Prayers for Houston

Like a lot of people, I’ve been following the news of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey.  Unlike a lot of people, I’m not praying. Prayer doesn’t put a family in a home, clothe the needy, or feed a child.  So when someone sent this “prayer chain” request on Facebook today, I responded respectfully, but honestly.


I’ve visited the websites of a lot of popular charities. Americares, American Red Cross, Save the Children, etc. I’ve noticed they ask for a lot of things. Money, food, blood, clothing, and more. What you never see (or at least I’ve never seen) is a button saying “click here to send prayers.” Why? Because it’s useless. Prayers didn’t stop the storm, and it’s not going to clean up the mess.

Now, I know this person, and they are among the kindest, most gentle people I’ve ever met.  So it was a little embarrassing having to respond to such a thing. They had simply forgotten I was a non-believer, and later apologized.  I told them not to worry, and thanked them for thinking of me just the same.

But I do want to say that, in times of tragedy like what we are seeing in Houston and surrounding areas, what is needed is not prayers, but money, manpower, and supplies. If you live in the Houston area, you can personally reach out to local organizations. If you live across the country like I do, the best thing you can do is send cash to the groups on the ground.

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Painting: Day Two

I started painting on Sunday night.  It took some practice, but I am now prepared to say that I have all the natural talent of a 9 year old.


It’s not great, but it’s better than the day before.  So, progress, right?

Anyway, it’s fun, and I’m enjoying it. So look for my first exhibit coming soon to my mom’s fridge.

I Decided To Take Up Painting

I decided to take up painting as a hobby. For just under $30, I bought a small easel, canvas, paints, and a few other supplies. I was terrible in art class back in high school, but I think I have more patience now than I did then. So I figure if I can paint a halfway decent landscape, or even a happy little cloud, I’ll consider it all money well spent.

Tonight I began by trying to follow along with a Youtube tutorial, and I think I did okay. It’s a very simple sky, some mountains, grass, and I don’t know…could that be a lake? Sure. We’ll call it a lake.

I’ve decided to name all my paintings “This Might Be…” and then whatever it is I tried to make.  This one is called “This Might Be Mountains and a Lake.” I think it fits.

I showed my painting to a couple friends and they were complimentary. That gave me the confidence to try my hand at a tree.  It did not work out. I started with the trunk, and it was way thicker than I wanted. My paint was not going on the canvas right, which made me want to force the brushstrokes, and that made the trunk even wider still. So then I tried to make the branches proportional, and that looked even worse. So I just slapped some leaves on, then thought it would be a good idea to add some orange. I don’t know why, but it was yet another mistake. Look upon my tree and weep.

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Finally, in disgust, I painted the entire thing black so I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.  That photo is the only evidence that it ever existed.

Not a bad first night, I guess. A small, but decent landscape that I am pleased with. And a giant black void over what was once the world’s ugliest tree. I think I’ll stick with landscapes tomorrow.

Just call me Blob Ross.

 

The Party Pooper

When I’m invited to a party, my first instinct is not to go.

Who will be there? I’ll need a list of everyone else you’ve invited, please. How many people total? Don’t leave anyone out, because then I’ll be upset. Is anyone I don’t know coming? I don’t want to be around people I’m not familiar with.

Oh, this is going to be horrible!

As the day approaches, I’ve thought out a million different scenarios of how the night will unfold, and most of them are bad. I get cold feet. What if someone doesn’t like me? What if I say or do the wrong thing and get embarrassed? I should probably just stay home.

Then I walk in and, as usual, I’m the fattest guy there. That makes me self-conscious to eat in front of people. I feel like everyone is watching me and judging my every move.

partypooperI rarely drink alcohol, so while everyone is pounding beers or having wine, all I want to do is sip on water or a soda. Inevitably, this will cause a serious drinker to ask why I’m not drinking, and the truthful answer is never good enough. Beer drinkers don’t believe anyone doesn’t like beer. They believe that you just haven’t found the right one, and they think they they are just the person for the job. What follows is an impromptu sampling of several beers, followed by me spitting them into the sink.

Then the party games begin. This really freaks me out. The small-talk I’ve already made with a few different people is more than enough interaction for me. Now you want me to toss ping pong balls into cups? Or pantomime words and phrases for others to guess? What a charade! I like you. Please don’t make me interact with strangers. The last thing I want to do is ruin your good time by screwing up the game.

Sometimes I hide. When people go to one room to enjoy each other’s company, I disappear to be alone in another. One time I went upstairs at a friends house and hid in his closet for an hour.

But the worst is when I have to go to the bathroom. The anxiety of attending this party has been building up for a week. My head is swimming from all the interaction. Combined with the spicy meatballs you laid out, my stomach has turned to mush. It’s definitely going to be diarrhea.

Why is it that, at every social gathering I attend, the host’s bathroom is within 10 feet of the main party hub? There’s no “sneaking off to use the restroom” here because everyone saw you go in. They are all out there timing me. If I’m gone more than 90 seconds, they’ll know I’m shitting. Please don’t let anyone hear. Please let there be enough toilet paper. Let me crack a window or light a match, because if it stinks when I leave, I’ll never hear the end of it. The next person who goes in will tell stories about me for years. Please please please let it all flush down clean. I don’t want to be known as Skidmark.

But enough about all that.  Let me tell you what I do like.  I like when the evening is wrapping up and the crowd starts dwindling and it’s just me, you, and a few other close friends. These are my favorite moments of the night, and it makes all the mental anguish worth it. Sure, we have to get back to our regular lives, but let’s just sit around talking and laughing a little while longer. We’ll all go home soon.

Thanks for having me. It was torture, but I had fun. I know you’ll read this and think about not inviting me next time, but please do. Anxiety sucks, but nothing is worse than being lonely.

Letting Go Of Lily

It happened just under a month ago, in the early hours of December 29th. Lily had been sick for the past few weeks, but was declining the past couple years. Age was taking its toll and there was nothing I could do.

I had taken her to the vet the week before to have her checked out. Her breathing just hadn’t been right lately. She was hanging her mouth open a lot, sleeping all day, and her appetite had pretty much fallen off altogether. The doctor didn’t think a whole lot of it. She’s just old, he said. Besides, her heart and lungs sounded good, her blood work showed no reasons for concern, and it could have just been a secondary infection related to a brief illness she had a month earlier. He recommended I give her some antibiotics and sent us on our way. I had been scared she was dying, so this made me feel a little better. It gave me some hope that the end wasn’t as close as I thought. But deep down I knew. The ones who love you always know.

I gave her the medication regularly for the next week but there was no improvement. She seemed to be getting worse. By Wednesday night I was scared. She would hang her mouth open, her breathing rapid, and cry out for me. I didn’t know what to do. I would pet her and try to figure it out. I’d bring her food and water. I’d carry her to the litter box. No matter what it was, she didn’t want it. But she did want to go outside. She would cry at the door, begging me to let her out. I didn’t want to do it. It was freezing out there. The wind was stinging. Ice clung to the stoop. It wasn’t where an elderly cat should be.  She didn’t care. She wanted me to open that door.

img_5348Finally, I relented. She walked outside, a little wobbly, and headed down the steps and up the driveway. I couldn’t believe she was doing that. She had lost so much weight over the previous couple years. Under nine pounds, she was barely more than skin and bones. But off she went into the cold, dark night. By the time I turned around to get my slippers on and follow her, she collapsed by the car. I think she had decided to die right then and there, but I wouldn’t let her. I scooped her up and carried her back inside, placing her back in her bed. She fell back to sleep, but it wouldn’t last long. I made the decision that I was going to bring her back to the vet to have her put to sleep. I’d do that the very next day. I never got the chance.

Just a couple hours later, after a fitful rest, she starting crying to me again. I picked her up and carried her to her litter box. She peed a little and crawled back toward her bed. I helped her the rest of the way. As I walked away I heard her moving around again. I doubled back to see where she went but couldn’t find her. I kept walking and, around the corner from the kitchen by a heat vent in the living room, she had collapsed and was laying on her side. I ran over next to her. She was struggling for breath, her body convulsing slightly. This was it. My Lily was dying. All I could do was be with her and try to comfort her. I pet her and stroked her ears. I told her it was okay, and that I loved her. The convulsions slowed until finally she moved no more.

I knew she was gone, but I just stayed there sitting and petting her. A few minutes later, the clock on the wall chimed to let me know it was 4am and that my life had just changed. For the past 18 years, hardly a day had gone by where I didn’t have Lily with me. Now, just like that, I’d never have her again.

I let her lay there a bit longer, both so the other cats could see, and because I was still shaken up. I was sad, yes, but also somewhat relieved. I knew that it had not been a great life for her lately. Though she was dead, I understood that her suffering was over. Ultimately, I wrapped her body in a couple of towels and brought her out into the shed. It was so hard to lock that shed door behind me. It felt like I was leaving her in a morgue. It felt so disrespectful. So final.

I knew that I didn’t want to bury her. The ground was frozen solid anyway, and I hated the idea of just leaving her under a couple feet of dirt. I couldn’t ever enjoy the backyard again knowing Lily was decomposing over by the fencepost. So, after a night of tears and intermittent dreams, a call was placed to the vet to make arrangements for cremation. A few days later, I picked her up in a small tin box. That’s what is left of my baby. That and the memories I keep.

Over the next couple weeks it got a little easier. If I talked about her, I’d try to focus on the fun stuff. If I dwelled on the sad stuff, or if my friends asked how I was holding up, I would cry, and I didn’t want that. So I’d focus on the happier times, and little by little the tears were less frequent. But then I came home from work one night, grabbed the mail, and saw a letter from the veterinarian’s office. It’s normal of them to send a sympathy card, so I pretty much knew what to expect. I opened it up, saw the card, and opened it. Inside the card was a decorative piece of cardboard, and there in the middle was Lily’s paw print in ink, taken just before the cremation. It instantly moved me to tears. I walked into my bedroom to change clothes and cried for 15 minutes. As simple as it was, I was touched. Once my vision was no longer blurry, I measured the paper. 5×7 inches. I went to Amazon and picked out a frame. It arrived a couple days later, and now the framed paw print sits on my living room mantle.

img_5940Lily was a unique cat. Very feisty and set in her ways from an early age. She was also, like me, very much a loner. She was never one to want to play with other cats. If they tried to play with her, she’d smack them upside the head and hiss. It’s nice to play back old memories occasionally, and it’s weird the stuff that comes to mind. How she would always run to my bedroom when she was in trouble because she knew I would protect her. How, if I was trying to get her to come inside from a night out, I would have to jingle a particular set of keys. From down the street she would come running all the way to door, then she would sniff the air, twitch her tail, and run off again. It used to piss me off so bad. I remember how high she could once jump. My brother and I would take turns swishing a feather duster above our heads. Lily would stare at it, measure the height, and spring up past our faces to grab that feather duster. And the wrestling matches we would have! Boy, did she love those. She would plop over on her side, I’d grab her belly, and she would latch herself onto my arm, nip at my hand, and kick away with her back legs. All the while her eyes would be looking wild and her ears would be laid back. But she never hurt me. Between the bites, she would lick my fingers, and she always kept her claws in. We could wrestle for five minutes at a time, but she would never leave a scratch. I could pick her up, flip her end over end, lay her back on my shoulder and walk around the house with her. As weird as it was, she loved it. Never once did she think I would hurt her, and of course I never did. She trusted me completely, and I loved her so much in return.

I’m shedding the first tears in a while as I write this, but it feels good in a way. I just miss her so much. That’s why I’ve titled this entry “Letting Go Of Lily.” The part about losing her was tough, but I got through that. 18 years is a good, long life. But the letting go part is hard. She’s on my mind and in my dreams often. I see her everywhere I go. There will never be another like Lily, but I’m glad she was mine.

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Arguing

As someone who hosts a podcast, and has interviewed a number of people with whom I disagree, one might think I enjoy arguing. I don’t. I hate it. I get nervous and all riled up at any sign of confrontation. That’s why my Facebook page is normally free of politics, and instead is filled with instances of me acting like a dork. I’m just better at being a clown, which is why I usually prefer to joke around and let bygones be bygones whenever possible.

I especially dislike when those arguments I have are with friends. It never feels good for me to argue with people I like. But sometimes, when a friend is being ignorant in public, a public smackdown is very much in order. Still, I don’t like the way it makes me feel.

That’s what happened tonight.  A buddy of mine posted a meme on Facebook that I felt was casually sexist.  It criticized a female politician for what she was wearing instead of focusing on the arguments she was making.  I chimed in, was met with mocking and curses, and it was on.  Each of my replies became more curt in the process.  Not only was I trying to keep up with the mob, but another friend of mine was texting me encouragement.  Whenever I said I wanted to drop out of the conversation, he would go check out what was being said, report it back to me, and tell me I needed to say something back.  Like an idiot, off I would go.

The physical reactions I get during a heated argument are unpleasant.  My chest tightens up, my eyes blur, and I start to get dizzy.  My heart pounds as if I were working out.  I joked with my friend that I’m too overweight to play around with my heart, so I should just relax and eat pizza instead. Seems to me a better way to die.

I’m happy to report that I finally did stop the argument myself.  I informed my buddy that I was unfollowing comments on his post, and would not be replying any longer.  He seemed to be trying to start back up with me by tagging me repeatedly so that I would get a notification, but I resisted the urge to go back and see what he was saying.

Shortly thereafter he deleted his post, and admitted that he had been wrong on a few counts.  While this argument would not have caused me to throw away our friendship, I was still glad it was over.  Ultimately, I have to know to be smarter than to argue on the internet, especially with friends.  I certainly could have handled the situation better, and besides, I don’t need the physical stress of trying to quickly craft the perfect cutting replies.

It’s been several hours now, and even though it ended peacefully, I must admit that I’m not entirely over it.  I can still feel a bit of the tension in my shoulders.  Again, that’s on me.  But I think I understand a bit better the draw of nicotine.  I personally don’t smoke, but I still think I could use a cigarette right about now.

Fine Dining

I was at a one of my favorite diners recently, and ordered a sandwich platter.  The platter comes with my choice of two sides. I could have had a salad, coleslaw, or a few other options. But I chose french fries and applesauce. Seemed like a nice combo to me.

The waitress, who I had not dealt with before, seemed irritated by the selection.  She put her pad down, let out a grunt, and said, “What is the deal with guys and applesauce?” I was a little surprised by what felt like a rebuke.

“I didn’t know there was a deal with guys and applesauce,” I said.  “What’s the deal with women and complaining?” I figured I’d give it right back to her.

She smiled. “No! I’m serious! All the time guys come in here and order applesauce for their side. Do you just not want to eat a piece of fruit? You want it mashed up for you like a baby?”

Like a baby? Ha! Now I was laughing. “Where on the menu does it say I can order a piece of fruit with my sandwich?” I paused, and looked again at the menu. “I see salad. I see coleslaw. Rice. Baked potato. Show me ‘piece of fruit’ and I’ll order it. But all I see related to fruit is the applesauce.  I’ll have the applesauce, please.”

That was the end of that. She went and put my order in, and a couple minutes later, brought me a bowl of applesauce. I thanked her and, as she walked away, I said, “Oh! Could you bring me a bib?”  She walked back toward the kitchen, grinning.

I think I’m in love.