Saturday, July 26, 2014

Watching Death From A Distance

I had to watch my beloved mother-in-law die in Murfreesboro, TN, three hours from the home my wife and I share in Cordova.  My wife was there for her mother in her last days.  I stayed here to watch the house, although if the vehicle we're using these days wasn't her uncle's aged pickup truck but rather something sturdier, I would have made the drive to be there.  It wouldn't have been easy for me, because I don't deal with death well, but I would have done it.

I'm sure I've talked on this blog somewhere about my emotions when my mother died in 1986 when I was ten years old.  I basically shut down emotionally, refusing to go to her bedside for her final days and refusing to go to her funeral.  Pretty immature, even for a ten-year-old, but I guess I just wanted to pretend it didn't happen or that it wasn't a big deal, even though it was the most shocking moment of my life.  I haven't had to deal with much death since.  My grandmother raised me after my mom died, then she kicked in 1994 right after I completed high school.  She had been sick, so it wasn't a big shock, and I was able to absorb that loss much easier.  I've attended two funerals since--my grandmother's two brothers around a decade and a half ago.  So my reaction to seeing my mother-in-law dying had I been there probably would have been some version of an emotional shutdown because it was a sudden and swift illness--an ovarian cancer and kidney failure combo--and I would have been in a position with which I'm not very familiar.  My wife said she wanted me there to support her during that very stressful two weeks, but I'm not sure if I would have provided anything besides a shoulder.

My wife had to watch it happen right in front of her, and she's been dealing with it predictably, sobbing at Outback during our first dinner after she returned home.  I basically got a play-by-play over the phone for that two-week period--the hospital stay, the surgery, the complications, the digestive system breakdown, the dialysis treatments, the doctor's conflicting diagnoses, the eventual decision that it wasn't going to work out and the in-home hospice care that wasn't very caring on the final night.  My wife was the last voice she heard.  "Don't be afraid to walk into Jesus's arms," my wife whispered to her, and seconds later, she stopped breathing.  I was asleep when she died.  My wife called four times, then finally gave up and texted me, "Mom just died."  When I saw all the missed calls the next morning, I knew before I even read the text.

It was a rough couple of weeks for me.  You may not think it would be seeing that I wasn't there watching it happen like my wife was.  And I'm not saying it was anywhere near as rough as she had it.  But I had shit going on inside of me as well.  I had a lot of guilt for not being there for my wife, and also not being there for my mother-in-law, who I'm sure would have liked to have my support.  I had a deep sense of loss because I just gained a new mother three years ago when I married her only daughter, and before I could really have a bonding conversation or some kind of intimate talk where we get beneath the surface and really get to know each other, she was gone.  I had a nagging guilt for signing up for scoring Memphis Redbirds baseball games once I knew my wife was going to be in Murfreesboro for a while, before we knew her mother was dying.  The night she died, I was asleep because I was tired from working a baseball game that day and then driving to a wrestling match that night.  I guess I felt like taking advantage of my bachelor status to enjoy myself to the fullest, but afterwards, I always felt like a little turd, running around like a kid whose parents left town and left him the car.  And naturally, there was the mortality that everyone contemplates when someone close dies.  I've had issues with my mortality ever since I almost passed out during that cruise last summer, and almost every day, I choose to eat bad foods and not exercise and I beat myself up for doing it and I wonder how many days can I waste doing that before I pass out permanently, and then I do it again the next day.  Yes, that's a really crappy way to live, and I'm going to see a therapist next week.

The memorial service was very nice, but the moment that got to me emotionally was a little odd, which is perfect for me since I feel a little odd every second of my life.  It was seeing a poster board at the entrance of the church where well-wishers could write messages for the deceased, and the first message was from two women who were longtime friends of my mother-in-law.  They dubbed themselves "The Three Musketeers."  When the minister asked for volunteers to share memories, one of the Three Musketeers was the first to stand up, before any family members or other friends, and something about hearing her speak made me think about the only friend I have, "Jacob," and what he's going to say at my memorial (probably some off-color stories).  That touched me.  Seeing friends cry hard and talk about how much they missed their buddy reminded me of how fortunate you are if you have friends who love you that much.  Or maybe I was affected by the thought of how many people I knew during my time on Earth who wouldn't be at my funeral because we have lost touch.  Or because they don't care about me.  I try to be a tough guy on the outside and act like I don't give a fuck about anyone who did me wrong, but I guess I'm not as tough as I try to be.  I hate that "Ronnie" and I spent that much time together and we won't be there for each other now that we're older and hopefully more mature.  I hate all those moments I spent with "Karen" and "Torrie" and "Sarah" and The Co-Worker Who Shall Remain Nameless and "Giselle," none of whom I anticipate ever seeing again.  I hate that I'm nowhere near my family and Jacob and "Drew" logistically, so if I do keel over after another chicken tender at Gus's, they wouldn't be able to make it down here in time to say goodbye.  All those thoughts flashed before me during the service.  I stood up and spoke about my mother-in-law, about how nice she was to me, as she was to everyone, and how she had four pictures from our wedding on her shelves, which is three more pictures than we have of our own wedding.  Then we sat around at the church for a few hours sharing stories and fellowship and, for some of us, bringing the excruciating last few weeks to a close.

We'll be dealing with the aftermath for a while emotionally and in a tangible way.  My wife has to slog through a lot of paperwork in settling the estate, and soon we'll have to drive back to the home and clean it out in preparation to try to sell it.  We have her mother's car, a Honda Accord, and my wife bequeathed me her mother's laptop computer, so there are daily reminders of her here at home.  We'll be planning a trip to Florida to scatter her mother's ashes into the ocean.  What my wife has told me she has really taken away is how loved her mother was.  People came through to wish her well during her illness, and no one had an ill word for her ever.  "I have big shoes to fill," my wife said.  We should all have such a legacy.

Rest in peace Mama Howell.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Four Words For The Next Elliot Rodger: They're Not Worth It

That could have been me.

I watched a couple of Saturdays ago, ironically the weekend of the tenth anniversary of me spending Memorial Day weekend in a psych ward, as CNN reported on the shootings near the campus of California-Santa Barbara carried out by a male teenage virgin frustrated at emotional and sexual rejection by girls, and I had to think about my own mental frailties when it came to women.  There have been many killings over the years by people who were pushed over the edge by the treatment of others, but this and the Columbine killings spoke directly to me.  Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were bullied and punished daily by high-schoolers who felt they didn't fit in, and the result of that was Columbine, and I almost got their names tattooed on me when it happened because I could identify.  I don't necessarily condone killing people who make you feel bad, but like Chris Rock would say, "I understand."  The same goes for Elliot Rodger.  I don't condone stabbing guys and running over random people before opening fire on more random people, but I get it.  Rodger felt like the last guy in the world that girls would desire, and living with that thought was too much for him.  Nobody gets that more than me.

Even before the situation with "Karen" made me decide to check myself into a mental institution in May 2004, I had thoughts about women and society and rejection that could have morphed into me going homicidal if I wanted access to firearms.  I can't pinpoint where in my childhood I went off the rails, but I still remember the names of my kindergarten (Laurie), 1st grade (Petra), 2nd grade (Margaret), 3rd grade (Kyra), 4th through 6th grade (Lisa), junior high (Tammi), and young adult crushes, all unrequited, and how disappointed and angry I got when I didn't get what I wanted.  I've learned from the media coverage of Rodger that there's a name for what I was feeling--Entitled.  Funny, I never felt like I was entitled, but if the experts say I did, I guess it must be true.  Anyway, I endured puberty with the raging hormones and active imagination of many males my age, but I also had obesity, a penchant for overdramatizing, a lack of class, and an obvious desperation, probably stemming from losing my mother at age ten.  So it's not surprising looking back that I wasn't successful.  But the pain of being what Rodger and certain chat room occupants of his ilk would call "InCel," or involuntarily celibate, hurt very badly.

I didn't have a manifesto exactly, but I have a black folder of poems and songs and short stories that I wrote over the course of my twenties, when I was coming up with writing ideas and being creative, before gambling and depression and everyday living sapped me of the energy.  Here's a small sampling of the anger and resentment of women that pumped through me back then:


Thought you were a nice girl
Then I saw you drunk
Thought you had good taste in men
Then I saw you with that punk
My Last Endeavor

...Why do so many feel the need to hurt me
When all I'm looking for is hope?
If I open up to many more users
I may reach the end of my rope

This is my last endeavor
I can't take much more pain
This is my last endeavor
Think I'm gonna go insane...

...I discover that women are brought up with the notion that the intelligent kid with the innocent qualities and physical flaws is the worst available.  Beat up women?  More desirable than me.  Do drugs?  Smoke?  Hey, that's sexy today.  Have a horrible personality but work out?  You can't keep the girls away from you.  Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a parallel universe.  This world makes no Goddamn sense.
What's It Like?

What's it like to be beautiful?
To look good and be adored?
What's it like to receive attention?
I'd like to know

What's it like to be with someone?
Someone who is there for you?
What's it like to have an actual partner?
I'd love to know...

They say you must love yourself
Before anyone else can
But they don't say what it's like
When no one else cares
When you don't matter
To the rest of the world...
Self-Loathing: The Remix

...Where's my soul mate, where's my love
Women want to use me and then drop me from above
Step on my broken heart with their six-inch heels
And no one else in the world knows how it feels...

And there's so much more:  The rape fantasy short story about a woman who rejected me in real life (she falls for me and has real sex with me at the end), the outline for a longer story, or maybe a novel, called "The Greatest Summer Of My Life," which was about a fed-up young man seeking out every woman who scorned him and going on a killing spree...yes, it was that bad in my head for a long time.  I haven't actually found any of Elliot Rodger's manifestos or videos and watched them because, frankly, I'm frightened at how much like me he might sound.  I don't need to be confronted with precisely how sociopathic I might have been at the apex of my anger at the world.  I'm legitimately surprised at how much of my writing was just that angry.  I mean, I knew obviously, but I didn't realize to what extent.

Again, I'm the guy that blew a gasket at a woman secretly running a sex club even though I was cheating on her, so my irrational anger at women is already very well-documented on this here blog.  There are other recountings of my dealings with girls and women through the years, but I don't want to list them on this post.  My point is, if you didn't think you knew of a man carrying the kind of nuclear hatred that it took for Rodger to do what he did, look around.  You may be surprised.  And if you're male and you didn't think other guys understood your struggle, well, most of them don't, but I do.  And I've come out the other end of that shit to tell you that eventually, believe it or not, no matter how lonely you are, it turns out alright.

Ignore the fact that I'm married to a sweet, intelligent woman who's way out of my league in terms of how good she is.  It started to get better before I met her.  Going back to my blog postings in 2006, after the "Shelley" experiment in which I dated the most vile, mean woman in the world just to see how long she would treat me like shit, I was showing signs of figuring out that whole "Love yourself" thing that I referenced in the above poem "What's It Like?"  That was the whole key.  I had to finally realize that I have to take care of myself in this world above anything else, and if I meet someone along the way, fine, but that's not the purpose.  In other words, the pussy ain't worth the struggle.  Now, figuring that out came at the same time as passing age 30, which now, at age 38, sure feels like I passed some threshold where my testosterone has dropped off drastically and took the edge off.  So perhaps it goes hand-in-hand with mentally coming to grips with the fact that no one else was going to give a fuck about me.  But I know this:  From puberty to about that same age 30, I was a ravenously horny young man, willing to screw anything that moved, and my pursuit of sex consumed me and made me make some incredibly shitty decisions, and that cut off after "Grace" the one-night stand, which happened two weeks after my 30th birthday.  I must admit, I don't miss feeling like getting pussy is the beginning and end of my existence.

But I actually feel terrible for the guys who are still sort of prisoners of their own cocks, unable to see their lives past the asses of the girls walking in front of them.  It sucks.  From what I've heard of the guys who got laid regularly, it still sorta sucked because without meaning, it was a series of empty endeavors.  My problem was, once I got a nice run of empty endeavors, I put meaning behind them where my partners weren't necessarily looking for that.  So what would I suggest for the young men who feel like me and like Elliot Rodger?

This three-step process:  First, no matter how hard it is, tell yourself that they're not worth it.  If you're being driven crazy by ladies choosing other guys over you, I empathize, but you need to stop.  Women will do what they want with their bodies and their hearts, and if you do what you can to persuade them and it doesn't work, that's not the be all and end all.  It's their loss.  Some will even use your lust of them against you and tease you.  It's okay.  You're going to listen to your lovers and please them in and out of bed and treat them as well as possible, and if you keep striking out, that's just a long list of females that missed out on an opportunity.  Second, you have got to keep steppin' and do your thing.  I had to talk to myself in a mirror for a full hour in order to start the process of living my life for myself and not for the pursuit of pussy.  Whatever you have to do, do it.  But at the end of the day, you have to come to the realization that there is a world out there chock full of things that bring you pleasure, whether it's sports, art, music, food, television, movies, or sitting in a park looking at petunias, or cars, or the clouds, or whatever.  You have your career, your education, your health, your living space--you have a plethora of things on which to focus and improve yourself and be the best you can be.  The pussy almost definitely will come once you focus on those things--"love yourself"--because people are more attracted to those who are not desperately seeking love.  Seems a little cruel and unfair, but that's how it works.  Third, there is a media assault on libidos for the sake of selling things, and I think if you're frustrated by girl problems, you should avoid images and news that throw it back in your face.  It's in our nature as men to find beauty in women, so it's very difficult to take our eyes away from them, but you may have to.  Use the information that men respond to visual stimulation to your advantage and avoid that stimuli.  Nothing drove me crazier than seeing couples walking around because to me it was a gaggle of women choosing someone other than me and telling me to fuck off by parading in front of me.  They weren't doing that on purpose, of course.  But if it hurts to see hot women because you want them so bad, then don't look at them.  The knockout in your classroom every day that gives you a hard-on just walking through the hall?  You control your eyes, not her.  Look somewhere else.  The porn star in your dreams every night?  If you're starting to obsess, find a new hobby.  Can't believe Kim Kardashian married that prick Kanye?  Don't go to looking for the latest updates.  That red-headed hottie in the car commercial?  She's there to sell cars, dumbass.  She doesn't care about you.  It's not easy to avoid beautiful women, but if they're driving you nuts, then they're not worth the short-term pleasure of looking at them.

And finally, you can add this as a last step because it's made a big difference for me:  Stop caring what women think of your thoughts and desires.  You're never going to arrive at a stage of enlightenment until you're honest with yourself about what you're going through.  I hid a lot of my frustration because I was afraid of what women would think.  I didn't hide all of it, but I've only let two people sift through that black folder full of my innermost rage--an older woman who acted as sort of a surrogate mother, and my wife.  I felt shame for years and years.  I felt like I was the only man going through these issues.  Only now that I'm older do I realize that if I had spoken more openly about my feelings, I would have found others wanting to have a similar dialogue, and by talking more, I would have rid myself of some of the rage that made me write those hateful things.  When I think of where I am now mentally, it's so much different than it was back when I was Elliot Rodger's age.  I'm telling all you guys feeling like him, hang on.  Life gets better.  Navigate those tough waters, as hard as it is and as long as it takes, because life does get better.  Even if I were single today, it would still be better.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Can't Sleep, So I Type

Ever since I got this CPAP mask for my sleep apnea, it's been a very rare occasion when I have not been able to go back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night.  But this is one of those nights, which is now not night but rather early Saturday morning before I trudge off to work.  I've been awake for two hours but it's felt like all night, and I actually don't know why.  I didn't have caffeine after my second cup of coffee yesterday morning.  I may have been a little amped up watching the two college basketball games that ended around the same time last night after 11P, but I managed to fall asleep within an hour of those conclusions.  I just woke up around 3:30A and never fell back asleep.  I may have had failed relationships on my mind subconsciously because I ran through them in my mind as I attempted to fall back asleep, but it didn't work to make me sleepy this time, just more and more anxious.  So I'm typing out some of my anxieties in an attempt to help the time pass before I have to shower and go to work, and also to try to hash out some of what could be on my mind that made me not fall back asleep for the first time in a long, long time.

Before the thoughts of past failed relationships clouded my head a couple of hours ago, I had a somewhat stressful past week living the ups and downs of the college basketball tournament, and that certainly needs to be explained by me because the tournament by itself is no reason to stress anyone out.  But you may have heard about billionaire Warren Buffett announcing the concept of giving away one billion dollars--$1,000,000,000!!--for free to any schlub who signed up for his bracket challenge and submitted a perfect bracket, that is, predicted all six rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament correctly before the tournament began.  That's a 64-team bracket, 63 games to predict correctly, and the odds of anyone doing it are so astronomical that I won't even go Google it again because it's depressing.  But I signed up anyway because I always sign up for these bracket challenges, even when the prize is a Best Buy gift card or something else relatively meaningless, because it's always free to sign up for these things, and why can't I have the best bracket someday?  I can get lucky, right?  Well, the first day of the tournament was last Thursday, and I was off work because it's my normal off day, and so I got to watch live as the first game of the day was an upset that I predicted correctly...then the rest of those first games all went in my favor...then the second slate of games all went in my favor...then I started humblebragging on Twitter about my perfect afternoon...then Dove Men + Care started Tweeting at me from out of nowhere asking for my upset picks for the evening games, of which I only had one...then the evening games played out in unreal fashion with three different overtime nail-biters, including one where the team I picked was losing by double digits late in the game but somehow rallied to force OT, and then all of those picks won, including my only upset pick of the night...then I go to sleep and wake up to see that the late games all went my way, capping off a perfect 16-0 first day.  I went to work absolutely flying high.  My brain kept bouncing the impossibility of a perfect bracket off the improbability of a perfect first day, and if I did that, why couldn't I keep it going, even though it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with which random team of 20-year-olds would decide not to show up that day and lose a game they should win?  And what would my wife and I do with a billion dollars, and if Warren Buffett offered a buyout with three games to go, should I take it or negotiate or let it roll, and...the first game of the second day was Duke getting upset by some school I never heard of, and there went the dream.  I had to watch the score slowly updating on my phone because I was on my lunch break, so that made it even more excruciating than if I were watching live.  At least watching I can curse at the screen or something.  The real stress came when I got home that night and read the rules of the Warren Buffett bracket contest and saw that the top 20 brackets each won $100,000.  This money was absolutely within my grasp because I didn't have to have a perfect bracket, but rather just have a bracket better than almost everyone else, and that's still right there for me because I had only lost one game through the first 24 played, and I can pay all my bills and get a new car with that money, and go back to school, and it's still life-changing...and then I lost two more games Friday night, and one of those teams was one of my Final Four, basically fucking up any chance I had of having a top-20 bracket.  I took more losses last weekend, and then last night, Louisville lost, and that was my championship prediction, and now there's completely no way I'm going to make anything off of this tournament, even with that perfect first day, and Dove Men + Care isn't Tweeting me anymore, and the podcast I did with "Jacob" the night before the tourney began documenting all of our picks that I thought would be out there as testament to my genius is instead just another set of ramblings by a loser, and I'm back to square one financially, and I don't know if that's the reason I couldn't sleep, but it may have been even though I really haven't thought about the game since it ended.  But if you know me or have read this blog, you know that it doesn't take a whole lot to set off insecurities inside me about being a loser in life and coming up short and not being good enough.

That brought me to lying in bed at 3:30A cycling through all of my failed relationships, not just women, although almost all of them women, but "Ronnie" and even my dad as well.  I didn't jump mentally to wanting to cycle through all of my failed relationships, that's just where my mind went hours after losing a big game in which I was invested even though I don't gamble any more.  When I lose, I feel like a big loser, and it weighs on me.  I guess that's why I was picking through all of my relationships, sexual or not.  Speaking of weight, that's another issue I've been battling lately.  I mean, I've always been a fat ass, but I had the health scare last year and the diabetes and high blood pressure crap my doctor dropped on me, and I improved my diet a little after that, but I've gone back to eating bad things, salty, sugary things, a lot, like, at least three sugary treats a day even when I don't intend to indulge, and I still feel like I could stop any time I really wanted to apply myself, but the truth is, I probably would fail at that too and cheat.  Unless I leave my wallet at home and refuse to bring cookies and candy into the house, I am going to indulge when I get that craving because that craving is almost as strong as a sexual craving that would make me take liberties with a woman because I want nothing more at that moment than that woman.  I'm sure there's a simple chemical explanation for it, but the same "I shouldn't but I can't help myself" craving that I have when I buy a sweet snack from the vending machine at work feels very much like the same craving I had when I was dating "Karen" but went on the internet and saw pictures of "Sarah" with clothespins on her nipples and sent e-mails to her telling her how hard she made my dick and how I had to have her.  It's the same craving I had when I was dating Sarah yet felt compelled to flirt online with her daughter "Elaine," and the same craving when I lied to Sarah over the phone and told her that my co-worker and I were having an innocent dinner date while that co-worker had her legs wrapped around my waist.  It feels like something bigger than me.  It feels like if I don't answer that urge RIGHT DAMN NOW, my mind is going to explode, and in one swift motion, I'm typing that e-mail to Sarah, I'm typing that IM to The Co-Worker Who Shall Not Be Named and asking her to fuck me, I'm in a hotel room trying to fuck Susan's daughter and her best friend, and once I get what I want, then everything's all good in my world, until I get that next craving.  (Oh, and I've had that craving occur during my marriage.  I've stopped myself from indulging other women, but I remember how strong that craving was when I was in my 20s, and I don't think I would have stopped myself.)  The problem with answering the food urge is, I'm close to 400 lbs. and feel like shit most days, and I'm going to Chicago next weekend and I have to get around using public transportation because I don't have a car up there, and however lazy I was when I lived there, I'm worse now because I don't have to walk anywhere, and I'm anxious because I'm going to not enjoy my time up there as much as I want because I'm going to be so tired, and it pisses me off.  I don't know with all this technology why I can't buy something that gets rid of 100 lbs. and gives me energy and lung capacity in about 15 minutes.  Oh, and my uncle has been arranging conference calls with the folks who went with him on that cruise last year to discuss another cruise next May to the Caribbean or maybe Cozumel, Mexico, and what happened on last year's cruise?  Oh yeah, my obese ass nearly passed out on the beach and had to be carted back to the boat.  So as much fun as my wife and I had, talking about a new cruise brings back in my mind the anxiety over losing weight, and saving the money to pay for it, which brings back the anxiety over missing out on free money because of the college basketball games, and really ties it all together for me.  Add in my coffee addiction (honestly, I can't go one morning now without a cup of coffee, and usually two), and my wife and I not connecting well lately between our being tired from work and all of the attention I pay to sports, and somewhere in all of that is the reason I was so anxious that I couldn't fall back asleep three and a half hours ago.  And now it's time for me to go to work.  This should be some day.  I imagine with my lack of sleep and dredging up all sorts of old memories, I'm liable to snap and curse someone out if they get on my bad side.  Hope I still have a job next time I write.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

38 Years Of Gluttony

The time has come in my life to either change my relationship with food or succumb to its temptations and die of obesity.  A couple of weeks after my wife and I returned from that cruise in which I almost passed out from the heat despite not really exerting all that much energy, I was at home alone having some kind of arthritic pain in my foot that made me search for some medicine.  I couldn't find any aspirin or ibuprofen in the house, but I came across some Oxycontin that my dentist gave me two years ago when I had some teeth yanked.  I actually contemplated taking more than one, but thankfully, I only popped one.  I'm still paying for it financially.  That one old, poisonous Oxy pill an hour later had me shaking, sweating profusely, heart racing, then it made me vomit, and I'm so dumb that I honestly wondered if I was just having a heart attack, so I called 911 and took my first ambulance ride, which cost about $1400 after insurance knocked $1500 off the top.  The emergency room doc concluded that it probably was a reaction from the Oxy that made me go through all that, but I am obese, so he referred me to a regular doctor just to get checked out.  That regular doc ran blood tests that revealed me to be a borderline diabetic.  We know by now what comes with a diagnosis of diabetes--that list of foodstuff of which you're supposed to restrict consumption.  Sugars, starches, cake, cookies, bread, soda, chips, you know, anything that actually tastes good.  So for the last few months, I've been watching what I eat as carefully as I ever have, which isn't all that careful, really.  Now, a twist in the narrative is that being borderline diabetic, the doctor told me to check my glucose every morning for two weeks and change my diet and exercise a little and see if that dropped me below the threshold where I technically wouldn't be a diabetic, and if I could manage to do that, I wouldn't have to go on any kind of medicine to slow down the way my body absorbs carbohydrates, which is what my wife has to do.  And I did it!  I've done a ten-minute power-walking exercise that I found On Demand maybe five or six times, but that's more than I usually exercise.  And I've made myself stop and think before I take that fudge cookie or Pop-Tart and contemplate if I'm hungry and eating this legitimately or if I'm just looking for a sweet flavor for my mouth, and if I'm just looking for sweets, then I'll deny myself the food totally or go for a healthier option, like an apple or banana or even the fruit gummy snacks, which aren't healthy but are better than a Snickers.

It's a situation that threatens to drive me bananas, pun intended.  My relationship with food is such that I've always gone for the extra portion, the appetizer, the dessert, the side dish, everything I could get my hands on, I consumed it.  There's a couple of reasons for that, I believe.  One is that I've had an underlying unhappiness with life that had made me use food as a substitute for fulfillment.  The other is that being poor all my life, I learned early on to take everything I could get my hands on because I don't want to waste anything.  My wife is amazed at the expired or unappealing food that I will shove down my throat just because I don't want to throw it away.  So to look at cookies and Pop-Tarts in my cabinet and constantly turn away because I'm not actually hungry has been challenging and difficult.  And to choose items on restaurant menus that give me a vegetable as a side dish over mac and cheese or mashed potatoes has been difficult too.  The fact that the doctor says my diabetes is being managed by my choices is the only thing giving me hope that I can keep this up as I enter my 38th year on Planetdre.  I have to keep making the right choices to stay around and enjoy life, and I have to step it up and exercise regularly as well if I want to go on another cruise and not drop dead.  There's all kind of obstacles in my way.  Eating healthier is expensive in this country because, like housing and education, it's something earned by the privileged.  Exercising in the midst of a workweek that grinds you down is very hard, especially if you've never been disciplined enough to work out before.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.  Next year, I have to do better for myself.  Whether that means going full OCD and making an exercise schedule and diet regime or what, I don't know.  But I'm kinda interested in doing that just to see if I could pull it off.  There's always the fear of trying something ambitious and failing.  That will always be inside me as well.  But ultimately, those are all just excuses.  I took a motherfuckin' ambulance ride.  Maybe because of the Oxy, but maybe not.  If I want to avoid the helplessness of that feeling, I have to change.  The gluttony and eating as much as I can has to change.  I'm not hanging out with the guys at the all-you-can-eat prime rib joint anymore.  I have nothing to prove to anyone by seeing if I can take down that footlong sub sandwich with double meat.  The six-inch flatbread will do just fine, thanks.  There will be nothing easy about it.  But it has to be done.

No more excuses.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Wonderful, Terrible Experience: The Planetdre Cruise Review

It was everything one could imagine, for good and for bad.  I had a great time, the most fun I've had probably in any one-week period, and I would certainly do it again.  Also, I'm sitting here with a cough and sore throat and chest that I've had ever since the next-to-last day of the cruise, no doubt an illness my wife and I contracted through the unchecked petri dish that is a cruise ship.  It will result in this post being somewhat abbreviated, since I've been so sick since getting back that I'm sure I will forget some details.  Oh yeah, and I almost passed out from the heat.  Let's get this party started!

Our adventure began last Sunday, July 21.  The wife and I packed up our suitcases and carry-on bags and headed to Memphis International Airport, where we watched her 2001 Corolla sputter and shut off the moment we made it to the airport parking lot.  Poor Bessie carried us as far as she could.  But since the car has cut off before and started right back up, we assumed (and hoped and prayed) that it would be all good for our return trip home in a week.  We chose the economy parking lot because picking the lot closer to the terminals was $5 more per day, and we didn't know how much money we'd have left by the time this trip was over.  Saving every little penny is what allowed us to take the cruise in the first place, so we weren't going to stop now.  The hustle with our luggage through the walkways and hallways was a burden, but we were making great time, so we stopped at Cinnabon, which had a burrito place next to it, and we had lunch.  The flight to Miami left and landed on time.  The approach to landing in Miami was breathtaking.  So much water!  And such beautiful looking resorts and swimming pools, especially in Doral, which we couldn't afford to stay.  I assumed the place with the huge fountain that looked like an outdoor palace was the Fountainbleau, again, out of our price range.  The wife had us set up at the InterContinental, which wasn't a fleabag at all, but it wasn't some $1,000-per-night posh castle.  As I expected from a busy cosmopolitan city like Miami, there were cabs in front of the hotel ready to be flagged down, but the first one I tried to hire asked me where we were going, heard InterContinental, shook his head, and drove off.  That was a surprise.  I didn't think this place was an unreasonable request, seeing that the wife chose it because of its close proximity to the airport and also the Port of Miami, where we would catch our boat the next day.  We nervously flagged down another cabbie who decided to take us on our way.  Something about our clothes or demeanor or something prompted him to ask, without us saying anything, "So, you're in town to take a cruise tomorrow?"  This would become a theme for our stay in Miami, as no less than four different people guessed that about us.  I guess nobody in their right mind takes big suitcases to Miami and just stays there.  Kinda sad.  I loved Miami for the night I was there.  Colorful, vibrant, everyone walking around seemed to be engaged in a loud, engrossing conversation, although half of them were in Spanglish and therefore unintelligible.  There's one or two apartment buildings in all of Chicago the pink-peach color of most of the Miami skyline.  It's awesome.  Dancing seductively on the windows of our 30+-story hotel viewable from the outside was a woman's silhouette.  A Christmas-color tour boat floated along the water outside, partying and carrying on past 10P local time.  A selfie I took of myself outside the hotel captured the overhang turning purple because it turned different colors for no apparent reason other than this is Miami.  Oh, and two women walked off the elevator as we were walking on that could not have been anything other than prostitutes based on their attire and makeup.  A guy who was with his wife turned all the way around to stare, ignoring the spouse on the other side of him.   They were behind us, so yeah, I was turned all the way around, too.  "Welcome to Miami, huh!" I said to the guy.  He smiled broadly.  In related news, I'm moving to Miami if I ever get divorced.

The InterContinental was first class all the way.  The room was gorgeous.  The minibar had a note that said they would send in a team and clear the bar out of the fridge if you want to use it for your own food, at a small charge of $25.  The tiny Pringles and M&Ms cans were $5.  Each.  So was the bottle of water.  Our room service came out to over $80, and all we had was a salad, a shrimp cocktail, two Cuban sandwiches, and a can of ginger ale.  The wife couldn't finish her Cuban, but she couldn't save it in the fridge because that note made it seem like we would be charged just for moving shit around.  She actually kept the packets of mayo and Dijon mustard and took them on the cruise because they were so big and flavorful, although she didn't use them.  That Cuban sandwich was the bomb.  We both loved it.  I figured I'd get the best Cuban I ever had in Miami, and I was right, but I didn't think it would be from a hotel.  But room service was our best option because a food court more than a half mile away and a pricey restaurant downstairs were the only other food choices, and after the walking and traveling to leave Memphis, we weren't up for the half-mile trek.  The bathroom had a two-head shower, presumably for two extroverts to get dirty and clean together.  Instead of a clock radio, there was an iPod dock with a clock.  Fancy.  There were people racing each other on speedboats in the water right outside our 29th-floor room, and we could hear them clearly through our thin windows.  We saw a yacht sail in that looked pretty big from our room and absolutely monstrous when we went downstairs and stood next to it.  It was so big, it had four tables with four chairs each in a corner of the yacht for dinners.  And the next morning, we saw four or five cruise ships pull in across the water, and our mouths dropped.  These ships were enormous!  And ours was the Carnival Victory, and it was the biggest of them all.  Twelve stories, a billion feet long, with this whale's tail design sticking up from the top that made it even taller.  We had breakfast downstairs, checked out, and caught a cab to our ship.

My uncle, who arranged this whole thing, was texting me that morning, as he and his family were staying in Fort Lauderdale, about 25 miles from Miami.  But they actually beat us to the boat.  Official departure was at 4P, and we got there at just past 1, but they were already on the ship and eating lunch.  And we thought we were early.  Embarking the boat, we got separated from our luggage.  The process is such that you have to give up your big luggage to the crew so they can deliver them to your room later, allowing you to take your carry-on luggage through the embarkation without being weighed down.  It went very smoothly.  We showed our passports, went through screening, received our stateroom keys which doubled as our on-board credit cards, bought the Bottomless Bubbles program which allowed both of us to receive endless soft drinks for the whole cruise at a cost of about $36 each, took pics, and wound up on the 9th floor, where a pool was already being utilized by early boarders and where food was being served.  And that right there is probably why we got sick--the 9th floor, where there were lines for deli sandwiches and pizza and burgers and buffets, also contained swimming pools and whirlpools, where anyone could get half-naked and spread their germs around.  One could jump in a pool, pick up something disgusting from a fellow cruiser, and then immediately get in line for pizza, dripping and leaving sweat (and other fluids) on the counters and walls.  I almost pulled a muscle walking through the pool area to get to the food because I kept slipping on all the water (and other fluids).  Ick, ick, ick.

Anyway, we found a mother and daughter who used to bowl with my uncle and me, and we sat with them for an hour because they told us that our rooms would not be ready until 1:30.  An announcement came over the speakers that said our rooms were all now ready, and it was indeed a little after 1:30.  After my uncle and his family found us and greeted us, we made our way to our room on the 1st floor.  Great, if this ship goes down, we'll be the first ones wet.  The room was a nice size, with two twin beds shoved together to make a king size bed, and also a couch and a chair with footstool facing a mirror.  The bathroom was small, with only a stand-up shower, a toilet, and one facebowl.  The TV, which was not a flat screen and had a fuzzy display, was tuned to a repeating 10-minute tutorial to prepare us for a mandatory boat-wide safety demonstration scheduled for around 3:30, right before our 4:00 sail.  This turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.  The tutorial warned us that elevators would not be available during this time, so once we figured out that our section of the boat would have to go to the 4th floor for this thing, I became concerned about climbing three flights of stairs.  I wasn't thrilled about the possibility, but I was worried about my 5-foot-3, not-so-thin wife, who really struggles on stairs.  She didn't seem to think that the elevators would be out for this exercise, but indeed they were, so there we were on the stairs, climbing to the 4th floor and standing next to other sweaty, out-of-breath vacationers wondering how long this damn thing was going to take.  I could feel the sweat dripping off of my head.  We stood for a good ten minutes waiting for late stragglers to arrive.  An asshole behind us actually yelled, "Hey guys, thanks for coming on time!"  I didn't think that was necessary.  We get it, you were here on time and now you're being inconvenienced waiting for the others.  Who fucking cares.  Yelling at them won't solve the issue.  We finally watched the crew execute the drill teaching us how to put on life jackets in case of emergency, which took about 15 minutes because there were so many steps.  Then we were dismissed by section over the loudspeaker, prompting a big cheer by everyone as if we were 8th-graders who had just been told we had been let out of school for the summer.

My wife then made the first of several moves that proved once and for all that she is in the better shape between us two and that I am the lazier of the two:  We waited for elevators for a couple of minutes to take us to the 9th floor, where we could watch the boat sail off and take pictures, then she started up the stairs.  I thought she was just going to the 5th floor to catch that elevator, but she didn't stop.  She kept going, floor by floor, stopping to catch her breath at the 8th floor, and when I started walking towards the elevators to get to the 9th, she scoffed and headed up the stairs for one more flight.  I followed behind, and our pics of us as we set sail show a perfectly fine wife and a smiling me just drenched in sweat and worn out.  I honestly was shocked that she decided to do nine flights of stairs in all.  Just on a whim.  Between this day and running through the airport the day before, my vacation was off to a very tiring start.

Our dinners were scheduled in the main dining rooms by time, so we always had a choice--eat dinner on the 9th floor in the cafeteria with the other disease carriers, or join our people in our assigned seats in the main dining room with a classier menu and dress code.  We chose to eat with our people every night at 8:15, but the first night, there was an issue:  We decided to be early so as to make sure we were seated on time because we heard that the table may not get served if everyone isn't there at the assigned time.  However, the staff decided that punctuality was important to them as well.  So we stood in the lobby of our main dining room at 8:10 with everyone else, waiting for the doors to be opened.  It got humid quick as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other hungry people.  I could see workers cleaning and setting up tables in the dining room, so it looked like this wasn't just an issue of making us wait until our assigned times, but also, they weren't quite ready yet.  Finally they let us in, but the head chef, a native of India with a thick accent, tried telling us all where we were supposed to go according to our table numbers.  It was a fail.  Almost everyone wound up walking up to him and asking him where to go.  This guy was also our personal waiter, as it turned out, so the language barrier continued to be a problem.  Many times during the week someone from our party requested something from our waiter, only to have him bring something else.  But his overall service was very good, and the food was exquisite.  Prime rib, salmon, Mahi Mahi, shit I can't pronounce--it was all good.  He even played some magic tricks on us, dabbing some chocolate sauce on the backs of my older cousin's hands, putting a handkerchief over them, saying some kind of incantations, and winding up with the chocolate off of the back of her hands but now on the palms.  We decided that we shouldn't criticize the food at that point even if we didn't like it, because who knew what this chef dude was capable of.  He also brought out a congratulations cake for my uncle, who got his Master's and retired.  He still doesn't know who arranged the surprise cake, but he's going to get that person, because it was a big surprise, with the other waiters coming over and singing "Happy Congratulations to you!" and embarrassing him in a major way.  I wish I could take credit, but I'm not bright enough to think this one up.  The one other memorable thing about our dinners in the main dining room is that the waiter didn't bother himself with fetching our drinks.  There was a clear hierarchy where the other waiters under him got water and lemonade for us, and if we wanted something else, he would send over the bartender.  Well, the bartender found out what every other drink server found out during the cruise:  My wife and I don't do booze, and we have the Bottomless Bubbles sticker on our card, so not only do you have to fetch us soft drinks, but you're not getting paid for them, and you're not getting tipped.  And why aren't they getting tipped?  Oh, I didn't tell you that they charge tips to your room key/charge card automatically, in bulk, up front, for every day on the cruise, all at once, to the tune of about $60 per person.  Yep, they take the tips up front regardless of service.  Oh, they encourage you in the literature to go to the front desk and adjust the tips up or down depending on quality of service, basically daring you to take money away if you have a crappy staff.  That bartender in the dining room tried to ignore us the first couple of days once he figured out that we weren't going to be big spenders, but eventually I would get his attention and he would make his way over and take our soft drink orders, and you could see the disappointment on his face every time he found out that we weren't ordering the $10 margaritas or glasses of wine.  Hey, sorry pal, but I have to get my Coke from you and no one else, so I'll patiently wait until I can get your attention and call you over.  That's just how it goes.

The next day, Tuesday the 23rd, was the Fun Day at Sea, meaning we would be on the water the whole day trying to make it in time to the first stop, Grand Turk in the British property of Turks and Caicos.  So we'd all have to entertain ourselves on the boat all day.  There were enough activities on the ship to keep you busy between the comedy clubs and pools and deck chairs and casino and sports bar and spa and gym.  After breakfast at the buffet, where we discovered that the omelette station with the real eggs were much more preferable over the powdered scrambled version, the wife and I spent a while in a whirlpool, where the instructions included "Please take your children on frequent bathroom breaks" and "Only spend 15 minutes in whirlpool to prevent overexposure."  We put on some suntan lotion and caught some sun.  Then I would take out my iPod and find my way to something called the Serenity Deck.  When I read about it online, it seemed like this would be a great place for me to go to get away from all the activity on the main deck and escape with my headphones on, watching the ocean go by as I listened to relaxing music.  Well, it wasn't as secluded as I hoped it would be.  The main swimming pool was about 25 feet away and so was the pool's DJ, thumping bass-heavy tunes to shake your booty.  I had to turn my music up so loud that it ceased being soft and relaxing.  Also, it was very hard to find a chair.  Granted, the wicker chairs were generally more comfortable than the deck chairs (one of which I broke), and the hammocks looked very serene.  But the hammocks were always taken, and sometimes so were all the chairs.  There was more walking and stairs involved in trying to find the damn Serenity Deck, so take all of this exercise and heat into consideration when I get to the part where I almost pass out.  I found out the night before that the casino's poker offering consisted of one measly table, one no-limit cash game, and the table was electronic, meaning no cards or dealers.  Bogus.  And the tournament had a $150 entry fee, with the winner earning a shot at $150,000...wait for a bigger tournament on a different cruise in November.  Bullshit.  So no poker for me.  The dinner on this night was Formal Night, for which men had to have dress shoes and a shirt and tie.  I didn't bring a sportcoat because I thought it was ridiculous enough that I was bringing real shoes and a shirt and tie on a fucking cruise.  But I looked pretty good.  The wife did too, and the boat's hoping that you think you look really good, because the staff went around taking pictures of everyone individually and as a couple, and they had a whole floor of the boat set up for you to look at the pictures and buy them for $15 a pop.  And we actually bought a few, because no one at the table thought to get our own pictures on our own cameras.  After I went back to the room and stripped off those clothes, I joined my uncle in the casino, won $60 playing blackjack, and retired for the night.

Wednesday was our first stop, at Grand Turk.  There was a beach where you could set up and enjoy the sand and the water, but the wife and I chose to venture into the souvenir section, which leads to Margaritaville, the Jimmy Buffett-themed restaurant with the huge pool.  We got off the boat somewhat late in the morning, so finding two deck chairs to sit on around the pool was a task.  We noticed people hanging out in their own private cabanas, but renting those things was too pricey for us.  Eventually we sat poolside and had some water and a Coke for me.  I even stepped in the pool for a second, but only waist high.  Can't risk getting the shirt wet.  Then I might have to take it off, and I'm so ashamed of my body that the one thing I knew I wouldn't do on this trip is take my shirt off.  We bought T-shirts in 4XL for $10 each, marveled at how cheap they were, and made our way back to the boat.  I made another gambit for the Serenity Deck, intent on enjoying what little serenity it offered, and I even had a fruity drink--a pomegranate lemonade.  Don't know what was in it, but it was strong.  Everyone finds the thing they enjoy the most on a cruise, and mine was sitting in the wicker chairs watching awesome bikini bodies get in and out of the whirlpools and walk by.  I managed to enjoy the Serenity Deck even with the swimming pool DJ pumping up the jams.  The day set up to be largely relaxing, but the wife had other plans before and after dinner.  She really wanted to take part in a Latin dance lesson scheduled for an hour before dinner, so we got dressed and made our way there, where the Dominican instructor worked us up into a sweat for a half-hour before we bailed and went to supper.  My relaxed vibe was gone.  So what did the wife want to do after supper?  A Caribbean line dance on the main deck at 10:30.  Whoo boy.  And this is out where there's no air conditioning or anything.  I indulged my spouse and slogged my way through a couple of dances, then I stood aside and dripped sweat for a few songs.  I noticed my uncle and some members of our party on an upper deck looking down at us, and I could have ran up there and abandoned my wife, but I wanted to be a good sport, so I stayed close by.  I was too close.  The dance turned into the Wobble, decidedly not Caribbean, but a dance for which my wife and I had actually practiced.  And so we Wobbled, and I sweat, and then another steppin' dance started and I tried to slink off, but the wife grabbed me by the shirt and made me do that dance too.  Have I mentioned that I now see that my wife is in much better shape than me??  And I didn't know she desired to dance this much in public!  I went to bed that night sore and exhausted.

Which brings us to Thursday, when we sailed to Half Moon Cay, described as Carnival Cruise's own "private island," with no other vacationers there except us several thousand occupants of the Victory.  There would be a midday barbecue, and beach games, and sand castles, and it would just be awesome on top of awesome.  The previous activity of the last four days had me worn out at this point, but the wife was excited to get into the water and enjoy the sand and surf.  All I kept thinking was, there's no air conditioning on the beach.  We had to catch a "tender boat" in order to get to the island because they didn't want to pull the ship all the way to the sand, for some reason.  We arrived the the Cay at 7 in the morning, and because I thought there would be a mad scramble to get on these tender boats, I persuaded the wife to join me in breakfast, and we'd get out there at about 9 or 10.  The problem with that was, it was hot as blazes, and there are these "clam shells" (big polyester circular tents) you can rent to shelter yourself from the unrelenting Caribbean sun, but you better get there early, or else you're going to have to walk in that sun a long ways down the beach to find an open one.  We had to walk a decent amount to get to the sand, and then we hit that soft white sand, and oh God, it's so soft and you have to have good working muscles in order to slog your way through that stuff, and we both wound up having to stop and catch our breath before we even made it to the customer service booth to see if we could rent a clam shell.  I finally made it up there, only to have to take a chair and suck some wind in order to get the question out of my mouth.  And the answer, unfortunately, was there were some still available, but they were all the way down at the far end of the beach, and we weren't in condition to attempt that walk.  So we settled on a couple of beach chairs, which offered no protection from the sun, and the wife dipped in the water for a few minutes, then she let me go in the water.  (We couldn't both go in the water because our beach bags with our money and IDs would then be unprotected.)  My trip into the water lasted three minutes because I refused to go more than waist deep, and because my muscles were so sore that I felt I was going to fall face-first with every wave.  The wife encouraged me to go farther and get the full effects of the cool water, but I refused.  After I walked to the nearby pirate bar to get a bottle of water, we watched a Baywatch Slow Run contest, then we went to the barbecue lunch.  I discovered that because the island belongs to Carnival, my card with the Bottomless Bubbles sticker was valid, and I could have free Coke with my burger and chicken.  This was not a good idea.  I was already feeling dry and dehydrated from the heat.  I needed water.  Instead, I sucked down two Cokes with my heavy food and carried on.

While walking back from getting my second Coke and looking for my wife, I came across my uncle and his family, and his wife decided to come hang out with me and my wife for a while.  What she didn't know was that I was feeling more and more sluggish and hot, and I wanted to get back on the boat.  But she and my wife were enjoying the beach and wanted to go in the water more.  I didn't want to disappoint them, and I wanted to go farther into the water, so I agreed to rent a board on which I could float and go into the water.  But first, we would have to walk in the noon sun along the beach and find unused chairs, which were becoming harder and harder to locate.  We finally plopped down on our towels in a plot of sand.  My uncle's wife went into the water and encouraged me to come along, but I was pooped, so I said I'd come later, still intending to go rent a board.  But as the minutes in that sun went on, and the effects of the heat and no water and that big lunch took its toll, I started feeling all kinds of bad things.  Nausea.  Shortness of breath.  Very hot.  Eventually, I started blacking out, or at least I assume that was what blacking out felt like, where I was looking up straight ahead with my eyes wide open yet things were going black.  My wife asked if I needed the paramedics, and at first I declined, thinking this would go away so long as I stayed sitting down.  Then I decided that I have no idea if I'm dying right now or what, so yeah, get the paramedic so I can go back on the ship.  My legs went numb, but I think that was from sitting on that soft sand.  My wife helped me sit up on a chair that a stranger brought over, and I was amazed at how everyone else on that beach seemed to be able-bodied and running around giving up chairs and dragging them over and not laboring at all, and I felt like a beached whale.  My whole life of being out of shape had caught up with me in a major way.  The men who helped me arrived after about ten minutes, which felt like eternity.  They were big, muscle-bound guys, and each took one of my hands and lifted me onto my feet, and just that resulted in a better flow of air through my nose and mouth.  They sat me in a two-person cart which had air conditioning, and that really made me feel better.  One of them drove me to the tender boat, which would have been the longest walk ever had I tried to make it on foot, and he dropped me off on the hot concrete, where I struggled to put shoes on and wait for him to bring my wife.  We then fought the waves of the smaller tender boat, which wasn't helping my nausea, and made it back on the Victory.

My wife spent the next few days lamenting having to leave Half Moon Cay early.  She says that she thinks being in the water and cooling off would really have helped me, and she was looking forward to also getting back in the water.  I was and am disappointed that I messed up my wife having a good time by being such a fat blob.  I slept hard once we returned to our stateroom.  I felt like I went as hard as I could go for my wife, between lugging the luggage and hitting the stairs on the boat and dancing before and after dinner the night before, and I gave out in the end.  I exerted all the energy that I had, but it wasn't enough.  Next vacation, I have to be in better shape than this, for my own joy and for my wife's.  Dinner that night saw a more subdued me.  With everyone asking if I was okay, I felt like the spark was gone and I needed to chill and take it easy the rest of the trip.  I played face-up blackjack by myself after supper and dropped a quick $40, then I went to bed.

Friday began with someone from our party calling our room expecting us to be up and at 'em at 7A as we entered Nassau in the Bahamas.  Neither my wife nor I were fully awake, although I was halfway up.  My wife decided not to go into Nassau.  She had finally hit her limit:  A nagging Achilles tendon injury was flaring up.  I actually wanted to go into Nassau, not very far or very long, mind you.  I just wanted some T-shirts.  The Victory staff had put a scare into everyone by slipping a note under our doors warning us to be very careful in Nassau due to rising crime, so I had no intention of going beyond the first place where I could buy a shirt or two.  My uncle and his people were looking forward to an excursion to a resort called Atlantis, because there was more blackjack to be played.  I wasn't interested.  I found a T-shirt outlet and paid much more than the $10 I paid in Turks and Caicos, but I like my polo shirt and navy blue tee.  I even got the wife a sky blue shirt (out of her own money, of course).  That hour in Nassau was it for me.  It wasn't too hot, I stopped any time I got a little short of breath, and I survived the crime threats.  My cruise experience was done.  I didn't try the whirlpool or the casino or anything else.  Five days on that ship felt like five months.  It was back to Miami and off the ship, thankful for the experience and at the same time taking some fantastic and horrible memories.

The adventure didn't end Saturday, though.  American Airlines has not been good to either my wife or me throughout the years, and this was an all-timer.  They canceled our flight due to mechanical issues, then they couldn't find a flight with a one-stop layover back to Memphis until 5 that evening.  The only nonstop Miami-to-Memphis already left at 11 that morning.  The wife and I were in the rescheduling line getting ready to have a fight about whether we should come back that night or stay in Miami and take the nonstop at 11 the next day.  Luckily, she heard the attendant in her thick accent (everyone in Miami seems to have a thick accent) say that American would pay for the room, which made me relent and stay in Miami.  I wanted to go back to work on Sunday to show off my tan and brag about the cruise, but I was already starting to feel sick, so that probably wasn't a good idea anyway.  The room was at a Holiday Inn, a step or two or fifty down from the InterContinental, and the wait for a shuttle bus to the hotel was a half-hour on foot, so this segment of the trip wasn't a walk in the park either.  But American also paid for three meals at the hotel, so at least once we got there, we had a king-size bed and food.  We also had a dusty wall air-conditioning unit, which didn't help my illness.  I had another Cuban sandwich for dinner, not nearly as good as the first one, then we had a breakfast buffet and skidaddled.  Side note:  This guy, a monster baseball fan, was in Miami a few miles from the new Marlins stadium, and they played a game that night, and the events of that week wiped me out so much that I never even checked the schedule to see if they were playing.  Only when I saw the highlights that night on ESPN did I realize that I could have been there.  You know what I thought about more?  What if I were single in Miami on a Saturday night in a situation where I was leaving the next day, maybe never to return?  Would I go out on the town and tear it up?  This is me, so nah, probably not.  But I'd be awful tempted.  The adventure finally ended Sunday afternoon as we made it home and predictably our luggage did not.  That was delivered to us Sunday evening.

I covered my big takeaway from the excursion, which is, I recommend a cruise experience in general and Carnival specifically, and man, I need to get in better shape to survive relaxing like that.  There's one more observation I had that I didn't talk about, and that's my uncle's oldest son.  I guess there were some comments last week about race by Bill O'Reilly while we were out of the country, something about how blacks need to start cleaning their own proverbial houses.  My uncle's son has the messiest house you could imagine.  With him on this cruise were both of the women who have had his children, his three children whose ages range from about 2 to 3 (that's not a typo), and the teen daughter of one of his babymamas.  It was almost comical how many times I heard my uncle's son stomp through the hallway on the ship chasing after one of his running kids or arguing with one of the babymamas.  Once, my wife and I were eating on the 9th floor, and we saw one babymama and some kids go by with food, then my uncle's son 15 minutes later looking for them, then the other babymama and kid, then him again still looking for the first group, then all of them as he yelled, "Why didn't you stay where you was??"  Unbelievable.  I assume scenarios like this happen all the time with white people.  But for fuck's sake, I don't see it in front of my face like I do with black folks.  Seriously, people.  Get your shit together.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Down In The Dumps

That could be the title of every fucking post I've ever written, actually...

Yes, the Positive Thinker is back, a week before he takes off with his wife and assorted relatives for a cruise to the Bahamas.  You'd think I wouldn't be down in the dumps considering I'm about to leave the country for a sun-soaked cruise.  But hey, I wouldn't be me if I wasn't thinking about negative aspects of this life I've been given.  So no bulletpoints, no checklist, no particular order, what's up my ass??

I never, never wanted to take a cruise.  Before boats started catching fire and stranding folks with no running water or food, I never heard good things about cruises.  Fat strangers eating nonstop with whom you must dine, in close quarters with these people no matter what boat activity you want to do, and occasionally someone dies on the boat and you're stuck sailing with a corpse, but hey, maybe they'll pay you hush money as you're leaving so that you don't tell everyone how terrible the experience is.  Okay, I'm exacerbating, but this isn't something I want to do.  I intend to try and not be the total wet blanket that I usually am, and I'm telling everyone who asks that I'm excited and looking forward to it, but I'm actually anticipating this whole thing to be a pain in the ass.  The very first aspect of this trip is flying from Memphis to Miami this Sunday, and the service my wife wanted to use to park our car and get shuttled to the Memphis airport just went out of business.  So she was telling me how we're now going to have to park somewhere that doesn't offer shuttle service, and we're going to have to hustle all of our luggage on foot to the terminal, wherever that may be, and this is already feeling like the trip from hell.  She also put a lot of effort into finding somewhere to have dinner in Miami for the one night we're going to be there, and I appreciate that, but it's not looking good.  The hotel has a hoity-toity restaurant that's probably overpriced, and it appears any other place is going to be a hike on foot, unless we want to cough up cash for a half-mile cab ride to and fro.  Same thing for breakfast the next day before we hit the port and board the cruise ship.  In a really half-assed effort to build up some wind in my 400-lb. body before next week, I tried to do a 10-minute cardio interval workout this morning.  I lasted about 4 minutes.  It felt like a half-hour.  Pathetic.  That put me in a dark mood that has little to do with the trip.  Even though I've worked very hard and long to make my body fat and unhealthy, I'm still in a bit of disbelief just how out of shape I am.  There's a road to getting healthy, and I've seen several people close to me go down that road successfully, but the finish line is so far away for me that I feel really, really sad about it.  It seems like something I could never achieve, which of course stops me from starting down the road, which guarantees that I won't ever get there.  You know what else I can't do until I get in better shape?  Fuck my wife.  Nope, still hasn't happened.  Every time we try, my erection only lasts about 30 seconds while we attempt to stick Mr. Happy in, but it doesn't fit, and before we can try other positions, I lose the erection.  She insists that I wear a condom, and that has a negative effect as well because the last woman with whom I attempted to use a condom was "Shelley," and go read about how that turned out.  But the whole feeling of failure overcomes me every time I try to penetrate, whether with a condom or not, so as much as I want to blame the condom, that's not the problem.  I'm relying on my wife to guide it in because I can't see what's going on down there due to having a stomach the size of a Goodyear tire.  But she being a virgin isn't skilled in placing someone inside her, so it just hasn't worked out, and I'm really depressed about it.  Let's see, what else...I'm feeling pressure from myself to get the equipment needed to start a podcast with "Jacob" so that I can have a voice out there in sports.  If I actually want to be in sports broadcasting, I should have some sample of my voice, and so long as I don't have the equipment, I can't share my voice.  But equipment costs money, and this computer probably can't handle the podcast applications considering it likes to freeze and crash while doing simpler things like blogging and steaming music.  So new equipment and a new computer and football season starts in less than two months and I don't know what the fuck I'm doing and yes, it is easy for me to overwhelm myself before I even take the first step.  Hey, just like exercising!  At least I'm consistent. 

I did make a bold move toward getting my first broadcasting experience.  I went to a women's football game a few weeks back, because it was taking place less than ten minutes from home and it was the WPFL championship game and the Memphis team was playing and because something about watching women play tackle football makes my mouth water.  Anyhow, the PA announcer had this very Kentucky Fried hick voice and also wasn't very good at the job, constantly calling false start "illegal procedure" and shit like that, and then he decided to let everyone know during the 2nd quarter that he actually owns the Arkansas team Memphis was beating and that he was only doing the announcing "because the Memphis team was too cheap to hire someone."  I didn't know if that was a bad joke or true, so on a whim I e-mailed the Memphis team and told them if they need an announcer next season, I'd volunteer.  The great news is that an admin got back to me and said she'd get in touch if they needed me, but the bad news is that many women left the team--sorry, "retired"--after they won the title and they may not have a team next season.

Oops, forgot I was supposed to be whining and bitching about stuff.  I would like to be in water at some point during this cruise thing, either the pool on the ship or the ocean itself, but I'd have to take my shirt off to do that.  I really don't want to take my shirt off in public.  I hope the money I'm taking with me will be enough to enjoy myself, because all of the tipping and cab rides and extra fees that I can't anticipate because I've never taken a cruise might drain me before I get a chance to play poker in the boat's casino or buy souvenirs or even rent a chair in Nassau or Turks and Caicos to sit on the beach and sunbathe.  I don't even know if you have to rent a chair, but the pictures sure make it look like the beaches are preposterously crowded and one may have to pay for the privilege of having space in the sand to lay out.  I'm also worried about being able to take a bottle of distilled water for my CPAP machine, because the airports are Nazis about the size of liquids you're allowed to transport, and can I even take my can of aerosol deodorant, and what if our luggage weighs too much and they charge $200 in fees, and what if they don't let us off the boat at the end of the cruise in time for us to catch our flight back home, which is already going to be a bitch because we couldn't get a direct flight to Memphis so it's going to be Miami to Chicago to Memphis, which will take all damn day, and why does my uncle insist that we all have to participate in karaoke at some point on this cruise because don't he know that I can't fucking sing, and in the midst of all this worrying will I ever find a moment to actually enjoy myself???  (Probably more important:  Can I mask my worry and frustration when I'm in the presence of my wife and family so that I don't ruin everyone else's good time?)  The topper on this post is, the whole time I've been typing this up, there's been a Miami sax music smooth jazz station streaming in another browser window, and that should be putting me in a fantastic frame of mind.  Why isn't it?  Because when I turn it off, I've got a shitload of house cleaning to do, and errands to run, and laundry tomorrow, and three days of work before the flight Sunday, and I haven't started to pack yet.  No matter how much I love the song "Honey-Dipped" by Dave Koz (and if you need four minutes of relaxing and feeling good, then by all means Google that track), when it's over, my life is still there, with all its flaws and tasks.  God dammit to hell.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Closest I've Ever Come To Being A Member Of An Athlete's Entourage

The story's not very exciting, but I want to tell it anyway because it's funny.  It's more of another example of the kind of people my father co-mingles with, and why I have always tried to avoid him and them.

First, some basketball information that's germane to the whole deal:  Here in Memphis, the Grizzlies have made it to the NBA Western Conference Finals, where they play the San Antonio Spurs.  The winner of the seven-game series gets to play in the NBA Finals, most likely against LeBron James and the World champion Miami Heat.  Game 1 of the Memphis-San Antonio series was Sunday afternoon.  Being a moderate basketball fan and having a wife who's a big Griz fan, I knew of the Grizzlies when I moved down here, but they've found a higher realm of success ever since I arrived, which has to be correlative, of course.  This is the farthest the franchise has ever gone, and two years ago, they beat the Spurs in the playoffs, so the city is quite hyped, anticipating more success and a possible meeting with LeBron and company.  But I have heard of most of the players, and I guess that makes me more knowledgeable about the team than the average person.

So my dad left a voice mail Sunday while I'm working, and there's a female on the line with him.  "I got someone here who wants to ask you about someone on the basketball team down there," my dad growled, and then the woman, who sounded cheery and middle aged, started in.  "Hi there!" she said.  "My nephew's son is Tony Allen, and he plays basketball for the Memphis...uh...Grizzly?"  I was already rolling my eyes at the fact that she could barely spit out the correct team name, meaning she probably doesn't know Allen all that well.  But I believed she was a relative because I know enough about Allen to know that he's indeed from a rough Chicago neighborhood.  She went on to say, well, a bunch of stuff thinly connected to each other, intoning that she believes she'll be invited to Allen's upcoming wedding and that she might want to visit Memphis before then.  My dad chimed in, "Yeah son, we might come down there."  I honestly don't know how I was supposed to react to this or what I was supposed to do about it, but I went back to work with the intention of calling my dad back later to explain to him that just because I'm from Chicago and live in Memphis and Allen's from Chicago and plays for Memphis doesn't mean that we have ever met or that I could add any insight about him.

I called my dad Sunday evening, and told him just that, and he seemed to understand that I have nothing in terms of information about Allen or his wedding, which I had heard nothing about before this woman's voice mail.  Then, right as it sounded like my dad was going to hang up, he got the idea to three-way call this woman so that she could get the straight dope from me.  I thought this was not a good idea because I anticipated doing nothing but disappointing this woman, who seemed very eager to find an "in" to Allen, something I didn't have.  But I hung in there while my dad rang her up, and she was very happy to hear from me, as if an appliance of hers broke down and she called a repairman on voice mail and the repairman was actually calling her back with all the answers.  She repeated her story about her nephew's son being Tony Allen and playing for the "Grizzly," then she showed her hand by breathlessly stating, "And I heard he's a millionaire!"  I told her that I'm sure he is, since he's been playing in the NBA for about eight years, and while he's not a big star, he's a solid role player who probably makes about two or three million dollars per year.  She then kept adding layers to the narrative that showed how distant she really is from Allen, such as she's not close with her nephew's part of the family, and she hasn't talked to Allen in years, and the speculation that she's going to be invited to Allen's wedding is just that.  She then asked about the price of flying to Memphis, which is a high price due to the ban on discount airlines in Memphis because Memphis is a Delta hub (a ban which will be lifted this summer when Southwest Airlines comes in), then she went to an even lower level when she wondered if a different family member who works at O'Hare Airport as a government travel safety agent could get her some kind of discount.  At that point I realized that I was dealing with a loser who latched on to my dad when she found out that his son lives in Memphis, thinking that this son could facilitate a connection to a rich pro athlete to whom she happens to be related.  "Maybe we'll come in for like a weekend vacation!" she chirped.  "How much are hotels?"

I got a good laugh out of the whole conversation once we hung up, but then I realized how many talks just like that must occur on a given day for an athlete.  This is Tony Allen we're talking about, someone 99% of the world's never heard of.  How many calls does LeBron field?  Or Kobe Bryant, who's in court because just a couple of weeks ago his own damn mother tried to sell some of his memorabilia?  How many North Carolina gap-toothed hilljacks have tried to contact Michael Jordan throughout the years?  Some poor teenager tried to put out a YouTube video last year claiming that he's an illegitimate son of Jordan and that he didn't want money, just a father to care for him.  Since no one puts out a YouTube video claiming to be a rich man's son without wanting money, the scheme quickly unraveled and it became clear that he wasn't Jordan's kid.  But it was interesting to be on the receiving end of one of those calls.  There was a sense of desperation in that woman's voice when she spoke to me, as if she was searching for some piece of glory that was way out of her reach, and that she was thrilled to think that I could provide a road map to that piece.  It made me feel a little put upon, but nothing like what poor athletes who find themselves instantly rich must feel every single day.  No wonder so many of them wind up broke, even after making tens of millions of dollars during their careers.  There's a corollary in there about how many of us lined up at the Powerball windows this past weekend looking a piece of glory despite the unbelievable odds, and how it connects to some blonde chick on CNN tsk-tsking us for buying lottery tickets because her father taught her that the lottery is just "a tax on the poor."  But I'm not intelligent enough to figure it all out.  I bought lottery tickets too.  So did my wife.  We're still looking for that piece of glory.