Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best Laid Plans

I had a plan for the holiday season.  Every year, I usually volunteer to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, if needed.  In return, I get to be off for that most sacred and holiest of all holidays:  New Year's Eve, where I plan to partake in the usual ceremonies consisting of going out, getting drunk with friends, and having a good time celebrating with strangers.  And the fireworks.  I love the fireworks and the countdown to the New Year.  And if I'm lucky, I make new friends and enjoy my own fireworks with new friendly strangers. 

I worked Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the rest of the weekend to get New Year's Week off.  I was going to cash in my miles and had saved enough money to earn a week long stay at a tropical location by the beach.  I had been eyeing this last minute getaway for almost a month now and had until Christmas Eve to book it.  I had a carry on bag packed and waiting by the door.  My plan was to get home Monday morning, take a shower, get dressed, then take a cab and my carry on to the airport, where by that afternoon, I had envisioned myself laid out on the beach under a giant umbrella, with shades and sunscreen on, sipping a margarita while enjoying the view of the hot, nubile, nekkid women strutting and tanning themselves on the beach.

Yes, sir, I had a plan.  Unfortunately, as the saying goes: Of mice and men, even the best laid plans (or in my case, my best plans to get laid) often go awry.  So instead of sweating under the sun, I'm wearing a sweater indoors while my heater kicks on.  Instead of sunshine and blue skies, I see rain and cold gray days.  My new swimming shorts, never worn, still packed in the carry on; the carry on still by the door, a sombre reminder that my tropical trip is no more.  What happened you ask, where did it all go astray?  It started the week before Christmas, when I spoke to a friend of mine in a land far away.

I was talking to my friend, wishing him a happy holiday season and catching up with him.  He told me how he was doing fine and how grateful he was that he and his wife are glad to have made it through the year all right.  I had an inkling that it had been a tough year for both of them financially.  Well, it's been a tough year for most people all around.  But he was proud that he and his wife were able to save up enough money to get bikes for their son and daughter.  I figured, wow, bikes are great!  And I told my friend what an awesome gift a bike was.  I asked my friend if the kids know that they're getting bikes for Xmas.  My friend, sheepishly replied, "Well, they didn't really ask for anything this Christmas."

Wow, I thought, what wonderful children!  And I told my friend how wonderful his children were for not being so materialistic or worldly this holiday season.  My friend got quiet, then he told me the full story.  His hours had been cut back so he was making less money.  Still, his wife and he agreed to move their family to a safer neighborhood; so they made the move.  While the old place cost less and had more room, it was also located in a bad neighborhood and was far from work.  The new place, while smaller and costing more, is closer to the kids new school and my friend rides his bike to work, to save money.  His wife takes the bus.  When I asked how the kids are adjusting to the new place, my friend replied that they were doing great, and his son had told him that he was happy to have a room of his own.

They had to make the tough decision of transferring the kids to a new school, leaving behind their friends and starting over in a strange new place.  That's hard for any adult, much less a small child.  But they had sat down with their kids and explained their reasons for moving, and the kids adapted as well as they could.  My friend told me how he was able to get a small Xmas tree and some lights and how excited the kids were to help decorate the tree and put up other holiday decorations.  And I pictured them as a happy family, celebrating the holidays with love and joy, as it should be.

Then my friend's wife mentioned that she had all ready put some presents under the tree.  When I asked if it were the bikes, she laughed and said, no, the bikes were still hidden.  Instead, she had taken some new clothes for the children and wrapped them so the tree wouldn't look so empty without presents underneath.  What she told me next broke my heart.  The clothes she had bought were really those 3 or 5 T shirts in a pack kind of clothes.  She had found them in the clearance aisle; and she had taken them out of the packs and wrapped them individually so it would look like the kids had a lot of presents under the tree. 

Suddenly, I felt sad, thinking about what my friends had done to give their children a good life and a good Christmas.  I couldn't help but think, no kid likes to receive clothes on Christmas; I think every child would like to have toys instead.  As if sensing my thoughts, my friend's wife continued, well, they need new clothes anyway.

I didn't know how to reply.  So I asked her how the kids were doing in their new school.  She told me that they were doing fine.  And that they were both making new friends.  I wasn't surprised.  I always thought their kids were very friendly.  The last time I had seen them was five years ago when I visited their part of the world.  The son was only 4 then, his sister, 3.  Now he was 9 and his sister, 8.  Thinking about their ages, I couldn't help but wonder that maybe there was something that these kids wanted.  I know at that age, I had dreams and fantasies and wishes, too, even if I was too afraid or ashamed to say them out loud.

During the conversation about school work and projects, my friend let it slip that while he was going over his son's homework, he found a piece of paper wedge in the pages of a book.  It was a letter that the teacher had made them write to Santa.  In it, my friend's son had written a thank you and well wishes to Santa.  Then he asked, if it was possible, for him to get some Legos and a remote control car, and a Barbie doll for his sister.  The letters were supposed to be turned in, but for some reason, my friend's son decided to hold on to his and he tried to hide it from his parents.

My heart ached at the thought of a 9 year old boy, too ashamed to ask for a present, because he was aware of how hard things were for his family.  And I was deeply saddened and moved by the thought of this small boy, too afraid to say what he wanted, too embarrassed to ask for what he really wanted for Christmas, because he didn't want to cause his family any more hardship. 

Suddenly, I remembered that Christmas so long ago, after I lost my father, and things were very hard for us.  I was 8; my father had died suddenly; and now my mother was a single parent struggling to raise 3 young boys.  Things would be hard for the next few years.  But my mother, she found a way to get us through those rough times.  She found a way to make sure we were still children, who could still find some happiness, even after our whole world had been torn apart.

I remember that first Christmas after my dad passed away, and how I was afraid to ask for things, because I knew that they cost money, and we didn't have a lot of that.  I remember the many Christmases after that, where I still felt that sense of shame, every time I saw something new and shiny and wanting it, only to realize that it cost too much and I didn't really need it.  Once a child learns the difference between need and want, it signals the end of childhood and innocence.  It's the end of bliss and imagination, and the beginning of the realization that the world can be a harsh and rough place.

No child should have to be worried about things like having money or a home or food on the table.  But it happens and it happens a lot.  And if we're lucky, there's someone who can lend a helping hand or show a bit of kindness, even for just a little while; it can make a world of difference and restore some hope and let the child dream just a little bit longer.  All children eventually learn that life is not easy and the world can be a cruel and terrible place.  But children should also learn that sometimes, the world can be a wonderful place and that so long as you have hope and love, you can overcome anything; you can find a way to survive and thrive and move on to better things.

After I hung up with my friend, I felt a heaviness in my heart.  My eyes welled up at the thought of this 9 year old boy forced to grow up too fast, learning the harsh lessons of life too soon.  I felt a deep sorrow at the thought of this little boy, who I remembered being so full of laughter and joy when he was younger, now starting to realize that life was hard for him and his family; and he felt too embarrassed to ask for what he wanted this Christmas, and he felt too ashamed to share his wishes with his family, because he knew that what he wanted was just out of reach.

I felt a kinship to this boy, as I recalled my own sense of helpless and sadness and wanting so much and being ashamed for wanting anything at all.  I remember thinking that I shouldn't want so much; that I should be grateful just to be alive: that I should not want anything more, because everything more comes at a cost.  And that's a sad way for a child to think.  That's a sad way for anyone to think.

Suddenly I think of my mother, and how she always found a way to make things better, even in the worst of times.  And I realized, I wasn't a child anymore; and I know things now that I didn't know before.  And I realized that I could do more; and I could do what my mother had done and find a way to make things just a little bit better.

Today, I received a phone call from my friend and his family.  His kids were excited and laughing and thanking me profusely.  My friend spoke softly and thanked me.  His wife did most of the talking, because my friend was on the verge of crying.  She thanked me for the package they received.  She almost cried too when she said how surprised they were to get the package and just how amazing it was to see her kids eyes light up when they opened the package and started unwrapping the presents inside.  She couldn't believe that I had done this, but  I told her I wanted to do this, because that's what friends do, they take care of each other.  And I wanted to reward her son, because he was a very good kid.  Both her kids were good children and they deserved a little happiness and joy this holiday season.

And there went my travel funds.  I spent it on legos and radio controlled cars and Barbie dolls; on model airplanes and Hot Wheels and a cupcake maker; on chocolate candy, sweets, treats, hot chocolate mix, and candy canes; cake mixes and muffin mixes and frosting; stocking stuffers; action figures and dolls; helicopters and trucks and trains and boats; bubbles to blow, stickers and coloring books and glow in the dark stars; children's books and new clothes, because, really, kids do need new clothes, and a little something for my friends to enjoy for this holiday season and the year to come. 

So, I'm not basking in the sunlight, sipping mixed umbrella drinks on beautiful sandy beach while the breeze caresses my body.  But that's okay.  It's much better to hear laughter and joy from a grateful child you've given a gift, too.  It's much more important to know that for today, a small family is feeling happy and have hope, and know that they are not alone and that the world can be wonderful, amazing place.

No, this is not the plan I had in mind for this New Year.  But that's okay.  Even the best laid plans go astray, and sometimes, it's for the best.  In next hour, I'm heading out to meet some friends for dinner before we head out to celebrate and enjoy the countdown and fireworks, making new friends and partying with the old.  So I'm not carousing on a nude beach surrounded by a bevy of a beautiful sunbathing ladies; that's okay.  For the rest of the week, I shall turn up the heat in my home, put on my shades and some beach music, mix up some drinks and lay on the beach towel covered lawn chair and pretend I'm at a tropical beach paradise. 

Whatever your plans are for the New Year, I hope you find peace and joy; I hope you find hope and happiness;  I hope you find that the world can be a better place and I hope you are safe, warm, and find yourself among friends and loved ones.

 Related Links:
Hope is a yellow dump truck
Holiday Dismay
Are you there, Santa? It's me
It's the Most Stressful Time of the Year
The thing about fathers
Veterans Day Reflection
A good jacket keeps you warm and dry

Friday, February 1, 2013

Shopping Carts

Today, I got up early to do some grocery shopping.  I arrived in the nearly empty parking lot to find several shopping carts taking up parking spaces.  It was very irritating.  When did people become so lazy and inconsiderate?  How hard is it to walk the few extra steps to put the shopping cart in the shopping cart return rack?  There's a rack every ten parking spaces, so really, it doesn't even take but a few seconds to return the shopping cart to a rack.  And by returning it, I mean push it into the rack, not just leave it hanging out by the rack, where the cart could roll away and hit a car or even block parking.

When did it become okay to just leave the shopping carts all over the place instead of returning it to the racks?  When did people become lazy, inconsiderate idiots? 

After I was done shopping and had put away the groceries in my trunk, I pushed my cart and rounded up another two left in the adjacent parking spaces towards the nearest return rack.  I spent less than a minute straightening out the mess of shopping carts scattered at the return rack.  Seriously, it is not that hard to return a shopping cart to the return rack.  What is hard for me to understand though is how lazy and rude people have become.

On the way back home, I stopped by another store to return an item.  I found myself waiting behind a man riding one of those motorized shopping carts.  It was a little annoying to me how he kept backing up and then go forward and back up again, trying to make some sort of adjustment.  Adjustment for what?  I don't know.  There were no obstacles to go around, just a straight shot to the customer service rep and wide open spaces to roll around.  The only item in his cart was a pink bottle of Pepto Bismol.

I got the feeling that he was just killing time, playing around with the motorized shopping cart until it was his turn to see the service rep.  And wouldn't you know it?  As soon as it was his turn, he couldn't figure out how to parallel park along the customer service desk, so he just stood up and did his transaction standing for several minutes.  And when he was done, he sat down in the motorized cart and wheeled off.

When I completed my return and exited the store, I saw the man who rode the motorized cart driving away in a car that was parked next to mine.  Imagine my annoyance when I found the damned motorized cart left right by my driver's door!  That lazy bastard had driven the motorized cart out of the store and then just rudely left it blocking my car door!  What's even worse, the damned battery was drained and I couldn't move the thing out of my way.  I had to squeeze through a foot and half opening to get inside my car, all while cursing that lazy bastard who left that damned cart in my way! 

In my rage, I invoked all the vengeful gods I could think of--short of the ones that required chicken sacrifices--to place a curse upon this bastard!  I hope he gets food poisoning, and may the only bowl he spends time with this Sunday be the porcelain kind!

A few minutes later, on the way home, I came upon the street construction that had blocked off one of the lanes, reducing the flow of traffic to one lane going under the overpass, and the one lane for access on the highway only.  As the traffic slowed down to a crawl, I saw a car ahead of mine on the right side, the highway access side, blinking a signal, trying to squeeze into my lane to go under the overpass.  And wouldn't you know it?  It was the lazy bastard from the store!

Oh sweet fortune!  The gods had answered my prayers!  But I calmed myself down and reasoned that I was a better person, not a vengeful one, and I considered his predicament.  It sucks trying to cross into another lane, especially when everyone is in a rush but traffic is crawling, and cars are lined up with just a few inches separating them.  Most drivers will NOT let you cut in, because everyone is so focused on getting out the construction site as fast as possible--and most people become jerks on the roads, especially with construction detours--it comes from a mixture of anger and survival instinct. 

I thought to myself, really, I am the kind of person that would let someone cut in front of me, because I would want the same courtesy if I, too, suddenly found myself needing to cross over into the other lane at a construction site slowdown.  And with the traffic light now red, I found my car behind a pick up truck that was right next to the bastard's blinking car.  I could see his pleading eyes in the car window, looking at me pitifully, hoping that I would let him cut in front of me.  I figured, if the light turned green, I could pause my car long enough to let the inconsiderate bastard cut in front of me and be on his merry way.  That would be the courteous thing to do.

But you know what, I didn't feel so courteous.  Oh no.  Not now, not then.  The gods had given me a gift!  And when that light turned green, I kept the space tight between me and the pick up truck and slowed the car all the way up to the overpass, forcing that bastard on the right to take the highway access instead of crossing over.  The look of panic and disbelief on his face, his mouth dropping wide open, made me break out into a big laugh!  The next exit was a mile down the highway.  He would have to make the turnaround then, adding a whole 2 miles to his drive!  In your face, you lazy, inconsiderate bastard!  It's not so nice when people are selfish, isn't it, you bastard!?!  What goes around comes around.  And if you're a rude, inconsiderate bastard to people, don't be surprised when people don't give a damn about you!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sexy Elephants

While I was recuperating from the cold last week, I decided to flip through some cookbooks to find a new way to make chicken soup.  I figured that chicken soup would be a great addition to my cold fighting arsenal, which included a regimen of cold medicine, some cough drops, and lots of fluids. 

Imagine my surprise when I found this little gem at the end of a cookbook:

That's right.  Elephant Stew! 

Surely this recipe is a joke!  You can't have stew without onions and some root vegetables like carrots and potatoes! 

I figured, if a little chicken soup can make me heal from the cold, imagine how much faster I'll heal with a large elephant stew!  Of course, the recipe doesn't specify whether I'll need an African or Asian elephant.  I'm assuming with the Asian variety, I'll just be hungry for more in an hour. 

Not that I could find any elephants at the local supermarket.  Live lobsters?  Yes.  Hog's head?  Yes.  Kimchi?  Yes.  Elephant?  No.  Not even the local butcher shops carried any elephant.  The only other place where I'm pretty sure they have elephants is the zoo.  And the closest one is about 2 and half hours up in San Antonio.  I wonder if they sell them by the pound?  I don't have a fridge big enough to store an entire elephant.  I may have to call the Houston Zoo just to compare prices.  I can't help but ponder, do the baby elephants taste soft and tender like veal?

And what kind of side dishes does one have with elephant stew?  I suppose a roasted rhinoceros and a garden salad would go great with the African variety.  As for the Asian elephant, I'd definitely go with some rice and panda pot pie.  But seeing as I've recovered from the cold now, I won't be making any long drives to acquire an elephant to make a stew. 

And since I have recovered from the cold, I had no excuse to stay home, and I found myself being dragged to the mall to go shopping with a friend.  I admit, I am not a mall person.  Though, when I was younger, I was thrilled to go to the mall.

Back home where I grew up in a rural town on the remote coast, we didn't have a mall--we still don't have one to this day.  Not that it's necessarily a bad thing.  But I do remember the excitement of the first time I went to a mall--and that was in San Francisco the summer I was visiting my cousins.  I was a small town teen in the big city, and I had a blast hanging out with my cousins, making new friends, and learning all about life in the big city!

For a decade or so after, I loved going to the mall to hang out with  friends--watch a movie, eat at the food court, do some browsing and shopping.  And sometimes, just people watching and cruising from one end of the mall to the other.  All those people, many different faces, the lights, the sounds, the colors were somehow enough to make going to the mall a pleasant experience that begged to be repeated every weekend.  It seemed like that's how we'd spent our days off--going to the mall in the daytime, and going clubbing at night.

But somewhere along the line, I lost the excitement of going to the mall.  Somehow, the people turned into a faceless crowd, the sounds became noise, and the place just felt too much and too little at the same time.  Gone were the lively colors and sparkle that once seemed so vibrant along the paths that led from one end of the mall to the other.  Now all seemed grimy, dirty, and somehow, crowded and empty at the same time.  Somewhere, somehow, I just lost the excitement of going to the mall every weekend.  What was once an anticipated activity is now more of a chore, something done out of necessity, not for fun.

I suppose it could be because I've grown up--I'd never confess to growing old.  Maybe it's because what was once new and exciting has become old and predictable.  Have I become jaded?  Or maybe I've changed and no longer need the mall to enjoy my days off.  Or it could also be that I've found much better deals at other stores and online.  But whatever the reasons, I've found myself shopping less and less at the mall, going only during the holidays for a few times a year.  And I'm fine with that.

So it was with a weary, resigned sigh that I found myself being dragged by my friend from store to store in her search for the perfect dress.  The joy of laughing with my friend and the promise of lunch at the food court were the only things that made the experience go from tolerable to enjoyable. 

Somehow, we found ourselves in one of those youth obsessed stores, where the expensive, shiny clothes were for anorexic, skinny people; the young staff was clueless and too busy looking bored to help anyone, practicing their mannequin poses, trying too hard to look cool and nonchalant; and the music was just a tad too loud, making the place seem more like a club than a hip clothing store.

Ordinarily, I avoid places like this.  But it just so happened that right after we walked in and started browsing, the dance music started and it was a song that I liked.  It was a Calvin Harris song featuring Florence Welch, called Sweet Nothing.  I couldn't resist bopping to the song, and pretty soon my friend and I started singing along to the song.  We were having a good time, grooving and singing right up until the chorus, when my friend suddenly stopped singing and dancing and gave me a puzzled look on her face.
She asked me to repeat the lines that I had just sung.  And I complied, "Sweet elephant, sweet elephant, you're giving me sexy elephants."

To which she incredulously replied, "She is not singing about elephants!"

And I argued, "I'm pretty sure she's singing about sexy elephants."

And back and forth we debated until the song was almost over and my friend countered, "Why the hell would she sing about sexy elephants?"

"Why not?", I asked her.

"Because it doesn't make any sense," she replied, "The song is called Sweet Nothing, and she's not singing:  you're giving me sexy elephants!"

And I answered, "I'm pretty sure that she's singing about a sexy elephant.  And given a choice between getting sweet nothing or a sexy elephant, I'll take a sexy elephant any day!"

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


I've spent the last few days recovering from an assassination attempt.  It started last weekend when I was enjoying a get together with some friends.  Some were married, a few of us single, we spent the evening discussing everything from politics to pop culture and teased each other on the latest misadventures in our lives.  Gorging on decadent food, imbued by intoxicating drinks, lost in the revelry of mischievous conversation, I let my guard down.  And that's when the assassin struck!

One of my married friends asked me to hold their 3 month old baby while they went to look for their two toddler sons.  Tiny, chubby, cute little bundle of joy and warmth.  His little face was still ruddy from being fussy and crying earlier.  His parents commented that they were just getting over the cold and the baby was doing much better.  And in my arms, he calmed down and laughed as I played peek a boo and made funny faces and noises to get him to laugh and smile, the crowd chuckling along at my efforts, enjoying the delighful sounds of the baby laughing.

And when I put my face up to his, that's when the tiny assassin struck!  He sneezed at me!  A tiny Achoo!  Awww, went the crowd and I, taken in by the cuteness of the act and enjoying the moment.  I blame the alcohol.  Had I been sober, I would've realized the danger that I had been exposed to and perhaps I would've avoided the situation in the first place.

It wasn't until the next evening when I realized that I was the victim of an assassination attempt.  It started with a runny nose; then congestion; then my nose became confused as to whether it was runny or congested.  Sometimes, one nostril would run while the other was clogged up; and then the nostrils would alternate which one was runny and which was clogged up, depending on the position I turned my head, in my feeble attempts to breathe.  The coughing the next morning was the damning evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt what I had feared:  I had gotten a cold!

For two years I had managed to survive without catching a cold.  And here I am, starting the new year, struck down by the maddening disease!  And there was only one person who exposed me to this vile illness.  That baby!  That tiny assassin!  With one little sneeze, he has brought me to my deathbed.  Instead of out and about enjoying my days off from work, I am locked up in my home, languishing in exile, longing for the days when I could talk without hacking up a lung or two.  I have coughed so much that my throat is sore and one of my ears feels clogged up. 

Going to the store to buy remedies was a harsh reminder of my affliction.  I have been reduced to using the self-checkout aisle, my face covered by my hoodie, keeping my distance from other human beings, like a leper forced into quarantine to avoid spreading the disease to others.  Bagging my own groceries--the horror!  the horror!

But, what does not kill you makes you stronger.  And I am not dead yet!  The only thing that has comforted me in my suffering is the thought of revenge when I fully recover.  No, I do not blame the baby.  He's a baby; he doesn't know how to wash his tiny hands or cover his mouth when he sneezes.  He doesn't know how to keep his distance from the filthy, germ laden public.  Instead, I blame the parents for transporting and deploying that tiny, portable incubator of germ warfare, unleashing him on an unsuspecting public! 

Clearly, those parents had attempted to murder my social life, condemning me to spend several days in celibacy and solitary confinement, cut off from adult conversations and interactions, deprived of alcohol and the joy of staying out late with other people--much in the same way having children changes a couple's lifestyle.

I cannot wait to recover.  And the next time I encounter my married friends and their kids, I'm going to feed their kids so much candy and sweets that they'll be too wired up to go to bed and keep their parents from getting any sleep or having any marital relations!  Vengeance!  Vengeance will be mine!  I can't wait for the tiny assassin to start teething and keep mommy and daddy from ever sleeping again!