Recently, I had the joy of watching one of the endless parades of shameless politicians reach a new low of self-importance and self-promotion.
Have you ever noticed the "before" photos that show up in the endless diet program advertisements on TV? Have you ever notice that, with the exception of Marie (who lost 50 pounds!), nearly every one of those people were smiling, look happy, and exude contentment in their "before" photos? I didn't think so. I didn't until it occurred to me that those people appeared to be quite happy regardless of their size. Got me to thinking.
Why should they spend time and money and incur frustration when they were happy just being themselves before being persuaded by body shaming advertising to chase after some societal "norm" of what should be their ideal size? The word "jolly" comes to mind, a word now associated only with Santa Claus, the right jolly old elf. I mean, if Santa is jolly regardless of his girth, or maybe because of his girth, shouldn't we be like Santa? Obviously, being his size hasn't affected his life span. Maybe it has extended his life span. The Bible says that a merry heart maketh like a medicine, right?
Next time you see one of those diet ads, and they are ubiquitous, take a look at the "before" pictures of those tricked into spending money to lose weight. A happy face is the best advertising for not going on those pricey diets. And with that, I rest my case.
I believe in diversity and I believe in tolerance, and I can prove it. I have friends who are Cubs fans and I have friends who are Cardinals fans and I still accept them. They are welcome in our home and they know it, showing up for our First Friday gatherings, as well as other times, with regularity, making those times more fun. I am okay with their wearing their teams' paraphernalia and keeping me up to date with their teams' successes and failures. They are intelligent fans who know the game, appreciate the history of their teams, and are aware of the thousands of statistics that only major league baseball can generate (right-handed hitting Ernie Forbles' batting average the day after a night game on the road in June when the sun is shining and lefty reliever Portnoy Rackowitz is pitching with a 2-1 count).
My friendship and expansive tolerance is partly based on sympathy because, with the Cubs every century or so with a World Series championship notwithstanding, their teams are, well, inferior. Inferior to what, you might ask. Inferior to my team, for 62 years now, the Boston Red Sox. We have better fans, history, ballpark, city, players, management, and more nuns in the stands.
But tolerance and welcoming diversity only go so far, and they do not include embracing fans of the Forces of Evil, the New York Yankees. A pox on their houses
I am now a Son of the South. I do not hunt. I do not fish. I do not even play golf. I am an English professor for Pete's sake which means that I fit a certain stereotype. I like to read a lot. I write novels. I have weird neckties that I sometimes wear. None of these things qualifies me to consider myself now a bona fide, yet transplanted, Son of the South. So what does qualify me? This: I have an old pickup truck on blocks! My Lord, I feel so accepted now, after decades of living in Dixie, I have come of age. It didn't take a dog fight, moonshine (no comment), or even my own special road kill barbecue recipe.
It was having that truck up on blocks.
I came out one morning and the truck was leaning a tad to port, so took a look and there it was - a flat tire. I needed to fix it, but the jack I had to use was for our Altima, and it didn't lift the truck high enough for me to take off the tire. So, I got a big block of wood and put the jack on top of that and jacked that old pickup higher and higher until I could remove the tire. then I took the tire in and picked it up two days later and put it back on the truck.
My old pickup was up on the block only a couple of days, but I'm counting it, even though it wasn't on cinderblocks, or even in the front yard. Son of the South? That's me!
I picked up a flat tire on the way to Newberry College a few days ago. In the dark. On the Interstate. It began with a funny little sound coming from the back of the car, along with a little vibration. Of course, I assumed nothing was wrong. Prayed nothing was wrong. I did not like the idea of being stranded on the Interstate in the pre-dawn darkness. There be monsters about at that time of the night. So I ignored it. With regard to my health, I have always ignored little signals of malfunctions in my physiognomy and the problems always disappeared, unless there was breakage. And sometimes even then. The funny little sound grew louder.
Pretty soon it was really, really hard to ignore the deafening "whop-whop-whop" sound of my right rear tire disintegrating and the colorful array of warning lights all over my dash. I slowed down a bit. It got louder until I couldn't hear myself ignoring it. Fortunately, an exit was looming up so I was able to ease off the Interstate and onto a two-lane blacktop that led into a small town where we used to live. But it was still a few miles to civilization. So I nursed the car on three good tires and a sturdy rim to a parking lot on the outskirts of town.
I opened the truck and noticed that I had one of those dinky little spare tires, which was good. What I didn't have was a jack. I have no idea where it was, but for sure it wasn't in the trunk of my car. So I walked a few short miles in the cold dark and into town, believing nothing would be open for a couple of hours, but I did find a repair shop that was open, but that did not do tires. The man there gave me tow numbers to call for help, so I thanked him and walked back to my crippled transportation and called the first number, found a nice lady on the phone, and gave her my tire size and location.
An hour later I was back on the road and only $167 poorer. I plan to find that jack when I get around to it. Might come in handy someday, but I rarely get flat tires, so I might just ignore it.
Yesterday, dawn began with Dawn. Dawn is my hygienist and I had an early appointment with her at my dentist's practice. She gave me a good report and said she'd see me in September. This did not surprise me, but still, it was a relief that nothing needed to be scraped, filled, bridged, removed, or reconfigured. Then I headed to the mall with my computer, which, for some reason, had basically quit on me. I did not have an appointment at the Apple store, so I was resigned to waiting there all day to be helped. The Apple store in the Mall (I hate going to the Mall) didn't open until 10, so I waited, dreading spending the rest of the daylight hours waiting for a helper to minister to my techno-frustration.
But a helper-person came out of the Apple store with a little device in her hand and began scheduling appointments for those of us waiting for the store to open. I couldn't believe it. She took down my information and said, "We'll send you a text when your appointment is ready." I said, "I don't text." She said, "Oh, well, just come on in about fifteen minutes from now." I did. Another young woman, named "Sunny," ran a bunch of tests and we figured out the problem was me. I'm not going into that. Suffice it to say that my morning appointments' timing corresponded with the names of the people with whom I would be dealing. I'm just glad I didn't have a lunch reservation somewhere only to find out the waitstaff's name was "Nooner."
The rest of the day was fine and dandy. I met my long-suffering wife at a local soccer match because some of her 9th graders were playing another group of 9th graders nearby. After watching a flotilla of teenage boys kicking each other in the shins, wandering around aimlessly, and bonking the ball with their heads, I remain unpersuaded about the efficacy of soccer as a sport. Waiting for something exciting to happen in a soccer match is like waiting for a politician to tell the truth. So, after the game, I went from the ridiculous to the sublime; that is, a dinner date with my long-suffering wife.
A fine and glorious day, all in all. A blessing every which way.
It's another New Year, and we all know what that means, other than starting to think about taxes, paying bills from Christmas, and considering trading in a cat for a puppy at the rescue shelter. It is other things, too. Studies show that 127% of Americans come up with New Year's Resolutions that, somehow, involve the body. Building muscle sounds like too much work, cosmetic surgery might be considered, but the majority of us are thinking about losing weight. I am thinking about it, probably doomed to failure after giving up on, oh, around January 13th last year. My problem is that, when I lose weight, I reward myself with food. Lost three pounds since the last weigh-in, go ahead and slather some butter on brats and go to it. That's like rewarding an alcoholic with Cutty, water back, for staying sober for a couple of weeks.
I never said it was logical.
However this is a good year because, on odd-numbered years I resolve to lose 15 pounds. And on even-numbered years I endeavor to gain 15 pounds.
And this is 2016. We will not discuss how I did last year. That would be bad form.
Now that Thanksgiving is behind us and Christmas is before us, I am preparing myself for the enjoyment of receiving Merry Christmas greetings in emails, e-cards, and the traditional Christmas cards. Ah, those Christmas cards; you know, the ones that brag about how wonderful their family is and, oh, by the way, Merry Christmas. I provide a sample here: "The Schmaltz family has had a wonderful year. Mimsy was named All-Conference in soccer at State U. while maintaining a perfect 4-point in her astrophysics classes, and being Homecoming Queen was a special treat. And we are soooo proud of Hunter! Sophomore Class President at Loveland Day School (private) to go along with his being the starting quarterback on the VARSITY football team! And just a SOPHOMORE! He's already receiving letters from head coaches of several major college teams. All of this while carrying a 3.814237 GPA. And Ray was promoted at work again and earned a hefty raise to go along with our all-expense-paid three days in Cancun as a bonus from his company. Of course Mom is always in the background, cheering on the fam when not publishing her first novel, taking Christian Pole Dancing classes to maintain her figure, and guest appearances on that top-rated TV cooking show - you know the one ; - ) Well, I guess that's it. And oh, Merry Christmas from our new, 4,250 square foot house to yours!"
One year, dear reader, we received a Christmas card that was a photograph of the family standing next to their new airplane. We sent them a picture of us standing around our recently-repainted Pinto. And Happy Birthday to Jesus!
One of the universities I considered attending as I left high school was the University of Missouri. They were the only major college that showed interest in me as a basketball player, although to be transparent, they never actually offered me a scholarship. I was going to study journalism because they were famous for that. Those were the days. Recently, they've been in the news. What caught my eye was that the students who feel as if something "hurtful" has been said to them are encouraged to call the cops. Ideally, they will also have a photograph of the rude person and maybe the license number of the verbal assailant's motor vehicle, if they had one.
My high school basketball coach called me lots of "hurtful" words. I wasn't the only one he hurt with words, but I was the only one he called "apple head." It brings tears to my eyes just to write about it, so damaged was I. My friends and I called each other much worse names, the majority of them good, robust, healthy Anglo-Saxonisms that did not require too many letters of the alphabet to spell. We all survived. Big deal.
As for the dear students at the University of Missouri looking for hurtful words so they can call the cops, they're just a bunch of snowflakes who would melt easily at first chance. Besides that, they're all a bunch of doo-doo heads. Now, go ahead and call the cops on me.
It is hard to tell just by looking at me, but I actually enjoy working out; that is, lifting weights. I enjoy thinking about working out almost as much, but that's another story. I've trained (if you can call it that) in a wide variety of gyms all over the place, and the best ones have tons of free weights, racks of dumbbells up to 150 pounds each, and good machines that work. One of the best gyms ever is Unique Fitness in Newberry, South Carolina. Currently I work out in a gym closer to home, but it doesn't matter where I go, the same male "types" show up.
There's the grunter/shouter who makes loud noises whenever he's lifting weights, and who slams the weights down on the floor when he's finished his reps. He does this to attract attention to himself. His grunts and shouts and deep breathing seem to increase when attractive females are in the vicinity. He lives in front of the mirror. Another type is the "preener" who wears flashy gym clothes and shoes that all match and are useful in hiding his soft physique. He may not have a fit, muscular body, but he always looks fashionable. Finally, there is the serious lifter who quietly goes about his exercises, puts weights back where they belong, and defers to other lifters who may be trying to use the same piece of equipment. These types usually wear loose clothing that mutes their size and downplays their muscularity.
I am none of these. I tend to slink around the dumbbell rack and leg machines, sneaking in a couple of sets when no one is looking so they can't see how light the weights are, I rest a lot between sets. I avoid eye contact. I eschew the mirror. I go home, quietly.
I'm sure you've all read or heard or seen the news reports about the 12-years-old boy who was arrested and taken away from school in handcuffs for kissing a 13-years-old girl. On a dare. He probably should have been pistol-whipped every step of the way to the police car, and there should have been an armed escort to the police station. The cad!
Sounds like adolescent humor. No harm, no foul.
On the other hand, unwanted was his advance. The girl was not pleased, flattered, or otherwise made happy. She was offended. She did not like it. She protested. Good for her. But I'm wondering if perhaps a less drastic resolution could have been had under the circumstances. Maybe she could have slapped him, or punched him out. My daughters would have. So would have my wife at that age. I know of a female to whom I am close who, when she was in junior high and a boy snapped her bra strap, she turned around and punched him. Hard. That took care of it. Self-reliance is cool.
But arrested? And handcuffed?
When I was in 6th grade a girl kissed me, without my asking. It was at her birthday party. The kiss was nice, and I floated as I journeyed the dozen blocks or so to my house. And I forgot to take her to court for sexual assault. Her name was JoAnne.
I have reached my limit on t-shirts. I finally paid attention to why my t-shirt drawer was so stuffed, as was the other t-shirt drawer. Not counting white t-shirts that I wear under regular shirts with collars, I have 15, FIFTEEN t-shirts with various statements on them.
Here they are: Boston Red Sox, Boston '13 World Champs, Boston Red Sox World Champs (in Hebrew), "I might live in South Carolina but I keep my sox in Boston," Newberry College, Narnia College (a favorite), Eastern Connecticut State University, black IOWA, white IOWA Football, Beware of Dawg (U. Of Georgia with famous picture on the back of Uga going after the Auburn player), black Wales, Israeli Defense Forces, POEM (Professional Organization of English Majors on back), "If you can't see Paris Mountain you're too far from home" (we live back up against Paris Mountain), and "Careful or you'll end up in my novel."
That's it, FIFTEEN t-shirts with a message. I intend to donate at least half to a charity. Some are so threadbare I'll recycle them into the trash. It will be hard, but no one who lives in a cozy cottage needs to have that many t-shirts taking up space. When that's done, I think I'll get a t-shirt with "Efficiency" across the chest.
I just got back from a checkup at my dentist's office. The hygienist said my teeth were looking good and needed minimal cleaning. My dentist checked her work and said everything was just dandy, so that was good. I told them that my nightly red wine wash was obviously working. They agreed, somewhat reluctantly. I asked if they had free bacon flavored mouthwash. No deal. But they laughed. All that plain vanilla cheer and professionalism made me nostalgic for the dentist I had when we lived in Georgia. He was funny. Irreverent. And excellent. We carried on conversations much like the one that follows, and I am not making this up. Dentist: "Well, John, time to get that filling taken care of." Me: "Might as well. No one's hurt me so far today. You might as well start it off." Dentist: "I've been dreaming of the opportunity to test your pain threshold. Are you good and numb now?" Me: "Yep." Dentist: "Too bad, I was hoping it would hurt a little bit, just for my amusement."
He begins poking around in my mouth.
Me: "Looks like you're catching up on your instruments. But I miss the chisel and 5-pound sledge hammer." Dentist: "Hmmm, I don't think I should have nicked that gray thingy in there. Say, John, did that hurt?" Me: "No, but I'm numb from my chest down." Dentist (aside to his secretary): "Oh, Margie, would you call my lawyer, please?"
He works around inside my mouth some more.
Dentist: "Hmmmm, I didn't think you would bleed quite that much. Interesting. A little more suction, Susie," he says to the hygienist assisting. Me: "I'm feeling faint. And I haven't even seen your bill yet."
And so on. It's fun having a noir dentist, and I miss him.
I've decided to come out of the closet. I really should have stayed in because now it's not so crowded since Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal have emerged. But I take courage from their disclosures and feel that I might as well let everyone know that I no longer identify myself as a white guy from Iowa. There. I've done it. But I'm not satisfied with just that admission. Oh, no. I am moving forward. I am me, hear me roar! I am proud and pleased as punch to say that I am the first trans-species person on the planet! Oh, I expect scoffers. I expect harassment from all over the place. And I expect and even demand lots of face time on the networks who have nothing more important to talk about than Caitlyn, Rachel, and weird weather.
You might be wondering what other species than homo sapiens I might identify with. Here it is. I, John Carenen, now identify with the three-toed sloth. One source described the species as "bizarre animals who appear to live in slow motion," and if that ain't me, you haven't been paying attention. I am also described as "cryptic" ("having a meaning that is mysterious or obscure" - Oxford English Dictionary) and "slow moving." Family, friends, former classmates, teachers, and coaches are all saying at once, "Aha! That explains it!"
All these years I have been living in slow motion and without any clear meaning, and now I know why. When I first concluded that I was trans-species, I thought maybe I was a Golden Retriever. But the truth has set me free. Slowly.
Lately, I have been going to the public library here in Travelers Rest. It is excellent. And I've been checking out books. It's free! Who would have known? Anyway, it is wonderful, but I have noticed something as I plow through novels by Robert B. Parker and James Lee Burke. It is this: Some people who borrow books at the library have poor hygiene. It is a rare thing when I go more than three or four pages without coming across residue of some kind. I am positive I have found blood smears, mucous from at least two places in the human body, and food stains (frequently chocolate). If possible, I use a thumbnail to dislodge those deposits which can be dislodged. Then I sweep away the debris and continue. If the blemish is a stain, I just keep reading. After all, I am not a dilettante. Is this a general phenomenon, or does it apply only to those who read Parker and Burke? Knowing that there is no answer available, I will not let poor hygiene from previous readers deter me from enjoying a good story.
Far be it from me to participate in such sacrilege. When I read, I immediately blot out my wine and beer spills, and make sure to remove most of the pork rind crumbs, Cheese Puffs dust, and bacon bits before I return the book. I have standards.