Saturday, July 10, 2004


Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

I haven't gone out of my way to deceive people many times in my life. In fact there is only one that I time that I can recall when I truly tricked someone into giving me something that they normally wouldn't have. Sadly, it was my mother that was the subject of my deception.

In 1983 my mother, my two sisters, and myself moved into a duplex with my mother's boyfriend. Not that I knew it at that point but it was probably the toughest point, financially speaking, that our family ever had to endure. I never knew that the "special bills" that mom was buying groceries with were food stamps. I didn't know that the cheese, butter, and honey that we got from the local church were food for people on welfare. So, of course, my sisters decided that was the perfect time to hoodwink our mother into buying us something that no one our age should have had.

Most of the time that we spent around our house revolved around listening to music. All of my memories of our house at that point have some sort of music playing in the background, so it's safe to say that the stereo (with 8-track deck) was almost always on. I remember sitting down with my sisters and listening to the weekly top 40 with Rick Dees and writing down the Billboard top 40 songs from week to week. It all sounds so wholesome doesn't it?

Because we didn't have a lot of money, we never really had any of our own albums, or 8-tracks, to listen to. So, we got a pretty steady diet of Barry Manilow and Billy Joel. Where should a 9-year-old boy, and his 12 and 13-year-old sisters turn to to escape from this musical prison? Our answer came printed on the back of "Parade" magazine in the Sunday newspaper.

Each week, my sisters and I would look at the back of that "magazine" from the Wisconsin State Journal and pick out our 10 selections from the Columbia House advertisement.

"It's only a penny Mom!"

"We've all picked out 3 albums that we want. Please!"

After weeks and months of badgering, she relented and let us place the order in her name.

My sisters had picked out recent top 40 hit albums. Foreigner's Four. Journey's Escape. All 80's rock. It's not like my mother would have thought that the albums that I had chosed were any different from the popular music that my sisters had picked. In fact, I think she might have mistaken Eddie Murphy for Eddie Money. Also, I'm not sure when she realized that her copy of George Carlin's Class Clown had been removed from the box that it packed away in and had found it's way into my room.

I have to admit that I did feel bad for tricking my mother into purchasing two albums that I had no business listening to as a nine year old. In fact I felt so guilty, that I kept the Foreigner and Journey albums as a form of punishment for the way I pulled the wool over my mother's eyes. There was no way I would have kept the Rick Springfield album though. No one deserves that kind of punishment.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Call me... Goatee

I first grew a goatee when I was 19 years old. It just seemed like an interesting sort of rebellion against my face. My face had always been a neat and orderly empire, but I was going to rage against the machine and let free range follicles cover my “normal” and clean chin. To be honest, it was a terrible political experiment. Not only did it take me 3 months to gain what I considered to be a “presentable” amount of facial hair growth, but eventually it got to the that point I lost total control. They had a mind of their own and we’re not looking to be kept down by the man.

Did I mention I was unemployed when I started this project? Oh, I was a real winner. I was unemployed, shaved bald, and had a rabid growth of hair streaming from my face. So, when someone finally did decide to take pity on me and let me work for them, I said a fond farewell to the goatee, took out the scissors, and wept silently as I removed and discarded my little project.

A few years later, I went to my sister-in-law’s wedding and decided that I was sick of shaving, and goatee 2.0 was born. The factions that were created this time had apparently learned from their predecessors and were much more orderly. This time they seemed happy to conform to the laws set forth by the state. Everyone was happy, and before I knew it there was a thriving community all working together for the betterment of my appearance. I knew things were going quite well when my wife gave me a beard and mustache trimmer for Christmas. This one time grass roots campaign had reached the mainstream and everyone was willing to accept it.

So, we’ve lived quite happily together, goatee 2.0 and myself. We were happy to live together and are free to seek a life of religious fulfillment.

Recently I realized that my goatee might be making more of an impression on people than I do and nothing good can come of that.

Last evening I was playing soccer and I heard someone yell out, “Somebody cover GOATEE!” I didn’t know what to think. When someone on the other squad was barking out instructions regarding coverage assignments for other players on our team, they always referred to the number for that player.

“Look out for 16!!!”

“Mark up on 13! He’s a runner!”

For a while I thought that I might be able to sneak by people by covering my goatee with my left hand. But that thought faded quickly.

So, I had to start thinking about the fact that my goatee might be my most defining characteristic. Even more so than anyone else out on the field. There was a guy out there with one arm but no one was calling out, "Watch out for lefty!" Was it the reason that I was becoming a better soccer player? Would I be like Samson, and lose my strength, if I was to remove it again?

I then proceeded to miss my next three shots and pull a Charlie Brown and miss the ball entirely on one attempted kick. They didn’t single me out much after that. Except maybe to point and giggle. Humor is something I’d rather be known for anyway.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

I like white socks

I've never been considered a snappy dresser in my time. In fact, it stuns my wife when I'm in a clothing store with her and I’m actually able to pick out a shirt or pair of pants that she thinks would look good on me. It just seems as if that is part of my brain that had it’s factory setting soldered in the off position when I was born. I just don’t get it. If I want to wear white socks with brown shoes, what’s the big deal? Who’s getting hurt when I decide to wear a t-shirt and flannel pants in public? Apparently according to my wife and a few of my friends, everyone is being affected by my appalling lack of style.

What ever happened to the world of “if it feels good, do it?”

I think it all began when I was a child and would ask my mother questions such as, “Do my clothes rhyme?” At that point they should have seen that I was crying out for help. Find the 70’s version of Queer Eye for the Sesame Street fan and get them to Mt. Horeb, WI. Stat!

Ever since then, I’ve had to go shopping with someone. Whether it be a friend, my mother, or my wife, I’m never allowed to go out and buy clothes without supervision. Picture a prisoner in the orange jumpsuit and shackles being led around by a guard and you’ve pretty much got the image of what it looks like when I’m out clothes shopping. Minus the shackles, of course.

Get me in a tux though, and I’m a Midwestern-balding-30 year old James Bond.

Tuxedos have just always clicked for me. I think it’s because the whole outfit has a plan. Everything just makes sense. There is a Point A to Point B progression with the whole outfit. Plus, they have those holes in the pants pockets that allow you to straighten your shirt without having to unbutton your pants. To me, I think that was the single greatest innovation in clothing history. You can put your hands in your pockets and people don’t think you’re playing with yourself. Brilliant!

One of my friends once told me, when she noticed that I was wearing white socks with my dress shoes, that people in Spain would laugh at me if they saw that. I had never had an interest in going to Madrid until that point, but now I know when I get there that I’ll be the American proudly strutting around in my jean shorts and a t-shirt walking up to every Spanish citizen and waiting for them to point and giggle. Nothing makes me feel better than a cheap laugh, even at my expense.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Puck Dreams

People who've never played hockey really don't know what they're missing. I started "playing" about 14 months ago, and have since become addicted to the sport. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to play, but due to circumstances beyond my control, the money just wasn't there. Now I have a decent job, and I'm just another junkie, looking for his vulcanized rubber fix two or three times a week.

Before I started playing last year, I had probably put on ice skates once or twice in my entire life. All I knew was that I really wanted to play. So, with a bonus that I received from work I went out and bought all of the equipment that I thought would need. Shoulder pads, elbow pads, shin guards, the whole works. I didn't skimp one cent. I'll never forget the first moment that I put on all of the equipment. Sarah just laughed and laughed. I had dreamed all my life of putting on the entire hockey garb so I could stand and look like a hockey stud. I looked at the clock. 30 seconds, still laughing. 1 minute, tears streaming down her face. 1 minute 30 seconds, I start to untie my skates and Sarah fell over. I have to love that woman. I had aspired my whole life to play hockey, and as soon as I get dressed for it, my wife laughs at me. I understood why when I looked in the mirror. I was a total doofus. I wanted to be Gary Shuchuk, or Pat Flatley, or any of my Wisconsin hockey idols. There is a certain way that hockey players carry themselves when they wear their equipment, and looking in the mirror, I realized that I had a long way to go.

So, I started to practice skating with a friend. Over time, I started to fall less and started to learn how to pick up more and more speed. Then I started to fall more again. It's a pretty cyclical experience. Eventually I learned to stop, without use of the walls, and I started to realize how much fun the game could be.

After I got my feet under me a bit more, I joined a co-ed scrimmage league in our area. Without a doubt, this is the best thing that I ever could have done.

There is one thing that you need to know about women that play hockey. 50 percent of the women that play hockey are married, and the other 50 percent are typically dating each other. This was quite a revelation to me. I found this out first hand when I was sitting on the bench one night and one of the players from the other team skated up to one of the other women and said, "You just look so damn cute out there in those breezers."

What was more entertaining to me was the fact that it was at that point that I realized, these were the people I should be playing with. I've played flag football with guys, basketball with guys, volleyball with guys, and softball with guys. You know what I've realized? Guys suck. We're all overly competitive and we treat every single moment of our sport playing lives as if it were the most crucial moment in our existence. We push each other, we kick each other, and for what? Just to feel a little bit better than the guy that we just dumped to the ground.

As for me, I think I'm going to go out and shop for some new breezers. The ones I wear now make my ass look too big.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I was smart once.

No, really. People even told me that I was. True it was when I was in the fourth grade, and that it only applied to math, but I was gifted damnit. God had taken touched my brain and had given me the ability to do math a whole two grades better than the other slack-jawed yokels that I was in class with. I was gifted and the attention felt great. Later I realized that God hadn't touched my brain. I think I got close one time while picking my nose but that was the nearest anyone, or anything, got to it.

Recently, my father-in-law turned me on to crossword puzzles while on a family vacation. “Who was Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings?” Well, that’s easy, Ian Holm. “What’s Marquette's nickname?” The Golden Eagles. I felt invincible. Every question he threw at me made me feel more and more intelligent. It was like I was Cliff Claven on Jeopardy. Every question was just waiting for me to dip into my vast amounts of knowledge, deliver the answer, and wait for my applause.

I had found my intelligence again. I found my calling. I wasn’t just another guy who needed to take off his shoes and pants to count to twenty-one. I was going to be smart again, and people were going to notice.

That was until I realized a crucial point. I think my father-in-law grabbed his crossword puzzle from a recent issue of Highlights for Children.

I got home from the trip and decided to tackle the crossword in our local paper. I’m not sure where they get these things, but I’m now pretty certain that there is a certain race of underground- dwelling mole-people, bred using the sperm of Steven Hawking and the eggs of the late Eudora Welty, that are deploying their laborious creations in such a way that they can ensure that the race of man will only be able to look at them before throwing their hands up in disgust and then go back to watching Hardcastle and McCormick reruns.

“Historical Kingdom in the Pyrenees?” The Pyrenees were historic?

I’ve learned my lesson. I now only try to impress my wife with my knowledge. She’s never impressed, but every once in a while I get a look from her that seems to indicate that she thinks I’m smart. It’s either that or she’s got gas. The latter is probably more likely.