Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Seven Things You Never Knew About Me

I never cared all that much for playing ‘tag’ as a kid, mostly because I wasn’t very good at it. Then again, maybe it was just that I always ended up playing the game with the wrong kind of kids — namely, ones that were bigger and faster than I was. I never seemed to be able to get away from them; to avoid being tagged. It seemed as though I was always ‘it.’

Well it looks like one of the big kids got me again — and this time I had a 2000 mile head start.

I had the distinct pleasure to meet the lovely and talented Will, A.K.A. Be the Boy, and his lovelier and brilliant better half, The Slackmistress this past summer in Los Angeles at the wedding of mutual blog friends Michael and Randi.

So now Will has tagged me to participate in a meme whose theme is ‘Seven Things You Never Knew About Me,’ and as he himself indicated in his meme post, it may be kinda tough, seeing as how I too have been blogging for a long time, and have pretty much shot my wad with all the deep, dark secrets.

Seven things you never cared to know about AJ, and forgot to ask...
So if you don’t mind a little minutiae, I’ll see if I can come up with a few more items that hopefully might resemble information you’ll find interesting.
  1. I am a distant relative (6th cousin to be exact) of a famous American war hero, one whose name is emblazoned upon numerous federal buildings and institutions across our great country. But history being the dying subject it is in our culture, I would say that you’d recognize his name if you heard it, however I find that it’s typically only folks my generation and older who have any sense of who this great man was or what he accomplished. But here’s a hint: An iconic Hollywood actor, whose name you WOULD recognize, in the 1940s portrayed him in a film about his extraordinary life.
  2. You may know that I saw the Beatles in concert in 1964, but my elder brother Jack saw them three times; twice in ’64 and once in ’65. And though my first concert ever was indeed a memorable one, it would be thirteen years later before I’d attend my second: Electric Light Orchestra at The Forum in Los Angeles in 1977.
  3. I came within one letter grade of flunking the 4th grade, but graduated high school with a 3.75 GPA. You can thank my stepmother, Maxine, for teaching (read: forcing) me to do my homework.
  4. Although the bulk of my professional life has been spent as a graphic designer/web designer, I came out of college an illustrator. My limited success in that profession included illustrating the Masters of the Universe characters that were featured as ‘puffy stickers’ inside boxes of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies during the fall of 1983.
  5. During the mid-90s, I was such a groupie for my favorite radio station, WRLT Lightning 100 in Nashville that I had a stretch of eleven consecutive months in which I was a ‘call-in’ winner of various on-air contests from 1995-96. During those years I was working from home and had the radio on all day long. I had a system.

    I won stereo equipment, concert tickets, and many, many CDs.

    I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that it was in the midst of that streak that the station first instituted their current policy of ‘a maximum of one win every 30 days’ in regard to their contests.

    Geeze Louise…I can’t hep it if I’m good…
  6. This one’s not about me, but I’ve always thought it was waaaay cool: My father-in-law was one of the lead engineers for the Apollo program at Cape Canaveral, FL. He was actually the last person to leave the project after it closed shop in favor of the space shuttle program in the mid 1970s; he was charged with the responsibility of closing the books on the whole shebang.

    He followed that historic assignment with nearly a decade of work with the U.S. military in its top secret project of placing the satellites in orbit that now comprise the GPS network we all use on a daily basis, but which was one of those things at the time about which he’d joke, “I could tell you what I do, but then I’d have’ta kill ya.”

    He’s a great man, and I’m proud to know him.
  7. Lastly, it’s probably not fair to talk about only the ‘cool’ facts about myself, so this is probably as good a place as any to offer a little nugget that I’m rather embarrassed to admit, but to which I can’t help but self-deprecate, ‘cuz it is kinda funny.

    My folks (well, let’s say, my Mom to be exact) wanted a little girl in the worst way, which is one reason there were five of us kids in my family — but all were boys. After my two eldest brothers’ came along, Mom & Dad just kept on tryin’ for the girl that would never come. Their next child was another boy (my brother Kenny); oh well. They decided to give it one more try, and out came AJ. Evidently, I was really supposed to be that girl (my younger brother Alex, four years later, was unplanned).

    Undaunted, when I was a toddler my mother would dress me up like a girl and just gush about how cute I was. They took pictures that I remember seeing when I was a kid, which I’m currently trying to find and destroy.

    Fortunately she never took me out in public dressed in drag, but I do remember well the teasing from my brothers. Oye.

    And then, as if by some cruel twist of fate, I turned out to be about the height of the average woman anyway. And as somewhat of a byproduct, I don’t have the deepest of speaking voices either.

    I often get telephone calls from solicitors and others who don’t know me, who routinely assume they’re speaking to ‘Missus’ rather than ‘Mister’ upon my answering the phone. It used to bug me — a lot — and I was always quick to curtly point out the error of their assumptions. However in recent years I’ve just learned to accept it (and to try and answer the phone in my best James Earl Jones whenever possible).

    But all things considered, I‘d rather talk like Michael Jackson than trade away the life I’ve been privileged to live.

    I have no complaints.
So there you have my seven things; let’s hear yours:

The Rules:

  • Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged.
Okay...You’re IT!


Thursday, January 15, 2009

So Long, Squirty

I wasn’t ready for this — not even a little bit.
I don't think one is ever prepared for the death of a family member — even if that family member has four spindly little legs and a bobbed tail.

However I have indeed been forced to say goodbye to a member of my family today and I'm in hell right now. I can barely function. But I know that if I don't get this written tonight, I may never write it.

So yeah, let's just get something out of the way right here and now. I'm gonna mourn here a little bit; I'm gonna probably end up bawling my eyes out before it's all over, and right now I don't give a rip about being macho, manly, or any of that 'maintaining-a-stiff-upper-lip' bullshit nonsense.

I’m really hurting right now, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Earlier this evening we had the horrendously painful task of putting our little dog down. Squirty (previously referred to in my stories as 'Spotty') had cancer, and she’d been in a lot of pain for weeks. She was fifteen and a half years old — that’s 105+ years to us two-leggers — but she was always our baby.

Our four-legged kids
In one respect we think of them as our children; less than human of course, but every bit as vital and important as members of our family. In another respect, we acknowledge them for what they are: animals, whose life spans are but a fraction of our own, and whose existence in our lives is but a vapor.

Yet no matter how much we mentally acknowledge that we know they won't live forever, we're always surprised — even devastated — by the reality that they never do.

We call them 'pets, ' but they so far exceed the demeaning connotation of that moniker. They’re companions; reassuring friends making us feel loved and wanted. They give so much; asking so little in return.

There’s my dog! This is Squirty about a year and a half ago, September 29, 2007, during one of Michelle’s and my often daily visits to our new home construction site. The rich, golden-tan markings around her eyes and mouth had long since been replaced by the white hair of her old age, but she was always a happy dog. This is how I’ll remember her...smiling.

Squirty was a Toy Fox Terrier, the runt of the litter, and by far (in Michelle's and my opinion) the cutest one of the bunch. She was born June 3, 1993 in Dixon, Tennessee at a breeder specializing in pure bred Toy Fox Terriers (although the Westminster Kennel Club doesn't officially recognize them as a 'pure' breed — meh...whadda they know?).

She was the perfect addition to our family, joining us at the beginning of our journey to a new life in Tennessee. We got her about a year and a half after relocating here from the Los Angeles area, and just prior to purchasing our first new house.

She was smart, rambunctious, and as precocious as a dog could be, and soon had us wrapped around her tiny little paw.

Nonetheless at the time, I wasn't all that excited about the idea of getting a dog. Dogs were so much more high maintenance than cats, our heretofore pet of choice. We'd gotten a pair of kitties when we moved into our first house as a married couple, the one in Long Beach that we rented for 11 years prior to our Tennessee adventure. Now thirteen years later only one of those two litter-mates, a beautiful black, white and gray tabby named 'Tina,' was still around to make the trip to Tennessee, and we knew her remaining time was short.

Born on the 4th of July (well…close enough)
Michelle wanted a dog in the worst way. Her parents from Florida were looking to get one as well. They wanted a small dog, and were looking in the direction of Fox Terriers when they discovered this breeder in Dixon, a small town about twenty-five miles southwest of Nashville.

From the late 1980s and throughout the ’90s, Michelle’s parents spent their summers in east Tennessee, in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. So when we arrived in Nashville at the beginning of 1992, we understandably began seeing them on a more regular basis each summer, as they were now only four hours away rather than the usual twelve when they were back home in the FLA.

In 1993 they came to spend the Fourth of July holiday with us, arriving a couple days prior. While they were here they wanted to check out that breeder in Dixon. He was just about an hour's drive west of us. Michelle accompanied her folks but I stayed behind. We hadn’t even broached the subject of ‘us’ getting a puppy as well, but I can't say that I was surprised when Michelle returned home that afternoon, smitten. She insisted I come back out with them the next day, July 3rd, to see the pups for myself.

I felt as though it was slap in the whiskers to our elderly cat, Tina, but I finally relented and went along. Of course I too would be instantly mesmerized.

The litter had been born exactly one month earlier, and had it been any other breed, I may have been able to maintain my relatively hard-ass position. But as fate would have it, I actually had a built-in affinity for Fox Terriers; we had one as our family pet in Middletown, Indiana, the final four years we lived there prior to moving to California in 1969.

When it came down to selecting our puppies, it was only fair that Michelle's parents got the first shot. They chose one of the middle-of-the-litter pups, a larger and stockier female they would later name, 'Sugar.' My wife and I, delighted that they didn't glom onto our favorite, happily chose the runt, who may have been the smallest and most rambunctious, but who also was the most striking with her evenly black-spotted white coat and handsomely mottled black and tan head. Oh yeah; I too was smitten.

But so as not to appear a total pushover, I agreed to getting the dog under one condition — that I got to name it. I named her 'Squirt,' after the only family dog I really knew as a kid: the one we had in Middletown. He too was a Fox Terrier, and a small one — hence the name — but wasn’t of the ‘Toy’ variety. He was considerably larger, full grown, than our new puppy would be.

But the name fit. ‘Squirt’ she was to be — at least for the moment, anyway; apparently my ultimatums don’t carry a whole lotta weight. Within a week our puppy was re-dubbed, ‘Squirty,’ care of Michelle, who thought it a better suited variation for a girl dog. And of course, she was right.

Three’s Company
Squirty was indeed Michelle’s baby girl. I know the dog loved me too, but hey — she knew which side her bread was buttered on. She’d warm up to me eventually, but it took her a couple times of being shown ‘who’s was the boss’ before she stopped growling at me when I crawled into bed at night. Oh yeah, nothing says “welcome to bed” like your own dog bearing her teeth at you when you pull back the sheets.

But that didn’t last long. Meh…who knows, maybe she sensed that I still preferred the cat at that point…

Oh…did I mention that she slept with us?

From the second night on, Squirty was my personal hot water bottle. It started out as our only means of getting any sleep; doggie simply would not stop whining while she was in her own bed; she wanted to be in ours. And it quickly became a normal thing; whenever we were in the bed, Squirty was in the bed — even when we didn’t want her to be in the bed ifyaknowhatimean — which actually made for as many humorous moments as it did frustrating ones.

But all in all she was great. She was our joy in the face of a lot of trying times. She was always well-behaved and friendly; never snapped at a soul that I know of. And It was only in the last year — mostly just in the last month or so in fact — that she ever even soiled the floor inside our house. She was always so good to go to the door and let us know whenever she needed to go out and ‘do her business.’

And now in the end, thinking back, I suppose that should have been our first clue; her losing her way with her bodily functions should have told us that something wasn’t right. Maybe we actually did realize but just didn’t want to believe it.

The beginning of the End
About three weeks ago — but really it was more like five — Squirty really began losing her energy. Even in recent years ‘lethargic’ hadn’t even been in this dog’s zip code, yet we accepted it as we began noticing how much more she was sleeping lately; we simply chalked it up to old age. Then one morning, about a week ago, as was my custom while dressing for work, I reached down to pet my little dog as she sat nearby, watching me tie my shoes. As I wound my hand down from the top of her head and around her muzzle, I gently massaged the underside of her neck with my fingers. She’d always loved that; but not this time.

I nearly jumped out of my socks as she let out a yelp that would make one think I’d just stuck her with a straight pin. I returned to her and gently felt around the area on her neck and again she yelped in pain. I didn’t know what to think. Had she accidentally hit herself on the side of the coffee table or something?

I felt bewildered and sorry for Squirty, but didn’t put two-and-two together — none of us had at that point. I finished getting dressed and left for work.

When I returned home that evening, Michelle’s Mom informed me that Michelle had taken Squirty to the vet. During the day, her neck had swollen to twice its normal size. I was scared, but never assumed the worst. Maybe it was just a bad tooth that had caused the infection. Surely our dog would be okay, right?

Well, at least the vet thought so. He said that Squirty had refused to allow him to examine her throat, but he gave her a substantial infusion of antibiotics and was keeping her overnight for observation.

The next day the news was better. The antibiotics had indeed reduced the swelling, enough so that the vet felt good about going in for a better look, with Squirty under local anesthesia. Afterwards he said the x-rays he took detected a mass in her throat, but couldn’t reveal its nature. It could be more infection, but it could be something else. However he was encouraged by how well the antibiotics seemed to work on the swelling. He wanted to give things a week to see what course her condition would take. He seemed optimistic that it wasn’t life-threatening.

The next few days she did seem a lot better; not completely like her old self, but clearly headed in the right direction. She was scheduled to see the vet again today, Thursday afternoon, but on Wednesday, her neck began to become tender to the touch once again.

This morning, she looked like she was hiding a golf ball under her tongue.

Michelle dropped her off at the vet on her way into work, and we waited. The bad news came at 3:30 this afternoon. They biopsied the mass in her neck and found that indeed it was a carcinoma. It had started out deep in the salivary glands behind her left jaw, and grew like wildfire over the past two weeks.

The vet said there was nothing realistically that could be done; her entire salivary gland had become one huge cancer. There was no recourse. She couldn’t swallow; she couldn’t eat, and she was in constant, terrible pain.

Last Goodbye
When Michelle and I arrived at the vet’s office, we were taken into the exam room where they had our little dog wrapped in a towel and laying on her side on the stainless steel table. She was just beginning to come out of the anesthesia from the biopsy and examination.

The nurse told us that we could take as long as we needed to be with her; to say goodbye. Michelle and I were a mess. There was no way to hold back the tears even if we’d wanted to.

Squirty truly looked like death warmed over. Her shaved neck and the underside of her muzzle was horribly swollen and hardened by the edema surrounding the tumor deep within her neck. As we stood surrounding the table, Michelle and I took turns kneeling to get down close to her face. We wanted to look into her eyes; to let her to know that we were there with her.

Squirty’s breathing was heavy and labored; she shivered intermittently as she moaned a faint, high pitched squeal with each exhale, as if she were pleading with us for help as she lay there paralyzed in her partially anesthetized state.

It was grueling. Even after I had knocked on the door to indicate that we were ready for the doctor to come, we waited at least another 15-20 minutes before he finally appeared. However during that time, Squirty began to come to and at least a little bit of life returned to her faraway eyes. I kneeled down to make eye contact again and she looked right at me, weakly raising her head.

“There’s my dog!” I sobbed, “There’s my Squirters..”

It was only for those remaining five minutes or so that I believe Squirty knew Michelle and I were there. She stopped shivering, her breathing normalized and she made eye contact with each of us as we stroked, patted and loved on her, but never did she make any other significant attempt to move. I’m thankful for that. Either the sedation was still enough in place that she simply couldn’t move, or she just knew that it was no use.

She just lay there motionless until the doctor came in a few minutes later.

He asked if we wanted to be present and we both answered affirmatively. We just kept on stroking, sobbing and whispering our last goodbyes to our sweet doggy.

The vet shaved a small area on one of her hind legs and inserted an IV, to which Squirty gave a weak yelp. He then inserted the syringe needle into the IV and slowly depressed the plunger.

We said our final goodbyes. Thirty seconds later she was gone.

I don’t know if we’ll ever get another dog, but I’d be surprised if we don’t.

But not now; not for quite awhile, I’d say.

What Dreams May Become
I don’t know whether or not dogs have souls, but I know that they dream — at least mine did. On several occasions I had the pleasure of watching Squirty dreaming while she slept on our bed or on the couch: gyrating legs, flailing away; muffled barks; rapid eye movement — the whole nine yards.

She used to love to chase squirrels out of the back yard at our old house. Maybe that’s what she dreamed about. Maybe that’s what she’s doing right now.

Go get ‘em, Squirters!


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Somebody Must Be Tryin’ to Tell Me Something

At this rate, I’ll never get my introductory posts finished for my new blog launch! However this is something that happened to me just tonight, Tuesday evening. It had a pretty big impact on me, so I felt the need to share it.

* * * * * * * *

Rainy-Day Tuesdays
I mentioned earlier that this will be a busy week, and one of the activities occupying three nights of it is NHL Hockey.

I’ve been a season ticket holder of the Nashville Predators since the 2000-2001 NHL season. I’ve followed the Preds in that capacity from their third year of existence, watching them develop from expansion-team futility into one of only five teams to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs currently four seasons running.

Yet for all their apparent success, they’ve never made it out of the first playoff round, and that lack of ability to take the next step has hurt more than just the pride of an organization almost universally regarded as one of the best run in all the NHL. In addition to the obvious ‘so-close-yet-so-far’ frustration felt by everyone — especially the fans — it also seems to perpetuate the nagging cloud of doubt that has hovered over this team from the beginning: will Nashville support an NHL team in a city with a sports mentality dominated football and basketball?

Well, thankfully, this story isn’t gonna tackle that question. However it was necessary to bring it up in order to set the mood I was in tonight as I headed down to the Sommet Center to watch our team take on the visiting Colorado Avalanche.

This season has been especially frustrating, mostly because the Predators aren’t scoring like they have in years past. But I’m not even gonna talk about that, except to say that this current dearth of biscuits-in-the-basket had led directly to what going in to tonight’s game was a four game losing streak — three of which have been at home, where the team usually performs extremely well, even in bad years.

After becoming so used to all the successful home cookin’ the Preds have enjoyed the past three seasons, in which they’ve had the second-best home record in all the NHL, seeing that trend come to an apparent abrupt halt has been buggin’ the hell out of me.

It’s gotten to the point that tonight, while I should have been confident and excited in anticipation of seeing my team begin the turnaround of their recent woes, my attitude was much more ensconced in worrisome anticipation of what bad thing was going to happen next.

Add to that the fact that the weather was lousy: 40something degree temps in a steady, cold rain. Add again the fact that I was also going to the game alone, as Michelle had to run our dog, Spotty, to the vet because her neck had swollen to twice it’s normal size during the day today. Our doggie is fifteen and a half years old, so any kind of health problem at this point in her life could indeed be very serious.

So here I am, with all these things going on, already miserable, and walking the last of my typical six-block jaunt from where I usually parking for free, down to the arena.

As I approached the last crossing prior to my destination, there on the corner stood a young man, soaked to the skin in the rain. I was already late, so I really didn’t notice his behavior until I was but a few feet from him, near the crosswalk. I say this because I don’t know whether he was beckoning each and every person walking by for money or if it was just lucky ol’ me, but as I approached him, I knew the look in his eye. It was no surprise when he softly asked, “Sir, could you spare a dollar so I can go buy a cheeseburger?”

Now if the dude had been wearing a LOLCats t-shirt, I probably would have stopped and pulled out a buck or two just for the irony of the situation.

Just kidding; actually…I wouldn’t. And that’s the problem.

Divine Intervention
Again, I don’t pretend to assume that I know what anyone else would do in that situation. I know there are a lot of folks who would have had compassion on the guy and given him the money as asked, or more. I know there are some folks who would have even offered to take him to McDonald’s and buy him an entire meal. And I also know that are those who wouldn’t have even acknowledged his presence; their response would have been to just keep on walking.

As for me, while my polite nature wouldn’t allow me to completely ignore him, my hard heart didn’t exactly embrace his situation, either.

In response to his tentative entreaty I quickly replied, Nosir, I’m afraid I don’t have anything for you, today” and I continued on across the street, towards the arena.

Almost immediately I felt a pang of anguish stab me in the gut. I said to myself, “Man, I wish I hadn’t just done that!”

I continued my hurried pace toward the arena’s side entrance, still another 50 yards ahead, beating myself up more and more with every step. At least three times I thought, “why don’t you just turn around and go back and give the man a lousy dollar! That’s all he asked you for.”

But in response a thousand other voices in my head simultaneously shouted down the better angels of my nature, warning of everything from possibly being robbed at knife point to the cynical suggestion that dude would just go spend that dollar on crack or booze.

But no matter how much I tried to take solace in the cautions being justified by my conscious mind, my heart was making me miserable. I felt horrible.

My mind decided, “If he’s still standing there after the game, I’ll be sure to give him a few bucks.”

My heart shot right back, “He won’t BE THERE after the game, you idiot!”


Then something — or someone — intervened.

I was less than a few feet from the turn down to the arena side entrance when I spotted something. I really couldn’t believe my eyes.

There, lying on the wet sidewalk, still partially dry, was a one dollar bill — folded lengthwise and then again in half. From the second I spotted it, ten feet away, I knew what I had to do.

I reached down to snatch it off the sidewalk, did an about-face, and burst into a full sprint back to the corner, 50 yards up the street, to where the young man was still standing in the rain.

As I approached him, I’m not even sure if he recognized me as anyone with whom he’d already spoken.

I reached out my hand and said, “I swear to God, I just found this lying on the sidewalk. I think it was meant to be yours.” I handed him the twice-folded bill and began backpedaling across the street, again in the direction of the arena.

His countenance beamed as he realized what it was I’d placed in his palm.

“Hey! That’ll hellp!” He said with a big grin, “Thanks! And God bless you!”

“God bless you as well, Sir,” I called back and continued on to my hockey game.

Y’know, I didn’t once think about him spending that buck on anything illicit; it didn’t matter. Giving it to him was what had to be done. Besides, I’ve given money to panhandlers dozens of time before, and I think I know by how they receive it, just how much they need it, and whether it’s for something to make them better off or something to make them worse.

But the vibe/reaction from this guy told me all I needed to know.

This was one of the weirdest, most blatantly obvious divine interventions I’ve ever been involved with. And pardon me if you think that’s an idiotic way to look at it, but that’s my take-away from this thing.

Sure it could have been a coincidence, but I can tell you — I just don’t find money lying on the sidewalk all that often, do you? And given that the man had asked me for that exact amount? I mean, c’mon.

But the point of this whole thing isn’t about what a great benevolent human being AJ is. But rather, it’s just the opposite.

I hardened my heart to some one who asked me for a FREAKING DOLLAR, which I most certainly had to give him, but refused, and then tried to justify it by assuring myself that I’d done the right thing.

Nevertheless, someone needed to set me straight; almost as if to say, “Okay, if you don’t know how to do it, allow me to show you.”

This was an intervention, folks; a heart intervention for AJ.

So what does it mean, really? I haven’t a clue, except that I know somebody was trying to tell me something; something like, “it really doesn’t belong to you anyway — why not use it with a heart of compassion rather than one of stone?”

I also believe it means I need to start listening to that still, small voice — even when the big, loud ones are doing their level best to drown it out.

Maybe that should be my first New Year’s resolution for 2009.

The second? Hmmm…

Maybe I should just stop worrying about the Predators so much.

Meh…it’s a thought….


Monday, January 05, 2009

A Little Toilet Humor

Okay...maybe one more.
Yeah, it certainly wouldn't be the first time I've underestimated the length of time it takes me to do something. As you may know from my previous post, I fully intended to have this blog converted to the shiny new look and feature set of the new updated template that I've been feverishly crafting since last Friday. But alas, the bugger took me all of the hours I had to devote to it this past weekend, leaving me no time to actually write the two or so new posts I wanted to coincide with its formal introduction.

So I'll have to beg your pardon on the timing, but It may be next weekend before I officially flip the switch, given how busy a week I have directly ahead of me.

So in the meantime, I've decided to offer up one final exit post to tide you over. Sorta like its author, it's a real stinker, but I hope you like it.

It's a Mad world
I've gotta warn you, if you're like a lot of reactionary, politically-correct people these days, you may find the subject matter of this story offensive, gross, and disgusting.

If you're like me, you'll just find it funny.

I don't know about you, but I often do some of my best thinking in one of the two places I spend time each and every day: standing in the shower, or ensconced upon the porcelain throne.

This morning I was engaged in the latter circumstance, here at The Company where I work, when the sound of activity from a stall several feet to my left triggered a memory that almost immediately brought a smile to my face.

You probably have to be at least close to my generation's age to remember this well, but back in the 60s, that veritable bastion of sophomoric humor, Mad magazine, offered numerous 'special' issues throughout the year, containing various bonus paraphernalia — things like pull-out posters and/or stickers with gummed or peel-off adhesive backing. Oh, the havoc wreaked upon the painted surfaces on which we kids used to slap those stickers! It surely must have driven more than a few parents to drink back then. Of course, I can appreciate this now, but as a pre-teen at the time I couldn't have cared less.

There was one Mad issue that I recall fondly, featuring a set of what collectors now refer to as 'trouble' stickers; ones printed with various humorous cautionary phrases that poked fun at everyday appliances, pop-cultural opinions and everyday events; just silly, ridiculous kids-stuff, as per the Mad tradition. The sentiments were usually pretty corny, but geared perfectly to the goofball sensibilities of adolescents like yours truly.

Phrases like, "Stomp out violence!", "Attention Burglars! It's OK to break into this house!", and "Caution! The Driver Of This Car May Be A Hazard To Your Health!" always tickled my funny bone. But then again, some of the jokes just went — swoosh — right over my head. And just like that proverbial guy who busts out laughing after finally 'getting' a joke he'd heard a week earlier, it wasn't until years later that one of those miniature handbills would quite ironically change my life — and most likely save me thousands in future plumbing bills.

♫ Teach, your children well...
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not not normally one who talks a lotta crap — or even dwells on taking one. However, I've often wondered about the aspect of 'closing the deal' on that (hopefully) most 'regular' of all bodily functions.

I mean, who really teaches us how to use toilet paper?

Obviously, the likely answer would be our parents, or someone who took care of us when we were little. But how many lessons did they offer? Did they take the time to actually demonstrate the finer points, or did they just show us the roll and let us figure things out on our own?

Now again, this isn't something to which I devote a lot of meditation, but it has crossed my mind from time to time. Maybe it's crossed yours too. And if it hadn't yet, well...you're welcome.

Anyway, back to the stickers...

So there I was this morning, sitting in the stall, when I hear the sudden, continual sound of a spinning toilet paper dispenser, echoing from about three stalls over, on the far port side of the men's room. It sort of reminded me of the sound that a roller skate wheel makes when you spin it with the tips of your fingers.

"RhhrrrrrRAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT...RhhrrrrrRAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT...and so on, probably 4-5 times in succession.

It took a second or two for the significance of the sound to register, but then it hit me; that dude was usin' some paper, yo.

And after an initial, brief burst of contempt, leveled at the guy for the potential environmental-impact of his apparently wanton waste of waste-paper, I caught myself and smiled, then flashed back to the days of my adolescent youth when I too was a roll-spinner.

♫ Can't touch this...
My childhood fear of touching my own grunt was such that my typical tee-pee torrent had to double-over at least 5-6 times on the floor beneath it to convince me that a sufficient buffer would then exist between my right hand and the toxic waste to be wiped from my cute little hiney. I'm quite sure that by the time I was ten I had single-handedly (pun intended) used enough of the stuff to represent the deforestation of half the state of Oregon.

Now don't judge; I'm innocent! You see, I don't recall ever having more than a single instructional session as to the proper use of bathroom tissue. No one that I can recall ever told me how much was too much; I just kept on spinnin' that roll until I had at least a half-an-inch of bulk from which to work. Multiply that by four or times per session, and it's no wonder that the toilets at my house were constantly stopped-up, although I never once had an inkling that I might have had something to do with that.

However, for as strange and classically 'childhood' as that anecdote is, it took the aforementioned adolescent humor magazine to get me to see the error of my environmentally-irresponsible ways.

♫ Let the Good Times Roll...
I can clearly remember excitedly examining the sticker insert included with the issue of Mad that one of my brothers brought home for me on a summer's day in the late-mid-1960s. As I scanned the two pages-worth of adhesive-backed beauties in various shapes and sizes, I came across one that particularly appealed to the abject grossness of my adolescent boy sensibilities.

The sticker read: "WARNING! This toilet tissue must be MULTIPLE-FOLDED to avoid break-through!"

"HAAAAA!" I thought. "This is great!" "They're talking about probably the grossest, sickest, grodiest, most disgusting thing that could ever happen to a human being in history, right? How funny! How gross! WOOOHOOO! I gotta go put this up in the bathroom!"

And so I did; slapping that sticker on the wall, just above the toilet paper dispenser, where I (and the rest of my family) would see it every time I did my bid'ness for the next two years. Of course, at that later date, when I had reached the mature age of eleven or twelve, I began to see things differently (...okay...not that much differently, but a little).

I do know that I began to see the sticker, and what it said, differently. Oh yeah, I'd always known it was a joke, I'd just never really understood the setup. I knew the concept was a goof; but then it began to occur to me that maybe — just maybe, there was actually something to be learned there. The sticker suggested something that I had never really even considered: the concept of actually folding toilet paper — as opposed to wadding it up in a huge ball — which had always been my M.O. — in order to create maximum cushion between digits and dung.

Following my established method, break-through was pretty much an impossibility. But could it be feasible to actually use less tee-pee, even...dare I say...multiple folded? Do people actually do this? How could anyone employ such a risky practice?

Nevertheless, the Environmental Movement was already firmly entrenched in the national consciousness by the late-60s, and was an important consideration at the time, even for a young boy such as myself. Killing trees unnecessarily was a big no-no, and the little ecological angel on my shoulder was beginning to assert herself in my decisions. I decided I would try and go folded, and thereby, hopefully go easier on the tee-pee.

It was one small step for a young boy; one giant leap for tree conservation.

And so to this day I continue, just tryin' to do my part for the planet. I considered using corncobs once, but thought better of it. Nope, I'll just keep on foldin.' Oh, I know it's not much, but it IS a little something that I can do-do to help save good ol' Mother Earth.

And now I once again pause to consider the plight of the roll-spinner over in the fourth stall, with whom I shared the restroom earlier today. All things considered, I feel kinda sorry for the poor sap, and sorrier for the planet. But maybe he's just oblivious to it all like I once was. Maybe he didn't have anyone to teach him the way of the multiple-fold when he was a boy.

Then again, maybe he just grew up without any decent bathroom reading material.


Friday, January 02, 2009

Take a Good Look Around, ’Cuz This Ol’ House is Comin’ Down

AJ New-point-Oh is Coming this Weekend.
Pardon the dust — and when I say, ‘pardon the dust’ I don’t mean dust from construction, destruction, or reduction; I’m referring to the dust of stagnation that’s been collecting on this blog for the past three months or longer.

To many of my regular readers the theme has become more than familiar, it’s been my frickin’ mantra for the past 2-3 years: I need to post more often. Well, lately I’ve been doing some serious self-evaluating. I’ve been pondering whether or not I could even still consider myself an active blogger.

Had I lost my mojo?

Had I run out of things to say?

I mean, I have amassed some work in this space over the past four-and-a-half years. Problem is, 75% of it was done in the first two spins around the blog-sun, from 2004-2006. The past three years have been a blur, and that time-flies-when-yer-havin-fun circumstance hasn't exactly been spent blogging; life’s happened; changes; and happily, a lot of personal growth along the way.

Nevertheless, I didn't exactly want to move with the room. I frittered and fretted over my lack of activity and my steadily declining number of readers; I wasted a lot of energy over my receding-blog angst.

But just when it looked like I needed to hang up my keyboard, something new happened. And I'm extremely glad to announce that I’ve got a lot to say about it! Tune in this weekend to find out what it is.

AJ 2.0 is coming...

It isn’t a re-work; it’s more like a re-birth.

Bookmark me now; believe me later.