Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Smashing Pumpkins

"Now hold on there just a second, boy."

"Why, it looks like that one's tryin' to get away."

"Oh, don't worry. I got him."

The late night silence of the suburbs was shattered with a sickening THWACK and the sound of two corrupt law enforcement officers descending into hysterics.
Except the two officers were me and my friend Curt. And we were in high school.

I should back up.

The night hadn't started well. My mom and I got in a fight. A huge fight that escalated quickly into probably the biggest we had ever gotten into. She grounded me, and I just picked up my keys, walked out the door and left. I had never done anything like that before.

But Curt and I had tickets to see Love and Rockets that night, and I wasn't going to miss out on that.

I vaguely remember all sorts of ridiculous plans on the way to St. Pete. I was going to run away and...well, I'd make money somehow, and I wasn't going to come back home until I had my first million. My parents would change their tune then, especially when they had some time to reflect on how shabbily they treated their now rich son.
Love and Rockets were great. Maybe not as awesome as the tour we had seen previously, but still, seeing the music that I played in my bedroom or car stereo actually coming out of three people on a stage about two feet away was incredible. Opening act Jane's Addiction were mind-blowing. All in all it was a great night of music that helped forget my problems for a little while.

Of course, I had the 35 minute drive home to worry about what was going to happen when I got home. Luckily, Curt had been saving something for just such an occasion.
He told me to drive about a half mile past his house. At the time this area was full of sandspurs, scrub brush and pine and Cyprus trees.

“Keep going…further…further. OK. Stop.”

“Open the trunk.”

I parked the car on the side of the road. Curt took the tire iron out of the trunk and led the way. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I really didn’t want to go home, and Curt had never steered me wrong, so why not take a midnight hike with a tire iron?

He walked to a little wooded area and stopped.

“Check it out,” he said, motioning with the tire iron.

He was pointing to a field of wild melons, all about the size of bowling balls, just hanging out in the moonlight.

“I’ve seen these from the bus for months,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to come out and smash them.”

As a grown man, I realize how silly this sounds (unless you are the beloved comedian Gallagher), but as teenagers, you have all this extra energy and aggression, and few ways to channel it. Sometimes massacring a bunch of fruit is exactly what you need.

And it was. The first melon smashed with a satisfying sound. We started talking in comical Southern sheriff voices, just to sort of set the scene a bit, and give the whole thing a little more flavor.

Soon our shoes were covered in melon guts, our hands ached from the vibrations off the tire iron, and I thought I was going to pass out.

Have you ever laughed so hard you actually thought you were going to die? Where your stomach hurts and you can’t breathe, but you can’t stop laughing at something that in retrospect, isn’t really that funny? It happens to me fairly regularly, probably because I’m easily amused, but this was the first time, and it still feels like last week rather than…jeez, over 20 years ago.

After we had destroyed all the melons, helping nature by distributing seeds for future growth, we probably had a 7-11 meal and skated for a while up at the middle school. Things were certainly looking better.

Mom and I eventually made up, and I have yet to make dazzle my parents with my first million. Or thousand, actually.

Now I’m not suggesting smashing up a bunch of fruit will solve all your problems, but…hey, you know what? Screw it. You’ve got problems? You’re stressed out? Go smash up some melons. Talk like Jackie Gleason in Smokey and the Bandit while you’re doing it. Seriously, you’ll feel so much better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving kind of gets the shaft. Stuck in there between Halloween and Christmas, most people look at it as the lull between the two big holidays. Me, I love it. It's one of those holidays that all Americans celebrate, and nobody's gonna get all weirded out because they have a different religion or came here from England or India or whatever. I'm not sure how Native Americans feel about it, but I'd like to think that they look at it as the good old days, you know, before the whole genocide thing.

I don't remember too many Thanksgivings as a kid, but I do remember what might be one of my favorite Thanksgivings as an adult. Hell, it might be one of my favorite holiday memories as an adult.

My ex-wife was doing an art show in Gainesville the day after Thanksgiving and left the day before, so Thanksgiving morning I was going to drive to my grandmother's in Georgia, eat, drive back home, then wake up the next morning and drive to Gainesville for Thanksgiving #2. This is a little-known advantage to being married. You can frequently get two Thanksgivings.

It was about a three hour drive to my Grandma's. While I hate day-to-day driving, I love trips. Especially solo trips. No bathroom breaks, no fights over the stereo, leaving whenever I get the urge; just me driving all caffiened up and alone with my thoughts and singing.

Although my dad is an only child, my grandma has a lot of ... well, I'm not really sure if they are actually blood relatives or friends or what. I think there is some sort of family connection way, way off there, like 3rd cousins once removed or whatever. Anyway, they all love me and make a fuss over me, which is one of the few times that attention like that doesn't make me feel awkward and weird.

And damn, can they cook! Along with the usual turkey and stuff, there was chicken and dumplings, about a gazillion vegetables, the most tender ribs I have ever had in my life, and like 5 different kinds of cake. I mean, seriously, can you even name more than 3 kinds of cake?

My plate looked like John Belushi's in Animal House, and every time I'd stop to take a breath or pause to savor another bite, they'd be all over me.

"Do you need something else? Anything we can get you?"

I usually hate being the center of attention, but having all these old Southern ladies baby me was pretty damn comforting and sweet. I was also drinking a ton of sweet tea. Not sweet tea like you get at the store or McDonald's or whatever, this was genuine Old Southern Lady Sweet Tea, the stuff that turns you diabetic after a glass or two. Of course, as soon as my glass was about 1/4 empty, it was filled to the rim by my old lady protectors.

I ate and drank so much I was dizzy. They made me massive plates for Christie (which of course she never got) and the ride home, and hugged my neck and I was on my way back to Jacksonville.

I managed to hit that golden hour, right when the sun starts to set. I've loved that hour since I was a teenager because it meant that my work was done and I was on the road with my friends to a punk show or a skate trip. This time I was almost alone on the road, I was listening to NPR, Fugazi's The Argument, one of those later Man or Astroman albums and feeling completely contented, if still a little dizzy.

I got home to a completely empty apartment complex. Actually, most of the neighborhood was dark. I might have been the only one on our street at the time. I started in on one of my plates, opened a Guinness and started playing 7"s at a volume I wasn't usually allowed to, what with the paper thin walls and all.

It's not too often that I feel completely at peace, but after getting babied all day, eating a ton of food, knowing that I was going to see my wife and her family the next day, but that I had tonight to play the stereo loud, get drunk and eat even more combined with the drive home gave me the most peaceful feeling I had felt in a long time. I still feel good thinking about it today. I hope both of my loyal readers are able to get a piece of that this Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Doctor, Doctor, Give Me the News

I'm standing in the doctor's reception area after my appointment.

"OK Mr. Adams, you're all done."

"Actually, he wanted me to schedule a physical."

"OK, when was the last time you had a full physical? Last year?"


"Two years ago?"


"Five? Ten?"

"More like over 20 when I had to get one to run track in high school."

"Oh. That has been a while."

"Yeah. Hey, he said something about me getting a chest X-Ray. Is that like a regular service? Do I have to pay extra or anything?"

"That's all part of the physical."

The last time I went to the doctor's they waterboarded me in an attempt to clean out some wax from my ear. I didn't pass out, but things were pretty iffy there for a couple of minutes. Today wasn't too bad since I didn't have to take my clothes off or get touched, but using my Nostradamus-like powers of prediction, I'm already seeing me hitting the floor at some point during this physical thing next month. I decided not to ask if they have any butt stuff planned. That would probably work better as a surprise.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Drivin' and Cryin'

I used to be someone. I had promise. I had a Porsche. No, seriously, I owned a Porsche for about a year. Actually, I guess technically my ex-wife did.

My dad had a hobby of buying old cars and restoring them. He'd be driving around and see a wreck with a for sale sign on it or start talking to a guy at a yard sale and end up buying a car and then spending months fixing it up. How he did this on a teacher's salary, I have no idea. All the way from a Model A to an MG like the one he used to have as a swinging single to a 1981 Porsche 924, he'd be obsessed for a while, then move on to another car.

About the time my ex-wife and I were first married, he had finished restoring the Porsche enough that he could drive it to work occasionally or drive it around the neighborhood now and then. We were down in Bradenton for something and he offered it to her as sort of an extra wedding present.

Well hell, who were we to turn down a free Porsche? I think we had just gotten rid of her car, a Geo that was on its last legs, or maybe we got rid of it after the Porsche offer. Who cares! We had one reliable car and a piece of German engineering, something that was befitting of our new life as one of Jacksonville's power couples. And it was a convertible, too!

I soon discovered there was a big difference between driving the car two or three miles every other day and depending on it to safely transport your wife to her job about a half hour away, especially in the days before cell phones. Well, at least before we had cell phones.

Here is a transcription from memory of about 87 calls I would get pretty frequently:

"Hey, I'm at Publix. The car just stopped. I can't get it started. I hate this car."

I can't even remember all the mechanical problems that car had. We were brand new in Jacksonville with no friends and had no idea which mechanic to trust. We called around but the only place that would take it was an import place, and because of the age of the car, they couldn't find parts half the time.

I did like the smell of the car's interior, though. It had the same smell those old VW convertibles used to give off - a mix of plastic that suggested the action figures I had as a kid, as well as a fresh bag of plastic fishing worms or brand new cassette tapes, mixed with just a hint of gasoline fumes.

Oh yeah, those gasoline fumes were probably bad.

That car was a major source of friction in the early days of our marriage. It didn't help my relationship with my parents, either. If I mentioned the problems we were having with it, I could feel my dad getting more and more upset. I mean, shit, he gave us a free car, you know? And his ungrateful son was complaining about it all the damn time.

I had (and still have) a tendency to grasp onto the smallest pebble of a problem and through a combination of worrying and anxiety, transform it into a house-sized boulder that crushes me down until I can't sleep or do anything but worry about the most ridiculous possible outcome. So when there's a real problem, say a car that we've dumped over $3000 into that we didn't really have, I've already planned my future in the poor people's nursing home, where I'm mistreated by hateful minimum-wage immigrants while my friends are enjoying their mansions and yachts, while they mention every once in a while between bites of caviar, "Hey, I wonder whatever happened to Scott? Eh. I'm sure he's alright. More champagne, Jeeves."

I don't remember when we finally decided to cut our losses. It might have been after we figured out how much we had spent on repairs. It might have been after we finally couldn't afford to fix it any more. I remember it sat in our apartment's driveway for a long time. I'd look down at it occasionally, sitting down there mocking me.

We finally ended up donating it to some charity, something I only though rich people did. Like I said, we ended up paying over 3 grand in repairs over the life of the car. Sure, it would have been smarter to take that money and use it as a down payment for another car, but it's not like we ever had all that money at one time.

We were a one-car family for a long time after that. That had its own set of problems and stresses, but at least I didn't think my wife was going to die every time she went to work, and even waiting for the bus for over an hour was much less stressful than waiting to hear from another mechanic as our checking account took another hit.

So if anyone ever offers you a free sports car, run far, far away.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Billion Dollar Babies

My sister and I were all set up to be billionaires. Back when she was in middle/high school I'd come home from a date or whatever and she'd be in the living room watching TV. I'd get in the other easy chair (I don't know what my parents had against couches) and watch with her for a while. I believe it was usually "Love Connection." You know, like the lyric in that Beastie Boys song - "dating women on TV with the help of Chuck Woolery?" No? Well, maybe it was before your time.

We'd both end up getting sleepier and sleepier, with longer pauses between our comments about whatever we were watching. Turning off the TV and walking to our bedrooms seemed impossible. Not only that, but before going to bed we'd both have to brush our teeth.

Then the idea hit us. What if there was a pill you could chew that would brush your teeth for you? Say you come home late or you're out in the woods or just too lazy to go to the bathroom to brush your teeth, you'd chew up this pill, spit it out and have all the benefits of brushing your teeth without any of that effort.

We talked about this pill constantly. We were going to make a fortune. Do you know how many lazy people were looking for just such a time saver? Well, we didn't either, but it had to be a lot.

Of course, we had no idea how to actually make such a pill, or what would be in it. Would it foam up like Alka-Seltzer? Would it just automatically brush your teeth just by being in your mouth? These were the questions that we could never find satisfactory answers to. Plus, I'm pretty sure the toothbrush lobby was on to us and starting to ramp up their pressure.

In the end, we abandoned our toothbrushing pill plans, leaving behind untold riches and fame so we could better fit in with the common people. I have not noticed anyone picking up the gauntlet since, but a little-known patent law states that once a vague idea is written about on the internet, it acts as a sort of patent. So scientists, once you perfect that stuff, start sending that sweet cash to me and my sister.