Sep 20

Our family dog died last weekend.  Her name was Buffy.  She was a 13-year-old beagle, and she was a beloved member of our family.  Her full name was “Slayer Buffy of Sunnydale”, because the wife and I with our toddling first-born used to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer religiously.

Yeah, I know, nothing funny here.  Move along, folks, nothing funny here… move along.

Over the past month or so, Buffy hadn’t really quite been herself.  She showed little interest in food (and she loved food).  She also got pretty lethargic.  I kept putting off taking her to the vet because… well… she was a 13-year-old beagle and I suspected the worst.  Finally, I put on my big boy pants and took her to the vet.

Buffy had a tumor growing on her spleen (or her pancreas, or some other organ you don’t really think about until it has a tumor on it).  A big tumor.  A 5-pound tumor in a 28-pound dog.  Needless to say, the tumor was filling her insides, which explained her lack of appetite.  And the tumor required a lot of her blood to keep on growing, which explained her lethargy.  I was given two choices:

  1. The vet could do exploratory surgery.  If the tumor couldn’t be removed, or if the tumor was cancerous, the recommendation was that Buffy not be allowed to awake from the surgery.  If the tumor could be successfully removed, there was a good chance the dog, at her age, would not survive the recovery.
  2. Buffy could be put to sleep.

I chose to take Buffy back home to spend her final days with her family.  If it looked like she was in too much pain, I could always resort back to option 2.

We took her home and we actually got a few good days out of her.  She seemed to be pretty much her old self.  We could get her to eat (if we hand fed her boiled chicken breast or beef stroganoff).  Then the tumor just got too big, and she couldn’t eat anymore.  Of course, she got her worst on the weekend.  The wife and I vowed to have her put down on Monday, but Buffy didn’t make it through Saturday.

She went peacefully… or at least as peacefully as a dog with a tumor filling her insides could be expected to go.  She fell asleep and she didn’t wake up.

So there I am, at 9pm in the dark on a Saturday night, digging a 4-foot grave in the clay that comprises our backyard.  Each member of my family said goodbye in his or her unique, special way over the course of the preceding week to our dear friend, and Buffy now eternally rests, wrapped in her favorite blanket, protected in our backyard… well… unless we sell the house down the road and someone buys it and decides to put in a pool or something… but we don’t think about that.  We plan on planting a tree or a bush or something over her in the future to commemorate the life of the best dog I’ve ever owned.

So, this week, after the appropriate amount of sympathy was displayed by my work colleagues, one of my coworkers comes up to me and says, “Hey, want to run a half-marathon with me?”

“You’re flipping crazy,” I said.

“Oh, come on.  Well have 6-hours to complete it.  It will be a piece of cake.”

“You’re flipping crazy,” I said.

“I don’t want to do this on my own.  We’ll have fun.  Maybe we can even get the boss to pay our entry fees,” said my crazy coworker.

And then my grief started to kick-in a little.

What would Buffy want me to do?

I started to imagine that my dead dog would want me to do this.  I started to imagine that my dead beagle’s entire existence had been to teach me that life is short, love those you care about deeply before they are gone, and that I needed to run this half marathon.

The rational part of my mind tells me that Buffy wants no such thing.  Buffy would have never wanted any such thing.  Buffy wanted to eat and be petted and roll in the grass and snuggle with your legs under the blankets and lick the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and tip over every garbage can in the house looking for food scraps and wrestle on the floor when she was feeling frisky… but I can’t really imagine a thought of wanting me to run a half marathon ever crossing her little doggie mind.  Grief… it does strange things to a person…

“You’re flipping crazy,” I said, “… but if the boss pays for it, I guess I’m in.”

I figured that the odds of the boss paying for it were about a gazillion-to-one.  It would take an act of supernatural proportions to make my boss agree to pay for some of his less-than-running-fit employees to go out and make absolute fools of themselves.

The crazy coworker came back from talking to the boss and said, “He agreed to pay for it.”

OH… MY… Buffy came back from the dead and influenced my boss to make this rash, crazy decision!  Buffy wants me to run this half marathon!

So, the marathon is less than a month away… and I’m signed-up.  I have less than one month to train for an event that normal people take months and months (if not years) to prepare for.  In all honesty, I think I could probably walk the 13+ miles in the 6-hours allotted.

Enter my crazy coworker.

He is intent on actually running in this thing.  And he doesn’t quite grasp how less than four weeks is inadequate time to prepare for something that most people gradually work their way up to.  He is, quite literally, crazy.  But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let that crazy sucker beat me.

I’m doing it for you, Buffy.  It is your will.  And if all goes as I expect, I will be joining you soon, girl… in fact, in a little less than a month…

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Jun 02

A friend of mine recently lost his father-in-law.  Well… he didn’t actually lose his father-in-law.  He knew exactly where his father-in-law was, which happened to be at home dying of cancer.  It’s funny how cancer ravages an individual and leaves tattered survivors behind.  No… not really funny, but, you know, devastating.  Kind of strange how some of our ways of stating things make absolutely no sense, isn’t it?  Why yes — yes it is.  Stinking English language.

So anyway, my friend’s father-in-law retired not that long ago.  Shortly after retiring, he was diagnosed with cancer.  Shortly after being diagnosed, it looked like treatment was working.  Shortly after the prognosis looked positive, the cancer got worse.  Shortly after the cancer got worse, my friend’s father-in-law was given two weeks to live.  A couple of days after being given two weeks to live, the father-in-law died.

The end.

… but this entire scenario has been playing with my head for the weeks that have passed since the father-in-law passed.  And then this week, a nice lady who was not that much older than me had a relatively routine surgery and, due to complications from that surgery, she passed away.  She left behind a loving husband and grown children who now need to find a way to their futures without her.  Of course, she was warned about the dangers of the procedure before she underwent it, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of available options.  Can anyone say, “Life bites”?  She was actually someone outside of my immediate family who had read this blog and thanked me for doing what I do.  She enjoyed it and got a chuckle or two from the experience… and now she is gone.  Well, looks like my dad and my brother are, once again, my sole readers…

I’ve been thinking to myself about what I would do if I knew I had a determined amount of time left.  Would I continue working if I knew I only had a month left to live?  I’d dare say I would not continue working.  I would want to enjoy as much of the last of life as possible.  I’d quit my job and sell as much of my stuff as possible to make my final days an enjoyable memory for the family I’d be leaving behind.  But then… people who are in the end-stages of life-ending disease rarely want to do little more than be as comfortable as possible and die in a timely manner, right?  These people aren’t usually in any shape to tackle that European adventure that they kept saying “some day” to.  So fantasizing about what one would or would not do during the final stages of life is a sick little game that will lead to nothing more than severe disappointment, I’m sure.  And this really got me to thinking.  Aren’t we all, in one form or another, in the final stages of life?  For some of us, the prognosis is decades, for others, weeks, days, hours?  And something can always come along and screw everything up, right?  I wonder how many people who are given weeks to live due to disease die in automobile accidents every day…

We are all dying.

Period.

Dying is the only thing we are assured of in this life.  Death is the only goal that will be reached by every individual on the planet, regardless of race, gender, creed, social status… or whatever.  From the moment we are born, our bodies begin the various functions that will end up using us up and spitting us out.

We are all dying.

So why don’t we act like we are dying?  We have precious little time on this planet, yet most of us still are avoiding the things that we really want to do; the things that, on our deathbeds, will end up being missed opportunities and fill us with regret.  We keep telling ourselves, “Someday, when I have more time,” or, “Someday, when I have more money.”  Wake up, folks.  More time and money are things we may never have.  If you have stuff you want to get done, you better get to getting after it.  You could be dead tomorrow, so don’t delay.  Think of all of the wonderful things we as a species could accomplish if we started living like our time here is limited.  Think of how few people would be in a job or a relationship that wasn’t fulfilling to them if they started living like they didn’t have eternity to do something with this life… because no one does.  What we accomplish in our short time here is the only shot we get.

Of course, realism always sets in when I start thinking like this.  Gotta put food on the table, right?  Gotta pay them bills.  Gotta put gas in the car.  You can’t just try to do whatever you want with your life without being destroyed by the consequences.  My mind always quickly changes back to: maybe someday when I have more time and money… maybe then I can try to accomplish something enjoyable with my life.  I can make the boredom of everyday life disappear once I have a little more time and money…  Well, I’m coming to the realization that I need to say…

Screw that noise!

This is my life.  Your life is your life.  I have a deep desire to do something I am passionate about with my life… to figure out my purpose and pursue it.

When I was a kid, I used to think that when I grew up and started making money and got a family, that would be when life really began.  Well, having a family is great and gets me through from day to day, but I soon realized that not everyone can make good money.  So, I started thinking that once I can get to retirement, that’s when life really begins.  Of course, to get to retirement at a decent age, you have to make good money (or sacrifice much of the comfort from current life to stick it all away for retirement)… and “good money” isn’t easy to find.  So retirement (if I live to see it…we are all dying, after all), is close to half a lifetime away, and half a lifetime (when you are 42) is way too long to wait for life to begin.

I know that I need to appreciate the little things, or I will prove to the world that I can’t comprehend a platitude.  But focusing on the little things, as fulfilling as that can be, does not seem like a very redeeming purpose.  I know that our purpose is supposed to be God’s purpose for us, but I highly doubt that God’s sole purpose for me on this planet is to appreciate the little things… that just sounds too boring; I would hope that God has given me more talent than that.

The only non-family activity that I do that feels rewarding is volunteering.  Boy Scouts, church, whatever.  Time spent volunteering (as much as I usually dread actually going to do the work) always leaves me feeling fulfilled.  You know, like a job has been well done (whether it actually has or not).  It feels good.  I do not, nor have I ever, felt the same kind of satisfaction working a job.  It’s this whole big Catch-22.  If I could actually make enough money to meet my needs by volunteering, I would probably be semi-satisfied with life.  But if I made money, it wouldn’t be volunteering… it would be a job… and like most jobs, it would probably suck.  So maybe I just need to volunteer more of my free time to find more satisfaction and purpose, but I am usually so drained after 8+ hours of working a job that the last thing I want to do is take more time away from my family than my current level of volunteering already takes.

See… damn it… this is why I should win the stinking lottery:

  • I enjoy volunteering; it leaves me feeling fulfilled.
  • I have financial needs.
  • If I win the lottery, my financial needs would go away.
  • If my financial needs went away, I could spend 8+ hours a day volunteering.
  • By spending 8+ hours of my day volunteering, I would be helping causes that need help and I would feel fulfilled at the end of the day (instead of just too tired to fulfill my current obligations to family and the organizations I volunteer time to).
  • This is a win/win situation.  Nobody loses… so why can’t I win the freaking lottery?!?

I can’t win the lottery because God’s purpose for me isn’t to volunteer all of my free time.  I can dig that.  But if my purpose involves a future of life-draining 8-5s, I most definitely cannot dig that.

“Well, nobody said it was going to be fair!”

Yeah, and nobody asked my opinion before putting me here, so that doesn’t fly.  Thus, the search for purpose continues.

I actually recently read “The On-purpose Person” by Kevin W. McCarthy… and I got excited.  It’s a narrative about a guy (who sounds a lot like me… but who makes a crapload more money than me) who feels purposeless.  Through a series of referrals, the man in the story visits various on-purpose people who volunteers their time to help the man find his purpose and start living his life on-purpose.  Whoa… that sounds pretty cool.  So, I check out an introduction to Kevin McCarthy’s web-based program that helps people find their purposes.  The first lesson was free and didn’t really provide too much useful info.  In order to get the good stuff, you need to pay for the seminar series… and it’s like 200 bucks.  And it sounds like you have to stop having a lot of fun and grow up and stuff, so I’m not exactly sure this program is for me.

“But… in the story, all of those on-purpose people gave their time and advice for free to the man,” I point out.

“But that was a story,” says the voice of reason.

“So, in real life, people aren’t willing to give their time to help others find their purpose?” I ask.

“Of course not,” says the voice of reason.  “In real life, people, including Kevin W. McCarthy have mortgages and life insurance policies and the need to eat.”

“Well,” I say, “real life kinds of sucks when compared to the story.”

“Nobody ever said it was going to be fair,” says the voice of reason.

Sometimes, I hate the voice of reason.  So the search continues.

I’m kind of thinking a more self-sustaining lifestyle may have some rewards…

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Oct 21

Fall

A few years back, I had a job that required me to spend a large portion of my time behind the wheel of a truck.  Early mornings were common, and I’d drive a lot of miles before returning home.  One memory stands out in my head above all others from that period of my life, and I believe that memory helped shape my current attitude toward the community I currently call home.

The day I remember must have been really close to this time if year.  The leaves had mostly turned, early mornings demanded a slight scraping of frost from the windshield, and the jacket I wore to brace against the frigid morning breeze rested on the seat beside me before noon.  Fall in Nebraska is almost like two seasons in one: the pleasant, warm time while the sun brightens the day, and the crappy, cold time when the sun, too, has had its fill of Nebraska.  On this particular day, I had left at around 3:00 am for some early morning business in Kimball.  The business in Kimball didn’t take too awful  long, and I found myself driving back into Scottsbluff at around 11:00am.  As I drove north on Highway 71 and drove over the bridge spanning the meek North Platte River, I couldn’t help but notice all of the leaves that littered the side of the road.  The area around the river is one of the few places where you can find a multitude of trees all in one spot in western Nebraska, and a significant wind must have blown through the previous night.  I can not remember a time before nor after that day where I have seen an exodus of leaves along the roadside of that magnitude. I was so impressed that I actually pulled over to the side of the road and just stared at the leaves.

A light breeze blew, and the leaves tumbled and twirled along the embankment.  Brown leaves, yellow leaves,  and even some green leaves and the occasional red leaf — leaves of all shape and size, though mostly cottonwood leaves — bustled along in an attempt to find the final resting place where decay could completely consume them.  The leaves fascinated me.  They were just a bunch of stinking leaves, but they were beautiful in their own way.  As I watched the leaves, I realized that they had all come to this stretch of road in Scotts Bluff County, probably through no choice of their own (I don’t think leaves have “choice”, do they?) either to die or because they were already dead.

While watching the leaves from my truck by the bridge over the North Platte River, I remembered a man I had recently seen at Walmart.  A funny looking man standing back in the dairy section caught my eye.  From a distance, the man appeared to be quite well-off.  He appeared to be dressed in a nice suit with shiny shoes and a stunning little bowler hat.

“How odd for someone to be dressed like that in Walmart,” I thought to myself, “and it’s not even Sunday.”

As I pushed my shopping cart closer to the man, his clean, crisp image began to unravel.  The man’s suit was not really very nice at all; it was haggard and stained… and it smelled… smelled bad.  His shoes (although it was obvious that a great deal of care had gone into their shining) barely had any soles, his right toe peeked out from not only the right shoe but the right sock as well, and the frayed laces appeared to be just getting the job done of keeping the shoes on his feet.  The white sweat stain that circled the man’s bowler added to the appearance of age that the runs in the bowler’s fabric created.  The old man seemed to be in a hurry to find something.  As I passed him, however,  he offered a sincere, toothless smile as he gently touched the brim of his hat… then he bustled on his way.

The memory of the man faded, and once again I watched the leaves — the leaves whose sole remaining purpose was to become fertilizer for the next generation — the leaves whose final resting place may be a stretch of road in the panhandle of Nebraska.

My mind wandered again, this time to the overweight population of Scottsbluff.  In 2009, Quality Health ran an article titled “10 Fattest Cities in America.”  Scottsbluff (not a community that graces many “top ten” lists) with 31% of its population classified as obese, came in at number seven.  Seventh fattest city in America… there’s something to take pride in.  See what a little corn-fed beef and buttered corn on the cob can do for a community?  And don’t forget about the wonderful high fructose corn syrup!  Corn… it’s what for dinner… and it leads to obesity!  Maybe people here just don’t know how to take care of themselves.  Maybe people here just don’t care.  Maybe people in the panhandle of Nebraska are just trying to tumble and twirl through life and get what little pleasure they can along the way.  A lot of pleasure can be found in a couple of Big Macs with a large fries and a Coke.

As I continued to watch the bustling leaves, I started to get cold.  The leaves I watched put on quite a show, but I started to realize that they really weren’t as beautiful as I originally thought.  I began to suspect that, upon closer inspection, the leaves might actually be kind of gnarly — full of bug bites and patches of disease and torn flesh and broken dreams.  I thought of the people that I know who have a bachelor’s degree in this or a master’s degree in that, and they are stocking shelves at a grocery store or working as para-educators  or slinging a construction hammer.  The leaves weren’t searching for a fulfilling life there along the side of the road in Scottsbluff, NE; they were there because they were dying or dead.

My appetite for watching the leaves gone,  I  suddenly just wanted to go home.  Still chilly, I slid on my jacket from the seat beside me as I started the truck and bustled toward home with the dawning realization that I probably had a lawn full of leaves in need of raking…

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May 18
Graduation

Every year, thousands of small birds are inexplicably killed near commencement ceremonies :(

WARNING!!!

Recent high school or college graduates, please don’t read this post.  I don’t want to be held responsible for harshing your mellow at this time of great accomplishment in your lives.  As you travel the road of life ahead, you will have plenty of time to discover the truths held in my words for yourself.

The wife and I took our boys to our niece’s high school graduation this past weekend in North Platte, NE.  So, we spent a weekend watching young people being recognized for their accomplishments. This all got me to thinking… thinking how much people could accomplish with their lives if the stinking real-world didn’t have to come along and jack everything up.

I remember graduating from high school feeling like the whole world was out there waiting for me to conquer it. I remember having the same delusions at my graduation from college. At my niece’s graduation, I could read the same thoughts in the faces of all of those graduates. They were imagining their futures filled with limitless opportunities. Give them a few years. They will find the limits. Actually, the limits will hunt them down and stomp many of them into the ground.  I know.  The graduating class speaker was a well spoken young woman who reminded the graduates that they were solely responsible for their own futures. Graduates and school administrators say that kind of stuff at graduations. Graduates and school administrators believe that kind of stuff at graduations.  Now, with graduates being young and naive, such dreams are expected.  School administrators, on the other hand, should know better but are extremely biased in their perception of the true value of “education.”  Aside from the field of education, I can’t think of a single line of work in the United States of America where further education guarantees higher earnings, seniority, and advancement.  A large percentage of people employed in the field of education seem to have lost touch with what it is actually like outside of the field of education, and those people probably should not be allowed to speak at commencement ceremonies; they paint an unrealistically-rosy picture.
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Well, I guess we want to give these young people hope for the future, right?  No need having them give up when a very small percentage of them are going to accomplish those dreams.  As for those who will not accomplish their dreams, they will have plenty of time to figure out what their futures hold.

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Soon enough, most of these optimistic young people will be just like the rest of us… wondering why everyone misled us about how bright our futures were.  For the kiddos, when someone tells you that you may need to set “new goals” or dream “new dreams”, this is them gently telling your dreams and goals are unrealistic (see, they lied to you at graduation… you can’t accomplish anything you want).  Pick something less-hard to accomplish, or maybe just settle for what you have.  Less hard and settling are what most of us do on a daily basis…

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Feb 01

Being short is not cool.  Short people are seldom respected, self-confident, successful, or desirable.  If being short was a positive trait, then in your youth, your parents would have lectured, “Drink your coffee.  That stuff is good for you… it stunts your growth!”  Instead, parents emphasized the danger of coffee stunting growth as a warning, much like the if-you-cross-your-eyes-they-will-stay-like-that-forever warning, or the if-you-do-that-too-much-you-will-go-blind warning.  Being short is perceived to be as undesirable as walking around for the rest of your life crossed-eyed, blind and acne-scarred… with hairy palms.  sigh Being short is not cool.

If you haven’t been able to guess this fact, I’m short.  So, what exactly does “short” mean?  Well, I’m kind of thinking that “short” means below the average height those around you.  In other words, I’m short because I’m below the average height of a male in the United States of America. Wikipedia actually has a really nice breakdown of the average heights around the world.

Ok, so I’m 5′ 7″. The average male in the U.S. is 5′ 9 1/2″. See how they do that crap? ‘1/2″ ‘. They gotta throw in that 1/2″ just to rub it in a short guys face. The bastards! And that’s just “average” U.S. males. The average “white” U.S. male (which, I’m a cracker) is 5’10”. Seriously?!? I’m a full 3″ shorter than my cracker brothers?!? sigh… no wonder I can’t seem to get a fair shake.

Alrighty, so let’s think back to short people who have been successful.  Any leaders that you can think of who were short?  Well, of course, there was Napoleon Bonaparte, right?  You know, the little French dude who was thought to be a little power-hungry.  In fact, Napoleon, had a complex named after him: Napoleon Complex.

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Napoleon Complex

The Napoleon Complex is an informal term describing an alleged type of inferiority complex which is said to affect some people, especially men, who are short in stature.  So, Napoleon must have been a real shorty, huh?  Just a tiny little guy, right?  Guess how tall Napoleon was.  C’mon, take a stab at it!  That’s right, Napoleon was 5’7″!!! Oh, for crying out loud…

So, who are some other famous short guys… or, maybe I should write, who are some other guys famous for being short?  Well, there aren’t really many famous athletes.  In order to be a competitive athlete, one has to be relatively tall.  So, a career in athletics was never in the cards for me.  So when I complain that athletes are overpaid entertainers, and people say crap like, “They had to work hard to get where they are,” I have to come back with, “Yeah, I guess working hard at having parents with the right genetics earns them a multi-million dollar-per-year contract.”  Seriously.

Hey, what about Danny Devito!  He’s a short dude, right?  He’s famous, right?  He makes a ton of money, right?

Danny D

Well, who would honestly want to look like Danny Devito? I mean, c’mon. If he wasn’t an incredible comedic actor, he would probably be a side-show act at a circus.

Ooh, ooh, what about Tom Cruise?  He’s real short too, isn’t he?  I mean, he’s a dinky little guy, right?  By the way, Tom Cruise is 5’7″…

T Cruise

Tom Cruise, is well respected, right? And he does the whole acting thing, right? He was even nominated for an Academy Award for that Born on the Fourth of July
thing, right?  And the hotties… how can anyone forget the hotties of Tom Cruise?
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Tom Cruise has done pretty well for himself. And like I wrote earlier, he’s well respected…
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Crazy Cruise

I mean, it’s not like he’s a little crazy or anything…
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Insane Cruise

Oh, who am I kidding. Tom Cruise is a complete freaking nutjob…
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Jumping Crazy Cruise

See, being short is enough to drive a person absolutely INSANE!

Ok, so being short sucks because you really can’t be a professional athlete, and being short can drive you crazy.  Oh, I know, there is gonna be some dipwad who says something like, “What about Spud Webb… Spud Webb was only 5’6″?”  Well, Spud Webb is what is known as an “anomaly”.  He is one of the shortest pro basketball players of all time. So people of his stature… err, our stature… are not likely to have much success in sports.  Also, Spud Webb wasn’t a cracker.  Crackers can’t jump.

In addition to the lack of multi-million dollar athletic contracts and the whole going-insane thing, short people are have a 50% higher risk of having a heart problem or dying from one . Also, tall people earn more money than short people, both due to height discrimination and also the fact that tall people are apparently smarter than short people ! For crying out loud… can us shorties catch a freaking genetic break here?!?

Even renowned marketing guru Seth Godin, who stresses that our “Lizard Brain” (which, according to Seth, is the primitive part of the brain that keeps us mired in fear and self-doubt) keeps us from accomplishing our real goals in life, uses a typical short-dude slam to get his meaning across.  Of course, Seth is saying you need to build a quality reputation and a lot of anticipation for you and your products online before clients meet you in real life (or something like that), but “I thought you’d be taller” could be taken as “I’m disappointed that you are physically short”.  I know (hope) that this is not what Seth meant, but c’mon, Seth… way to help feed the Lizard Brains of the vertically challenged!

So, yeah… us shorties have a rough go of it.  I did happen to notice on the Wikipedia link that the average height of a man in Mexico is around 5′ 4″ to 5′ 5 1/2″. Suddenly, I’m all about allowing unlimited immigration (legal, illegal… who cares) from Mexico to the U.S. Hell, let as many of our little Mexican neighbors in as want to come. In a few short years (no pun intended… who am I kidding, pun definitely intended), I will feel like a giant around all of the short Mexican dudes.

lil' Mex

Or, maybe I should consider moving to Bolivia. Dudes are only like 5′ 3″ there. I would be like a god to them… MWAHAAHAAHAA!!!

Me in Bolivia

… and all of you jerkholes who look down on us smallies, stick it where the sun don’t shine… err, or in the above picture, where the sun does shine :)

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