Hit Hard but Not Knocked Out

I live in Western New York. Barring an 8 month period in 2007, during which I lived in Georgia , I have lived in this area since 1988. I sit here at the tail end of April 2009 enjoying the second spring-like day this area has experienced this year. I say spring-like because, as a native Georgian, I am convinced that spring never truly occurs here. Some joke that only two seasons occur in Western New York: winter and construction. I contend that this is (in part) incorrect. Actually, Western New York DOES have two seasons but they are: winter and not-winter. For a very short time, the temperature is warm enough to be not-winter.  The rest of the year, I could be happy to be part bear and hibernate for the winter season which some years runs from mid September to early May. I kid you not folks. My first year in Western New York, it was snowing on Mother’s Day.

 Regardless of the fact that I have, once again, injected some mindless minutiae into your day (one of my claims to fame), I am not here to address geography or weather. Yes, geography and weather can affect a person’s mood, body language, and general outlook on life. However, there is a greater entity than these that can have a much greater effect. Every day, people choose the color of their vehicle, their diet, and even their daily routine based on a great driving force —allergies.

An allergy is, by definition, an unusual sensitivity to something that provokes a strong, radical reaction from the person who has said allergy.  Reactions can range from a rash or sneezing to very nasty (even fatal) outcomes. Ask a person what the word allergy means to them and they will point out either the allergen or its affect on the person or environment (sometimes both). I did an informal poll recently. I got (among others) the following responses:

·         Pets – One friend even stipulated “big honking fuzzy cats”. Apparently, he is allergic to colossal felines that are retrofitted with a car horn.

·         Green, yucky noses on small children. My sister stated this is the pre-school teacher response. I assume this is because the green yucky noses wind up accenting her chosen apparel on that particular day.

·         Flowers – I have hear of people allergic to all different types of flowers (roses, lilacs, orchids, goldenrod…the list goes on). This leads to the next allergen.

·         Pollen – Having lived in the Southeastern US, I can tell you that is the allergic equalizer. It not only gives person bloodshot eyes, a runny nose, and fits of sneezing. It also coats your house and car with that nice shade of yellow. People in the North wash their cars to get the salt off in the winter. People in the South do it to get the pollen off in the spring.

·         Having the general appearance (and feeling) that you have been hit by an iron skillet. This is due to the bloodshot eyes, runny nose, and fits of sneezing. This not only affects sleep (which doesn’t help your appearance at all). It has a wonderful effect on the voice that can transform a mezzo soprano to a basso profundo in one violent sneeze.

Given the aforementioned responses to my informal survey, it is easy to see that allergies indeed form a very powerful force. This powerful force has caused people to use a variety of solutions in order to have a bearable existence. Some change their diet due to food allergies. Some use routine medication. However, many people (including yours truly), simply use avoidance. Some avoid by moving to a different part of the country (at which point a potential set of NEW allergies can be introduced). Others simply remove the offending allergen from their home and do their best to avoid such outside of their home.  For example, I have an allergy to certain fragrances that can be found in perfumes, deodorants, air fresheners, scented candles, etc. This has resulted in the fact that my wife seldom gets a new bottle of perfume. I have actually gone to a perfume counter with a sheet of paper . I spray the perfume on the paper and sniff the paper. If my reaction is: “That smells pretty. My wife will love this.” that brand is placed on a list of potential purchases. If my reaction is immediate eye watering, violent coughing, and a series of sneezes; I catch my breath, blow my nose, and move onto the next brand of perfume. My wife cannot bear to witness this routine. She simply waits until I get home, graciously accepts the perfume, gives me antihistamine, and puts me to bed. She then puts away the perfume and NEVER wears it. I wish I was the only one in the house stricken by this allergy. Sadly, I am joined by my daughter. The even sadder fact is that we are allergic to EACH OTHER’S fragrances. My daughter and I have actually spent an entire afternoon together armed with our own sheet of paper. We go through each other’s fragrances and weed out offending allergens. It’s a simple routine: spray, sniff, cough, NEXT. When it is over, we throw out the offending fragrances and my wife puts us both to bed. The combined antihistamine and nap work together to help us mourn the loss of our purchases.

It is true that living with allergies is frustrating at best. Nonetheless, I will continue to fight this powerful force. I am reminded of Tex Cobb who fought in a boxing match against Larry Holmes in 1982. Holmes pummeled Cobb in round after round using the left jab that made Larry Holmes famous. Cobb lost the fight by decision. It is easily one of the most brutal matches I have ever witnessed. What is more noteworthy is that fact that, in 15 rounds, Tex Cobb was NEVER off his feet until the bell rang. Larry Holmes won the match but he did NOT defeat Tex Cobb.

So, hear me now allergies, you have met your Tex Cobb. I will fight the powerful force that you are everyday.  You may hit me hard but you will never put me out. I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED.  Now, if the rest of you will excuse me, I need to lie down. I was typing most of this outdoors with my laptop. As a result, my eyes are red and my head is pounding. Thanks for the inspiration, Mr. Cobb.

It Has Been a Moving Experience.

I spent my childhood years doing one activity with relative frequency: moving. From the year of my birth to the time I graduated high school; I had moved 12 times and lived in 5 different cities and 3 different states. I have since moved an additional 21 times across 10 cities in 5 states (some of that moving was due to joining the military after graduating high school). This is in sharp contrast to many people I have met in my life (including my wife). I have come to know many people who have never left their home state, city, or neighborhood. I even knew one guy who had lived all over the world only to wind up a block away from the house in which he was reared. I, conversely, still live nearly 1000 miles away from where I was born.

Living such a nomadic lifestyle has lead to a variety of new beginnings at every new residence. Twice, my family spent up to a week living out of a suitcase in our new place while waiting for the movers to arrive with the rest of our belongings. I had to meet new teachers and learn new class schedules. I had to learn a new address and a new phone number. I had to learn new directions to the mall, library, movie theater, and convenience store. I had to learn call letters for new radio stations and where to tune my TV so I could watch re-runs of “M*A*S*H”. I had to learn put my bashful nature aside and make new friends. This meant I had to do things like talk to a guy I met in science class or the girl in my gym class (it wasn’t ENTIRELY a rough transition). I did all of these things while missing the friends I left in my former town and the magnolia tree in my former front yard.

Mind you, this same lifestyle has lead to some unique experiences. My father enjoyed taking us to minor league baseball games. This means I have had the pleasure of watching the Columbus Astros *, Charlotte Orioles, and Savannah Braves. I have experienced 21 Mardi Gras parades in Mobile Alabama and 4 St. Patrick’s Day parades in Savannah, Georgia. I have witnessed the beauty of a thunderstorm off the Atlantic Ocean. I have fled in a car with my family to shelter from an impending hurricane. I have endured multiple cases of cabin fever with my family following a blizzard. I have driven just two hours from my house to witness one of the great wonders of the world: Niagara Falls. I have fished and swam in the Gulf of Mexico. I have viewed stunning foliage in the states of New York, North Carolina, and Georgia. I have lived in bustling cities where subways and taxicabs abound. I have also lived in small towns where a pair of sneakers hanging over a power line is used as a landmark for giving people directions.

Alas, whether we like it or not, we must all move away some day. Some move from their parents’ homes to go away to college or join the military. Some move from a single occupant house or a roommate situation to a new home after being united in marriage. Others move because their occupation has promoted them. Others move to venture into a new occupation altogether.

My wife’s father passed away recently. This past weekend my wife, my sister in-law, my two younger kids and I went to the small town where he lived, cleared out his apartment, and turned in his key. We packed what remained of his belongings into a rented moving van (which we picked up from the town florist). It is true that the passing of my father in-law was truly a loss to many who knew him. However, as I packed the moving van, got behind the driver’s seat, and drove away from his apartment, a couple of things became enviably obvious to me. My father in-law is in a better place and he will NEVER have to move again.

* This is not referring to Columbus, Ohio but rather Columbus, Georgia. A fine town located just east of the Georgia/Alabama border.

Sometimes, the Middle Comes First.

I am relatively new to the blogging world (at least as far as running my OWN blog). It gives me a great deal of joy to do my writing and share my work with others. I am especially flattered and honored when people read my work for the first time and find it humorous and worth the time it took to read. I have provided SOME information about myself in my blog profile as well as in other social networking sites such as MySpace, FaceBook, and my new blog space: BDGJM. However, I feel led for a variety of reasons to provide a more specific tidbit of information about myself.

I was born Patrick Shane McAfee in Macon, Georgia on February 12, 1966. I was given this name by two of the finest Southern parents to ever draw breath. Now, I am providing this information in order that I may vent a bit on an issue. My father was born Lawrence Hugh McAfee in Johnson County, GA. These days my father is addressed by a variety of names: my mother and her side of the family always called him Hugh. This was his preferred form of address. After joining the United States Air Force in the late 1950’s he got used to being addressed by his first name: Lawrence. My father still introduces himself as Lawrence even to this present day. Furthermore, my Dad was a runty child. Therefore, his siblings (and their spouses) all call him “Pee Wee”. This is comically ironic given that he is now more than 6 feet tall. In addition, he has also been addressed as “Poppy” since 1984 when my niece Tiffany (the eldest of his grandchildren) was born. If you address my Dad by any of these names he will respond with a kind smile and a listening ear.

There is a reason, however, my Dad preferred to be addressed as Hugh when he was a kid: he detests nicknames. Because of this, if you address either my Dad or my brother as “Larry”, they will both politely direct you to my brother in-law (who PREFERS to be addressed as Larry). Therefore, my sister, Marlene and I have always been addressed by our middle names. The ONLY time either one of our parents called us by our first name was the day we were born. This had led to a lifetime of correcting people such as teachers, employers, and occasionally, bill collectors. Actually, if you call my house and ask for Patrick, you are ASSUMED to be a bill collector.

In 1984, when I joined the United States Navy, I took meticulous steps to be sure all my paperwork referred to me as P Shane McAfee. After all, I had been signing my name that way for several years at that point. This was a practice I used for a long time even after my discharge from the Navy. For years, the only documents (after 1984) that bore my full first name were my kids’ birth certificates and my marriage license. Even my New York State driver’s license read: P Shane McAfee. Many people would ask me what the P stood for and I would refuse to tell them (I’d like to think I have matured since then). Then, a chain of events transpired that caused the naming issue to stick in my craw more than ever.

I spent 8 months living in Georgia in 2007. When I got my Georgia driver’s license, the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles pulled up my old record from 1986. In short, my new Georgia Driver’s license read Patrick Shane McAfee. When I relocated back to Rochester, New York, my driver’s license was my primary legal identifying document. Therefore, all my new employment records, insurance records, etc. bore that same full name. This has caused some confusion. For example, I work with a colleague who prefers to be addressed as Patrick (actually Pat). Many at our job have contacted him thinking they were contacting me and vice versa. Also, many have had trouble finding me in the company’s address book because they are looking for Shane and not Patrick (to prevent further confusion, I was referring to myself not my colleague).

I would like to now take the time to address some questions that have people have actually asked me over the years. I, P Shane McAfee, present Middle Name FAQ’s:

1.       What KIND of a name is Shane? Shane is an Irish form of the Biblical name John. John means “God is gracious”.  As much as I wish to tell people that my parents looked at me and their first thought was “God is gracious”. Most likely, they looked at me and said “Goodness gracious”. Actually, my Dad STILL does that.

2.       How did you parents come up with that name? My parents named me Shane after a western movie character. Shane is a 1953 classic western with Alan Ladd in the title role and based on a 1949 book by Jack Schaefer.

3.       Is it a Southern trait to address one by their middle name? No, that is not necessarily true. My Dad addressed my sister and myself that way because he dislikes nicknames. My Dad liked to hear me addressed as “Pat” even less than I do (with all due respect to my colleague).

4.       Can you please provide your FULL name (this came up frequently after 1984)? P Shane McAfee IS my full name. Obviously, since the license debacle of 2007, this is a tougher one to argue.

5.       If Shane is your middle name, what is your REAL name? My parents placed my middle name on my birth certificate. Therefore, it is legally as real as my first name.

6.       Why don’t you just legally change your name or just have yourself addressed by your first name? That one is simple. I do not wish to do so. I am sorry if my preferred form of address does not meet your approval. However, there are few things in this world where I can exercise my own prerogative and expect the rest of the world to just “deal with it”. Let me just say that, as a man who is American by birth and Southern by the grace of God, my name IS one of those things.

In closing, I’d like to list the names of some famous people who are addressed by their middle name. Please, feel free to research and verify. The following famous people are “middle namers”: Marie Osmond, Sean Connery, Clark Gable, Lou Gehrig, Steve McQueen, Paul McCartney, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, and Garth Brooks . I’d say I am standing in some pretty tall cotton given that list. Thank you for indulging my cathartic blog. You can call me “touchy”. You can call me a smart-aleck. But, if you expect me to turn around, call me Shane.

Let’s Loosen Our Grip on Reality

On Tuesday, July 1st 1941, the TV airwaves of America were treated to the first game show: “Truth or Consequences” with host Ralph Edwards. The game show format (which lived in radio prior to the advent of television) offered viewers a very different type of entertainment. Viewers were allowed to see people who were not celebrities and not (necessarily) professional athletes compete for a prize. The competitors were real people in real, unscripted situations.

In the nearly 70 years that have passed as of this writing, the viewing public has witnessed people guessing prices, answering quizzes, and performing feats within an allotted time period. Competitors have won prizes ranging from cash awards to paid vacations to new vehicles. Some game show winners have even gone on to become celebrities in their own right. After all, nothing says role model like a man who can toss 50 porcelain plates through a bull’s-eye target in less than 60 seconds while the “Sabre Dance” is blasting in the background.

Sadly, the American public has been subjected to a sub-genre of television entertainment that threatens to insult one’s intelligent and morph one’s mind to a mound of mush: reality TV. All any viewer has to do turn the dial (or rather “surf the schedule menu”) and be treated to any one of the following reality TV premises:

  1. People living together on camera 24 hours a day/7 days a week (condensed for allotted TV time slots). This could be taking place in an apartment, an incommunicado house, a drug rehabilitation center, or a deserted island (not including the sound and camera crews). Some of these shows award prizes. Some do not. Nonetheless, people from all over the world will submit videos for the opportunity for viewers to see them at their absolute worst.
  2. Singers, actors, former child stars, or athletes allowing viewers into their world so that viewers can remove any doubt about their self-absorbed narcissism. To be fair, some of these celebrities actually want to be seen as “down to earth” as they feed caviar to their French poodle while sitting poolside at their multi-million dollar Beverly Hills mansion.
  3. Singers, actors, former child stars, or athletes looking for a romantic soul mate. The subject may not even be a celebrity but, instead, a gazillionaire who owns a tofu empire. This usually results in the subject finding a partner, falling in love, breaking up, settling out of court with their new found partner, and starting the process all over again at the beginning of the next season.
  4. Offspring, friends, and/or employees looking for the romantic soul mate of a singer, actor, former child star, athlete, or gazillionaire. The premise is that they are acting out of love. It’s quite possible; however, they are seeking someone else to be the one feeding the French poodle poolside at the multi-million dollar Beverly Hills mansion.
  5. Lastly, viewers are treated to people from all over the world auditioning to be the next big singer, actor, former child star, athlete, or gazillionaire. The hope is that, within a five year turnaround, the winner can start their own reality show where they are searching for a romantic soul mate with whom they can share a life feeding a French poodle poolside at a multi-million dollar Beverly Hills mansion (which was formerly owned by a reality show celebrity who lost the house during a bankruptcy hearing).

Alas, the reality TV viewing surface has barely been scratched in the aforementioned list. Napoleon Bonaparte once stated: “There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous”. This provides a gross understatement in regards to reality TV. One cannot help but amazed at the hair-splitting differentiation that defines this sometimes senseless sub-genre of entertainment brings forth. If one sits in front of their TV watching a celebrity family having dinner, one is defined as a “reality TV viewer”. If the same person is watching a neighbor’s family have dinner from outside their window, they are defined as a “stalking voyeur”. The former requires little more than a TV remote and maybe some popcorn. The latter requires a good lawyer. In case you’re wondering, the charges were eventually dropped.

Prom Night (and Other Horror Stories)

Since the beginning of time, we, as a society, have become obsessed with stories that frighten the intended audience. Men and women alike spend their developmental years going to scout camp, attending slumber parties, or using different media (TV, books, movies, etc.) to tell or hear stories provided for that sole purpose.

Many choose to shun this genre of entertainment.  Those who make this decision, usually do so because they find it to be vulgar and/or tasteless.  I suggest that those people read no further. I make the suggestion merely as a form of chivalry as I believe you are not prepared for the subject matter contained herein (especially if you are a father).  Others however; live for every bone shattering, blood splattering, chainsaw grinding, hockey mask wearing, silicone-enhanced-actress-tripping-in-the-woods-during-the-chase moment provided by this thrilling genre.

Some say that art imitates life. However, in the case of horror movies (or “slasher films” or “splatter flicks” or whatever you may wish to call them), life, sadly, imitates art. I am not referring to the numerous reports in the news where some disgruntled employee decides to open fire in a family restaurant. The fact that we as a society cannot come up with a better adjective than “disgruntled” is another matter for another time. I speak, rather,  on the most blood chilling, spine tingling subject that has leapt from the silver screen dead square into reality. I speak of: PROM NIGHT.  I’m not speaking of the 1980 cinematic masterpiece starring a very young Jamie Lee Curtis nor the 2008 movie of the same name starring a very young what’s-her-name. I am not even referring to the multiple treatments that have made their way onto the LifeTime channel (which will most likely have cast some former teen star as a middle aged mother).

This Prom Night is in reality. This Prom Night scares fathers of teenage daughters annually worldwide. The central character in this Prom Night is an invisible demon which yanks at the father’s heartstrings and slashes his bank account (all while causing him to take double doses of antacids and blood pressure pills).

It all started as my wife and I discussed with my 16 year old daughter the plans for her to attend her junior prom. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned nothing short of a regal looking young lady having a blissful night with her chivalrous escort. I thought this chivalrous escort was going to be not only my greatest concern but my only concern. After all, nobody short of Donny Osmond was going to allay my concerns about my daughter’s prom date. Sadly, after contacting Mr. Osmond, it was pointed out to me that he was not only married but nearly 35 years older than my daughter. Admittedly, I didn’t think this matter through.

This is right about the time the invisible demon made his first appearance.  This psycho freak demon has metamorphic capabilities. The demon first fooled me by appearing as my lovely wife who even masked her cute innocent tone upon requesting the debit card. This seemed like a perfectly harmless way to invest in my baby girl’s “night to remember”. Little did I know that I was Janet Leigh and I was about to get into the shower.  Though, truth be told, the lovely Ms. Leigh did not scream quite as loudly as I did.

I found myself standing in the middle of a bridal store. When I asked my wife (still possessed by the demon) why we were in a bridal store, she explained that we were there to pick up the prom dress. I said: “But, this is a bridal shop. Our daughter is not getting married. We need to go to the prom store”. Suddenly, all the women in the store stopped and stared. They were all pointing at me with amused smiles (clearly entertained by my obvious naiveté). Suddenly, I began to hear the faint sound of the demon’s chainsaw buzzing and the sound of work boots stomping through the bridal store.  As my heart began to race, I looked around the store to gain some orientation.  I was feeling better when I saw a big red sign that read: “Wedding Dresses – $300 off”.  I stared at the sign fixated as I feared my future.  Since when does someone need to spend $300 and upward for a dress when that someone is not performing at the Grammy awards? I came back to reality with the snap of my wife’s fingers in my face. She calmly informed me that my daughter was wearing her new dress. I turned to my daughter and was immediately transcended from a glimpse of the demon to one of the most heavenly creations I have ever seen. My wife and daughter had selected a very lovely, long wine colored prom dress.  This beautiful vision had made me forget about the demon. That proved to be a temporary situation.

As I blindly reached for my debit card, the cashier calmly told me the price. The demon had clearly resurfaced and taken over the cashier. How else could the cashier have so calmly quoted such a price with such a charming smile?  As if in an obedient trance, I swipe my card. Suddenly, I heard the sound of a sharp machete sweeping by. I couldn’t see the blade but I could feel it move the air from my face. I heard my wife state (in a voice that I was sure was a demonic growl): “It’s for our baby girl”. The demon had now compounded the mutilation of my finances with a dose of paternal guilt.

My wife, daughter, and I were headed home in our minivan. I couldn’t help overhearing the two ladies in my life discussing an absolutely needed prom dress accessory: the shawl. The lovely ladies in my life both laughed when I asked why my daughter needed to have a Middle East monarch for her prom dress. “CHILLAX, DAD!” my daughter said cavalierly (once again I hear that demonic growl). “The word is shawl”, she said. My wife then informs me that our baby girl could borrow a shawl from our older daughter from the previous year’s prom (TAKE THAT, DEMON). Now, I was really beginning to wonder. My older daughter wore a tuxedo to her prom. The young man escorting her wore a kilt (due to his Scottish lineage). Given these facts, I don’t even want to know which of the two of them needed the shawl. I decided to focus back on the situation at hand: the prom before me. I had paid for the dress. The shawl would only require the cost of laundry service. Everything was in order now. I could take my daughter’s advice and “CHILLAX” (after consulting my parent-teen translator as to exactly what that meant). The demon was gone.

I called my wife the next day from work (as I routinely do during my lunch). We exchanged our usually routine conversation when my wife uttered three words that reminded me the demon had returned: “By the way”.  I don’t have to tell anyone who is a husband and/or father that those three words usually preface something unpleasant to the listener. Please bear in mind that, when I speak to my wife on the phone, it is usually a very soothing experience. I love the sound of my wife’s voice. However, on this day, I sat in my cube as my wife informed me that the chivalrous young man escorting my daughter to the prom had fallen on some hard times. Therefore, my wife paid to rent his tuxedo. “Wait a minute”, I said. “Why is it that we rented a tuxedo and purchased a dress?” That, I thought, was a logical question. My wife told me that I was just being a “clueless guy”. Suddenly, I could smell sulfur emanating from the telephone receiver. I threw the receiver down on the floor and began screaming: “BEGONE, DEMON! LEAVE MY FAMILY ALONE!”.  My astonished cube mate assisted me to my chair, hung up the phone, and offered me some herbal tea with St. John’s Wort to help me “chillax”. Clearly, my cube mate and my daughter had the same English teacher.

I went home and my wife and daughter both greeted me with their innocent doe eyes that immediately let me know that I was about to face the demon once again. I tried to run up to my bedroom for escape. Unfortunately, before I got to the stairs. I tripped and fell. The demon laughed as he continued his possession of my wife and daughter. They informed me, in a voice that would keep Linda Blair awake at night, that the appointments had been made to get my daughter’s hair and nails done for the prom. I asked why this was necessary since my daughter owns a curling iron and a painter’s palette of nail polish. The demon continued possession of the two ladies in my life then culminated into evil laughter. “YOU FOOL”, the demon said, “JUST SURRENDER THE CARD AND BE DONE WITH IT”. I could hear the machete making more slashes.

Finally, the day came. My daughter returned home from getting her nails and hair done. Also, my daughter’s chivalrous escort appeared with a garment bag containing his tuxedo and sporting a haircut reminiscent of A Flock of Seagulls (I still can’t look at the boy without hearing I Ran playing in my head). As my daughter and her date each went to a separate room to change into their respective outfits, the demon reappeared. My wife handed me the checkbook and said that a payment was needed for prom pictures. I asked why were paying for prom pictures when we had just borrowed our neighbor’s digital camera. My wife explained:  “The digital camera is for picture we take here. The check is for pictures taken at the prom”. I couldn’t help but notice icy vapor coming from my wife’s mouth as she spoke to me. I could barely stop shaking as I drafted the check.

As I had finally regained some composure, my daughter and her date came from their respective rooms and presented themselves to my wife and me. My daughter had transcended from my baby girl to a stunningly beautiful  young lady. She and her chivalrous escort truly made a lovely couple. I kissed my daughter on the cheek and gave her chivalrous escort a stern warning (which is required by all fathers of teenage daughter by law as determined in the landmark case of Arizona vs. Miranda).

My wife drove the young couple off to the prom.   I relaxed in the thought the demon was finally gone.  As I awaited my wife’s return, I uploaded the pictures that we taken on the digital camera to my laptop. I looked at the first picture and noticed that my daughter had severe “red eye”. Normally, I would just edit the picture to make this go away and not give the matter another thought. After all, “red eye” happens as a result of the camera’s flash against the subject’s retina. Sadly, on this night, I knew those red eyes could only mean one thing. There WILL be a sequel next year (coming to a bridal shop near you).

Step Right Up (And Get Taken for a Ride)!!!

Having lived in several Southern states as a kid, I have very fond memories of my Dad taking my mother, brother, sister, and me to the local fair. Even now, as I type, my mind drifts back to living in Mobile, AL. My Dad dutifully parked where the police marshaled him. This usually resulted in a convenient location that was slightly less than a mile to where the fair was actually taking place.

We ultimately arrived at a line to get into the fair. It was usually at this point that you ran into characters that were more interesting than the food vendors, game barkers, and ride attendants inside the fair. There was the mother wearing her best house coat and waiting to find the nearest corn dog stand. She is usually encumbered by an 18 month old child drinking cola from a baby bottle. Next to them is the father who is apparently part squirrel as he is storing chewing tobacco for the winter. The line also includes the teenager with a permed afro 2 feet in diameter and wearing a t-shirt that states some CB radio jargon (it WAS the 70’s after all). All classes of people are represented down to the teenage girl who has attended every night of the fair and is proudly wearing the glow-in-the-dark necklace her date bought her the night before (which she wisely stored in the freezer so it would maintain its phosphorescent qualities that made it  such a great selling item).

Once inside the fair, after listening to my Dad repeat once again to stay within eyeshot of him, my senses were treated to a wide variety of sights and sounds. Along with the standard Ferris wheel and bumper cars, there were rides that took you upside down and sideways. Amusement stands were all around allowing anybody to try to knock over milk bottles, shoot moving duck targets, or dunk a clown all in an effort to win a stuffed animal that would have cost $10 less to purchase at a toy store than was spent trying to win it. Then, there were the vendors. These great salesmen provided one and all with the opportunity to buy anything from cotton candy, funnel cakes, peanuts (roasted or boiled), beverages, t-shirts, trinkets, and the aforementioned glow-in-the dark necklace.

Once the night was over, I would lie in bed exhausted and grinning from ear to ear. Anyone who saw me for the next week could tell I was happy as…well someone whose Dad had taken him to the fair. I had no idea the experience would prepare me for the carnival of the adult working world – the job fair. The job fair is very similar to the multiple fairs I attended as a kid. During an 8 month unemployment period I spent in GA, I walked out of many job fairs feeling as though I had been taken for a ride and the experience left me somewhat nauseous.

The job fair attracts people from all walks of life and some even travel from out of state to attend. Many, like me, were unemployed. Many others were looking to make a career change. Just like the fairs of my youth, the job fair allowed me to stand in line with a diverse cast of characters. Among the first to be noticed was the woman who spoke on her cell phone via wireless head set. She spoke at a volume that would have Metallica complaining that they couldn’t hear their amplifiers. Nonetheless, anyone who stared at her was quickly told to mind their own business. Also in attendance is the young man wearing jeans and a tank top. He is clearly not shaved in 4 days and apparently got into an argument with his barber and lost. This young man is prepared to apply for any CEO position that is currently open. Joining the ranks is the career professional armed with a glowing resume and more degrees than Fahrenheit. This cocky, conceited, career driven candidate views the aforementioned CEO applicant as his only true competition. Last, but certainly not least, is the gentlemen I refer to as Mr. Perk. Mr. Perk greets everyone he sees with the wide eyed, hyper-caffeinated enthusiasm of an infomercial salesman pushing the latest household cleaning product. Mr. Perk views jobs not from the standpoint of salary or career growth but more from the angle of benefits and incentives (in other words, the perks).

Once inside the entrance to the job fair, the senses are treated to booths (or rather tables) with vendors representing everything from direct sales agencies, colleges and universities, military and police recruiters, contract employment agencies, and a wide variety of other businesses. One can look to the left and see 30 people standing in line to apply at the local fast food restaurant that is on every corner in the city. A look to the right reveals an even longer line with a local business that is booming with all sorts of jobs in any possible field . I have experienced the privilege of standing in these long lines so I can finally greet the vendor with resume in hand. After the customary introductions, I explained to the vendor why I was the best fit for the company he (or she) represented. This usually resulted in the applicant being branded with the most dreaded occupational label: overqualified. I would then take a moment to shake off this emasculating experience then move to the next vendor and start all over again.

Along with all of this is the brilliant marketing tool almost every vendor utilizes: company swag. Company swag consists of the free items that vendors give away emblazoned with the company logo. Over 8 months of unemployment, I have acquired the following items plugging a variety of companies: pens, highlighters, rulers, post-it notes, letter openers, legal pads, Frisbees, key chains, coffee mugs (sometimes with a sealed bag of coffee), and one size fits all t-shirts. I have since relocated back to NY since this job fair experience. Still, to this day, I have a pen from a company at a GA job fair. The pen bore the company’s name, phone number, and email address. I followed up by trying to call and e-mail the company. The phone number was out of service and the e-mail was returned as undeliverable. Never could there have been an experience that better summed up the job fair experience.

After visiting many booths, shaking numerous hands, and presenting enough resumes to fill a Stephen King novel, I walked toward my car (the mile walk was good exercise). I always did my best to maintain hope. Nonetheless, I often left the job fair feeling dejected, defective, deflated, and discouraged. I didn’t have to look far to see I was not alone. The CEO applicant and the cocky, conceited career candidate have decided to go out for a round of drinks to anesthetize themselves from the letdown. The lady with the Bluetooth head set is screaming at her friend about how the local fast food chain has no good sense for turning her down. The only exception is Mr. Perk. He walks out with company swag from every vendor at the fair. He carries it all in a bag provided by a direct sales vendor selling women’s cosmetics.  I could not share Mr. Perk’s joyous outlook. I look back at this experience realizing I am clearly not that 10 year old grinning from ear to ear. Nonetheless, it was quite a ride.

I Can’t Hear You (I’m in a Library)

I cannot quite recall exactly how old I was when my mother first took me to the library. It must have been during a time in my life when a tenacious coyote chasing an evasive roadrunner kept me entertained for hours. Actually, it still does. I DO remember that it was a library in Columbus, GA that, in my very young eyes, was like walking into the Library of Congress. A myriad of tomes that seemed to reach into Heaven held volumes of knowledge on more subjects than my elementary aged mind could conceive. I also remember one cardinal rule my mother imparted upon me from my first day in the library: One has to be VERY quiet in the library so that others in the library can peacefully (wait for it) read. I always respected this rule because I really enjoyed going to the library with my mother. I also did not want my mother to tan my hide. I didn’t know exactly want it meant to have a tanned hide but I knew it was REALLY bad.
Even now, as a middle aged man, I respect that adage in the library that silence is golden. However, in today’s libraries, it appears that many people are either unaware of the value of silence or upset by the current gold standard. People in libraries today speak as if they are addressing one another while sitting at the Indy 500. This fact would be partially tolerable if such behavior was committed primarily by small children. Unfortunately, most patrons guilty of such behavior are teenagers and even adults old enough to HAVE teenagers. A place which was once a place of quiet decorum has now become a den of din. We are moving into a world where respect for a library environment is becoming passé. We are rearing children who think the Dewey Decimal System was created by the nephew of Donald Duck.
Some of this may be driven by innovations in technology. I remember when a library’s card catalog was kept on CARDS. I am not referring to virtual cards or electronic cards. I am referring to 3” x 5” cards kept in a filing cabinet that anyone could peruse and find a book. Nowadays, any given library branch’s catalog is available via the World Wide Web. My “library card” dangles from my keychain. Fines and hold fees can be paid with a debit card. This in and of itself is not a bad thing. I am a software quality tester. I have worked in jobs that developed the very type of software most libraries utilize. However, one cannot help but wonder if such immediately available service and information has perpetuated the very rudeness for which the average public library has fallen victim.
Today, as I sat in the library surfing the Internet, I was very dismayed by a woman’s loudness in the library. This woman’s voice could be heard throughout the library. I thought that perhaps this woman was a helicopter pilot and was trying to assimilate to a quieter environment. Sadly, I discovered that this woman was the librarian. It made me want to scream. Alas, I knew if I did, my mother would tan my hide.

My Kids Can See Clearly Now (My Wallet’s Gone)

Over the years, through four children and a wife, I have held second chair through numerous routine physical and dental exams.  Therefore, I thought nothing of it when my wife and I took our two younger offspring for a routine vision test.  This was due (in part) to an insurance benefit subsidized (also in part) by my employer.  We would simply take our kids in for their eye exam.  We would also obviously hope that nothing major turned up in the eye exam.  Afterwards, we would pay a standard co-payment and make our way home knowing that we had done the best we can to provide proper care for our kids.

My wife and I took one kid each and sat with them through their respective eye exams.  My son seemed puzzled (and somewhat frightened) when the technician told him that they would be putting drops in that would dilate his pupils.  I assured my son that this was not painful.  I then went on to explain to my son one of the great ironies of routine eye examinations.  The technician starts by showing a random series of letters numbers and colors in a variety of orientations.  Once this part of the exam has been completed, the doctor performs an exam to be sure that your eyes have no internal maladies.  However, halfway through this examination, the doctor thanks the patient for everything he (or she) has endured thus far by putting drops into the patient’s eyes that will prevent them from seeing anything clearly for several hours.  It is with the greatest of admiration that I state that both kids endured the examination without providing any resistance.  I was not truly worried about this.  After all, my two younger kids are now teenagers.  Surely, they’re old enough to know how to conduct themselves properly during a physical examination.  Nonetheless, my wife and I always keep a tranquilizer gun close by just in case.

Both of the eye exams showed mild visual problems that would require both of the kids to wear a mild pair of prescription eyeglasses (primarily for use at school and watching television).  My wife and I breathed a collective sigh of relief.  After all, we had insurance to help absorb these costs.  With insurance card in hand, my wife and I spoke to the optician while our kids shopped for a set of frames that would not clash with their sense of current fashion.  This was somewhat moot because they had to alternate between whatever frames they liked and the flimsy pair of dark glasses provided by the doctor to offset the effects of the eye drops.  So when they took them off, it was difficult at best for them to see how cool they looked anyway nonetheless, Things were looking up for all of us. 

I was ill prepared, however, for the fiery hoops and financial lynching that my insurance company and the optician had waiting for me.  It all started when the optician went “into the system” to find my kids’ records in the insurance database.  After a short search, my son’s records were found.  Unfortunately, they were unable to find my daughter’s records.  The optician pointed me to a phone number on the insurance card.  With a cheerful smile, she directed me to call the insurance company so that my daughter’s information could be added to their database.

Upon reaching the insurance company, they asked for my daughter’s date of birth.  Of course, this was after using an automated system and trying several times in vain to enter my daughter’s date of birth.  This resulted in the automated system smugly informing me that the date of birth I had provided could not be found and patched me to the next available representative.  With the coolest possible demeanor that I could muster under the circumstances, I once again gave the insurance company my daughter’s date of birth.  The nice lady on the phone then told me that date of birth I provided did not match up with the date of birth they had in their database.  I then asked the nice lady what date of birth they had in their system.  I explained that I was asking because I have two daughters on the insurance policy.  This nice lady then informs me that she is unable to tell me what date of birth they have in the system.  Apparently, privacy laws prevent people from telling me that my daughter was born when I said she was.  In any case, they updated by daughter’s records and the optician was then able to find them in the system.  Meanwhile, my kids are still trying on frames and looking in the mirror as if posing for a photo shoot.  No doubt, my wife and I were in the clear.

This feeling of self assurance soon faded.  The optician gave us the price quote for one of our kids.  The optician noticed my eyes expanding to a size similar to the man in the final crash scene of Mad Max.  I have never understood why retail establishments of any kind do not have nearby emergency defibrillators to treat the effects of sticker shock.  The optician then said something that only furthered my anxiety.  The optician told me that this price quote included a very generous benefit from my insurance company.  Is this supposed to make me feel better?  I personally find it extremely aggravating after being quoted an exorbitant price to be informed of how much money I have “saved”.

After several deep cleansing breaths, my wife and I braced ourselves as the optician clicked her little mouse and generated the price quote for our son.  My wife and I presumed (incorrectly) that since our son and daughter had pretty much the same prescription that the prices quote what also be pretty much the same.  The optician then informed us that our son’s glasses would be $20.00 higher than our daughter’s glasses.  The $20.00 difference was due to the type of frames he chose.  My wife and I choose to keep a stiff upper lip, lay the money down, and order our kids their new glasses (with their cool looking frames and lenses that respond to sunlight).

We four left the optician together.  Our son and daughter felt very pleased with the choice of their new frames and lenses.  My wife and I, however, felt emotionally and financially drained (not to mention somewhat violated).  We really shouldn’t feel that bad, though.  After all, my wife and I did what we set out to do: provide the best possible care we can for our kids.  Besides, some years from now kids are deliberating over the elderly care facility in which they will be placing my wife and me, they should have no problem perusing and filling out the numerous insurance forms that will be required for us both.  After all, they will be wearing the glasses my wife and I will have provided for them.  Considering what we paid, they’d better last that long.  Before that time comes, my wife and I can look forward to the day where we sit back and laugh our heads off when our kids tell us about how much they paid for their kids’ glasses.  At least that was my experience when I called my dad.  

The Doctrine of Drama

My mother, Norma Jean McAfee, was a woman whom one would describe as “cultured”. She was a true steel magnolia in its finest form. I can remember many events over the years that my mother used as an attempt to broaden the horizons of her husband and three kids. My mother would expose us to movies that ranged from Gone with the Wind and The Ten Commandments to Jesus Christ, Superstar to The Hiding Place. She took us to theater productions of A Christmas Carol and attended operas that told stories of a manically depressed clown, a barber in France, or a ghost ship. In short, my mother exposed us to works that were not only designed to entertain but educate.

Some of my mother’s influence stuck with me. I became active in the theater in high school and performed in several productions. I even briefly considered pursuing a degree in Drama and a career as an actor. Even now, as I type this, I remember going to see a musical with my sister at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, GA.
However, there is another genre of entertainment that my mother also enjoyed. A genre that, in light of the exposure to classical music, opera, musical theater, and ballet; seemed incongruent. I am, of course, referring to the soap opera. Viewers call them “soaps”, “stories”, “serials” (by those old enough to remember their origins in radio), or as one nice woman in Alabama called them: “sope uppers”. The viewing demographic of the soap opera is primarily women ranging in age from 12 to 120 as well as men who loathe admitting publicly that they watch them in the first place. Soap operas offer a world of inner social circles and outside love triangles. Viewers are offered a 5 day a week ritual and the feeling that missing a single episode is roughly equivalent to missing your child’s first steps or forgetting to show up for your own wedding. I know this because I have seen my mother, sister, wife, daughter, and nearly every female friend I have known (and a few male friends in denial) drawn in by the tractor beam that invisibly emanates from the television between 12:30 PM and 4:00 PM Eastern US time.

One may choose to enter the world of soap opera viewing. Some do this out of curiosity or simply wish to occupy the same room as the television. A few cardinal rules MUST be observed:
1. Viewing a soap opera demands more silence than a nun in a library. Attempting to engage a viewer (or anyone else in the room) in conversation will result in either an abrupt “SHUSH!” or the viewer grabbing the remote to raise the volume to the level of a KISS concert. This observance lasts throughout the entire 3 ½ hour viewing ritual 5 days a week. The only exception is when the topic of discussion revolves around the storyline. This is because there is usually one person in the room who has missed a previous episode that has thrown their respective world out of alignment.
2. Bear in mind that soap operas are broadcast across several different networks. For example: one can view “As The World Turns” on one network, General Hospital on another network, and Days of Our Lives on yet another network. Soap opera viewers have an allegiance to ONLY ONE NETWORK. It would be a tremendous faux pas to speak of The Guiding Light and All My Children in the same conversation. This will either get a confused stare or a snobbish look of contempt from the viewers in the room. One who watches the daily goings on of Reva Shayne-Lewis-Cooper-Spaulding-Lewis-Lewis-O’ Neill have no clue about the daily goings on of Opal Sue Gardner-Purdy-Cortlandt.
3. If you have a Digital Video Recorder (or DVR) in your home, you should dispense with any thought of your own viewing pleasure. The DVR merely allows the soap opera viewer to do other activities during the day (such as perhaps a full time job) and view the soap opera in the evening in place of other trivial broadcasting such as the World Series Game 7. My wife does this routinely. Few things amuse me more than watching my wife’s thumb constantly in motion, hovering over the DVR remote so she can quickly fast forward through the commercials that were recorded along with the soap opera.
4. Abandon all sense of reality all ye who view the soap opera. Legend has it that when Hank Williams, Jr. recorded This Ain’t Dallas, This Ain’t Dynasty, soap opera viewers worldwide surrounded his house with pitchforks and torches. You can watch multiple soap operas across several networks and time slots. During the viewing experience, you can witness any or all of the following:
a. A character who has revealed him/herself to be the long lost (or unknown) twin, parent, or child of another major character.
b. A character that has died and come back from the dead. It can also be revealed that this character never truly died but was in hiding somewhere in Europe. After all, let’s not make a travesty of the story line.
c. A female character who, over the course of the character’s lifetime, has married several men ALL FROM THE SAME FAMILY. This would include the father of her former husbands. Often this character will hear of a young man from this family reaching adulthood and immediately begin setting up a wedding gift registry.
d. All characters, male and female, are dressed to the nines in outfits that would cost the average viewer a week’s wages. All male characters of any adult age have the physique of an Adonis. All female characters of any adult age have a figure that would require me to use an explicit label if I described it any further.
e. Someone in the town has been murdered. This character usually has enough enemies that a list of suspects would require using database computer software.
5. Lastly, one must bear in mind that the soap opera is not a passing fancy. Unlike, CopRock and the Macarena, the soap opera is here to stay. The Guiding Light has its origins in radio and has been around for more than 70 years. It is wise to resign to the fact that the soap opera is not going away.
Now, that the five cardinal rules of soap opera viewing have been stated, one can choose to assimilate to the environment or cautiously avoid the tractor beam. Once drawn in, you can never truly leave the soap opera realm permanently. Just today, I overheard a woman say she was grateful she lost her job so that way she could “catch up on her stories”.