Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My Sensitive Sniffer

       Many years ago, when I was in college, I used to sit behind a girl who wore a perfume with the faint odor of coconut and chocolate. It was like being surrounded by Mounds bars. I never asked her what the name of the scent was, but I have never encountered it since.
     What I have encountered are women who were clearly never told how to properly apply perfume.  These poor souls have apparently lost all of their olfactory abilities because they slather on enough perfume to choke a normal person. You can smell them coming from at least ten feet away, and their scent lingers long after they are gone.  What was for my college friend a pleasant suggestion of an aroma becomes a nasal assault for these women. 
     And it appears that they are overusing their perfumes on purpose because most of them also put on so much make-up, the color of their eyeshadow could be seen from the cheap seats of a theatrical production. I say it seems they are doing it on purpose because I imagine that no one has ever had a private and frank discussion with them about the fact that in their efforts to smell good, they end up smelling very, very bad.
    Sensitivity to bad smells is something I have lived with for many years.  My wife doesn't believe it, but I simply cannot clean up dog vomit or kid vomit without throwing up myself. The smell overcomes me, I begin to gag, and then I have to walk away lest I add to the mess.
     Ironically, (or is it?), I grew up in an environment where everybody smoked cigarettes.  There were overflowing ashtrays all over the house and the car.  And yet I never noticed it until I moved out of the house to go to college.  On my first trip home, I wondered where the haze that hung over the house came from.
    These days, when I meet someone for the first time, I can immediately tell whether they're a smoker.  How? They exude a foul odor.  Much like the overperfumed ladies, I have to wonder if these smokers realize just how bad they smell to the rest of us.  Maybe they do realize it and just don't care.  
     I don't believe that smokers practice poor hygiene per se. I'm reasonably sure that they shower and wash as much as I do. But when burnt plant material oozes from your pores, the only solution is to stop inhaling that burnt plant material. For the rest of us, the solution would seem to be holding our breath and gritting our teeth until the odiferous offender is out of range.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ugliness, Cruelty and Chaos

     My kids start back to school this week and, like many parents, I'm worried about how they're going to get along with their classmates. What's going to happen when they inevitably have to face the same challenges that their dad faced as he went through school?  Those times on the playground when you're the last one to get picked for a game. Or when you find out that someone you thought was your friend is making fun of you behind your back. Or when a school bully decides it's your day to get picked on.
     I know many of us have gone through these supposed rites of passage, but that doesn't mean I want my children to experience the ugliness, cruelty and chaos that can be a part of childhood.  I've always been amazed by my kids, as I suppose most parents are. They seem to be much smarter than I remember being at the same age. But I'm getting old, so maybe I'm forgetting just how smart I was.
     My kids are often mistaken as twins although there's about a year's difference between them. They come from essentially the same genetic material, so you'd think they would have similar personality traits. You'd be wrong.
     In fact, I believe they began developing their unique, individual personalities in utero. One was constantly kicking; the other wasn't. Once they were born, one could be calmed down with a pacifier; the other spit out pacifiers and sucked her thumb.  One was prone to public tantrums as a toddler; the other, not so much.  One is more inclined to try dangerous things; the other is more cautious. One is a negotiator when it comes to chores; the other is a pouter.
     Each responds to situations in her own way, so I worry about how they are responding to difficult situations at school. Ideally, I'd watch them all day, every day, intervening whenever there was a slight chance that they might be upset by some jerk of a classmate. But I can't do that.
     For a couple of years now, they have been navigating on their own through the jungle of grade school, and it's only occasionally that I get a hint from them that things might not be all peachy. If I ask them directly how their school day went, they'll say something profound like, "OK." 
     So I try again. I say, "What did you do in school today?" 
     I get a shoulder shrug and a grunt that sounds something like "Ah-unh-oh," which, translated, means "I don't know." 
     It's only in the unguarded moments when I get a sense that things may not always be going their way. Even then, getting details from them is difficult, so I have begun trying to interpret the non-verbal signs. For example, both of my girls have read and enjoyed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series of books. I take that as a sign that they recognize something of their own school experience in the experience of Greg Heffley.
    Are they wimpy kids? Probably not. And, truthfully, I don't think they're going to be forever scarred by the usual shenanigans of kids in a school yard. But, from my experience, what happens in school does affect the person you grow up to be. 
     And, like all parents, my hope is that my kids grow up to be, above all else, to be happy. And perhaps they can't get to that point without some adversity. I just don't want some little punky jerk (or jerky punk) providing that adversity.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Love And Marriage

     I heard someone on the radio the other day having a discussion about what makes a marriage last, and it seems to me that the discussion missed a major point. I believe that people mostly stay married for a long time because they went into the marriage with that intent.
     I have a lot of friends and family members who have gotten divorced, and, in almost every case, the news that their marriage didn't work out makes me sad. Sometimes, the breakup was probably for the best, but I can't help but wonder whether they understood that part of wedding ceremony about  "in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, as long as you both shall live."  Of course, no marriage comes to an end in a vacuum, but some couples seem to want to get out of wedlock and on with the next relationship if their marriage turns out to be more difficult than they expected.
     And marriage can be difficult. I knew that from a young age. Although my own parents stayed happily married all of their lives, my aunts, uncles and cousins didn't fair as well. I thought maybe it was because they had gotten married too young, but that's probably oversimplistic.
     All of my sisters got married (and stayed married) as teenagers, but I didn't. In fact, I stayed unmarried for so many years that I'm sure some of my relatives began to question whether I was asexual or homosexual or just not trying hard enough.  Certainly, a part of my extended bachelorhood was my own doing.  Unlike my sisters, I didn't want to be married as a teenager.
     I also discovered that I didn't want to be married for most of my twenties. I was too busy pursuing a career and enjoying the single life. I went where I wanted to, when I wanted to, and didn't have to explain my whereabouts to anyone. For example, on one vacation, I attended four sporting events in four different cities within a week's time. I didn't know any married people who did that.
     I also believed (incorrectly) that I couldn't just drop everything and move across the country or across the world to take advantage of a great job opportunity if I was saddled with a wife and family. But, as things happen, I matured somewhat as I got older.
     In my late twenties, I began to think that marriage wouldn't be such a bad thing. I began accepting the invitations of friends who tried to set me up with what they thought was just the "right" person for me. And, just like in the movies, my friends mostly didn't have a clue as to what I was looking for.
      I went out with an absolutely gorgeous young blonde woman who turned out to be perhaps the dumbest person I had ever met. I don't know what she thought of me. In fact, I don't know if she was actually capable of forming a coherent thought, but I knew I couldn't have a relationship with someone who didn't engage me on more than a physical level.
     I also went out with a divorced woman, who had a couple of kids. She was nice enough, but she smoked and I didn't. Plus, I didn't want an instant family. There was the overly aggressive co-worker who pursued me until I moved to another town. And there was the time that I developed a serious infatuation with a girl who ended up not liking me much at all. I turned 31 years of age without many prospects.
     Then one day, I got a call from my friend, Lesa -- who wasn't trying to set me up. A friend of hers needed the answer to a trivia question, and Lesa knew that I could answer it. She told me to call her friend with the answer. I resisted, but eventually made the call and made sure that I acted like a complete ass.
     We ended up talking for hours and hours. We ended up meeting. We ended up married.
     And when I married my wife, it was because she was truly the first person I met who I could imagine spending the rest of my life with.  That was my intention when I got married. I remember arguing with a friend that I would never sign a pre-nuptial agreement because it wouldn't be necessary. When one gets married, one stays married. At least, I have. It's not always been easy, but it's always been worth the effort.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

If I Were A Rich Man ...

     Several years ago, I found myself in a 7-Eleven store on July 11 -- that is 7/11 -- at just about eleven minutes after seven o'clock in the morning. I was there to grab an unhealthy snack, but signs all over the store reminded me that I could also purchase a lottery ticket that could pay out millions of dollars. If I believed in superstitions, I would have believed that this was clearly the time and place that I needed to buy a lottery ticket.
    I mean, seven and eleven are "lucky" numbers, right? If you've ever played the dice game known as craps, you know that rolling a seven or an eleven is a good thing. Unless you roll them at the wrong time, in which case a seven or eleven is a bad thing.
     In fact, the idea that a particular number is more or less lucky than any other is, quite simply, ridiculous. And so I didn't purchase a lottery ticket on that day and, in fact, have not ever purchased one.  Mostly, it's because my mind cannot get past the fact that millions of lottery tickets are sold every day, and every day almost every one of those millions of tickets turns out to be worthless.
    Still, like most of us, I sometimes dream of what it would be like to have so much money that I wouldn't have to worry about finances. The question I am most often asked when discussing such fantasies is whether I would quit work, and the answer is yes. And no.
    I have pictures of my wife and kids on my desk at work. They're not displayed so that my co-workers will know what my family looks like. I put them there to remind me of the reason I drag myself out of bed every day and go into work in the first place.  I don't do it for myself. I do it to for my family.  Left on my own, I would probably end up like Bruce Banner on the old TV show version of The Incredible Hulk -- travelling from town to town, taking whatever job came up just to feed myself.
     So, if I won the lottery, I would most definitely quit my job. But I wouldn't stop working. I'd simply start working for myself rather than somebody else. And I'd make a great boss for myself, too, giving me as many days off as I wanted and not requiring much in the way of real accomplishments.
    So what would I do?
    Depending on how much money I won, I can imagine maybe buying a radio station and then playing only the music I wanted to hear -- without any talking or commercials.  On second thought, even that might take more effort than I'd be willing to put forth if I didn't absolutely have to.
    For example, while I love professional football, I wouldn't go out and purchase an NFL team with my newfound fortune -- even if that team could make me more money than I already had. Owning a team would require me to do things like drafting players, hiring coaches, and making payroll. That's too much like real work.
    When it gets right down to it, I figure I'd use my lottery money to purchase a handful of consumer goods (new house, new car), and then I'd stick the rest in a bank somewhere and hope to live off the interest. I realize that shows an incredible lack of ambition, but if I'm rich, I don't see myself striving to be richer. I see myself working on pet projects that give me personal satisfaction whether I end up making any new money from them or not.  And I see myself giving away a fair amount of the money that I don't need to live comfortably.
     Of course, none of that's going to happen if I never play in the first place, so I may just purchase a ticket one day. But, for now, I'll continue to keep the money I'd spend on a lottery ticket in my pocket, so the water bill (or whatever) can get paid. However, I will say that if some past lottery winner (or other millionaire) is tired of dealing with their excess, send it my way. I promise I'll put it to good use.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Reading Dilemma

    I have a dilemma. I have calculated that I will most likely die before I get to read all of the books I want to. Indeed, my life is reflected by a sentiment I once saw on a T-shirt: So many books. So little time.
     This is, as the Internet likes to point out in hashtag fashion, a First World problem. I'm not in danger of starvation. I'm not likely to be killed by an IED. I probably won't be lured into prostitution by the promise of a job in another country.  Still, there are so many books I haven't yet had time to read. And, just for fun, I'm going to blame ... the public education system.
    It all began back in the first grade when I was required to read about Dick and Jane. At six years old, I had already determined that the Dick and Jane books didn't have the kind of action that I needed to stay interested in reading.  I much preferred Go, Dog, Go, which was available in the school library, but which wasn't required reading. (The links are included for those too young to remember what I'm talking about.)
     This theme of schools and schoolteachers requiring me to read exceptionally dull, but supposedly educational material, continued throughout my years of schooling.  My father was in the military, so I attended more than a half dozen schools by the time I got to 12th grade.  In every one of them, students were assigned reading that could put a caffeinated giraffe to sleep -- if giraffes were able to read.
     Keep in mind that I love reading, so I can only imagine how my friends who didn't like reading got through such dreck as Moby-Dick or, worse, Bartleby The Scrivener. I also hated having to read The Metamorphosis. What did I like? Lots of stuff.  Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe were far better writers, or at least told better stories, than Herman Melville, Henry James or Henry Fielding. Why couldn't I have memorized passages from Neil Simon plays instead of having "Friends, Romans, countrymen" stuck in my brain for a lifetime?
    I will now irrationally rationalize that the time I was forced to spend reading Shakespeare and all of the other alleged literary greats has led me to my present dilemma.  If I had back the time I slogged through the Tragedies, the Histories and the (ahem) Comedies, I could use that time to read what I want to, not what I have to. (I can tell you're beginning to see my logic.)
     And because I want to read more books than I'll have time to get around to, I must decide which ones get priority. I am in the midst of Vince Flynn's Kill Shot and Michael Connelly's The Black Box. But waiting in the wings is The Heist co-authored by charming man-about-town Lee Goldberg and super-mega-ultra bestselling author Janet Evanovich.
     Here's the thing. I love Goldberg's work, especially his series of books based on the TV show Monk. But I'm not really a fan of Evanovich.  I've read a handful of Stephanie Plum novels, but have found them only mildly amusing.  So my innate pessimism tells me their collaboration may end up disappointing me.
      Let me also say that my personal reading tastes exclude a lot of "best-selling" authors.  In addition to Evanovich, I'm not particularly fond of James Patterson or Stephen King. On the other hand, John Grisham, John Sandford, and the late Michael Crichton all occupy space on my bookshelves.
     So what am I to do? I can't get back that stolen time from my school days, so I will forge ahead and read as much as I can. And, so I don't leave the impression that all of my assigned reading in school was a waste, I should mention that I wouldn't have discovered Ray Bradbury's "The Veldt" on my own, nor Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery." Of course, those were short stories that didn't take up an entire semester.