Friday, November 25, 2016

I'm Thankful For....

It's the time of year once again when we eat too much and everybody cooks a large bird nobody really likes to eat.  Seriously--who actually likes turkey?  The white meat is dry, the dark meat tastes gamey, and you need to put a ton of seasonings or a heavy sauce on it just to choke it down.  Turkey is just a protein canvas for other things.  This is why I prefer to smoke my turkeys and use the meat in a spicy turkey salad I used in sandwiches.

But no, on Thanksgiving we eat the shitty turkey and a whole bunch of bland, heavy foods because that's our tradition.  I mean seriously, would it kill somebody to put some jalapenos in the mashed potatoes?  Or maybe a little ghost pepper jelly in the stuffing?

Every year it's the same boring food with people who mostly piss you off while you lie about how great the past year was because if they knew the truth of it, you'd look like more of a loser than you already do.

And then there's football.  I hate Dallas and I hate Detroit.  Worse, I'm a Bears fan and they always seem to lose on Thanksgiving.

I used to hate Thanksgiving as a child.  My family would be drunk and singing old songs from the 60's I couldn't stand.  They would be shouting and laughing while us kids tried to find ways to keep from being bored.  I would always end up with a headache.

There's a scene in the film Easy Rider that perfectly depicts these family holiday gatherings from my perspective.  I can't find the clip on Youtube, but it's where they're at the commune, and everybody is off in their own little corner.  Dennis Hopper is wandering around, looking for a place to get comfortable, and just relax.  Some people are on a stage drunkenly singing a song and awkwardly grabbing him.  Another group is having a private conversation and they don't want him around to hear it.  Another group is just wasted out of their minds.  After a while, he goes to Peter Fonda and tells him he just wants to leave.  It's chaos and he doesn't belong anywhere.

That, to me, represented the family gatherings when I was a child.

Or there were the trips to Nebraska to visit my dad's mother.  Those trips were pure hell.  First, the family car back then was a 1976 Chevy Nova with the 305.  It was a horrible engine.  Plus, it was the first year GM made cars for unleaded gas only, and for some reason they put a two-barrel carburetor on it.  It didn't get good gas milage, it wasn't fast, it had slow pick-up, and it cramped.  Add to that, mom and dad were heavy smokers.  Dad would chainsmoke the whole way and the inside of the car was like Cheech & Chong's van only without the payoff.  Seriously, even Texas pitmasters at BBQ competitions would have said it was too much smoke.  It was insane!

We would drive I-80 across Iowa.  That has to be the most boring drive in the world.  The highlight was sometimes Dad would take a bypass to drive by the Iowa State Capitol so we could see the golden dome.  Worse, we would actually arrive at Grandma's, and I was too young to drink the entire time.

Grandma was a horrible cook.  She was obsessed with left-overs.  If there was any leftovers, she would ran them at you two meals a day over and over until they were gone.  One Thanksgiving, she cooked the entire meal a day ahead, then deboned the turkey, covered it in a thin gravy, and re-heated it on Thanksgiving Day.

On another Thanksgiving, the same grandmother kept going behind my mom's back to alter the temperature of the oven baking the turkey, for some unknown reason.  It was horrible.  She would lurk and pounce over and over.  My mom was constantly having to re-adjust the temperature but the damage was done--it was the driest turkey ever.  The family was furious about it.  My other grandmother was furious and when she complained, the crazy one said, "I know, isn't it wonderful?"

Yes.  She loved her turkey dry as a fucking box of cat litter.  And worse, my dad said nothing to her about it.  We had about fifteen people over for dinner that day and every single one but her was furious at the ruined meal and my dad said nothing.

But the insanity eventually ended.  That Thanksgiving eventually slid into an awful Christmas.

After that, something wonderful happened--I got old enough to start my own traditions and made all new memories.  Some of them were pretty cool, too.  My first Thanksgiving in Korea was at Osan Air Base outside of Suwon.  I was with fellow Americans and it was incredible.

There were other Thanksgivings.  Some were better than others.  A couple of them I spent alone and I was okay with it, or so I told myself.  I told myself that it was okay to spend that day alone because I was tired and needed a day off.  In truth, I was lonely, and it really hurt.  That was back when I slipped into workaholism and worked a dead-end job seven days a week because it was easier to do that than try to fix my horrible life.  It was easier to work close to 70 hours a week than examine just how bad my situation was or how bad I felt.

Thanksgiving Day is a marker for us in our lives.  It's the day when we take pause, look around, and compare that day with other days from the past.  And for me, it was always a hard one for that very reason, because things weren't that great.

But things change.  I began to appreciate some of my family members.  Sure, some still piss me off, and I'd rather just avoid them.  And there's a lot fewer people at the gatherings due to age, divorce, and the grind of life.  Best of all, I became thankful for things I never would have noticed twenty years ago, because I took them for granted.

I'm lucky.  I'm one of the luckier people you'll meet.  Sure, I've never won the lottery, but it hasn't been that kind of luck.  The luck I've had has been in great people who were just the sort I needed being in my life at exactly the right times.  It didn't matter how rough the road got, there would always be a friend who just happened to have experience with those situations or had the perfect solution right there waiting for me.

You hear people talk about having an "attitude of gratitude" and while that phrase bugs me for its pithiness, the truth behind it becomes self-evident.

I'm lucky and I know it.  In recent weeks, it not only became more apparent, it came through in the form of simply feeling better.

I feel good.  Great, even.

The depression that has been eating away at me for months on end, for years, actually, has begun to lift.  I'm happier now than I've been in many years.  I won't say it's because of little things.  I don't believe in little things.

To talk about "little things" is to place a value on events in a world where small events can leave a large ripple.  There are no "little things" in the lives of people.  Everything and everybody is important.

Tonight I spent time with a cousin who is more like a little brother to me than a cousin.  I ate some good food (fucking turkey, again) and I finally got my mom some ice cream to try.  Sure, Dallas and Detroit won, but they can't lose all the time.  And I found out my car is capable of longer trips than just a few miles out of town.

Thanksgiving is about many things.  I'm thankful, yes, but probably for a long list of things that have nothing to do with this day and most likely would be ignored by others.

I'm thankful for people who read this blog.

So thank you, dear reader.  I hope you had a great time and if you go shopping on Black Friday, make sure you get a video of the chaos so we can all laugh.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Oh Crap...Change! And CUBS WIN!

As I write this, the Chicago Cubs have just won the World Series.  For you younger readers, you have no idea what that means, or how surreal it is to be able to say this.

I was born and raised a Cubs fan.  I even posted about what it was like on this blog a few times.  I have some great memories of fishing with my dad while listening to the Cubs on WGN, back when AM radio was still a thing.  My dad would have loved to have seen this.

I remember meeting Uncle Bob Collins.  My mom met him a few times, too.  My dad even called into Uncle Bob's radio show a couple of times.  Uncle Bob was WGN's top drive-time personality and eventually the top morning show in Chicago.  Uncle Bob was just as much of my memories of the Cubs as Harry Carey.

Yes, I'm a sappy sentimental, romantic person and so many guys like me tend to be Cubs fans. Maybe it's because all we had were memories while telling ourselves, "Well, there's always next year."

There was always an assumption the Cubs wouldn't win it all.  The Cubs would always be the lovable losers you cheered for but always knew they just wouldn't win it all.  It was something we just programmed into our lives.  The Cubs were the doormat of the National League and would not win.

But something happened.  Somehow, the Cubs have won the World Series.  And now everything changes.

When we talk about things that are impossible in this world, the Cubs winning the World Series was always in that list.  How many women told men, "I won't sleep with you until the Cubs win the World Series" in some mean-spirited taunt?

I have always looked at certain things in life as just part of the world we live in.  She won't go out with me.  I'll never find a better job.  Professionally, all I have to look forward to are dead-end jobs with no future.  I'll never make more money than just over minimum wage.

And now the Cubs have won the World Series and today I was offered a job working for a company in a field I'd always loved--hunting and fishing equipment.  Sure, I need to do some work to make it happen.  And everything is happening quickly.

But I want this and I need this.  And if the Cubs can win the World Series, then I can get this job.  I can get some more stories published this year.  I can get into more anthologies.  I can get my novel written and published.  I can find Her.  I can find the woman who makes me comfortable.  I can find a woman who won't press charges.

For most of the night, I've had anxiety.  I've worked for this company for eight years and I should have left a long time ago.  And now I've found myself in a position to leave and get into a company I really like for more money.  The sheer prospect of change made my head spin, my heart beat erratically, and I grew nauseous.  I'm not good with change.

It's fear.  I've been through a lot in my life.  Most of it was awful.  In the past, when I attempted to make positive changes in my life, those changes ended up with me getting hurt.  Life dropped me on my head a few too many times and I simply do not trust the potential of things.  There are no promises I believe in and there are no greener pastures out there.  If it looks green, I know for a fact it's a minefield, and there's a sniper out there just waiting for a clear shot.

For me, change has always meant opening myself up to loss and set-backs, and I have so little right now.  I cannot afford to lose what little I have worked so hard to attain.

I'm terrified of change.

You know that motivational poster that went around for a while?  The one where the person said, "But what if I fail?" and the response was, "but what if you fly?"  I hate that.  I've always hated it.  Odds and probability are more certain and the odds of me getting burned again always seem higher than the odds of moving upward and onward.

I'm terrified of change for some very good reasons.

But this job I've got right now has been like being at a party way past the end.  People have gone home, the place is a mess, there's no more booze, and everybody who is still there wants to go to bed.  I should have left this company a long time ago.  But I stayed because I was terrified of what's out there.  The harsh realities are swimming in the dark waters around me in search of unsuspecting victims.  I was determined not to let those harsh realities take more away from me.

So, I stayed.

But the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.  Impossible things can happen.  The Cubs were cursed and so was I.  But what I saw tonight and into the wee hours of the morning is what is looks like when a curse is broken.  And for the first time in a very long time, I feel like I live in a world where good things can actually happen to people who get their asses kicked as part of the routine of their lives.

If the Chicago Cubs can win the World Series, then I can leave my dead-end job, and go work at a company with a future and the potential for upward mobility, dealing with products I dearly love and enjoy.

I can do this.  And do this, I shall.

Go Cubs, Go!