Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Brother-In-Law Effect

My brother-in-law Ritchie

Today I sit in a hospital room in Hazard, Kentucky. The gloomy rain outside matches the somber mood inside. Up and down the hallways, patients in different states of illness lie in the beds of their rooms waiting for doctors to examine them, nurses to dispense pills, and families to visit. I am sitting with my brother-in-law, giving my sister a break so she can go home and see her children, shower, and rest. With the pain medication that is being dispensed to Ritchie, I am mostly sitting here in silence, watching old reruns of I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and Cheers.

Humor is my “go to” emotion. If I am uncomfortable, nervous or the slightest bit bothered, I often crack a joke. I suppose I am a true believer that laughter is great medicine. That being said, as I watch Ritchie in his medicated-induced sleep, my mind drifts back to the funny times I have shared with my brother-in-law over the past 23 years.

Ritchie’s introduction into my sister’s life was rocky from the beginning. Sis’ long-time companion, her dog Brandi, a white Peek-a-Poo, was as spoiled as any lap dog has ever been. My sister took her along with her every where she went. Brandi lived a charmed and glamorous life with my sister, and did not want any changes made to it at all. When it became obvious that this human male named Ritchie had moved in on Brandi’s territory, Brandi decided to strike back. At bedtime, when Ritchie climbed into bed, lying in Brandi’s usual sleeping spot, he was promptly met by a 15-pound fur ball showing sharp teeth and a growl that could make a Great Dane back down. What Ritchie did not understand, however, was that Brandi was not all bark. She played for keeps. She tried to bite and nip and gnaw any part she could in order to get him out of the bed. When it became obvious that my sister would side with Ritchie in this fight, Brandi switched tactics. She slept between my sister and her husband, with her back to Ritchie. After that, on more than one occasion Ritchie would wake up in the middle of the night wet from dog urine somewhere on his body. Brandi was finally banished from the bed, but after a few months of co-habitation, she and Ritchie not only called a truce, but also became good friends.

When the Taco Bell in Hazard was built in the early 1990’s, we all were, of course, excited to have this new exotic food source so readily available to us. My sister and Ritchie took a particular liking to the puesdo-mexican fast food. For the following six months after the Bell opened, if anyone in the family went to Hazard for anything, my sister would always say, “Bring back some tacos for Ritchie. Ritchie likes tacos.” This request was repeated so frequently by her that the entire family started automatically saying “Ritchie like tacos” every time we passed a Taco Bell. To this very day, not only do I and my family, but many of my friends will say to me, “Ritchie likes tacos,” anytime Mexican food or a Taco Bell is mentioned. In fact, I am pretty sure that Ritchie does NOT like tacos as much as we like to say, “Ritchie likes tacos.”

Ritchie has always been the first to offer to help me out with whatever project I needed help completing. He has moved me to and from different states and many sorted apartments and houses. He also always volunteers to be a delivery man on Valentine’s Day for Andy’s Incredibly Edible Delites store. Valentine’s Day is the busiest day of the year for that business so Ritchie usually takes the day off and helps distribute fruitflowers to lucky men and woman all over central Kentucky. Since he is not familiar with the city streets in Lexington, we usually ask him to take the out of town deliveries, to towns such as Georgetown, Versailles, and Winchester. On one particular Valentine’s Day, Ritchie had several problems with his deliveries in Georgetown, and ended up spending most of his day lost and angry somewhere in Scott County. The following year, we were getting ready for our Valentine’s Day deliveries the night before V-Day. I did not realize that Ritchie was on a medication at the time that specifically stated it should not be mixed with alcohol. I had the stack of hundreds of deliveries that needed to be made and was trying to sort into reasonable routes. I decided a cocktail would help me in this process, and made one for Ritchie. He accepted, downed it, and asked for another. Being an amateur bartender, I was happy he enjoyed my mixture and happily made a second round. It was at that point, I noticed that Ritchie’s eyes were glazed over and he had a goofy grin on his face. “Are you sending me back to Georgetown this year?” he slurred. “Probably not, unless you want to go,” I said. “To Hell with Georgetown!” he yelled, “To Hell with Georgetown!” He repeated this mantra over and over, sprinkling in some laughter every now and then like a lunatic. I realized something was wrong, and was finally able to grab his glass, and send him to bed. “To Hell with Georgetown!” I could hear coming from his bedroom door as I went back to my routing. I decided he was right, to Hell with it, and I gave him the Georgetown route the next day, which he happily did.

In the past few years, Ritchie has played the role of Mr. Mom. In the beginning, this was not the smoothest process. In the morning rush to get the twins, Stewart and Haley, dressed, ready, and out the door for school, he threw their lunch together as quickly as possible. A few hours later, the kid’s third grade teacher, Mrs. Wilson, called to ask if there was any particular reason that Stewart and Haley each had been sent with a can of Milwaukee’s Best beer for their afternoon snack drink? Of course, Ritchie immediately went to the school to explain the mistake and that he thought it was a can of G2 or Juicy Juice. I suspect he also secretly hoped to get back his beer. Living in a town the size of Hyden, however, the damage was already done by the time he arrived at the school. Word spread among the teachers and other parents like fire spreads through a forest floor of dry pine needles. He was reminded of this parenting error for months from everyone who knew about it. The only person who really did not think it was that funny was my sister, who was in a complete dither about the entire situation. His nickname quickly went from Mr. Mom to Snack Dad among the PTA parents.  But Ritchie, instead of being really embarrassed by the fact that he sent beer to school with two 8-year olds, has always been more humiliated by the fact that the beer was Milwaukee’s Best and not a better brand. “If it had even been a Bud Light, it wouldn’t have been as bad,” he still says.

So, back to today and the hospital. Hopefully, these medications and treatments will quickly do their job and allow Ritchie to feel better and heal his body so we can get him home and continue to relentlessly poke fun at him. With another child so close to school age, who knows what he will send in her lunch bag!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Answer is blowing in the Wind

It has been a week or so since my last "questionable" subject, aka grey pubes.  I figure that was long enough between subjects that may offend others.  If anyone knows me at all, they know that the subjects that fascinate me the most are the ones that are often taboo.  I absolutely love to see someone doing something out of the ordinary or to discuss something that causes most of society to cringe.  Call it a quirk, call it crazy, but just make sure to call me before you talk about it.

If I have said it once, I have said it a million times, a well placed whoopie cushion can provide an endless supply of laughter at other people's expense, which really, is the best kind of laughter.  There is a song from the Broadway muscial Avenue Q called "Schadenfreude."  Schadenfruede is gloating at somebody else's bad luck,  or malicious and smug pleasure taken in somebody else's misfortune.  Now, don't get me wrong, I do not condone laughing at and making fun of truly bad things, for instance murder or any other serious crime, bankruptcy, or true misfortune, but seeing someone pitch down the sidewalk from a good trip or possibly fall down a small flight of stairs, that is funny stuff.

The only thing better than laughing at people punked by a whoopie cushion is laughing at people who are actually caught letting the "air flow" naturally.  I, myself, have never been a public pooter.  I know  many men who let it rip whenever the urge strikes.  I have heard horror stories of fathers who, on family trips, would lock all the windows in a car, let his air flow, and nearly choke his wife and children to death from the fumes.  In college, I had fraternity brothers who would have contests for the smelliest, loudest, or wettest versions.  These types of gas passes are not as funny as the one's that happen to people when they are unwanted or unexpected, such as these.

As I said, I have never been a public pooter.  If I am in public, I will excuse myself to the restroom to do whatever business I need to do.  Even at home, if there is anyone else around, I will not relieve myself in the presence of others, including my dogs, Duke and Dudley.  Although, neither Duke nor Dudley appreciate this or return the favor.  As long as I am conscious, I am very proper and gasless.  However, from reports I have been given by the person who shares a bed with me, once my eyes close, my Ambien kicks in, and my dreams begin, the first thing my anus does is send a message out to the rest of my body that says, "Release the Kracken!"  just like Zeus in the movie Clash of the Titans.  In my case, I suppose it would be Cracken.  Alledgedly, I can put on quite a symphony, with my poots covering the entire musical scale.  I say alledgedly because the only time this happens is when I am fast asleep and totally and completely unconscious.  I was originally appalled by this revelation, but aside from living the life of a hermit, what else could I do about it?  I forced myself to suck it up and let it flow.  If I am loved, my partner will have to live through it.  I have suggested he get a C-Pap machine that covers his face and provides fresh oxgyen throughout the night.  I am very thoughtful that way.

My friend Louise knows someone named John who owned and operated a general store in Hyden.  One day, an older lady came in to buy some fabric for her sewing.  She told John she needed three feet of the fabric.  As he measured out the fabric, a strong urge overcame him.  His gaseous breakfast was knock, knock, knocking on heavens door.  He absolutely could not wait a second longer.  He decided that when he jerked the fabric across the ribbed ruler that would cut the fabric from the bolt, he would let his gas fly hoping that the sound of the tearing fabric would cover the natural sound he was about to make.  He badly miscalculated the ferocity of his need, and the sound emanating from his back side roared over the sound of the ripping fabric.  Embarrassed, John looked at the elderly lady not quite knowing what to say.  She simply smiled and said, "Lord, John, that fabric sounded awfully stout, you better rip me another yard of that."

One of my crazy cousins started off her new year living up to her resolution to work out regularly and stay in shape.  She started going to the gym every day and working out on the cardio machines.  One of her Christmas gifts that year was a brand new iPod, so she loaded it up with great, fast beat music to help her walk briskly and keep her heart rate up.  On the Monday of her second week of working out at the gym, she found the only open treadmill was in the center of the treadmill isle.  She hopped on, turned on her tunes, and started walking.  With her headphones on, she could only hear her music, she could not hear any outside noises.  She didn't hear the other machines beside her, the televisions playing, the grunts and moans from the people being punished by personal trainers.  In that cocoon, she forgot that it was all one-sided, although she could not hear anything from anyone else, everyone else could hear her.  Having forgotten this, the brisk walking apparently worked up (or down) some of the gas that was a result of her new healthy, fiber rich diet.  Since, she thought, no one could hear her, she let herself toot away.  It was after her third release that she noticed the horror on the faces of her treadmill neighbors.  In fact, several had gotten off their machines and left completely.  Realizing her mistake, she went ahead and finished her five miles as if nothing had happened, got off the machine, left the building and drove to the next closest gym and signed up for a new membership there.

I have one more instance of Gas Gone Wild but involves my mother, and she has strictly forbidden me from sharing on the blog.  Because I am currently visiting her in her home, eating dinners she makes for me, I will abstain from sharing it with you now, but as soon as I am back home in Lexington and can work in into another story, all bets are off!

So here is to the people who fight the urge, but lose.  Rest assured, there are people like me around just waiting to hear that sound, to see that look on your face, and laugh hysterically at you!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer of 2010: Surviving the Parents

(picture of me tonight)
I apologize in advance for any mistakes in this post.  As I try to type it, my three-year old niece is hanging on one of my shoulders and is in the middle of what is apparently "ask Uncle Keith one hundred questions in a row."  In addition, I made the mistake of playing a game with her last week in which we pretended the couch was a swimming pool.  So, she is also practicing her diving skills by jumping into the "pool" that I am currently sitting in/on.

Spending most of the summer in Hyden living with my parents is proving to be an eye-opening experience.  I have already posted a blog regarding their odd television habits.  As an update on that, I think Dad is still secretly disappointed that the Logo channel is not showing re-runs of RuPaul's Drag Race. 

I noticed a new symptom of my folks aging this week.

My parents are both retired and have been so for a few years now.  They are quite settled into the non-scheduled lifestyle.  Obviously, when this happens to people, any sense of urgency that may have possessed that person is instantly swept away.    For instance, when my parents now get into a car to drive, they do not instantly put the key in the ignition and start the car.  They sit down in the seat, take a few cleansing breaths, stare out the window for a second, look around to make sure nothing has changed on the console since they were last in the vehicle, then make the conscious decision to, indeed, start the car.  Meanwhile, I am sitting in the passenger seat of a 200-degree car, sweating profusely and cussing under my breath.

(not really Mom)
Once the car is started, my parents are very different.  My mother has turned into the little older lady you meet on the Daniel Boone Parkway who is puttering along at 50 miles per hour listening to public radio, while a line of eight cars struggle with road rage behind her, wanting so badly to pass her they look like a line of Nascar stock cars following the lap car waiting for the green flag to start racing.

My father, on the other hand, after taking his sweet, precious time starting the car turns into a mad man, frantic to get to where ever it is he is going.  He puts on either bluegrass or traditional country music, sticks a cigar in his mouth, places one hand on the wheel, and guns it.

(not really Dad)
This happened tonight, and I thought it may be my last night on Earth.  Dad drove my Mom and me to Hazard to visit someone in the hospital.  While we were inside the hospital, an afternoon thunderstorm came and went leaving the roads wet and slick.  Afternoon rain and high humidity and heat lead to extreme fog in the mountains.  The fog was so thick and hanging on the mountains, it made for perfect scenery for a Twilight Saga movie.  As Dad drove us on the slick road at speeds hovering around 75 mph, my mother finally yelled from the backseat, "Eugene, if you don't stop swarping around, I am going to be sick at my stomach!"  Dad yelled back, "Dammit!  I am not swarping around, this is the way people drive!"  I sat still, held my breath, and held on to the "scaredy-cat handle" for all that it was worth.  He passed other cars in no passing zones, and had no fear of the possibility of a speeding ticket, or jail time for that matter.  We finally rolled back into Subway in Hyden where I had left my car.  Instead of pulling into the parking lot, Dad pulled onto the sidewalk, slowed the car down, and looked at me.  I hopped out of the moving vehicle, as he peeled out, back on to Main Street.

My survival list for this summer now includes Xanax, Valium, and a motion-sickness patch.  I may check out local elderly homes while I am here as well.  Just in case.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Don't You Throw That Mojo On Me

The next few days of our Las Vegas vacation were pretty much repeats of the first, with the exception of being hit on by prostitutes.  Thankfully, that only happened on the first day.  Our luck did not get any better.  I could not even win a free turn on a slot machine, my cousins were busting on the blackjack table, and Andy's new friend Agnes, from the Red Hat Society Club of Topeka, Kansas, had cut him loose and ended their friendship because she thought he was bad luck.

On the final afternoon in town, Andy and I decided the safest thing to do would be to nap.  You can not lose money napping.  We were just settling in for a midday rest when the hotel room telephone rang.  I answered and it was one of the crazy cousins, JoAnn.  She told me to meet her and my other cousin Delores in the main lobby immediately.  I told Andy I would be back shortly and headed out to the lobby.  Once there, I was handed a bloody mary and whisked into a waiting taxi cab.  We sat in the back seat of the car, and the driver waited for instructions.  "Uh, Buddy," said JoAnn to the driver, "we need to get off this damn strip and go somewhere we can win a little."  Our driver, who did not have one vowel in his entire name, spoke very little English, and when that English was mixed with a southern Appalachian accent, was clueless as to what was being said.  He started driving around aimlessly.

JoAnn, Delores and I sipped our cocktails and discussed our situation.  We had all three lost way more money that we had intended to lose, and WAY WAY more money than our spouses knew.  We determined that it all boiled down to one thing:  we had lost our mojo.  We were not sure what the cause of this mojo loss was, but we were pretty sure it had something to do with the other people who had come on this trip with us (our partners).  All that we could do at this point was try and not blame them and to regain our mojo and salvage the trip.

Our grandfather's brother, our great uncle Henry, lived and worked in Las Vegas for many years.  In fact, he had even worked at a casino during his residence there.  The problem was none of us knew which casino.  It was decided that we should call someone to ask the name of the casino that had employed him.  By going to that casino, the family connection would restore our mojo and we would be on our way to redemption.  For some reason, the cousins thought mother would be the best person to call.  I was not about to call her slightly buzzed from the back seat of a taxi in Las Vegas, so Delores finally agreed to do it.  She couldn't resist starting the conversation by saying, "Ronnie Carol, we are here in Las Vegas and have lost all our money.  Will you send us enough to get home?"  Click.  Mother hung up on us.  Delores called back and finally asked the question, but of course, mom had no idea where Uncle Henry had worked, but was sure it was not a good idea for the three of us to be off the main strip and in some less desirable part of Las Vegas.  As mom demanded Deleros to hand the phone to Ackml, the driver, so she could tell him to take us back to our hotel, Delores said the connection was bad and hung up.

JoAnn again yelled at Ackml in the front seat, "Listen Brother, we have lost our mojo and we need to get it back.  Take us to some casino that we can get our mojo back right now!"  A few blocks later, we pushed out of the taxi in front of a fairly nice looking casino.  We wandered in and started playing the slots, getting the "lay of the land."  Finally Delores asked JoAnn and me if we noticed anything about the other patrons.  We did not, so she told us to look again.  It then became clear that we were the only non-Asian people in the casino.  Not only were they all Asian, but they were all extremely short.  We towered over these people.  I am not sure what Ackml thought mojo was, but I think he thought he came from the Far East.

Towering above everyone else in the casino empowered us; we were braver and more confident than normal.  The casino also served much stronger drinks than those on the strip so we decided to stay.  We also thought that since we were so much bigger than everyone else, we could possibly stage a holdup if we got desperate for money.  Because we were feeling invincible, we decided to play the dice game craps.  The other patrons seemed to be very polite and quiet and kept to themselves.  We, on the other hand, were not.  Before anyone rolled the dice on the table, Delores insisted on chanting, "ROLL-ER ROLL-ER HE'S OUR MAN, IF HE CAN'T DO IT, NOBODY CAN."  Our accents were in full force and we were talking and laughing and having a good time.  Anytime someone asked where we were from we would reply, "De-Troit."  The person would look oddly confused and smile and walk away.

Eventually, the pit boss, who was a Taiwanese man standing about 4'8'' started giving us the eye.  We decided it was time to go, much to the relief of the short Asians.  We had indeed regained our mojo and had won back some of our losses.  We called a cab and headed back to the Strip.

We did not realize we had been gone from the hotel for 5 hours or we would have called someone to let them know we were OK.  But as soon as our spouses all started trying to ask questions, we told them that we did what we had to do in order get our mojo back and that they should be grateful since it was their fault that we lost it in the first place.

Although I can't imagine Uncle Henry working in an all-Asian casino in a rougher section of Las Vegas for 20 years, I guess there is that chance, and as long as there is that chance, I am going with it.  It IS Vegas after all.  Stranger things have happened there!

What Happens In Vegas, Doesn't Always Stay In Vegas...

As I have mentioned in a few other posts, the Crazy Cousins and I love to have a good time together.  As Doctor Seuss would say, we have fun in a car, we have fun in a bar.  We have fun upside down, we have fun anywhere in town.  Actually, my family would have probably frightened Dr. Seuss, and sent him running for the hills.  He would not like us in a box, he would not like us....OK, I will stop.  You get the picture.  Because of the fun we have together, it was only natural that a few of us would end up taking a trip together to Las Vegas.  Party Town.  The city where fortunes are made and dreams come true.  At least that is what the advertising commission of Las Vegas would have you believe.  That and "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."  This is a slogan that my cousins and I could really relate to; however, we all secretly knew that each of us would tell any and all stories that resulted from the trip to Sin City, especially to the cousins who did not make the trip.

(<-- Crazy Cousins)

I have had my fair share of luck with the ol' one-armed bandit in different casinos.  For those of you who are respectable, straight-laced readers, a one-armed bandit is a slot machine, at least I think it is.  I have also heard of a one-eyed snake, but I think that means something else entirely.  On three different occasions, once in Vegas, once in Mississippi, and once on a Carnival cruise ship I hit a slot machine jackpot of some sort and won several hundred dollars.  The cousins with me on this trip were also pretty lucky when it came to gambling.  They usually play blackjack and end their evenings winning more than they lost.  Needless to say, we were pretty confident as we rolled into Las Vegas and down the Strip to our hotel, the MGM Grand.

(MGM Grand  -->)

Andy, who has witnessed all sorts of scenes when the Crazy Cousins come together, tried to instill words of wisdom to me.  "Remember to only play the quarter machines." "Do not take every cocktail offered to you in the casino.  The reason they are free is so you will get buzzed and lose your inhibitions and gamble more money."  I agreed with him completely, and shook my head in the correct spots and headed to the casino to meet up with the cousins.  Andy followed along, and parked himself at a video poker machine in between two women roughly the age of, oh, 80-years old.  I left him chatting with the women as if they were long lost pals.

I immediately blew through my allotted money for this gambling session without winning anything.  I watched the cousins play blackjack, and it seemed that they were having the same bad luck as I was having, so I wandered back over the video poker machines.  I took a seat beside Andy, who introduced me to Agnes, a member of the Red Hat Society Club of Topeka, Kansas.  I discovered that she and Andy had talked most of the evening so he still had most of his gambling allowance for this session.  I asked him for a few coins and started playing the machine.  Not knowing how to play poker, it was a bit difficult until I discovered that it was very similar to playing Yahtzee. 

Suddenly, two ladies sat down on the other side of me.  They introduced themselves as Trina and Marsha, and were very friendly.  They asked me tons questions about myself.  Me being my favorite subject, I talked away.  I explained that Andy and I were from Kentucky, here for a vacation, and had just gotten into town.  Marsha then asked if my friend and I liked to party.  "Sure!  I love parties!" I said.  She then asked if we were doing anything after we left the casino.  I thought, since she had said she was a local, that knew of a must-see show or a nightclub that had a good dance floor.  "I am not sure what we are doing tonight.  What would you recommend?"  I say.  Trina then laughed, put her hand on my leg and replied that the four of us, she and her friend, and Andy and I go somewhere.  I then looked over at Andy to see if he was hearing that I had made new friends and to see if he was interested in going out on the town with two locals. 

Both Andy and Angus were staring at me with an appalled look.  Andy's face was as red as Agnus' hat.  Andy pulled me by the neck over into a huddle with him and Agnes and explained that those women beside me were prostitutes.  "PROSTITUTES?!"  I exclaimed, nervously looking over at Trina and Marsha.  Marsha waved at me with her pinkie finger.  "Yes, you idiot.  That is why they are being so friendly and asking you those questions.  "Oh, I don't think so.  You think everyone is a prostitute," I said.  "Exactly, who else have I ever said was a prostitute?"  Andy asked.  Just as I was about to make up an answer, Angus said, "Honey, I do believe that they are working ladies."  I could tell that Agnes usually got the last word in conversations, so I shook my head and turned back to the ladies.

It was too late at that point.  Apparently, Marsha, who had been seated beside Trina, had also been working the man sitting beside her.  He did not have to confer with his partner and a member of the Red Hat Society Club of Topeka, Kansas in order to make his decision.  As I readied myself to let them down easy, I saw the three of them, Trina and Marsha with the man in the middle heading towards the door of the casino.

"I swear to God, if they were going to the Celine Dion show, I will kill you both," was all I could say to Andy and Agnes.

Las Vegas  Night 2 tomorrow!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Meat, Meat, Meat, Meat

Reluctantly, I admit that I have failed.  I tried, oh how I tried, but I have failed.  For a year, I was a vegetarian.  I ate vegetables, beans, rice, tofu, pasta, and nary a piece I of meat.  I would like to say that I did it in order to come into an enlightened state of being, that by respecting other living creatures and not partaking in the consumption of dead animal flesh I brought myself closer to God.  It would, however, be a lie.  My reasons were purely selfish and medical.

Two winters ago, I tore some tendons in my ankle.  While it was healing, I developed gout in the same ankle and my foot as well.  Until that moment, I had always associated gout with the extremely elderly or people from medieval times.  I assumed that nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the country were stock full of little old men and women with feet and knees reddened and swollen with the painful ailment.  There was also an epidemic of gout in the 1200's which wreaked havoc on central Europe, maiming and disfiguring most of the population of Romania.  I may have made up some of that, but it helps illustrate my though that gout was an old-timey sickness that did not affect modern, younger people.

Having gout was, undoubtedly, the most painful experience of my life.  I could not move my foot without it feeling like shards of glass were impaling my toes and cankle.  Even when lying in bed, putting a sheet on it hurt.  The only thing worse than the gout was the treatment for it.  The medicine my doctor prescribed to rid myself of this disease actually had the following directions: "Take one pill per hour until severe diarrhea or vomiting begins." What the Hell?! 

It was after completing this round of medicine (which does, indeed, have the aforementioned side effects, but did heal me) that I rose up from my bathroom floor, similar to Scarlett O'Hara rising up in her frozen, dead garden, and stretched my arm to the sky, clutching my empty pill bottle, and said, "As God as my witness, I shall neh-vah have gout again!"

I began to research different gout websites.  I read many of the user posts to find what other sufferers did to prevent a re-occurrence of this horrid plague.  The two items that kept popping up that helped people more than anything else were keeping a vegetarian diet and stop drinking alcohol.  Well, one of those two items was completely ridiculous.  I enjoy my cocktails and happy hours, even if it means having to ride a Rascal Scooter which Medicare would provide to me a no cost, too much to give up drinking alcohol.  I decided I had only one choice, vegetarianism.

I did really well for a year.  I did not miss eating meat that much at all.  Sure, a nice steak would have been nice every now and then, but I was strong.  My gout had completely left my system, and showed no signs of returning.  Eventually, I convinced myself that an occasional chicken wing would not hurt anything, especially if eaten during March Madness.  Perhaps a little taste of a chicken finger at a party would be OK.  I am not sure what actually happened that broke the dam, but whatever it was, it happened this week. 

The past two days have been a blur of carnivorous activity.  I have been like the Tasmanian Devil whirling through the house eating bacon, sausage, ham, and turkey.  All of the meats have just been bites here and there, off other's plates or in the depths of the refrigerator.  After my BLT at lunch today, I thought my cankle started twitching and mildly throbbing, but I am sure it was all in my head.  I currently have my eye on the canister of rope pickled bologna that my dad keeps in his kitchen.

I have fallen off the wagon, and I don't think I can get up.  I am not sure that I want to.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Baby Cried The Day The Circus Came To Town

Ah, late summer in Kentucky. Stiffling heat, smothering humidity, and an over-all sense that you may sweat yourself to death walking from your house to your parked car.  This glorious period of time is also County Fair Season, for reasons I can only guess involve paying back some sort of debt owed to the Devil himself.

I have never been a big fan of fairs or carnivals.  I never had to be warned by my parents that carnies were a dangerous lot of people.  From the first time I laid eyes on the workers of the carnivals that rolled into Hyden when I was child, I knew to avoid them.  They were pierced and tattooed in places people were not pierced and tattooed in the 1970's.  Most of them limped, if they even had all their limbs at all.  Those that did not have all their limbs did not use proper braces or medical equipment, they just stumbled along dragging a clubbed foot or hopping on one leg.  This was, at least, how I saw them.  If for one minute, anyone thought that these people could be responsible enough to set up and safely operate rides that went in excess of twenty miles an hour, then that person deserved to be flung into the river by a runaway Tilt-A-Whirl cart or missle-like swing.  I had a No Ride rule, and I strictly adhered to it.

Despite my No Ride rule, I always attended the fairs and carnivals that Hyden hosted.   Make no mistake, it was always a social function, and I was never one to shy away from a social outing.  It was at a local fair that I discovered my love for the game of Skee-Ball.  This is a game in which the player has 8 or so balls to roll up an inclined plane and off a ramp in hopes of hitting a target of holes in the center of circles.  The smaller the circle you hit, the more points you earn.  If you score enough points, you receive tickets from the game which can be redeemed for prizes.  It usually takes around 1,600,000 tickets for a plastic keychain.  My love of Skee-Ball runs deep and true. The carnie that introduced me to this game was a long-haired man who wore no shirt and could only move his left arm by taking his right one and basically flinging the left in the direction he wanted it to go.  For some reason, his name was Lefty.  One August in 1982, Lefty and I became great pals for a week, as I became completely and totally addicted to Skee-Ball.  During that week, I attended the fair every night and stayed until closing, ignoring all other games but Skee-Ball.  I won enough tickets that week to win a small, palm-sized stuffed animal.  As the carnies packed up and started heading out of town at the end of the week, I rode my bicycle down River Road to watch them leave.  Usually, I was filled with relief seeing these people leave my safe hometown, but this time I was a little sad.  I saw Lefty driving one of the trucks pulling the Merry-Go-Round out of the parking lot.  He noticed me, rolled down his window, and yelled "See ya, little buddy!" as he shoved his right arm under his left flinging it into the sky as a wave goodbye.  I remember hoping that the truck he was driving was not a standard shift vehicle.

I have only broken my No Ride rule one time, and that was years later at the Laurel County Fair in London.  My cousin Tracy, who has the same fears as I do about carnival rides, convinced me to go with her under the pretense of a free candied apple and a funnel cake.  Once there, she somehow decided that she wanted to ride a contraption called the Twisty-Turn.  I aruged that neither of us did such reckless things as ride carnival rides, and had she seen how fast it went?  I was sure it did not meet any safety codes and the man operating the ride had one tooth, one eye, and oddly enough, one shoe.  Tracy insisted that she wanted to ride it, that it looked fun, and that if I didn't I was a big sissy.  Because I always end up giving in and doing exactly what Tracy says, I agreed to hop on the ride. 

As the operator strapped us into the seat, Tracy made a point to say to the operator that she wanted the full experience of the ride, not to hold back, and then asked if he was winking at her.  With his only having one eye, he did not think it was funny, and I had already entered my "safety mode" which consists of looking straight ahead and saying nothing so I could not apologize to the man.  The ride then started slowly going through its motions.  We were barely creeping along when Tracy started screaming.  You would have thought she was on the Space Shuttle during liftoff.  As the ride picked up steam and really started its twists and turns, her yelling became wails and shreaks.  I said nothing and looked straight ahead.  Everytime our seat passed by the operator Tracy would alternate pleas of desperation and threats of death.  As we passed she would scream to him, "Lord, Honey, please let the Lord tell you to shut this thing off and let me off here!!"  The next time we passed by it was, "Stop this *&^!! right now, you @((#$#!!, !#%&$#*$*#, piece of @#($$$$!!"  I sat staring straight ahead thinking that a man with one tooth, one eye, and one shoe had our fates in his hands, and that I just hated Tracy.

Finally the torture ended and the ride was over.  We hopped off and walked to the exit of the ride area.  Under such duress, Tracy's mind had apparently allowed her to block out the entire experience as she looked blankly at me with her hair askew, mascara running down her face, and tear marks on her cheeks.  "How about a funnel cake?" she asked.  I wanted to just leave her there and go home, but it was funnel cake we were talking about, so I agreed.  We never spoke of the incident again, but I am sure that neither of us has been back on a Twisty Turn ride again.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Follow Your Bliss

When I started this blog, I was basically just messing around.  I was just playing.  To be honest, I was not 100% sure what a blog even was or if anyone even read them.  I could not imagine that anyone would read mine, let alone like it.  What I have discovered in the past few months, is that not only do I absolutely love blogging, but also a few of you actually have the same warped sense of humor as I do and you continue to read it!  That is great, since I have many more things to share.

I have always had a deep love of books and have read most anything I could find no matter what the subject.  I have always enjoyed theater and have rarely missed the chance to see any show.  I also have enjoyed writing, and expressing myself in artistic ways.  However, somewhere along my journey, I stopped pursuing the creative side of my life.  I went the safe, predictable, practical route.  I was an accounting major.  I earned my Masters in Business Administration.  I became a Certified Public Accountant.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  I have, in fact, made a very good living being Mr. Accountant, and if you have read any of my misadventures on this blog, you know that my life has been full of excitement and fun.  But what it has not been full of is a creative outlet, and until I started this blog, I had no idea that it was lacking.

As a Governor's Scholar in 1988, I spent the summer at Centre College as a Drama major.  It was probably the best summer of my life.  However, after graduating high school, I never even auditioned for a role in another play.  I was, however, president of the accounting club.  Safe over Creative.

As a sophomore in college, I considered having two majors:  Accounting and English.  I finally decided the two were too far apart on the spectrum.  One was a responsible, career-orientated major; the other, well, "what does one even do with an English major?" was what I asked myself.  I decided, instead, to get another business degree: Hotel, Restaurant, & Tourism Administration.  Safe over Creative.

Even before graduating from graduate school, I considered interviewing with the Peace Corp.  But then, with the help of my parents, I was reminded that I had spent a ton of money and had a mound of student loan debt in my quest for my MBA, so why would I go to all that trouble just to graduate and then go off to some third world country and work for no pay for two years?  Safe Over Creative.

With the help of my good corporate buddies at ACS, who threw me out into the unemployment line during the biggest recession of my lifetime, I was finally able to have some time as an adult to work on being creative, and what I found out totally shocked me.  I not only love writing, observing people and situations, telling stories, and making people laugh, I truly have a passion for it.  When I write, I feel happy down to my toes.  When I am not writing, or just going through my day to day activities, I am still thinking about writing my next story or how I could use what just happened in a blog. I can not believe that at the ripe ol' age of ALMOST 40, I have discovered something that makes so happy to do.  I have had a true "Aha Moment."  My next step is the process of going through my blogs and developing many of them into proper short stories and essays.  Sure, I am not getting paid for doing this, but you have to start somewhere, right?!  And who knows what will happen down the road.  If I don't do it, I will never know.

So, why am I am babbling about this to you?  Because I suspect that there are a lot of you out there just like me.  You have for whatever reason put aside your passion.  Life came along.  Jobs, kids, spouses, divorces.  There is always something in the way.  But, I want to encourage each of you to think a little bit about what it is that you have a passion for, or that you used to have a passion for, and then ask yourself if you still participate in that activity.  Do you still feed the passion or have you, like me, taken the safe route and let it dry up and wither?  It can still be revived.  Believe me, it doesn't take much.  A simple blog did it for me. 

In the words of Joseph Campbell, "Follow your bliss."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Family Tradition

I am perfectly fine with The Dark Cloud that follows me around.  I have learned to adjust and live with it.  For example, I know that I should never, ever bungee jump, sky dive, or ride a roller coaster.  I know my limitations, and live accordingly.  What I am not fine with is the fear that this Dark Cloud is somehow genetic.  One of the Crazy Cousins has just as many stories from freak accidents as I do, and I suppose I will eventually share her stories as well, if allowed.  While I do not have children, I do have two nieces and a nephew that I think of as mine own.  I am terribly afraid that this mixture of jacked-up DNA that my family shares has infected my oldest niece Haley. 

Haley is 13 and has already had her fair share of what my family calls "Keith-isms."  Just last month while on vacation with her family, Haley went to play putt-putt golf.  There were three different courses to choose from at this particular miniature golf course.  Haley's group chose Course #2.  After three holes, Haley noticed that a sign at the tee-off for the particular hole read "Par 3."  She immediately began to worry that she and her family had somehow gotten off-course and had ended up on Course #3.  She began trying to make her group stop playing and search for the correct course.  All the others, naturally, knew they were on the correct path, and just wanted to hit the ball into the clown's mouth.  But Haley, being just like her Uncle Keith, was sure that they had somehow gotten crossed up and ended up on the wrong course.  She was sure they should be across the way trying to land the ball in the teddy bear's belly button.  I can only assume that Haley thought that the putt-putt police would show up and escort her and the group off to putt-putt jail, because that is what I would have thought.  Finally, someone finally explained to Haley that Par 3 meant that it should take three hits of the ball to land it into the mouth of Bozo, and that she was indeed on the correct course.

Last year, on another family vacation, Haley was sent to get ice from the ice maker at the hotel.  The machine charged .25 cents for a bucket's worth of ice (we only stay at the swankiest places, obviously).  Haley headed to the floor that had the pay-for-ice-machine, and once there noticed a large crowd of people were gathered in the hallway beside the vending area.  They seemed to just be chatting, perhaps waiting on someone.  Haley walked past them and placed her quarter into the machine.  As the machine started cranking and dispensing ice, Haley realized that she had no bucket with her.  Ice started shooting out of the machine at great speed and making lots of noise.  Haley could only try and cradle her arms to catch the ice as it made a huge mess on the floor.  Needless to say, the group of people chatting looked at her as if she were crazy and made their way to the elevator.  Haley was left to try and get her arm full of ice back to the room alone.  It finally got so cold, she just dumped it out on the floor and went back to the room for another quarter and the bucket.

Finally, while watching the evening news one night, there was a report on the ongoing illegal immigration debate.  The reporter explained that over 100,000 people had to leave the country the previous month because their visas had expired.  Haley was outraged and horrified.  She asked, "Why did those people have to leave the United States?"  "Because their visa had expired." her grandmother replied.  Haley then said she had no idea that keeping an active credit card meant so much in this country.  She could not believe that just because they had not renewed or let their Visa card expire, they were forced to leave the country.  Surely, there was someone to write about this injustice!

So you can see why I am now afraid that the Dark Cloud has been genetically passed to my niece.  She is showing all the symptoms of this chronic ailment and there is nothing that can be done to stop it.  She will have to learn some the things the hard way, but hopefully I can steer her clear of gun firing ranges, power tools, and anything with a sharp edge.