room, there seems to be two dominate male demographics: AARP members who have developed an adversarial relationship with their prostate and non-AARP members who are in various stages of sterility. Neither category exudes enthusiasm.

Once I was called back, a urologist no older than myself asked me several questions and advised me that (regardless of what several of the billboards on the I-40 corridor insist) I should consider this permanent. He performed a brief inspection and gave me a pamphlet onto which someone had scribbled “Shave your scrotum the day before of procedure.” I was then taken to a separate desk where it quickly became apparent that I would not be worked in until the NCAA basketball tournament had resolved itself.

Next I was called to visit the billing specialist who asked if I would like to pre-pay for the procedure. Convincing myself that payment now might lend itself to a more powerful anesthetic later, I agreed. I asked if they would issue a refund in the event I sired a child after being fully disarmed. I was informed that there was no satisfaction guarantee on vasectomies.   

On the day of the procedure, my wife drove me to the doctor’s office and I sat in the waiting room scanning the reading material (“People of the Andes” was a particularly alluring publication) and responding to photos of grapefruits being sent to me by my coworkers. At one point, a woman emerged from the back and loudly announced “Anita Dickie! Anita Dickie please!”

Despite my near-debilitating anxiety, this produced an involuntary chortle which, in turn, drew an eye-roll from my wife. I mounted a spirited defense of my juvenile sense of humor by reminding her that use of that phrase in this context was tantamount to entrapment. She simply shook her head as if silently reaffirming our decision to prevent the further proliferation of my DNA.   

Finally, a compact, mustachioed gentleman called my name and led me to the operating room where I was greeted by his counterpart. They were irreverent, crude and I liked them immediately. Upon removal of my pants, I was informed that I was “packing a real set of sheet-draggers” and the two of them began commenting on how exciting it was going to be to witness a real-life penectomy. Grateful for the distraction, I immediately asked them if I should remove my diamond-studded taint piercing.

Our rapport now firmly established, we continued on in this manner as I situated myself into the stirrups and they called for the doctor. I asked if he was watching YouTube videos on how to perform a vasectomy and the mustachioed gentleman replied something about him “finally getting the hang of it.” I immediately assumed the pun was both intentional and premeditated.

When the doctor arrived, there was some rather serious discussion regarding my position in the chair:

Doc – Why isn’t he fully reclined?
Assistant – I thought this is how you liked them…
Doc – It is easier for me if they are fully reclined.
Assistant – *looking contemplatively into the distance* Must’ve been Dr. Wilson that prefers them like this…… Give me just a sec and we will get this..
Doc – It’s fine. We can make it work.
Assistant – Are you sure? It is no big deal.
Doc – This will work. Let’s just get started.

It was here that I graciously offered to re-position myself to suit the urologist’s dominant hand and was assured that everything was fine. After a few injections directly to the coin-purse, it was time to go to work. We covered Fleetwood Mac’s musical contributions and the increased propensity of young couples to cohabitate prior to marriage before he finished.

I was asked by the assistant to continue my current form of birth control (my personality) for the foreseeable future and was handed two specimen cups. I was then instructed to bring them the “16th sample” I produced. Reading the bewildered look on my face, he reassured me that I did not have to produce all of the samples on the same day.

Still unable to process what I was being told, he clarified that I was being given “a prescription for sex” so that they can verify that I was producing a “clean sample.” Given the two-month time-frame, I observed that this was a rather audacious goal and assistant 2 asked if I might need a magazine. I enthusiastically replied that I preferred Home and Garden or Conde' Nast Traveler.

Armed with the world’s greatest prescription, I moseyed out to the wife and broke the news to her. She muttered something about “good luck with all that” as we made our way toward the car. Once we got home, I liberally applied bags of frozen peas to the affected area for the next twenty-four hours and did my best to remain motionless. During the subsequent days, my wife conjured an award-worthy amount of sympathy considering that she had given birth on more than one occasion.

I was feeling pretty good by the third morning until my wife asked why I was bleeding. As it was the weekend, I had to call the “after-hours line” to speak to the doctor on call. When I explained that there was a “breech in the hull” of the Starship Enterprise, he calmly asked if I would describe it as “gaping.”

This sparked a brief discussion on what constituted a “gaping” hole (I believe a quarter was referenced) and I realized that the nature of scrotal wounds tends to be rather subjective. In my estimation, any egress point not sanctioned by the home office was unacceptable, but to a dispassionate medical observer this was simply a brief setback that would resolve itself.

The final hurdle I face is presenting my 16th sample within the strict parameters laid out in the paperwork (fresh and still warm). Depending on traffic and parking availability, this could be challenging to procure in my home and my wife didn’t seem very enthusiastic about fooling around under a blanket in the urology waiting room. If I am pulled over for speeding on my way to deliver the sample you can rest assured that it will necessitate a second blog post.  

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Das (toy) Boot

For the two years I have had the privilege of knowing her, my daughter has been fearless. She will throw herself headfirst down slides that would give pause to children twice her age. She purposefully submerses her entire head during bath time just to see how long she can hold her breath before me or her mother panics. She walked into her first day of full-time childcare as if the presence and reassurance of her parents was already hindering her social ascent.

So you can imagine my surprise when she displayed true, involuntary fear. The catalyst for this reaction? A wind-up toy boat. Months ago my son had received a green speed-boat toy. You could wind a tiny knob affixed to the faux outboard motor and then presumably the boat would speed along the surface of the water creating hours of fun and enjoyment.

In reality, once you wound the boat it would sputter on for about two inches before taking on water and rapidly sinking to the bottom. It was less of a bath-toy than a maritime disaster practice kit. The only accessories missing were hapless crew members and a poorly-maintained life raft. It was for this reason my son had quickly lost interest in the toy and it remained in the bathtub simply because we lacked the will to remove it.

So when my daughter recoiled in horror at one end of the tub, it took process of elimination to determine that the source of her fear was this same toy boat. Somewhat confused, I utilized exaggerated motions to remove the offending craft from the tub and place it into the nearby sink. Reassured but still shaken, she eased herself back into the water but never really took her eye off of the sink where I had placed the toy.

While drying her off, she continued to inquire as to the whereabouts of the green menace. I told her that the boat was “all gone” (utilizing sign language for good measure) and would not bother her again. I mentioned this to my wife but neither of us could understand why this tiny toy was able to locate the chink in my daughter’s psychological armor.

Despite my assurances that the source of her fear was gone, she would continue to inquire as to its whereabouts at odd intervals. Diaper changes, car rides, and even story time would be interrupted by her shaky voice asking “where boat?” One morning when my wife went in to wake her up, she frantically asked to see me. When I got in her room, she clung to me and whimpered “boat get Daddy!” over and over again.

I tried my best to assure her that, statistically speaking, my demise would more than likely be attributable to heart disease or Type 2 diabetes but nothing seemed to calm her fear. Since I hadn’t thrown the boat away, I theorized that I could make a production of destroying it in front of her. Perhaps I could place it in the driveway and make an elaborate display of running over it with the push-mower.

When I ran this idea past my coworkers, one of them pointed out that this would do nothing but transfer her fear from the boat to my push mower (since anything powerful enough to destroy an evil boat must be exponentially more evil). Faced with this airtight logic, I went back to the drawing board.

Eventually my wife, who is far more emotionally perceptive than I can ever hope to be, discovered that my daughter’s newfound fear of boats and their effect on the well-being of her caregivers was attributable to binge-watching the Disney movie Frozen.

As with any classic Disney film, the parents meet an untimely death before the close of the first act. In this case, the parents’ demise occurred when the boat they were on sinks at sea. To Disney’s credit this scene was understated and the emotional gravity was quickly undermined by a musical number, but the idea was there and somehow my daughter had connected the presence of a toy boat with the loss of her parents.

Once again, I was taught a lesson in how perceptive children can be. Ironically, Walt Disney movie studios may be the reason that my family never takes a Walt Disney Cruise line. Perhaps in their next movie, the protagonist’s parents will meet their demise at a Chuck-E-Cheese.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Random Thoughts 13

I was behind a vehicle yesterday with an official state license plate identifying the owner as a veteran. This, in and of itself, was not unusual as I have seen veteran plates before (often denoting the conflict they served in). However, instead of identifying the occupant as a participant in Desert Storm or Vietnam, it simply said “Honorably Discharged.”

I had always assumed that to receive a veteran’s license plate (and any well-deserved perks that come with it) one would have to have been honorably discharged. Since they have made a point to clarify this on the plate design, does this mean that there is a line of veteran car tags with phrases like “Still AWOL” or “Summarily Court-Martialed but Won on Appeal”? 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

For the past several months, my son awakens into what we have dubbed his “Quasimodo” phase. He will run from his bedroom and loudly order everyone to “stop looking at me!” Ironically, were it not for this announcement, his emergence from his room would have gone unnoticed. I am working at compiling footage of this and pairing it with the chorus of Iris by The Goo Goo Dolls.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I was recently taught an important lesson on stereotyping. While in the mall with my son, he announced that he needed to use the restroom. We walked down the long corridor and entered the men’s room. Since the urinal was at NBA-draft height, we decided to wait for one of the two occupied stalls to open up. After a few moments, both doors opened simultaneously and I was faced with two young men whose dress, demeanor, and volume of tattoos above the Adam’s apple suggested an organizational affiliation with something other than the chess club.

Instinctively pulling my preschooler slightly closer, a number of scenarios ran through my mind: Were they dealing drugs? Were they concerned my son might turn state’s evidence and wish to silence him? Had there been an illicit exchange of human organs for a 2004 Pontiac Aztec?

So imagine my surprise when, having taken in the situation, both of their scowls gave way to smiles and they immediately began discussing which stall would be the cleanest for my son to use. Gentleman A advised me that his stall appeared to have some urine on and around the seat and inquired to Gentleman B about procuring a disposable seat cover for my son to use. They both lamented the lack of common courtesy in public restrooms and wished my son and I a pleasant day before thoroughly washing their hands and depositing the paper towels into trash. Lowlifes.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

One Saturday morning, our home received an unsolicited visit from two elderly women representing a local Jehovah’s Witness congregation. I answered the door unshaven, disheveled, and flanked by my two young children. The lady closest to me asked if I was “babysitting for the owner” and had she not been so sweet I would’ve mentioned something about the kids already being there when I jimmied open the back door this morning.

They proceeded to tell me give me an Awake! pamphlet and read scripture from their copy. My son - visibly disappointed that the visitor was not wearing a UPS uniform and brandishing an Amazon box - rudely interrupted her scriptural recitation and asked if she had any toy magazines. I apologized and let her finish telling me that this issue featured articles on disease prevention and clownfish. I have to give them credit for branching out. If they had thrown in a few movie reviews and an expose on North Korea I might have asked for a subscription.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The last time I filled my tank with gas, a sign informed me that my fuel was infused with proprietary “marker molecules.” I love it when vague scientific terms are used for marketing. I have some more suggestions for meaningless fuel additives:
      ·         Swedish emulsification stabilizers
·         Ionic triangulation polymers
·         Viscosity purification enzymes
·         Adhesional displacement solvents
·         De-polarized gamma fractals 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

Our local grocery store has implemented a system that allows you to place your order ahead of time and have an employee bring all of the items to your car and load them for you. They will usually come to your window, have you pay for the items, and inform you of any substitutions to your order (you wanted 2% Milk but all we had was Boone’s Farm).


Then they will ask you to pop your trunk so that they can load the items. They always seem to be nonchalant about anything they find back there that I really want to try to get a reaction from them by having a trunk full of boxes labeled “Anthrax Lozenges” or someone dressed in an Alf costume with their hands and feet bound. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

God vs. Science

I have been on a science and physics kick lately, watching the entire rebooted Cosmos series and reading “The Big Picture” by Sean Carroll. I recommend both works as they are well-presented and challenging. They are both, decidedly, dismissive of theism. In some ways, I believe this is why it is important to expose myself to them. If I coddle my own faith by refusing to consider persuasive contrary evidence, it becomes a static heirloom rather than a living journey.  

Science has and continues to play an integral role in explaining the mechanism of our reality, but it becomes overextended when it attempts to make sense of why there is a reality at all (or why that reality found itself inhabited by beings capable of contemplating it). Please do not misunderstand me, I am not a young-Earth creationist and my belief in God is not predicated upon the acceptance of a 6,000 year-old planet. I do not believe that Darwin was the anti-Christ or that he proposed a framework incompatible with the idea of an omnipotent Creator. If my child becomes ill, I pray and take them to the pediatrician because I can find no compelling evidence that those are mutually-exclusive courses of action.

I have never understood the hostility between religion and science. For centuries, scientists and those who dared to challenge their society’s prevailing views concerning our physical world have been persecuted by religious authorities. When scientists had the audacity to claim we did not inhabit the center of the universe, we interpreted truth as apostasy. When dinosaur bones were discovered, many dismissed the idea as fraudulent since they were not mentioned in scripture and were not identified as passengers on Noah’s Ark. As science has methodically uncovered humanity’s role in affecting the way our planet operates, we reflexively push back against any suggestion that we have control over the creation we attribute to our God.

The frightening truth is that these reactions tell us far more about the strength of our faith than the influence of science. Does our God’s reputation suffer when a universe we attribute to Him is constantly being revealed as more complex than we dared imagine? Should I be troubled by the implication that complex emotions can be identified through the interactions of millions of intricately-woven neurons and synapses? Should I be ashamed that I would rather err on the side of caution than treat God’s creation with apathy?

Meanwhile, many scientists have dismissed faith in God as a philosophical crutch required to steady the weak-minded and the uneducated.     

At this point in history, the brightest minds in cosmology believe that there was a Big Bang and that in that exact moment there were equal amounts of matter and anti-matter. Despite this, matter – and over eons – consciousness prevailed to become what it is today. Logically-speaking, that shouldn’t have happened. What long-term survival value does conscience bring to the table for humanity? Why would a random collection of molecular material reacting to the forces outlined by scientific inquiry develop the ability to grieve, hate, and love? Why was their ever a single-celled organism to evolve from? Why do we allow ourselves to become so enamored with the architecture that we miss the architect?

This is commonly known as the fine-tuning theory. The idea is that there are so many variables that must interact in such a specific way in such a narrow window of time to produce life, that the most logical explanation is that there must be a greater intelligence behind it. In other words, complete happenstance is harder to prove than the existence of God.

If you hear an orchestra playing a symphony, you would logically assume the resulting sound is the product of skilled musicians reading from the same piece of music under the direction of a conductor. Is this the only possibility? No. It is also possible that an unrelated group of novices stumbled upon the same room full of instruments at the same time and all began independently emitting random noises which sound like Beethoven’s Fifth. But we can all agree that is far less likely.

At present, the scientific rebuttal for this line of thinking is the multiverse theory. It states that there are endless realities all occurring simultaneously and we just happen to inhabit the reality where the novices got lucky. After all, there are trillions of other realities where the non-musicians sound as discordant and awful as we would expect them to. Of course, we are no more likely to prove this than we are the divinity of Christ. Even more maddening is the possibility that the fundamental laws of physics we observe here might only exist here on not translate to an alternate reality.

Religion owes science a debt of gratitude. It was science that dared to suggest birth-defects and infertility could be genetic phenomenon rather than punishment by God. It is science that reminded us that tornadoes and hurricanes are the result of meteorological conditions rather than supernatural judgments. It is science that differentiated depression and bi-polar disorder from demonic possession. Science whispers in our ears each time we open a pediatric cancer research center instead of attributing the diagnosis to “God’s will” and giving up.

I believe the world we inhabit was designed and created by an architect. I believe that same architect is the reason humans and consciousness exist as they do today. I believe that architect cares about what happens to us and the creation we inhabit. I believe that the clearest view of that architect’s hopes and intentions for His creation can be seen through the words and actions of His son, Jesus Christ.         


I also believe that the clearest way to understand and appreciate the world of that architect is through the lens of science. I believe that God rejoices each time someone receives a life-saving vaccine or a smoke alarm prods a family to safety. I believe that His will is done when an amputee receives a bionic limb or contaminates are removed from a community’s drinking water. There are always going to be some points of contention between these worlds and I understand the difficulties in reconciling sacred texts with observed reality, but I believe there is far less dividing us than we think.