Don't you just love those late spring showers? The rumble of thunder in the distance, lightning bolts streaking through the sky, and the smell of rain are some of my favorite springtime moments. As I made my way through town yesterday, catching both traffic lights green, I peered a hopeful eye toward the sky as the promise of a shower dribbled sporadic sprinkles onto my windshield. By the time I had made it past the city limit sign, the sprinkles had transformed themselves into a deluge of huge raindrops. Turning onto the dirt road toward my modest little farmhouse, I dodged puddles, taking the high middle of the road in an effort to avoid creating ruts.
I stepped into the house just seconds before the torrential downpour unleashed its fury, kicking off my boots by the back door. I shook the water off my hat and placed it on its rightful hook by the door. It was at that exact moment a brilliant flash and the angry roar of a thunder clap caught me off guard, my heart skipping a beat or two. My ears focused in on...complete silence. No electricity!
Stepping into the living room, I smiled at my daughter sitting on the couch, staring at a black TV screen.
"I was binging on 'The 100.' The new season came on Netflix yesterday and I made it to the season finale...and now THIS!"
She picked up her phone and began texting. Seconds later she headed for the door.
"Where are you going?"
"To find electricity."
And she stepped out into the storm, leaving me to deal with a darkened, silent house all alone.
Sure that the power would return in a few moments, I sunk into my usual easy chair, smartphone in hand.
I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook, then Twitter. I googled the number to the electric company just in case the electricity didn't come back on momentarily, jotting the number down on last Sunday's church bulletin. Bored with all that, I meandered into my bedroom and changed into some dry clothes. The dog danced at my feet and we both headed through the house toward the kitchen door, me stumbling over the canine a time or two in the darkened hallway.
I shooed the Boston Terrier out into the pouring rain, muttering, "You'll be sorry!"
Watching sheets of rain roll off the patio awning as the dog hesitantly squatted in a puddle, I shook my head, "I'll have to mow again!"
Letting the dog back in, a distasteful smell of 'wet dog' following along with her, I stood in the middle of the living room and raised my iPhone...a whole ten minutes had passed since the electricity had gone out. I sighed. I couldn't cook. I shouldn't even open the fridge. What if the power didn't come back on for hours? A surge of panic flowed through my body. How much charge did my phone have left? What if my e-cig peace pipe went dead? I couldn't watch TV or play on the computer! The silence in the house was deafening. Oh wait, that was the noise of the rain smashing against the window and the crack of another lightning bolt landing nearby.
I fervently dialed the number to the electric company. The line was busy! Why would the line be busy right now? I needed to call them about the power! I waited another thirty seconds...still busy! Geez! How would they ever know I have no electricity if I can't get through to them? I tried to calm my panicked mind. Perhaps someone else was telling them about the power outage. Or was it just me without power? I stared toward my neighbors' homes through the deluge. I shrugged my shoulders. My nearest neighbor was ten acres away, after all. I dialed the electric company again...still busy. Tossing the phone onto the couch, I raised my hands in despair.
Well, of course, the electricity came back on...two hours later. I had some touch-and-go moments during that time. I had time to reflect...time to think. It was a bit scary, me trapped with nothing but my own thoughts to entertain myself. But I came away from this tragedy with some realizations and some thoughts to ponder.
The Good Lord allowed mankind to live without the luxury of electricity for thousands of years. When the sun went down, our ancestors sat in the dark... or fired up a torch. For the vast majority of civilization as we know it, man has had nothing to entertain himself with except his own thoughts. There were no smartphones, no TV's, no internet. For thousands of years, the human race survived without the convenience of electricity and here I sat for two hours practically going out of my mind.
The luxuries and conveniences of today have weakened mankind. We have spoiled ourselves. I, an off-the-grid survivalist sort of guy, struggled with the concept of living without what we all truly believe to be a basic necessity for survival...electricity. I have told myself in the past that if by some natural disaster or even a nuclear attack the world fell into darkness, I would be one of the few that could pull myself through should the lights go out for days, weeks, or months. Perhaps I've been keeping myself in the dark about living in a darkened world. Two hours in the dark was enough for me! Note to self: Need batteries for flashlight.
Shreveport, Louisana has never been on my bucket list of 'must-visit-before-I-die' places, but it should have been. It was a spontaneous whim that brought me to this culturally overloaded historic city last week where I found myself smack-dab in the midst of something called the 'Mud-Bug Madness Festival.' Apparently folks around those parts refer to crawfish as mudbugs, and obviously, those same folks believe mudbugs are meant to be eaten...with an ample dose of, what else, Louisana Hot Sauce.
I have dined on crawfish, or mudbugs, or what we called crawdads when we were kids. As long as you remove that little poop-vein, crawfish are fine eating. With crawfish in every imaginable form and fashion available at the Mud-Bug Madness Festival, I had every intention of devouring a few of the little critters, but my first stop was at a concession stand hawking alligator sausage gyros. Admit it...you'd have to try alligator sausage, too, right?
While those crawfish enchiladas at the next booth looked amazingly delicious, there is just something manly about scarfing down alligator sausage. Throughout the night I sampled foods I couldn't even pronounce, all-the-while fully intending to round it all off with crawfish. And believe it or not, I just never got around to it. I was having too much fun!
Music and festivals go hand in hand and two stages offered an awesome sampling of local musicians dishing out music as hot as that Louisana Hot Sauce. My group of revelers finally settled at a table, listening to some pretty little lady wearing a peach colored dress, accessorized tastefully with a fiddle resting on her shoulder. As I sipped on that one beer I had allowed myself to indulge in and grazed on something I couldn't even pronounce, she sawed that fiddle into a foot-stomping rendition of 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia.' And that's when it hit me...
I was having fun! I had inadvertently let my hair down, what hair I have left. It was something I'd not allowed myself to do for some time. The last time I had this feeling sweep through me was on some beach on Padre Island, and that was some years ago. Yeah, I dunno...I'm just twisted a bit differently than most.
I am a driven, goal-oriented, focused person. Throughout my life, my primary goals have been survival...not to starve and to keep my nose to the grindstone so I can pay the bills. I have been cursed with an old-fashioned work ethic. Cursed with a mindset that 'fun' is simply not in the budget. Nickles and dimes still mean a lot to me, and you can't even fathom how much twenty dollars is to an old goat like me. Sweat beads on my forehead and my heart pounds inside my chest whenever I lay a five dollar tip on the table of some diner. It's from years of scraping to get by. It is perhaps my biggest curse.
I've not missed a meal since those 'young and dumb' days back when I first set out on my own. There were times back then when I flicked the piss-ants off a stale saltine cracker and diligently scraped the last spoonful of peanut butter from the bottom of a jar. I learned the hard way that hunger is real. I learned to survive. I learned that a dollar is a whole lot when you don't have one.
So, fun has always been on a back burner for me. Fun costs money and I might need that money someday for a box of saltines and a jar of peanut butter. I can't shake the curse. I am not financially successful by many peoples' standards, but I do better than some. The house is bought and paid for, as is the old pickup. I have very few bills compared to most of you. I have free health insurance for the rest of my life and someday when I wise up and retire from a job I've clung to for over twenty years, I'll have a respectable retirement check. But still, I scrape for every nickel and dime I can.
But, as the old country song says, you'll never read on a tombstone, 'I wish I'd spent more time at work.' I am at a threshold in my life. I yearn for the enjoyment that life has to offer. I'll need counseling to achieve it. Lucky for me, my daughter wants to major in phycology in college. Did you know colleges don't take nickles and dimes...or twenties, for that matter? That is my final financial hurdle.
Shreveport, you found a place in my heart. I will come back. I have to...I never got to sample your crawfish cuisine. But there is more I wish to do. I want to catch enormous sun perch in an Alabama lake. I intend to experience mardi gras in New Orleans. I just have to walk on the beach in Myrtle Beach. I yearn to see the lights of Vegas. I dream of sitting on the porch of some cabin in Colorado and watching the sunrise.
I wish to bury that serious side of me so deep that it'll never rise to the surface again. I want to laugh until my belly hurts. I have a burning passion for experiencing all that life has been saving for me all these years. I crave the notion of irrepressible impulsiveness and the adventure of unpredictability. I desire to break the curse of frugalness, with an unbridled freedom to toss nickels and dimes into any fountain I happen upon with nary a fleeting thought. Seriously...I just want to have fun!
Graduation 2017...we made it! My daughter and I both crossed the finish line last Friday night. I do not mean to take any of the glory away from her for the truth is she did it all on her own and in a very grand way. But when she walked across that stage to receive her diploma, I was right there with her. Yes, tears and all.
There were some tense, behind-the-scenes moments leading up to the event. I'm just a dad and had not the slightest clue what to do, or when to do it...or how to, as a matter of fact. I had never ironed a graduation gown before and literally lost sleep the night before wondering how hot to set the iron. What if the garment burst into flames right there on the ironing board? I had a shirt do that to me once. I'm sure the entire fiasco would have made a pretty funny video. But you burn a shirt, you go down to the Walmart and buy another one. You burn up a graduation gown? I've never seen those at Walmart.
There were numerous banquets in the weeks leading up to graduation. In a small community such as ours, events such as that draw large groups of people together. You get to see folks you weren't sure were still alive. You get to sit next to people you don't like. You stand in long lines at the buffet table and when you finally reach out for that last slice of cheesecake, some six-year-old snatches it just nano-seconds before you claim ownership.
Graduation banquets are a time to share your feelings. For one particular affair, I had to write a letter to my daughter that would be read before a large crowd. Nobody told me about the two hundred word limit and I am an author. I'll be publishing that letter in book form shortly...at two hundred pages, it should be a pretty good read. At the next banquet, my daughter wrote me a letter. I had to stand before the crowd as she read it. Thankfully I wore a long sleeve shirt that night to wipe my blurry eyes with. That was even more emotional than letting the cheesecake get away.
Finally, the big night arrived and myself and an army of family members headed off toward the football stadium. Well, yeah! Where else would a small west Texas town hold a graduation ceremony? We arrived fairly early and the stands were already packed. Everyone around here is related to some student who is graduating. Every year the entire town shows up. Our entourage was forced to find seating the uppermost bleachers and we all scrunched together, fumbling with cameras and smartphones, trying to zoom in on the empty chairs lined up on the field. ln the stands, folks were testing out their air horns. Helium balloons bobbled above the crowd and as the moment arrived cheers rose throughout the stadium. This was the biggest event of the year, after all, and we had all came out to support those kids who had endured and conquered a grueling twelve years to get to this point in their lives.
As the ceremony concluded, the speaker announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the class of 2017, I declare you graduates of...."
Well, you would have thought we'd won the Super Bowl. Before he could finish his speech, the entire crowd rushed the field. Air horns sounded throughout the crowd and confetti flew everywhere. I was really expecting fireworks to start shooting off on the fifty-yard line. I don't know how the rest of y'all do graduation, but around here we do it in a big way. After some serious searching, I finally located my own graduate and the family gathered around for pictures. As my eyes surveyed the mass of people on the field, I had a genuine feeling of euphoria. I found myself pondering the question 'Is this what Heaven might feel like?' For there was nothing but pure joy, love, and happiness radiating throughout the crowd.
And what better way to top off a graduation than to throw a traditional Texas-style cookout afterward. Family and friends gathered to continue the celebration, feasting on a brisket cooked to perfection. As the last of the crowd drove away well after midnight, I patted myself on the back. I may have faltered here and there leading up to this night, but by gosh, I had managed to pull off the perfect cookout. Exhausted, I slumped into my easy chair and cherished tonight, filing it into the 'Favorite Moments Of All Time' folder in my mind.
I am proud beyond words of my favorite daughter. Yes, I have only one but she is my favorite. Three years ago she came from a big city school to our little podunk high school, not only adapting...but soaring like an eagle. Her accomplishments these past three years are overwhelming and she shined like a diamond. I'm thankful the Good Lord afforded her the opportunity to experience life in a small town. And I am grateful to our community, school teachers, and so many more who not only acknowledged her potential but encouraged and cheered her on every step of the way.
I sat down with a cup of coffee Sunday morning and flipped through our local Sunday paper, which was three times thicker than its usual four pages, and beamed with pride. My daughter, my pride and joy, and my biggest blessing had landed herself on every page of that special graduation edition. After reading the paper, I carefully folded it and tucked it away in that special place I keep my treasures.
And so, a chapter ends. Next chapter...college! I'm accepting donations!
I’m a storyteller. Before I started telling stories on the internet, I told them to just about anybody who’d listen. In fact, I’ve been telling stories long before there ever was an internet. I know some of you younger folks weren’t aware that at one point there was no such thing as the internet…I’ll give you a second to grasp that thought. Okay, moving on. The Good Lord has blessed me throughout my life, not with fame or fortune, and my love life has been somewhat sketchy, but I’ve been richly blessed with plenty of adventures throughout my life. Most of them make a good story to tell…so I usually tell them.
Both of my grandfathers were witty and humorous men. My Grandpa on my mother’s side was a master story teller and I can remember all of us grandkids sitting around him as he puffed on his pipe, awaiting a story. He’d puff for a few minutes, ignoring us, until a twinkle would come into his eyes, then he’d lean forward and begin spinning a tale. We’d all sit, mesmerized, listening and absorbing every word, laughing till our tummies hurt. It’s what folks did back in the day before there was television. Well, of course, there was television when I was a kid. My grandparents didn’t have one. There was no need for one. We had Grandpa.
I believe storytelling is a dying art. Don’t believe me? How many really good movies have you seen this year? Right! There weren’t any! There apparently aren’t any more good stories to tell. Hollywood keeps going back and telling the same stories over and over. I watched some old Spiderman movie last week on Amazon Prime. Other than “Bad Grandpa,” it’s the only movie I came close to turning off fifteen minutes into the flick. Movies, television shows, and even the songs we hear today are more often than not empty, void of substance and leaving the majority of us less than entertained.
In random conversations I tend to get myself into with those who seem fascinated by my stories, I’ve often made this statement: Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has a book that needs to be written. If more people just like you would tell their stories, the world would be a much more interesting place.
We leave everything to the professionals anymore. We have professional authors, professional songwriters, professional movie producers and they all stay so busy in their profession there is no time left to explore their creativity. It’s become just a job for them. I can’t imagine being a professional writer, depending on my productivity to pay my bills. There are some days I am very unproductive. Days go by with nary a single creative thought passing through my head. If my survival depended upon my ability to write eight hours a day, five days a week…I’d starve. Come to think of it, I’m pretty hungry right now.
I find it stressful to come up with a topic for this weekly blog. I call it a blog because it’s what those who do this call it. I think they’re just stories and I don’t know who coined the term. Personally, I think there surely was a better word that could have been instilled. Blog sounds like something you do in the bathroom, don’t you think? My weekly struggles are not due to lack of ideas or topics. I have plenty of those. It’s more due to a limited ability to toss out something that might possibly affect someone in my close network of friends and family. For this reason, most of the people in my close social circle have no clue I write. I think most of the folks who know me have serious doubts that I can write my own name. I like it that way. But as time passes, more and more of the people who know me best discover the truth. They usually don’t divulge their discovery to me, but I see them whispering to others, “Stay far, far away from that man! He’ll tell stories about you!”
One of my most favorite stories is that of a young man stepping across the threshold of adolescence into adulthood. Some might say it’s a true story. I say true or not, it’s a pretty good story. Beginning this week, my book “Nineteen Seventy Something” will be made available in paperback. I think you will find it entertaining, much more than anything Hollywood has made lately. I just ask one favor…keep it a secret! There may be a girl or two who might think I wrote about them! I promise you, it’s the one story your grandpa never told you! See more about “Nineteen Seventy Something” here!
I'm just about ready to throw in the towel, hang it all up, chuck up the sponge, cry uncle, roll over and play dead, spank the monkey...no wait, that doesn't belong in this sentence. Quit. I'm almost ready to quit...social media. Social media is not worth its weight in goat turds anymore. If I could recoup all the time and energy I've invested in social media over the years and cash it in, I could retire. I could retire anyway, I suppose, but what would I do with my time now that social media is dead? Yes, I believe it...social media is dead.
The great minds who created social media and took it to heights never imagined have in turn set out to destroy it. Greed overcame them, clouding their vision of a new virtual world where the masses would never have to leave the comfort of their homes to interact. And the masses loved it...until greed reared its ugly head.
Remember the early days of Facebook? Co-workers, friends, classmates, and family all gathered together via the internet, separated by miles, states, and countries, yet able to connect with one another with their fingertips. We liked and poked each other until the wee hours of the morning, our bloodshot eyes straining to focus on the computer screen before us. Nowadays, what's for supper and little Sally's piano recital have been shoved into oblivion, replaced with advertising disguised as social media. Those who think they know us better than we know ourselves sit in their cubicles beneath florescent lighting, deciding what we can and cannot see. Rather than investing time and resources into giving us better opportunities to connect with each other, they devoted their research to how to make another billion dollars. Yes, we still take our daily scroll through our facebook timeline, bored at the fake content thrust upon us, but hoping...still hoping for a glimpse of those days long gone.
Twitter. Yes, twitter is a different critter and not for everyone. And it is faltering as we speak. I can remember back in the early days of twitter how I would announce my new weekly blog post every Sunday night. My website would literally crash from the invasion of eager readers flooding the server. Yeah...no, that doesn't happen anymore. Back in those days, I had around six thousand followers. Today I have twenty-seven thousand and I'm lucky to get a handful of link clicks to my blog. Twitter never found it's purpose, nor did we. There's not much you can say in 140 characters including spaces and punctuation. Perhaps it was the novelty of those limitations that even gave twitter a chance, but those same limitations are taking it to the grave. Now, the only twitter frequenters are trying to hawk something or another to folks who don't want to buy anything. We all want to sell something! Twitter is like a Mary Kay convention. Everybody wants a pink Cadillac. Oh sure, there are a few who just wish to have their voices heard. My timeline is filled with haters, Republican haters, Democrat haters, gay haters, straight haters, God haters, cat haters. None of these folks seem to want to buy anything from the Mary Kay tweeters. They just want to hate. And to drive the final nail in their coffin, Twitter has now decided they will follow Facebook's lead and decide what we should see. Let me think...what do I want to see on Twitter? Thank goodness, I will no longer have to make that decision.
Pinterest appeared out of nowhere when Facebook kicked us peasants aside, making a place for us to post our pictures of food and clothing and random flowers growing in random places. Now, I really try to get all worked up over Pinterest but apparently I'm just not one of 'those people.' I dunno, I have a dog who sleeps all the time. I suppose I could put up a few pics of it. Can't imagine who would want to see a sleeping dog...or random flowers...or random food. But, the good news is, if you have a super photo of last night's dinner, Pinterest will let you promote it to thousands...for a fee, of course.
Here's the dilemma. All these social media sites cropped up at a time when entrepreneurs were literally crawling out of the woodwork. It offered people like me an opportunity to put ourselves out there, giving us a fighting chance of making our dreams a reality. When those social media sites realized this, they saw dollar signs. The common social media browser, i.e. us normal folks who are just killing some time while supper is cooking, are of little value to the social giants. These people are, however, of enormous value to the entrepreneur. As a result, social media has become one continuous newsfeed of advertising. And nobody is getting rich except the social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Frankly, I don't want to see exclusive updates from Donald J. Trump...I want to see little Sally's piano recital! So, frustrated, I put the laptop down and go find something else to do. And the more I do that and the more you do that, the closer social media comes to its demise.
When social media draws its last breath, what on earth will we all do with our eight hundred dollar cell phones? We may actually have to call somebody...shudder at the thought! Perhaps the time has come for us to get a life!
I just have time for a quickie! Ah, get your mind out of the gutter. We are in full-blown graduation mode around here. It kicked off with Senior Prom last weekend. That was a fiasco! I couldn't even get the girl out of the house. She wanted to leave but, in a nutshell...zipper. Dads are just dads. That's all the Good Lord intended for us to be. There's supposed to be a mother around for events like, well, prom. My daughter and I have been winging it on our own for three years now and up until that zipper, we've managed pretty well. Up until that almost three hundred dollar dress threw us a curve ball.
Everything was right on schedule. Hair was done, nails polished, makeup that would make any celebrity jealous. Nothing left to do but put on that dress that cost as much as a good color TV. Me, being the single dad that I am, had given the princess plenty of space and had busied myself with washing dishes. I knew I would soon be needed and kept an ear out for,
"Dad, would you zip me up?"
When the call came, I dried my hands on a tattered dish towel and reported for duty. I figured ten seconds to zip that dress up and another five minutes fumbling with that tiny clasp that all necklaces come with and she'd be off. Well, I was wrong. First, if I was designing a prom dress that would sell for nearly three hundred bucks, I'd put a quality zipper on it, like my wrangler jeans come equipped with. I was barely able to get that tiny zipper head (do they have a real name?) between my fingers. But once I had a firm hold on it, it zipped right up...three inches to her waistline. And there it stalled like a Ford.
After struggling for fifteen minutes, I suggested she take the dress off and zip it up.
"Just slip it over your head. I think it will work."
My daughter, fighting back tears for fear she'd mess up her Hollywood makeup, expressed her doubts but in desperation, agreed to try. I stood behind her closed bedroom door.
"Is it going to work?"
"Dad, I can't even get my arm through! What are we going to do?"
"Slip that dress on...we're going to Grandma's!"
I knew it was just a man thing. I had already peeked out the window to see if the neighbors across the road were home. We needed a woman! I'd never seen grandma wearing a prom dress but maybe, just maybe she could zip one up.
Fifteen minutes later -
"Gosh, I can't get it zipped either! My old hands...let me see if my neighbor is home."
A quick glance out her window and she shook her head, "I'll call my friend who sings in the church choir. We may have to get the whole choir over here but we'll get that dress zipped up!"
Fifteen minutes later - The lady from the choir appeared at grandma's kitchen door.
"I don't know why you think I can zip that dress up if neither one of you can."
I sighed and hung my head. I had failed as a father. I couldn't even zip up a dress. I felt tears trying to form in my eyes. I glanced at grandma who seemed to be fighting back tears, too. I knew my daughter would already be crying but...you know, Hollywood makeup. The choir lady took hold of the zipper head. I held my breath and...zippp!
Well, I don't know. Apparently, it takes a special talent to zip up a prom dress. I lack that specific talent. Obviously, runs in the family seeing how none of us could get such a simple task accomplished. So, my daughter made it to the prom, fashionably late, but there none the less.
And so it begins. New dresses to buy, random events almost every evening, awards banquets to numerous to mention, church luncheons, and the big night itself...graduation! Invitations still lay on the kitchen table. Is it cool to invite people over facebook? Can you just text them? I mean really, shouldn't relatives just assume they're invited?
Oh, hang on! I'm having a panic attack. It just swept over me like a tsunami...beads of perspiration forming on my forehead. Sweaty palms, rapid heart rate, can't catch my breath!
Do graduation gowns have zippers?