Jan 26

I am, I think, probably the poorest sport of a sore loser that I know. And it’s not just with stuff I lose at (which would entail a list far too long to list here). My sportsmanship sucks at all levels of losing. I’m a very gracious winner, but if I or my family or even people I don’t know but I have associated with on some level lose, I’m a pissed off cry baby waiting to cause a scene.

I mean, I was at the YMCA the other night and I was on an elliptical with a little TV attached. I was jamming to my MP3 player and I decided to put ESPN on the TV just to have something to watch other than my feet going round and round on the elliptical. There’s a college basketball game on, so I decide I’ll watch.  Now, I couldn’t give two craps about most college or professional sports.  A bunch of people with height and skills that I could never possess playing games that could lead to lucrative careers… playing games… while I struggle to make ends meet and try to face the fact that I will work a job making less in a year than most professional basketball players make in about half a week.  And I will work a job until the day I die.  And I start to hope for that day just so I won’t have to work a job anymore.  And that is depressing.  And I’m getting off topic…

So the teams playing are Florida and Tennessee.  I could care less about either of those teams.  I didn’t have a horse in that race.  So, how did I decide who I was going to root for?  Well, Tennessee is losing by about 14 points.  And Tennessee isn’t ranked.  Florida is ranked #6, so I decide I’m going to root for the underdog.  And you see, this is how I usually end up on the losing side of stuff.  When  one is predisposed to root for the underdog, one is going to face a lot of disappointment.  Underdogs are underdogs for a reason: they have less likelihood of winning because they aren’t as good as the favorite.  So, Florida starts to pull away.  Before you know it, Florida is ahead by over 20 points.  And I’m starting to get pissed.  I’m seeing smug looks on all of the Florida player’s faces.  The Florida coach is starting to look like an arrogant jackass.  I’m starting to see Florida getting away with fouls that aren’t getting called.  And Florida is suddenly up by 30 points and the game is over and I’m completely pissed off.  I hate the state of Florida and everyone associated with the state of Florida and I vow to do everything in my power, which is quite limited, to destroy everything associated with Florida… all because of a stupid college basketball game that I didn’t give two craps about before I started watching it…

I am a very poor sport.

My oldest kid played in an indoor soccer tournament a couple of weekends ago in Rapid City.  The family and I went to watch.  And for everyone of the three games that my kid’s team played and lost, I sat there acquiring a major disdain for Rapid City, South Dakota.  As our team would get further and further down in the score, I would become increasingly annoyed with the parents of the winning teams.  How dare they cheer for their kids!  How dare they encourage their players!  Whose bright idea was it for all of the parents for both teams to sit together?!?  Is someone just trying to make my life miserable?!?

Now, I honestly am a rational adult.  I know that those parents have every right to cheer for their teams.  I know that good parents encourage their children whether they win or lose.  I’m just not that good of a parent.  I want my kid and his friends to win.  Of course, they have to play better than the team they are playing against or that won’t happen, but when in the heat of the battle, I don’t think reasonably.  When in the heat of battle, all I can think about is how I want my kid to win.  If he can win at soccer, maybe he can win at life.  If he wins at life, maybe he will end up with a good paying job that he actually enjoys in a place that he likes living.  In other words, I don’t want my kid to end up like his old man.  I’ve lost a lot in my life and I have learned from those losses.  You know what I have learned from losing?  I’ve learned that losing sucks.  Period.  Sure, you win some and you lose some, but losing still sucks.  There is no redemption in losing.  You lose and then you work hard to improve and if you still lose after working hard and improving, give up and do something else.  Because losing sucks.  There is absolutely nothing you can do to make losing not suck, so avoid losing.  I know this isn’t possible, but it is a worthy pursuit.

My younger son plays in a kids basketball league at the YMCA.  His team played this past weekend, and his team lost.  These are 9 and 10-year-old kids.  And as my kid’s team is losing, I’m looking at the 9 and 10-year-olds on the other team and I start to dislike them immensely.  I dislike their smug little smiles and their cocky attitudes as they score more points.  Of course, their smiles aren’t really smug and their attitudes aren’t cocky, but it sure seemed like they were as they were kicking my kid’s team’s butts!  If my kid loses at 9 and 10-year-old basketball at the YMCA, he may be destined for a crappy existence in someplace like Scottsbluff, NE where he would have to work for over 100 years to make what the average professional basketball player makes in one year… and I want more for my kids than that…

See, I think of my current misery associated with life in the panhandle of Nebraska as being a direct result of the many loses and failures I have experienced over the course of my life. Because I am a loser, I am here.  If I were a winner, I would be living elsewhere doing something else and being paid exceptionally well to do it.  Currently, if I were to become fed up with my job and were to search for something else, what would I do? Maybe I could sell farm equipment; that sounds pretty rewarding, doesn’t it?  I could work at the sugar factory; there’s a dream come true!  I could maybe make slightly over minimum wage at Walmart; that would lead to my praying for God to strike me dead every working minute of every working day…

You see, winners don’t have to consider an entry-level job at Walmart as a real possibility for earning a living.  Real winners don’t even have to shop at Walmart.  So I’m a poor sport… I’m a sore loser… especially when it comes to my kids.  I want my kids to have completely Walmart-free futures…

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May 11

How does one go about planning for the future?  I’ve tried doing some planning, but it all seems like such a waste of time. Things never work out the way you want them to, and life always gets thrown into the mix and screws everything up… like stupid “fix-it” tickets that you have 5 days to get taken care of that involve probably hundreds of dollars worth of electrical work on your vehicle that you can’t afford… stinking Scottsbluff police…

Planning small things isn’t such a big deal.  Planning a birthday party or a weekend trip or something like that is pretty doable.  I’m talking about the major plans like retirement or future career direction or where you would like to live.  I know that there are people who successfully plan for such things; I’m just not one of them.  There are those who say it is all in God’s hands and to trust in God.  I don’t disagree about the God’s hands part, but I don’t think God is going to pay my mortgage.  I don’t think God is going to make sure my electricity doesn’t get shut off because I quit my job.  God doesn’t take care of “fix-it” tickets… although I’m hoping some prayers for a certain police officer getting a random plague of locusts will go answered.  God has never led me to believe that I can just quit my job and lead the life I would like.  If this life didn’t contain vast amounts of major suckage, why would we turn our eyes toward heaven?

I tried to plan for my future by going to college.  I went to college, I got good grades, and I got a job. I wanted to make a lot of money, but I have never made a lot of money.  The only reason I went to college was to get a job that pays a lot of money.

Period.

I will never have a job that pays a lot of money.  Different people have different definitions for “lot of money”.  I have mine, and I will never see it (and it probably isn’t as much as you may be thinking).  In hindsight, I would not have focused on money.  In hindsight, I would have focused on doing something that utilizes my inherent talents and skills… something like… uh… okay, so I don’t have any inherent talents and skills.  Planning sucks.

I’ve tried planning for various other things, including retirement.  Retirement planning is kind of a joke.  If you don’t start enforcing a plan right when you get in the workforce, it’s too late.  I know there are people who are able to do it later in life and find some success… but those people are either making more money than me or are willing to sacrifice more than me.  I don’t have a big issue sacrificing, but while my kids are still around the house, I am willing to sacrifice less.  Kids are expensive.  Worth it?  Of course.  But expensive none the less.

Recently, I was talking with a couple of friends at a high school soccer game and we started talking about life after all of the kids are out of the house.  Interestingly enough, one of the friends said she and her husband plan on traveling around the country after the kids are gone.  You know, just kind of moving from town to town, getting jobs that pay enough just to get by.  The other friend said he and his wife plan on doing something similar, but more of a retirement-type thing.  Get out and see the world.  This point is probably where I made my mistake.  I started thinking and planning which are two things I don’t do very well, especially together.

Retirement has always been very important to me (just not important enough to completely quit living in the here and now, which seems to pretty much be what it takes at my income level).  I hate working.  I hate the way life is laid out.  I hate the fact that you spend most of your waking hours working at a job in order to pay for everything.  Call me lazy, call me whatever you want, but I hate working.  Now, I helped a young man with his Eagle Scout project a couple of weeks ago and it was actual physical work.  I didn’t mind it at all.  In fact, I enjoyed myself.  I do various household and community projects. I volunteer for BSA and at my church.  I do stuff, and I don’t hate doing stuff that involves “work”.  So I don’t really think I’m lazy.  I just hate working for a paycheck.  I understand that there are lots of people out there who would love to have a job and I can hear the tiny chorus of voices saying, “Be thankful you have a job!”  I didn’t say that I’m not thankful I have a job… but I still hate working for a paycheck.  Thus, retirement has always been like a stupid dangling carrot that urges me to get out of bed every morning.  I really don’t think I will ever be able to retire… at least not fully:

  • I started too late.
  • I dipped into those funds at one point for something I probably shouldn’t have.
  • I can’t contribute as much as I would like at this point.
  • Most success that the stock market has seen recently has eluded me.

Okay, so working until I die is sounding more and more like the reality of my situation.

That sucks.

That really, really sucks.

So, back to the conversation I had with my friends at the soccer game that involved the thinking and the planning.  As long as I’m going to have to work up until my death, I want to travel and see stuff and try to get a little enjoyment out of the whole situation.  The wife and I have discussed it and she agrees that, once the boys are out of school, selling much of our belongings and going transient sounds like a doable plan.  You know, move up to Estes Park for a year and work at the shops up there.  Spend a summer working in Yellowstone…. or maybe a year or two.  Spend a year or two working in Key West!  Just travel… and get little jobs with little responsibility and little stress in places we would really like to live!  Try out different areas.  Make enough to pay the monthly bills.  Retirement isn’t an option, so why stress about it?  See the US (or maybe even the world) and just get by.

When I mentioned the “goat farm” idea to the wife, she was less than enthusiastic.  The whole “see the country” plan she seems to be on board with.  And in a mere 9 years, both of the boys will be out of high school… so although it is a little further away than I would like, it’s not an eternity.  I don’t wish my children’s childhoods away, but they are slipping by without any prompting from me.  Might as well have something to look forward to at the horrible time when the nest is empty.

The problem now rests with the fact that I am planning for the future.  Whenever I plan for the future, stuff seems to get in the way.  Therefore, stuff will probably get in the way of the plan to travel once the kids are on their own.  It’s like I’ve jinxed myself by thinking about it!

Damn it!

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Aug 15

Well, it’s that time of year again.  Although the actual season doesn’t end for well over a month, what we often think of as summer is drawing to a close.  It’s sad.

It’s not sad that the extreme heat of summer will soon turn to the frigid cold of winter.  I love the cold.

It’s not sad that my boys will continue in the educational process.  The sooner they get through school, the sooner they gain skills that will enable them to surpass their lame father in a meaningful career… outside of the panhandle.  I don’t want to wish away their childhoods, and I do not look forward to the day when they leave home to start lives on their own (along with my wife, my sons are really the only friends I have here in Huskerland… because I’m kinda pathetic… and people don’t really seem to be drawn to my vibrant personality… but whatever).  The sooner they move away from the panhandle, the sooner the wife and I can get the hell out of here and I can figure out what I’m going to do with my life.  I’ll only be like 52 — that’s young, right?  Yeah, I’m delusional…

Soon, every night will once again be filled with one kid’s or the other’s activities.  The peace and quiet, the time to collect one’s thoughts, the fun family time — they are all about to go out the window, and I’m not looking forward to it.

This year, the oldest boy enters high school.  The wife was looking through the pile of crap that the school sends out with all of the rules and suggestions and whatnot.  There was a flyer for the high school’s booster club in the mix.

“Huh,” said the wife, ” that sounds kind of fun.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I wouldn’t mind getting involved with something like that.”

“Oh, never mind,” said the wife as she read the flyer over.

“What?” I asked.

“Never mind,” said the wife, “you’re not going to want to do it.”

“Why?” I asked.

The wife just looked at me, and I suspect that she may have been trying to come up with a lie.  She ended up telling me the truth.

“They charge $25 to be a member of the booster club,” she finally admitted.

“They charge you $25 to volunteer your time?” I asked.  I should have been incredulous at this point, but life has taught me that most things make absolutely no sense, and much of what life offers seems to have been created exclusively to piss me off.

“See,” said the wife, “I knew you’d get upset.”  She knows me well.

“Guess they charge $25 to keep out the riff raff,” I said.  “Looks like it’s working… ’cause they’re keeping me out.  All of those doctor’s wives and lawyer’s wives can handle it just fine on their own.”

“It’s twenty-five dollars,” said the wife.  “It’s not exactly country club membership pricing.”

“Yeah, twenty-five bucks is like twenty percent of our weekly grocery budget,” I said.  “They want our kids to starve so we can volunteer for the booster club?”

“I don’t think the boys will starve over twenty-five dollars,” said the wife.

“Well, they could!” I shouted, and the wife just walked away. Apparently she doesn’t love our boys as much as I do…

Oh summer, how I will miss you.  I wish the fun and relaxation you offer could be found all year round… but with colder temperatures.  I am, however, a little excited about the whole “high school” thing.  Just from the intro packet that the school gave out, I can already tell that I am going to find a whole new world of stuff to piss me off and to bitch about in a very short period of time…

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Jan 14

We have this bathroom in our basement.  I love this room.  This room is where I go when I want to spend some quality time alone.  The wife has decorated our little downstairs bathroom with a “theme”.  The “theme” of this room is palm trees.
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I used to wonder how the lovely wife came up with the theme of palm trees for this particular room.  I suspected that Walmart had a  clearance rack of toilet-related materials and the only matching set the wife could find was palm trees. The wife claims the theme arrived in remembrance of our honeymoon almost 18 years ago in Cancun…
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… and the soft, warm breezes on the beach and the hint of lime in every shrimp quesadilla… or lobster taco… or 39 peso cheeseburger at McDonalds (seriously, every thing from Budweiser to bacon in Cancun has a hint of lime).  Whenever I inquire about the theme downstairs, the wife waxes nostalgic of a time right after she and I stood before a man of God, all our family, and most of of friends and proclaimed our undying love for each other.  Cancun for the wife and I was the whipped cream on the Hot Fudge Brownie Delight that is married life.  Remember when Dairy Queen used to sell Hot Fudge Brownie Delights?  These were the calorie-laden monstrosities that consisted of mountains of delectable soft-serve ice cream resting on plains of nut-covered chocolate brownies separated only by seemingly endless rivers of hot, steamy fudge… and then irresponsibly topped with the snow capped ridges of 100% dairy-and-sugar filled whipped cream.   The foundation of marriage is the brownies and ice cream and I do not for an instance regret any part of it… but our honeymoon was the whipped topping, full of fun and sweetness and decadence…
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… everything that convinces a man that he is settling down with the right woman to begin a life of work and responsibilities and children and STINKING FUNDRAISERS!!!  I digress…

So, anyway, I spend a large portion of my “free time” in our downstairs bathroom staring at the shower curtain that rests directly in front of the toilet.
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You may wonder to yourself, “now, what exactly could he be doing on the toilet for any measurable amount of time that would lead him to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at a shower  curtain?”  Well,  you may be slightly dented for asking such a question.  What goes in must come out, and I am sincerely sorry to point this out, but even Johnny Depp and Katy Perry spend time staring at the palm trees… if you know what I mean 😉

The wife dreams of tropical places when she and I discuss the wonderful places we would like to settle down once we figure out what we are going to do with the rest of our lives.  I, on the other hand, tend to lean more towards something more mountainous.
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Of course, both of us are open to the ideas of the other.  I would be almost as content in a bungalow on the beach, and she seems fine with the thought of fresh mountain air and fresh-caught trout with wild asparagus for supper a couple of nights a week.  One problem is that we don’t know quite how to get to either of these locals.  The second problem is that we live in Nebraska, which does have a scenery all its own, like this…
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… and this…
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… and this…
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… along with…
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and, occasionally even…
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… which leads to…
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… and ultimately…
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… but is about as far as you can get from either a tropical paradise or a scenic mountain retreat.

Living in either a tropical paradise or a mountain of solitude would require an income that currently surpasses us here where we actually have jobs, let alone in a remote location where jobs are few and far between.  I’d like to think that we would be able to use our retirement savings to get us to our dream location, but I would also like to think that I don’t look my age and that the tooth fairy pays out even more when the elderly loose their teeth.  All three of these wishes are pipe dreams.  I figure that the only way the wife and I are ever going to see our dreams come true is found in three simple words:

third world country.

Third world countries can be tropical, and third world countries can have mountains.  Third world countries are a lot cheaper to live in than the United States.  Help me, Third World Country… you’re my only hope!

I figure if the wife and I can save up a few thousand dollars, we should be able to move to some neato place like Guatemala or Somalia or, heck, I hear there are some good deals on property in Afghanistan right now.   Guatemala and Somalia both have some nice oceanfront property
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and Afghanistan is known for it’s mountainous regions.

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Heck, that’s where all the fugitive Taliban hide, right?
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For a few thousand dollars, we should be able to live like a king and queen!  Oh sure, there would be some language barriers, but I’m sure that any self-respecting country would teach English as a second language, right?  And even if they don’t, just think of the millions of Mexicans who migrate to the US who don’t speak a word of English.  The Mexicans get by just fine.  In fact, many companies and even our government bend over backwards to make sure our Spanish speaking friends don’t have to bother with learning English.  After all, on almost any telephone call you can always “apriete dos para español.”  As ass-backwards as the US is viewed by the rest of the world, I’m sure these third world countries have even better programs in place to make non-native tongue people feel welcome, right?  Of course they do.

There may be some other small hindrances, like decent health care, or a clean water supply, or a reliable food source.  And the fact that the wife and I are Christian may lead to a problem or two.  We may have to fend off the occasional suicide bomber or be weary of any Muslims with a big knife and a penchant for heads, but I’m sure it will be worth it to live in the type of surroundings that we dream of.  I mean, it’s pretty obvious we aren’t going to make those dreams come true in the US.

Ahh… so maybe our dreams really can come true.  Maybe there is some hope for our future outside of the good life that can only be found in Nebraska.  I mean, either dying a martyr at the hands of a radical Muslim, or staring at another corn field and watching another disappointing Husker football season.  At least the martyrdom would be on a beach… or in the mountains…

Well, that’s enough for now.  I had a big supper, and my daily fiber seems to be kicking in.  I have a date with some palm trees…
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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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Sep 28

Are you an optimist?  Do you like to look on the bright side?  Do you see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty?  Do you tend to tell friends who are going through hard times things like, “Don’t worry, things will get better,” or, “Smile, at least things can’t get any worse”?  I’m sorry, but things don’t always “get better,” and things can always “get worse.”  In fact, I recommend that if you are going through hard times, you should not only not expect things to get better… but plan on them getting worse!  I’m a pessimist, and I’m proud of it.

Being a pessimist isn’t always easy.  Sometimes, we too let a little bit of hope crowd its way into our daily lives.  However, once that hope is shattered by the lead bullet of reality (hollow-point-style), we are quickly reminded why we chose to be a pessimist in the first place.  That’s right, I wrote “chose”, because being a pessimist or an optimist is initially a choice.  Over the course of a lifetime, different experiences form our attitudes and opinions, and we can chose how to experience those… well… experiences.  My belief is that most of us start out pretty naturally optimistic.  Our parents take care of us.  We always have food in our tummies.  When we get a boo-boo, there is someone to kiss it.  Santa Claus is going to bring those presents.  The tooth fairy leaves some pocket change for our lost teeth. Our friends are going to be happy to see us after a summer apart when school starts in the fall.  When we make a mistake, an apology is all that it is going to take to make things all better again.  And then reality sets in.  Over the summer, maybe we put on a little weight and now have a belly (yes… I’m a fatty), or maybe we developed a case of acne.

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Rich as a kid...

Don't call me "pizza face"... that just makes me hungry for pizza!

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Our friends may still be happy to see us, but they are making fun of us as well.  The reunion with those friends we hadn’t seen over the summer isn’t as enjoyable as we had imagined it would be.  Or maybe we studied really hard for that final exam and believed we were going to ace it… and then we barely pass because the stupid teacher made it an essay test instead of multiple choice… and she didn’t care for the way we worded our answers… and our GPA plummeted.  Or maybe you ask that nice, pretty fellow-junior girl to the prom, and she tells you that she won’t go with you because she is expecting that tall, popular, good looking senior boy to ask her.  Or perhaps you apply for that dream job only to be told that you aren’t as outgoing as the person needed to fill the position… and that stupid optimism leads to more hurt and pain than necessary if we had just been more realistic in our expectations.  We slowly learn that pessimism is synonymous with avoiding pain.

My belief is that people who have more positive experiences in life tend to be more optimistic.  For people whom life isn’t quite as “fair”, pessimism is the road more often chosen.  There are those who would argue that optimists attract more positivity because of their optimism, but I would disagree.  I believe an optimist is more optimistic because, through physical appearance, family wealth, station in life, or plain and simple luck, they tend to have more positive experiences.  Of course this is not all inclusive, nor is it, in my strange little belief system, a steadfast rule.  There are people who have a picture-perfect life who tend to be pretty negative, and there are people whom life has completely screwed who are able to keep their chins up… but these are the exceptions and not the rules.    However, as a basic, general rule, I believe I am right.

It always kills me when the pretty person who comes from the upper-middle class family says stuff like, “If you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything,” or, “I don’t understand negative people…”  Of course you don’t understand negative people!  It’s easy to have sky-high self-esteem when the masses in general find you attractive and you and your family aren’t worrying about how they are going to pay for your college.  The world population in general treats people it finds attractive different than it treats the rest of us.  Don’t believe me?  A middle-aged, overweight woman in a muumuu is broken down on the side of the road.

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Pessimist

Please, won't someone help me? My belly has fallen and it can't get up!

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Along that same stretch of road, a twenty-something of better-than-average appearance wearing short-shorts is broken down as well.

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Optimist

Do you really think she is going to have any trouble getting free roadside assistance?

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Who do you think is going have more offers of help from passersby (and I’m guessing that this would be consistently higher for both men and women stopping).   Which one of these stranded ladies do you think tends to be more optimist… and rightfully so.  Nobody said that life was going to be fair… but it seems to be less unfair when you’re good looking (or so it seems from a relatively unattractive person’s viewpoint).

Let’s move on to success.  Who do you think is going to have a better shot at a career in sales: an attractive gentleman who has a aura of financial success

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Dude

Buy from me... because I obviously make a lot of money doing this.

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… or the poor, ugly schmoe who, based on appearances, you would be afraid to leave your small children in a room alone with.

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Perv

Hey... I got some candy in my left-front pocket. Why don't you reach in there and grab yourself a little piece!

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Which of these gentlemen do you believe would be more optimistic?  Of course it’s the rich-looking dude… that’s how life works.  This is why the wealthy constantly find themselves on the cover of the local newspaper.  There are articles about how this rich person is doing this, and that rich person is doing that.  One local rich guy is going to be on TV on the Speed channel because he is rich and has fancy cars.  Do you think this guy is more of an optimist or pessimist?  I, on the other hand, am not rich (well, I am “Rich”… I’m just not “rich”… stupid name).  I’ve never been on the cover of the local newspaper, even though I did write a relatively funny article about technology one time.  I work relatively hard and have what I consider to be a strong work ethic.  In my 42-years of life, I have never once called in sick to a job.  I’d have to be puking my guts out with a brain-searing fever to consider calling in sick.  Luckily, I don’t get sick very often.  When I do get sick, I have never felt that I was sick enough to not be of some value to my employer.  Want to know what my years of working through my mild illnesses has garnered me?  Absolutely NOTHING… except boiling my blood pressure whenever I have to take-up the slack of someone who has called in sick.  And the pessimism simmers below the surface all the while… eroding my hope and will into the darkest abyss.

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Dark Abyss

Don't know what this exactly has to do with the "darkest abyss," I just love this picture. Goth stuff is cool...

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Pessimism is a defense mechanism.  Like I stated earlier, we all pretty much start out as optimists.  It’s only after (usually) years of unmet expectations and irreconcilable defeats that we develop our pessimism.  When you expect a positive outcome, and that outcome is negative instead of positive, it hurts.  A few of these defeats are natural and build character… or something psychobabblish like that.  After a few, the pain involved with the disappointment of failure becomes more powerful than any character-building gains you may receive.  We begin to expect the worst.  In most situations, the pessimist is the voice of restraint (or, as I like to think of it, “reason”); the one who has thought-out all of the possible negative outcomes to any given process or procedure.  The pessimist isn’t prone to “dream”, because “dreams” in the past have meant painful disappointment.  To refrain from hope is to avoid the torture interwoven with that hope’s demise.  And guess what… every once in awhile, things don’t turn out as poorly as we expected they would… and that is a gracious surprise!  Like around 17-years ago when I asked my wife to marry me.  Do you think I had any hope that she would say yes?  Of course not!  I expected a resounding “NO WAY”, and then I would have been free to get on with my miserable life.  However, she surprised me by saying “yes” and it was a pleasant surprise indeed.  If I had actually been expecting it and she had said yes, it wouldn’t have been a surprise, nor would it have meant as much.  So, by avoiding the optimistic risk-taking that so often ends in failure and despair, we actually glean a gleam of happiness when our negativity is proven wrong.  It is better to be wrong and happy about being wrong than it is to be wrong amongst the shattered remains of a precious dream.  Pessimists don’t dream much.

The problem with being a pessimist is that we don’t dream much.  Sometimes, in order to find some sort of value in this life, we need to dream.  Often, after decades of having giving-up on all dreams, the pessimist forgets how to dream.  This isn’t necessarily bad, since dreams so often lead to disappointment.  However, at times, the pessimist may find that a dream is something he or she may want to work towards making come true.  We used to have the choice to be optimistic or pessimistic in any given situation.  After so much time passing with pessimism working so well for us, we forget how to be positive.  We forget how to believe in ourselves or others.  We still have a choice, but we have forgotten how or lost the tools necessary to follow a dream with a positive attitude.  We can’t see the glass as half-full.  We don’t really even see it as half-empty anymore.  Now, we believe that because the glass isn’t full to the brim, it’s not even worth drinking… and through our stubbornness we run the risk of dehydration.  The choice is still there, but the pain that used to be experienced by being an optimist has reached legendary proportions in our memories, and it is a very difficult choice to make.  So, we usually continue along in our pessimistic ways with the occasional happy surprise of being wrong.  And we hate optimists.

We are all equal in the eyes of God, and He loves us all equally as His children.  Sometimes, I’m sure, He has to wonder what exactly we are thinking when we do stupid stuff, but He still loves us.

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Jesus has a sense of humor
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However, in the eyes of man, the pretty people with the money rule and find themselves with the self-confidence necessary to be optimistic on a day-to-day basis… which leads to less misery in this realm.  I wish I had been born with good looks and money, but I’m afraid I posses neither.  My only hope for a touch of optimism while here on earth is the coming zombie apocalypse.  My hope is that when the zombies attack, they will go for the rich, pretty people first.  It’s only fair that those who have had people falling all over them because of their looks and wealth in this life also have the brain-starved zombies falling all over them during the apocalypse.

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Die, optimist!

Die, optimist... DIE!

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Then again… nobody said life was fair…

Tagged with:
Sep 02

I’m a happily married dude.  I am about to embark on, most-likely, a once in a lifetime adventure with my family: a cruise to the Bahamas.  However, when I discovered that almost a third of the guests on Royal Caribbean’s  Majesty of the Sea were attendees of some sort of fraternity leadership conference that Royal Caribbean was happily ($$$) hosting, the wind in my sails diminished just a little.  Even though I’m happily married, I am not dead.  I had some preconceived notions of what the view around the pool on that cruise ship was going to look like.

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the Dream

This is not what frat boys look like.

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My “notions” were quickly replaced by reality.

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the Reality

This... I'm afraid... is what frat boys look like.

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Yeah.  Disappointing, to say the least.  Anywho, now I can try to focus on actually enjoying the family time, right?

The ship is amazing.  It’s like 14-stories tall, and it travels across the ocean; this in and of itself is utterly amazing to me.  There are two formal dining halls, a buffet, a pizza place, a deli, and a burger joint.  Everything except the burger joint is included in the cost of the cruise (you have to pay an entrance fee of like $5 to get into Johnny Rockets).  There was a full-fledged casino, two or three lounges, an awesome weight room with a spectacular view of the ocean (which I promised myself I would use… but never did), a teen hang-out area, a little kid hang-out area, two small swimming pools (constantly full of frat boys), two hot tubs (constantly full of frat boys), a basketball court, a climbing wall, a ping-pong table, and the Chorus Line theater which had nightly live entertainment.  The center of the ship was kind of like a mall, with various stores selling various expensive items: a Caribou Coffee, a jewelry store, a liquor store, a gift shop and the like.  Each day, in the area between the stores, they were selling different garbage that looked expensive and was ridiculously inexpensive.  The wife and youngest son each got a watch for like $10 each, and they looked like they were worth much more.  We’ll see how long they actually last :)  Needless to say, the ship itself was pretty cool.  Our room, on the other hand, not so much.

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Stateroom

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Standard rooms on a cruise ship are extremely small.  I cannot stress enough how small these stinking rooms are.  It’s a good thing you pretty much just sleep in the rooms, because, in a family of four, someone would end up dead if you had to spend too much time together in those stinking rooms.

So, we check in on the ship and go through a “muster drill”.

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Muster Drill

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A muster drill is where they make everyone get outside by the lifeboats and tell you what to do to avoid dying if the ship starts to sink.  Great!  Now that we are all now terrified, let the fun begin.

We spent the first night at sea and just enjoyed the boat and tried to avoid the drunk, potty-mouthed frat boys.  Man, when the frats were sober, they were bearable, but once they got liquored-up, we pretty much had to walk with our hands over our sons’ ears to block the f-bombs.  Thanks, Royal Caribbean!  Thanks for not warning us our cruise was going to be a floating college party full of frat boys with no chicas for them to concentrate their alcohol-fueled, testosterone-driven horn-doggedness on.  I actually overheard a frat boy talking to a girl who appeared to be about 16-years-old, and he was trying to talk her into going to one of the lounges with him.  She kept shaking her head, looking around for someone to rescue her, and I heard him say, “I keep forgetting you’re under age.”  Man, that girl’s parents (as well as almost every parent with a daughter on that cruise) had to be loving Royal Caribbean for that week.

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Really?
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The next day, we ported in the Nassau.  Pretty cool, if you could look past the poverty that was prevalent everywhere.  We got off the ship and were immediately accosted by numerous people trying to get us to take a taxi or go on a tour or buy stupid toy turtles.  One old guy even asked me if I needed something to smoke, and when I told him I didn’t, he got pissed and stormed off.  We walked around the streets of Nassau.  Me loving people the way I do quickly grew tired of the people constantly in our faces, and we returned to the ship after a short time.

Later that afternoon, we went on a snorkeling tour.  We got on a boat and left the port area to an area where we could check out the corral.  We boated past a lot of really nice houses and the tour guide dropped a few names while cruising past these mansions.  Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan had houses there, along with a bunch of other people whose names I don’t remember.  Can’t imagine owning a mansion of such incredible grandeur surrounded by such intense poverty.  Nothing like rubbing it in the face of the locals, huh?

The snorkeling was kind of lame.  On the way, they warned us that people had seen lion fish in the area we were going to, and lion fish are apparently quite poisonous.  Coolest thing about snorkeling was that I actually found a lion fish.

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Lion Fish

This isn't the actual fish we saw, but it looked almost exactly like this.

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I got both of my boys and the wife to see it before one of the tour divers discovered it and scared it away.  Bastard!

That was pretty much the day in Nassau.  The next day, we relaxed on the beaches of Royal Caribbean’s private island, Coco Cay.  This was, by far, the most relaxing day of our adventure.

Swimming in the ocean…

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Swimming at Coco Cay

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… playing with the conch…

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Good Eating

These ugly suckers are surprisingly good eating

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…tearing it up at the water park

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Ocean Fun

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… avoiding the killer seagulls…

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Killer Seagulls of Coco Cay

These suckers will attack a hot dog like their lives depend on it

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… or hanging out in the hammocks…

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Dream Hammock

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…oops, I forgot… stinking frat boys…

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Reality Hammock

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Overall, a very good day.  Then, back to the boat for a relaxing evening and lots of eating.

The next day, we ported in Key West, FL.  Can you say “tourist trap?”  Of course you can. I really felt for all of the foreign (non-US) guests on the Majesty of the Sea when we ported in Key West.  Every single one of them had to take part of their day to go through US Immigration, whether they were getting off the boat in Key West or not.  The immigration officers apparently set-up shop in the theater and the lines were horrendous of families waiting for immigration’s approval.  I imagine those vacationers wasted hours of the last day of the cruise waiting for US Immigration to check them out.  Honest to God, it’s no wonder why so much of the rest of the world hates the United States.  Sometimes, our laws are just retarded.  I really thought it was cool how there were different people from all over the world on this cruise and, except for the frat boys, we all got along just splendidly… up until “Homeland Security” kicked in and the US made sure there wasn’t someone vacationing from Japan or France setting off a dirty bomb in Key West (or someone who has just spent thousands of dollars on a vacation trying to sneak into the country… if they can make that kind of money, they have brains and a good work ethic… let ’em in!) by making every man, woman and child go through an immigration checkpoint.  I didn’t feel safe, I felt embarrassed for our country.  Why not allow these people to enjoy the last day of their vacation and check them out after the cruise in Miami?  I didn’t have to go through immigration in the Bahamas… and I could of been planning to buy some crack from that dude who wanted to know if I needed a “smoke”… or something!!!

Anyway, back to the non-crappy part of the Key West visit.  We did a little sight seeing

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ahhh... art

Nothing says "art" like naked chicks... and NO, that's not me lying on my back looking up. He's part of the "art"... and my wife wouldn't let me lie beside him...

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… did a little shopping…

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Key West

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… ate some conch fritters…

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Conch Fritters... yummy

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… enjoyed frozen chocolate-covered Key Lime pie on a stick…

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good stuff

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and overall had a touristerrific, sunshiny day!

Then, back on the ship for the last time.  We had a wonderful evening of eating lots of food and swimming with the frat boys… and then eating some more.  I crap you not, I gained 10# on that stinking cruise!

When we woke up the next morning, we were in Miami.  Up and at ’em and off the ship.  We spent an entire day at Miami International Airport (’cause we had to watch our luggage… we could have “checked” it at this storage place, but they want to rape you and kill your first born as payment for that, so we said “screw it, airports are fun”).  We discovered that Miami isn’t too exciting when experienced from the airport, so airports aren’t really that fun.  Didn’t even get to see Tubbs, let alone Crockett :(

Finally, a turbulent flight back to Denver, a late-night hotel stop on the way home, and finally back to the Craphandle.  And then, back to work with another year until the next real vacation.

Crap man… I just realized how much I miss my ΣAE buddies…

Tagged with:
Sep 01

Have you ever dreamed of the perfect vacation?  Have you thought about it for years and years, and then made the decision that you were going to make it happen?  Well, the wife and I did just that: we planned for, saved for, and made happen our dream vacation.  We went on a cruise to the Bahamas.

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Bahamas

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Yippee-ki-yeah!

First off, I have to give a big shout-out to the wife.  She is the one who squirreled away money (tax refunds, Christmas bonuses, a little extra cash-flow every month, etc) to make our dream become a reality.   I want it to be known that the time I had with my wife and two sons was much more enjoyable than I am about to make it appear.  In fact, given the opportunity, I would remain with my wife and sons on that stinking cruise ship with the stupid frat boys until the day I die (if given the choice), and I would be one of the happiest dudes alive… until I died on the cruise ship, and then I would be one of the happiest dudes… uh… dead, I guess.

The wife and I planned on going on a cruise for our 15th anniversary.  It was going to be a really special treat, and we had been looking forward to it for years.  The problems that led to us not being able to make that happen were like the perfect storm of CRAP that transpired in the few years leading up to the 15th year of our ultimate declaration of love.  We had started a little business together, built it up to a level of creating a decent profit,  and had recently sold that business to a clueless chick who ended up declaring bankruptcy and screwing us out of a lot of money. At that point, we should have declared bankruptcy ourselves, but decided to take the higher road and repay all of the debt we owed.  Some “sage” at some point in time made me believe that repaying your debts will benefit you in the long run.  Yeah… I’m still waiting to reap the benefits of that stupid little piece of advice.   Shortly after being screwed in the candy business, the economy took a major tank; and shortly after that, reductions in pay (as opposed to raises) were the trend of the day.  Some of the employers had the balls to call it what it was (a reduction in pay), while others called it a “pay restructuring” or a “new compensation plan” and made you read Who Moved My Cheese.

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Who Moved My Cheese

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Needless to say, the 15th anniversary cruise was suddenly a pipe-dream.

Shortly before the 15th anniversary, we had started to save for the dream.  When we realized that it wasn’t going to happen at the 15-year mark, we decided to prolong it a couple of years and make it a full-family-free-for-all.  In other words, we were going to take our sons.  Much less romantic, absolutely NO hanky-panky,  more full of farts and body odor, and multitudes of inappropriate comments at the absolutely most inappropriate times.

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Chubbies

Mommy, is that big lady in the bathing suit pregnant, or is she just fat?

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Sounded like a relatively fair trade to me.  Don’t get me wrong… I likes me that there hanky-panky… but I likes me thems there farts too…

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Fart:)
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… theys makes me giggle… and giggling is good for the soul :)

So, we have it all planned to go on a cruise to the Bahamas.  We decide on Royal Caribbean, and we were ready to set sail on the Majesty of the Sea.

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Majesty of the Sea

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MS Pool / Day

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MS Pool / Night

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Sounds pretty cool, right?  Sure does.  Of course, we have to get on the ship in Miami, and we live hundreds and hundreds of miles from Miami.  So, we have to fly.

I hate flying!

I hate the fear of having no control of anything while soaring at 30,000 feet above the earth (or, as I like to think of it, about a 40 second nightmarish fall to a certain, messy, instant death).  My palms get clammy and my stomach doesn’t feel too swell just thinking about it.  I also hate getting to the point of being able to get on the stinking plane,  You know, the whole TSA nightmare.

“But they are just keeping us safe!” says the nincompoop who likes the TSA.

“Flying is a privilege, not a right,” says the government advocate.

I’m gonna call BS on both of those statements.  They are not keeping us safe by patting down small children and old ladies.  They are not keeping us safe by subjecting us to radiation.  They are not keeping us safe by making me put all of the liquids I need in 3 oz bottles and limiting them to a 1 quart bag.  This is all retarded.  This is all “shock and awe” in an attempt to make us think that they are really keeping us safe… and, in the meantime, they are stepping all over our civil liberties.  But it’s all in the name of “stopping terrorism,” so the vast majority of us just let it slide. And when there are armed National Guard in front of Walmart making sure we aren’t trying to bomb super centers, that will be all right too.  And when they start reading our mail and listening in on our phone conversations in the name of national security, we’ll be fine with that as well.  And when the civil unrest finally starts, those involved in the unrest will be hauled off to “camps” to protect the rest of the population from the “extremists.”

Rant much?  Why yes, thank you, I do.  Anywho, I hate the TSA.  They are just people doing a job, right?  Yeah, so are the buttmunchs who send you unsolicited spam, and the jerkwads who call you at 7:30 on a Saturday morning trying to get you to buy their auto insurance.  Personally, I’d rather flip burgers at McDonald’s than help implement the military state and invade citizens’ civil liberties… but hey, that’s just me.

So, we get to the airport in Denver, check our bags, take off half of our clothes, get radiated, and make it through security.  We get on the plane, and we fly to Miami.  Well, we fly to over Miami, and then we circle over Miami for like an hour because of some storms.  Then we fly to Ft. Lauderdale because we’re low on fuel.  Then we sit in the plane on the tarmac for like an hour getting refueled and waiting for the okay to fly back to Miami.  Then we fly back to Miami and land.  My least favorite parts of flying, other than the turbulence and the extreme heights and the small seats in “business class” and the fat-assed flight attendants who bump my shoulder every time they walk down the narrow aisle (I thought flight attendants had to be petite… now they’re all fat or dudes and most definitely like banging into passengers) and the narrow aisles and the small restrooms and the long lines to the small restrooms and trying to pee in turbulence… the parts I hate the most are taking off and landing.  Taking off and landing are where most accidents occur.  Well, on the trip to Miami, what was supposed to be a 4-hour non-stop flight from DIA to MIA turned into an almost 7-hour ordeal with two take-offs and two landings.  We really got some bang for our buck on that stupid flight.  So, instead of having an afternoon to check out Miami, we went straight to the hotel, grabbed some supper, and got ready for bed.

The next morning, after feasting on the hotel’s all you can eat breakfast buffet (just the beginning of us gorging ourselves), we take a cab out to the port.  Going through the boarding process is quite a bit less intimidating than the airport security, but still kind of sucks.  Finally, we get on the boat and are ready to really start enjoying our vacation… when I notice them.

Dudes… young dudes… rich-looking young dudes… everywhere.  Preppy guys looking like their ready to get their drink on.  What the…?!?  And they all have Greek letters on their shirts.  Frat boys… seriously… everywhere!  Most of them appear to be ΣAE (Sigma Alpha Epsilon), although there are some something-with-a-Deltas there, and a something-Kappa-something or two as well.  EVERYWHERE!!!  It’s nothing personal against young gentlemen in fraternities, God love ’em.  I just have a very strong aversion to guys who are almost guaranteed success because they have rich daddies and like looking down on those not in their group.  I had to deal with frat boys when I went to college, and I didn’t much care for them then… and now, almost 20 years later, my dream vacation is in jeopardy of being tainted by an extremely large ship FULL of them…

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Frat Boys

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… and not a sorority girl in sight :(  It was shaping up to be a long week.

to be continued

Tagged with:
Jun 10

Remember when you were a kid and you had all kinds of friends?  Well, unless you were the kid who accidentally pooped the pants in 3rd grade during math and everyone knew about it; then you maybe didn’t have so many friends.  Maybe you were the girl who had her first “Carrie” moment during 6th grade English, and none of the kids understood why you left school early,  upset and crying; until someone spotted the evidence of the early dismissal on the seat of your chair… your adolescence may have been a little rough.  Or you were the boy who got caught enjoying Baywatch just a little too much when you thought no one watching… you may have had a few rough years.  But aside from those few sad instances indicative of the cruelty of other children, many kids have lots of friends.  And as you grow from adolescence into high school and up through college, you make more and more friends.  By the time you get out of college, you probably have tons of friends… and I’m not just talking acquaintances, but real friends… you know, the kind of people you wouldn’t hesitate to call if you needed a good bailing out of jail.

At this point, we’re set!  We have a plethora of friends and a brand-spanking new education just waiting to be developed into a life-long career of happiness!  Guess what happens to many of us then.  We pack up our belongings and move half-way across the country and start completely fresh in a community where we don’t know a single soul!  Sounds exciting, right?  Sounds like a true adventure, doesn’t it?  Yeah… not really.  It sucks, and years later, you will find yourself pretty much friendless as you roll through mid-life.

When I first moved to the panhandle of Nebraska (almost 20 years ago), I figured I would fast make new friends.  And right out of the gate, I met a few people my age and we became buddies.  Considering that the people in this community are very cliquish (which is something I didn’t discover until later), I was lucky.  One of these buddies actually introduced me to the woman who is now my wife.  So, yeah, I thought I was on a roll.  Now see, where the problem comes into play in my example is the fact that I moved to a community where the young people are anxiously leaving in droves.  In the small town of Glasgow, MT where I grew up, all of the kids always talked about how they wanted to get the hell out of Glasgow and actually do something with their lives.  Scottsbluff and Gering Nebraska are much the same.  Kids see what their parents have accomplished living here, and the kids want nothing to do with it.  The kids want to actually find some measure of success in their lives, so they bail on the communities at pretty much the first available opportunity.  My problem: I moved in as everyone else my age was trying to get the hell out.  I escaped from one community where all the kids and young adults wanted to get away to another community where all the kids and young adults wanted to get away.  The destination of my escape was another destination from which to seek escape.  Most of those original friends that I made when I moved here have long since found more fruitful paths in other areas of the country.  There are still a couple in the area, and I really enjoy hanging out with them, but the second thing to come along and disrupt the friendship cycle is kids, and I’ve got them.

Having children is one of the most rewarding things that a person can do.  I don’t want to make it seem otherwise.  However, having kids puts a huge crimp in any sort of social life that you may desire.  You aren’t able to go out in public nearly as much once you have kids, especially while they are young.  You’re at home trying to catch some sort of rest and instill in your kids the basics of being a functioning member of society.

Then the kids hit school, and through school and other extra-curricular activities, you are forced to confront other parent of other kids who are pretty much in the same boat as you.  Once again, you start forming some relationships.  Maybe you find a church or other civic organization, and you begin attending regularly, and you form some relationships there as well.These relationships, however, are more along the lines of “strong acquaintanceships” than they are the true friendships you had  in your youth.  In other words, these are people who are fun to hang out with while the kids are off playing and whatnot, but these aren’t people you would feel comfortable calling to bail you out of the joint.

Even these strong acquaintanceships you have developed through the parents of your kids’ friends and through your civic activities (and maybe even co-workers from your job) soon seem to slightly dissipate as your kids grow even older and their activities seem to encapsulate more and more of your free-time.

My wife is from the panhandle.  Once she finished college, she really never had a strong desire to leave.  However, neither does she have a strong desire to stay.  She is constantly telling me that if I can find us a life somewhere outside of the panhandle that would make me less… uh, “grumpy” would be a polite way to put it, I guess… she would be more than happy to make a move.   She, however, actually has some of the friends from her past here.  Not many (most moved away), but she is occasionally able to have a “girls night out” or get together for coffee with a friend or two.  I still have a lot of really good friends, but, for the most part, they are spread out all over the nation.  If it weren’t for Facebook, I probably wouldn’t even know where most of them are.  They sure in the hell aren’t close enough to bail me out of jail, if the need were to arise.

So, what’s next?  You got me.  My kids actually have some true friendships, and they are doing well in the local schools (even though the schools tend to piss me off from time to time).  I’d hate to disrupt their potential growth in a selfish effort to find some sort of friendship or contentment in my life, so moving isn’t the most attractive option at this point.  Doesn’t mean that it won’t happen, just means it’s not the most attractive option.  I try to keep in touch with the friends of my youth… at least those on Facebook.

I’m guessing that once my kids have joined the mass exodus of young people who leave the panhandle of Nebraska to better themselves in different areas of the country, the options for the wife and I will increase.  We will be free to move wherever on God’s green earth we want to live.  We will be short two mouths to feed as our college-educated boys head out into the world to try to figure out how in the hell they are ever going to repay all of those student loans.  Of course, our bodies will have deteriorated even further, and God only knows what the status of our health will actually be in 10 or 15 years.  I’m guessing that will be the next point in the cycle where new friends are made.  We will probably find them at the clinics and doctor’s offices and pharmacies and, later, in the retirement communities.  We will all sit around and reminisce about our kids, about the friends of our youth, and about all of the opportunities we probably missed by living in the panhandle of Nebraska.

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May 24

In my last post, I pointed out how both high school and college graduates are often (usually) unrealistically optimistic. That’s me, destroyer of young dreams… but I only tell them for their own good.  Better to have no dreams or to know that your dreams are probably unachievable than to dream and have those dreams shredded and left on the compost pile of life.  Did I just quote Shakespeare?  Wasn’t that in Hamlet?  … maybe not…

I felt kind of bad for presenting the future of most of these graduates as the miserable abyss that, for most of them, their lives are going to become.  I wanted to make a modest attempt, in my own very special and unique way, at letting them know that everything is gonna be alright.  Here we go…

Sometimes, my family worries about the level of pessimism (or, as I like to think of it, “realism”) that I display on my blog.  I spoke to my dad on the phone shortly after he read the last graduation post. He seemed slightly concerned.

Dad:  “Son, I bet people who don’t really know you think you’re very bitter.”

Me:  “Ya think?”

Dad:  “You’re really not that bitter , are you?”

Me:  “I thought you knew me.”

Dad:  “I do, I just have a hard time believing you’re that bitter.”

Me:  “Yeah, me sometimes too.”

Dad:  “I mean… you’re really not that bitter… are you?”

Me:  “Not always.  Sometimes, I sleep.”

Dad:  “… oh…”

Hahaha!

Nothing says “good times” like making your parents believe that they somehow failed you in your childhood and your current level of life-misery is all their fault.  No worries, Dad.  All of my pessimism is self-induced.  Life has taught me that it often sucks without any help from you… although the short-gene that you have passed on to me hasn’t helped.  How was I ever supposed to live out my dream of playing in the NBA when I come from short European stock?  But, you just passed on what was passed to you, so not really your fault  (I don’t want to piss off my dad… he’s one of 3 people who read this blog regularly.)

Ok, back to encouraging high school graduates.  I think part of the problem I see with the whole free education system is that, by the time you are finished with it, you are still way too young to have a decent idea what you want to do with the rest of your life.  “I’m going to be a doctor” or “I’m going to be a lawyer” you may say if you are one of them real smarty-pants-types… or you actually have parents with enough cash to help you get through medical or law school.  But, do you really want to be a doctor?  Do you really want to be a lawyer?  You’re 18-years old.  How can you really know what you want to do with the rest of your life?

You can’t.

When you are 18-years-old, you know you want an attractive person of the opposite sex to pay attention to you, you know you like hanging out with your friends, and you know that you like to eat food that, a couple of  years in the future, is going to end up straight on either your gut or your butt; this is what you know about life.  I’m 41-years-old, and I only really figured out what would have been pretty cool to do with my life a few years ago… and by then it was too late.

For my college education, I went the business route.  4-years and a lot of money went to Montana State University and the Bozeman community while I earned a bachelor of science in marketing.  Now, I knew I could make more money if I chose something like engineering, but I always had issues with science.  I didn’t enjoy it, so why would I want to apply it to my career for the rest of my life?  Teaching sounded okay, but kids who took the teaching path seemed to be looking for the easy route.  Besides, teachers don’t make squat, right?  Business… no crappy science, and good money, right?  Oh, how wrong I was.

There needs to be a large disclaimer when someone enrolls in a business program at the university level.  That disclaimer would read:

This degree does not guarantee any kind of future success.  This degree will most likely lead to some crappy job in sales or retail management.  If sales and/or retail management aren’t what you are looking for, chose another program of study!

Of course, this disclaimer does not exist… until now.  I am warning you, if you get a business degree (unless it is very specialized, like accounting) you will most likely wind up as an assistant manager at Walmart or trying to sell computer software to companies that don’t need it and who cringe every time they see you come through the door.  This is a proven fact… well, I don’t have proof, but I’m pretty sure it’s true, which is almost the same as fact, isn’t it?

So, I went through college, got a crappy retail management job, and jumped from crappy job to crappy job every couple years.  A few years ago, I realized that an education in literature would be more up my alley.  I’ve always liked reading and writing.  Maybe that teaching thing wouldn’t have been so bad.  Besides, as crappy as I perceived teacher pay to be at the time I was making career decisions… in reality, I’d be making a hell of a lot more if I had been teaching for the past 20 years than I am now… and I’d have my summers off.  Hindsight… it’ll kick your ass every time.

A few years ago, I figured, heck, why not try pursuing something that would be a little better fit with my personality.  I enrolled in an online graduate program through Fort Hays State University in Kansas.  I was gonna get me a Master of Liberal Studies with an emphasis in English.

“What could you do with that?” you may have asked.  Well, boy howdy, I could have taught English at a community college.

“How does that pay?” you may have asked.

“Like crap,” would have been my response, but I was going through a brief period of insanity in my life where I thought maybe money wasn’t everything.

I enrolled, took a couple of classes, loved the classes, started to get a fresh perspective on life, and then reality smacked me upside the head.  First of all, I stopped working for a company that had a really good tuition reimbursement plan, and college classes are not cheap.  Second, I realized that taking these classes was interfering with family time (and my kids aren’t going to be around forever… they will get out of high school and, I’m assuming, move as far away from the panhandle of Nebraska as possible).  Third, I realized that the odds of getting an actual job teaching English at a community college were pretty slim, and, even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to support a family on that kind of crappy pay.

See, even a seasoned pessimist like me can let stinking dreams and hope and all of that other positive garbage creep back in every once in awhile.  I’m just glad that dream got smacked down before it grew too large.  I was in my mid-30s when that one snuck in.  I’m in my 40s now and any silly hope of getting an education that would lead to some sort of life-happiness is a thing of the past.  Once you get family obligations and mortgages and car loans piled on you and once you get accustomed to a certain quality of life and start thinking about the prospect of being able to retire some day, going backwards financially to make silly dreams come true becomes what it really was all along… a pipe dream.

So, you may be wondering how these words can be construed as “encouragement” for recent high school graduates.  I’m not exactly sure.  I guess my words of encouragement would have to be:

DON’T STRESS IT!

Don’t stress the fact that everyone expects you to plan out the rest of your life through the choices you make at age 18.  Plans change.  Dreams change.  Hopes change.  And most importantly… YOU change.  You will not be the same person at age 28 that you are at age 18, and 38 is going to make 28 look like a total stranger.  You will see the world differently, you will value different things, and your passions may change hundreds of times before you leave life in this realm.  Very few choices that don’t involve death are permanent, and any wound that doesn’t kill you will heal.  Scars are badges of effort,  and it takes effort to survive.  Whether you accomplish your goals or realize your dreams, or if you end up living the disappointing life of the average mortal, you will get some scars along the way.  Wear them with pride.  They show that you made the effort.

Now, if you end up bitter and pissed at the world like me, I’m thinking I’m probably going to be looking for a protege to take over this blog in about 20 years (if I ain’t dead by then).  If you are 18 now, you’ll be 38 then (which is how old I was when I started this bad boy) and we may have to get together and discuss you taking over old Happy Stinking Joy.  See, even when your dreams are dead, you may still have something to look forward to… or not…

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