Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Aunt Mary's All Alone

My dad's funeral was on a Saturday. I left work early the previous Monday when I got the phone call and spent the rest of the week in a daze. I obviously knew he was gone, but it didn't seem altogether real, that someone I knew for my whole life (and had known me even longer) had just been sort of disappeared from the earth.

I spent a lot of time on the couch, sort of halfway paying attention to movies we had watched together, texting and talking to family and friends, and trying to wrap my head around his death.

Before my dad died, I had planned to drive down to Gainesville for a Radon reunion show that weekend. While by my estimations I have seen about 46,000 Radon "reunion" or "original lineup" or "final" shows, it's always a good time, and it brings all the oldsters out of the woodwork so we can drink and sing and act the fool away from our responsibilities and set the clock back about 20 years or so to recharge our worn out batteries.

While I obviously wasn't going to go to Gainesville Saturday night, I decided to spend Thursday night in Tampa, catch Radon in Ybor City, then drive down to Bradenton the following morning.

I was a bit conflicted about this plan. Should I really be having fun so close to my dad's death? Sure, I could tell myself that dad would want me to have a good time, but that seemed sort of hollow and somewhat disrespectful. In the end, I decided that it would be good to have a little fun to step into normal life for a little while and to steel myself against the funeral. Sure, that was a pretty cheap rationalization, but it was what I was going with.

I had a great afternoon; sure, sadness lurked around the corners, but I hung around band practice, drank some beers and talked with great friends that I haven't seen in a while, some of whom had gone through losing a parent and offered whatever advice or sympathy they could.

Remember that band in college, that one who might not be technically proficient, and maybe the drummer would slow down halfway through the set, or the guitars might be out of tune, or the singer might forget a verse, but it didn't matter, because after a few songs you and your friends transformed into a single organism, jumping and singing and making the wooden floor creak and bend under your weight while you could transcend, just for a second, the day-to-day cares and frustrations and become one, unified mass of humanity? Well, Gainesville was (and still is) lousy with those bands, and I was counting on Radon to bring that feeling back for a few minutes that night.

And they didn't disappoint. I knew the song that was going to kill me. "Grandma's Cootie," a song about an aunt left alone by the death of her husband who takes a ride on a roller coaster and sees the beach from the top of the coaster.

They played it about halfway through the set, right before "Stepmother Earth," a song that always made me think about the complicated relationship between fathers and sons, even though there's not really anything specific to that reading in the song.

Tears welled as I sang along with old friends and strangers, but they were different somehow. They were sadness mixed with that feeling of transcendence along with a bit of happiness. I could almost grasp a theory about loss and death and the power of friendship and love, but the music and gin and tonics clouded my thinking and it remains just out of reach.

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. Most people freeze their musical tastes in their 20s, and while I have continued seeking out different genres and styles since then (just ask anyone who has had to endure my "Summertime Reggae/Ska/Rocksteady/Dub" playlist at a cookout), the music and friends I made in my 20s have a special place in my heart. You can use that feeling to live in the past and moan about how things aren't as exciting now as they were back then, or you can take a bit of that feeling now and then to jump start your heart, to realize that you are part of something, that you have friends and family who love you, and that no matter how shitty life can be at times, you will endure and thrive.

I'm not saying that that night cured me, I continued (and continue) to have bad moments and bad days. But it did help, and if the suits at the American Psychiatric Association will ever recognize my groundbreaking research into punk rock music as grief therapy, I feel many more people will be helped.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Spanks. Spanks a Lot

I'm always astounded when what I think are simple, universal experiences are anything but. I mean, yeah, I realize that some things, like your parents hiding ancient Indian skulls in your closet or being forced to pick up mangoes as a child are fairly esoteric, but most of what I write here I just naively assume are experiences that just about everyone who grew up in roughly the same time period as I did can share and laugh at.

So yeah, I'm always a little amazed that people are shocked that I went to a high school that still spanked students.

I grew up in a time when most parents spanked their kids. Most parents don't spank anymore which is probably a good thing. All it really teaches you (or taught me, anyway) is that there is someone bigger and more powerful than you who can cause you physical pain, so it's best to sneak around and not get caught. Or that you can inflict pain on someone smaller than you, like say, a convenient younger brother or sister.

I was spanked as a kid, and I hated it. Looking back, my parents had to live with me 24/7. I'm surprised they didn't beat me more just on principle. The weird thing was, it always seemed like any adult back then had free reign to grab you and start spankin.' I remember the first time I got spanked by a teacher. I was laughing at a comment someone next to me made in my second grade class. My teacher grabbed me by the arm, lifted me out of my desk into the dark, deserted hallway and gave me two licks with a ruler. While it hurt physically, the worst part was having to go back into class and sit down while everyone knew I was bad and got spanked. Also, I was shaking and trying not to cry.

Of course, that was in Mississippi, so I was probably lucky I didn't end up on a junior chain gang.

There were always teachers you had to look out for. There was a teacher later in elementary school who was notorious for shaking the hell out of kids. I know, because it happened to me. Once again, I was laughing, this time in a line, when she came up and said, "You think that's funny? Do you think this is funny," as she shook my little fourth grade body around like a paint can. This was a public high school in Florida. No other teachers came running up saying, "Hey, crazy teacher, I think you've shaken him enough," or "Hey! You know you can't shake kids, crazy teacher! We had that big staff meeting about that!" She wasn't even my teacher, just a woman who saw a kid who needed some shaking and decided she was the one for the job.

Most kids who grew up in the same era have similar stories; whether they themselves were spanked or shook, or they saw or heard about classmates getting similar punishments. This is probably why when a kid was called to the office, the entire class had to go "Oooooooooooooooh."

But what really throws people is when I casually mention that I was spanked in high school. In the 1980s. That's right, while everyone else in the country was dancing around to Kajagoogoo, having their John Hughes-esque day-glo good times, students at our high school were regularly spanked by adults.

I'm not sure what you had to do to get licks. I only remember getting them for talking/laughing in class (careful readers can detect a trend here) and once for getting three tardies. I don't know if girls got spanked or that was just a punishment for the guys. I do remember the last time I went in. I was a senior, which really seems too old for someone to get spanked. The dean gave me a choice of three licks or a three day suspension. I took the licks, since my parents wouldn't have to find out.

He called in a secretary. Apparently you had to have a witness. She looked at me and said, "Oh, I don't like it when they're little like this. They remind me of my grandchildren." I remember thinking, "You have the power to stop this, lady. Stand up and say something, and we can all walk out of here."

No dice. I grabbed a desk, took out my wallet, and spread my legs. Licks were delivered via an actual wooden paddle. The first one took a while, I guess he was warming up or trying to build suspense. It wasn't too bad, but holy crap did the next two sting. Just like elementary school, I didn't cry (plus, by now I had the advantage of being almost a full-grown man), but I was pretty shaky as I left the office.

In the years since I've had a number of jobs that required me to do things I didn't necessarily want to do, so I sympathized with the dean a bit more. The guy got a degree in education, thinking he was going to mold young minds, and instead he goes home each day with a sore shoulder and cramped hand from spanking teenage boys.

Years later, in my erotic life, I met several partners who liked the occasional spank. I am above all a gentleman, so I obliged. I'll admit, it was pretty fun, even though part of me was thinking, "didn't she get enough of this in high school?" Then I realized she probably had a normal upbringing where she wasn't getting spanked by deans for being late to class three times.

 It also made me wonder if maybe I was wrong in giving that dean the benefit of the doubt.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Welcome to the Working Week

For a fundamentally lazy person, I've always gotten along fairly well in the working world. My first real job was bagging groceries, and I soon found that not only was it less work than I would be doing at home, but it was actually scheduled and I got paid for it. Granted, in those ancient times minimum wage was a couple of shiny nickles and a handful of hard candy, but that was enough to buy records and keep my car in gas.

For a relatively simple job, there seemed to be about a thousand different things to know. Was it OK to put dishwashing detergent in the same bag as sealed food? How full should I pack the bags? And I only took a few tests after the interview. Was I really qualified to start bagging so soon?

On my first day a woman had some candles that weren't priced. I had to find them and report the price to the cashier. This is called a "pricecheck" in the business. I speedwalked through the crowded store looking for the candle aisle. I never remembered seeing any candles when I went to the store with my parents. Jesus, how may aisles does this store have, anyway? You know, those candles looked like they should be about 3 bucks. Sure, let's say that. I made my way back to my cashier and confidently lied, "Three dollars," hoping she couldn't see that I was sweating.
"Three dollars? Did you find them on aisle three," she asked.
"Oh yeah. Isle three. Yep, that's where they are."
"They're 5 dollars. They're right over there in that bin," she pointed out with all the scorn a cashier can muster to a lowly bagger.
If she knew the answer, why would she let me lie to her like that? I made it a point to find another cashier to work with as soon as possible.

I also made a friend that day. Well, he made me, I guess. He was this little weaselly looking guy who kept talking to me while I was trying to concentrate on bagging and price checks and what the cashiers looked like naked.

Kids - here's a tip on the house. When you're a young adult, the first person you meet at a job, school, church group, or extracurricular activity is generally someone who has burned through everyone else and sees you as a way to start fresh. Try to stay away from them.

Not to say this guy didn't have his good qualities. Cleaning up one night he showed me his favorite trick. He took an apple from a display, took a hefty bite out of it, and returned it to the display, with the bite side on the inside.

"Check it out," he said. "Tomorrow some old lady will be reaching for an apple and she'll pull out this gross looking bit one."

I had to admit that was pretty funny.

Overall it was a pretty good job - old people slipped me tips, and whenever I needed time to myself, I could go out and gather carts, watching the bank clock turn over as I counted down the hours til quitting time. I'd daydream about how in a few short years I could promote to stockboy, then a manager, and then maybe run my own chain of stores. It would probably be a short hop from grocery store magnate to President, I'd imagine.

Every month we'd have a night where we had to stay late and clean. We'd take out all the eggs and milk and spray bleach water in the display cases to clean out the grossness, mop up, and prepare the shelves and floors for a crew to come in late at night to scour the place. It was kind of fun, mostly because we weren't dealing with customers, the managers would play classic rock over the PA system, and we could sneak cookies from the bakery. There were rumors that some managers allowed workers to make huge Scooby-Doo sandwiches from the deli, but that never happened while I was around.

Every once in a while, I'll get a whiff of bleach with an undertone of sour milk and be transported back to my high school grocery career. I can hear Bad Company, Foreigner, and the Guess Who and wonder why I gave up on my dreams of becoming a grocery store magnate.

Then I'll remember how bad that sour milk in the display cases actually smelled, and how getting off at 1 a.m. really kinda sucked, and I'm kind of glad I left the world of groceries behind.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

You Were My Dad, You Were So Rad...

Once again circumstances have forced me to break my "funny posts only" here on the old blog. My dad died suddenly about a month after my grandma died. Well, it was sudden to my sister and I; my mom said he had been dealing with more and more health issues.

Your family members are your first role models, for good or ill, and mine did a good job; they kept my sister off the stripper pole and me from being a performance artist.

Among other things, dad taught me what lures work for what fish, how to read a body of water, how to smell an approaching rain storm, and how to punch without breaking your thumb. He also took me to all the Star Wars, Star Trek, and Superman movies. Did he fall as crazy for Star Wars as I did? Probably not, but he still looked at and encouraged dozens, if not hundreds of my artistic renderings of Darth Vader and assorted battle scenes.

He made up stories every night for both me and my sister when we were little. I don't remember much about them now, of course, other than vague themes.  I seem to remember his studies of Native Americans played a big role.

As a teenager and a punk rocker, I had to rebel against what I saw as his narrow-minded, old-fashioned ways. No matter how bad family battles got, however, there was always a reprieve on the river.

And as much as I fought against him, I've found throughout the years that I share many of his traits, along with a lot of the anxieties and neuroses which I had no idea at all that he had until recently. My annoying habit of coming up with a project idea and having to start right now? That's totally inherited, as is my nightstand covered with a pile of books to read before falling asleep.

Some of these projects seemed like sheer torture at the time, but afterwards, they gave me a sense of pride - like how I can now replace a car's cooling system, thanks to an all-afternoon project that I swore was never going to end.

Along with having us, dad served and was wounded in Viet Nam, which led to him discussing all the ways to keep me out of the hypothetical Gulf War I draft. It also stopped him from both hunting and attending church. We always wanted to ask him about the war, but never really felt comfortable, and now it's too late.

He saw six continents, earned a PhD, led a teacher's strike, was married for 48 years, taught science and history, and taught his kids how to make an impressive marinara sauce. Did he know how much we loved, respected, and appreciated him before he died? I hope so. Unfortunately I also inherited his tendency to keep my emotions and feelings buried and so a lot of our conversations were kind of surface.

So as hard as it might be, make sure to tell your parents how much they meant to you, even if you have to lie a little bit, or write an anonymous note or something. Trust me, it'll make everyone feel a lot better.

I'm looking forward to getting back to the funny soon.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Sheer Heart Attack

I was in the back of an ambulance as a Florida State fan/paramedic tried to convince me that Bobby Bowden was the greatest college football coach ever.

My theories, that Bowden was a secret Klan member* and played in a wussy conference went unspoken, mostly because I didn't want the guy to put an air bubble in my IV. This is not how I thought my first official work physical would end up.

Things had started promisingly. I had a brand new library degree, I was freshly married, and I was living in Gainesville applying for jobs all over the country. Applying for real jobs was a new experience. With the exception of my job writing press releases for UF (which was really more of a starter real job), my previous job interviews went like this:
"Can you lift at least 30 pounds?"
"Can you work weekends?"
"Welcome aboard."

These interviews were a bit more intensive (although strangely they still asked those two questions). Most of them never made it past the phone interview, but I had my spiel down by now. This might have helped me land a job in the magical seaport town of Jacksonville.

Sure, I had to pass a physical, but that would be easy. I guess. When I thought about it, I realized I hadn't really had a physical since high school for track, which was pretty lackadaisical. What if they missed something back then? Or what if I had developed some sort of cancer in the years since? Not only will they not hire me, but I'll have to deal with the cancer. And I'm sure all these libraries talk - they'll tell everyone else I'm interviewing with and I'll end up homeless and cancer-ridden.
With these fears running through my head, I got up early and drove the hour or so to Jacksonville to get my health measured.

I had to have a hearing test first. That was pretty easy, mostly because I totally cheated. They lock you in this little closet and you hit a button each time you hear a beep come through a pair of headphones. What they didn't realize, however, was that if a patient were to crane his neck a bit, he could see a light flash each time a beep went off, no matter how faint the beep actually sounded.

After I convinced the doctors that I had super hearing, the real physical began. I had to pee in a cup and give some of my precious blood and was still doing OK. Then I had to take my pants off. The doc gave me that hernia check thing, which I think is probably just made up so they can play around down there and I started feeling funny.

Doc takes my heartbeat a couple of times, looks sort of puzzled and takes my pulse again. It was sort of like in Return of the Living Dead when the paramedics didn't want to tell the workers that they were technically dead.

"Call the ER."

Wait, what?

"Mr. Adams, you have an erratic heartbeat and your pulse is extremely slow. You might be having a heart attack."

"There's no way I'm having a heart attack. My pulse is slow because I'm all lightheaded. I pass out at doctors all the time. Then I wake up and everything's fine.Trust me, I've been through this before."

Doc was having none of it, and the next thing I know, I'm in the back of the ambulance while Cletus yaks about the genius of St. Bobby. I guess I probably could have just walked out of the office, but I was all dizzy and didn't think of that.

So I hang out in the hospital most of the day, even though my chart said "chest pains," which I always thought was like the golden ticket to hospital service. Possibly my chart that said "no insurance" cancelled that out.

It was pointed out that my heart was skipping beats and this could lead to serious problems down the road. This scared me enough that I didn't want to eat the wings that my father-in-law bought when he picked me up from the hospital.

It took a month or so for me to get an appointment with a doctor that insurance would pay for. In that time I quit drinking caffeine, which fixed my heart's beat so that it was as steady as ... I dunno, Buddy Rich. I was still a little nervous about the whole thing, so I asked him, "Hey, is there anything I should do or eat to help my heart?"

"Eh, don't worry about it," he said. "You'll be fine."

Of course, my doctor at the time had the physique of a beach ball, so I didn't really trust his dietary advice, but it made for nice justification when I would eat half a pizza for dinner.

Later I got a bill for $2,000, including $500 for an ambulance ride that I have since determined was about two miles long.

Upon reading the bill, I had a real heart attack and promptly died.

* I have no idea why I used to think that. I didn't really believe it or anything, but I would mutter it occasionally at the TV when I saw his stupid face on the sidelines. I'm sure Mr. Bowden is a wonderful, honorable man, and has friends from a wide variety of races and creeds.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Grandma Adams

I don't post much serious, sincere stuff on the internet whether here or on Facebook. People have enough problems, and I'd rather go for the funny than bum strangers out with whatever problems I'm having if I can't get some laughs out of them.

My grandma died this morning, about a month before her 95th birthday. Her quality of life wasn't the greatest the last few years, after a few strokes she pretty much just staid in her bed which was quite a change for her.

I remember being with her while I was waiting for my sister to be born. Every time I'd hear a siren I'd ask if that was my mom and my new sister. I remember her spoiling me, whether giving me a mountain of gifts for Christmas and my birthday, feeding me full to the bursting point, or secretly sending me checks when I was a grown-up.

She was the best cook I have ever known, years of working as a school cafeteria manager probably helped that. She was always proud of me, even when I wasn't proud of myself, and genuinely, unconditionally loved me and my sister.

The call this morning wasn't too much of a surprise, the last time I visited her she temporarily lost her hearing, so I had to write everything down for her. I was upset leaving the nursing home and the director stopped me and tried to cheer me up. I guess it helped a little.

I'm trying not to remember her that way. I'd rather remember her cooking egg sandwiches before a day of fishing, or cooking up hamburgers for a stray dog her and my grandfather sort of adopted, or walking by me patiently as I learned to ride a bike.

I hadn't actually spoken to her in a long time. She didn't have a phone in her room, and she was asleep most of the time anyway. Although we didn't talk much (even when she wasn't in the hospital, she didn't talk much), I thought about her all the time, and she is already leaving a large hole in my soul.
R.I.P., Grandma

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Boy Named Sue

I was about 13 the first time I was sued.

Actually, sued is a strong word. More like threatened to be sued. But when you're not even in high school and words like attorney, legal action and collection agency are being thrown around, you tend to lose your grasp of the subtleties of the English language.

I liked making models as a kid. While my finished versions never really looked like the photos on the box, something about assembling and having a miniature tank or helicopter or whatever really appealed to me. And the end results weren't too important anyway, since I tended to blow them up with firecrackers or set them on fire, imagining the awful carnage I was inflicting on my 1/32 scale world.

Looking back, perhaps I needed some sort of therapy.

One day I saw an ad in a comic book for something called the Young Model Builder's Club. Sort of like the Columbia House Record Club, you'd pay a penny for your first model, then get a model each month that you'd either pay for or send back. I don't remember the price of the monthly models, I just remember the offer of a free model and sent in my penny.

I had previous experience with Columbia House, carefully picking out the 12 starter albums, then waiting forever until they arrived in the mail. I didn't even get to open the box when my parents intercepted and made me send it back, telling me what a scam the club was and lecturing me on fiscal responsibility. I was pissed, because I could see ZZ Top's "Eliminator" there on the top, just waiting to teach me about being a sharp dressed man.

Luckily, my parents weren't home when the model box showed up. I assembled an F-16, painted it, and then probably blew it up.

Couple weeks later, I got a car. Car models were just OK, because I could actually see those in real life and they didn't have guns or bombs on them. But it was something to assemble, and maybe it would help me learn about engines and stuff when I got older. Oh, there was also a bill enclosed. I think it was for like 8 bucks. I was going to pay, but things got away from me and I forgot all about it.

Weeks later, I got another plane, along with a letter explaining that the Young Model Builders Club really wanted their money. Problem was, I was a little short at the time, and since nobody was really looking to hire 13 year olds, I was going to have to let them slide for a while.

This went on for a while. The letters were piling up, and I'd get scared, but I'd also get another model, so I'd tear the invoices up into little tiny pieces and hide the pieces in a coffee can I stored in the back of my closet. I don't know why I had a coffee can in my closet, but it came in handy in those days before shredders.

For the most part I could put my growing bill out of my mind, but every once in a while I would get a wave of fear washing over me, especially after the more sternly worded letters arrived, but I'd focus on something else, and my fear would shrink away.

Then I got a letter from an attorney, written on actual letterhead and everything. This attorney said that if I didn't send the money immediately, there would be severe legal repercussions. I don't remember how much I owed at that point, I just remembered there was no way I could get it. And I couldn't tell my parents, especially since they had told me before that these clubs were a scam.

I remembered a little figurine in my Uncle Norwood's study: a little man with a huge nose looking disdainfully back at you with the caption "Sue the Bastards" underneath. Now I was the bastard getting sued.
This guy haunted my nightmares.
I had saved a little money by this time, and I thought that if I mailed what that, maybe they'd go easy on me. The problem was, I wasn't sure how to send it. My parents told me never to mail cash, and I didn't really want to ask them to write me a check.

So I waited.

A lot of kids were frightened of nuclear war in the '80s. This is why we grew up to become slackers and grunge musicians. I was probably the only kid in the '80s worried about getting sued before the Russians pushed the button. I would be eating dinner or watching TV and feel the waves of heat cascading through my body while my stomach tightened and gurgled. I was going to jail, or debtor's prison or the stocks, or whatever images I could conjure up from TV or half-remembered history classes.

This seemed to go on for months. Eventually I was able to put the bill out of my mind for the most part. Finally I noticed that I hadn't gotten any letters for a while. In fact, the last one was from the attorney's office and that was a long time ago. I didn't want to jinx anything, but I was pretty sure I was in the clear.

After a few months had passed with no more legal threats, I realized I had learned two important lessons. One, never start a business where your profits are dependent upon middle schoolers mailing payment.  And more importantly, if something is bothering you, the best thing to do is ignore it and hope it goes away. This lesson has come in handy many times since.

 Oh yeah - the other time I got sued. I was in a car accident in Atlanta and I got served papers at 6 AM months later. Once they found out that I was making approximately nothing, that case went out the window also, somehow reinforcing my lesson.