Back in June 2003, I was driving in my car on my way to work. While stopped at a red light, a couple girls pulled up in a car and asked me if I knew how to get to the zoo from there. I told them that I didn’t know how to tell them, but they could follow me if they wanted. They agreed and so off we went. Once we got to the zoo, they pulled up next to me and said, “All you had to do was tell us to follow the fucking signs!!!” That must be how they say thank you in bitchville.

THEN, while waiting behind a car at a STOP sign, a police car that was coming the other way, pulled up next to me and indicated I should roll down my window. I do and he says to me, “Don’t even THINK about running that stop sign.”

I was stopped. The car in front of me at the stop sign was stopped. I simply said, “Uhhh…ok.” The car in front of me drove away and I pulled up to the stop sign. I stopped, waited for the cross traffic to thin out, then proceeded. That’s when the lights flashed and the siren yelped and the cop came after me and pulled me over. Wanted to know what my business was in the area of town, why I wasn’t at work, and where my work was. I told him and he said, “You’d best be headed there right now.”

It was unbelievable creepy. I wasn’t about to argue with him or anything, lest I end up arrested or something. So, I just drove onto work. When I got to work and got settled, I looked up the astronomy picture of the day. This is what I saw. CLICK HERE.

Yep. The universe giving me the finger.

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OK. In the past few days, I’ve had a HUGE breakthrough. This is something that has going for about 30 years…ever since I was in 1st or 2nd grade.

I remember music class. We didn’t have a music teacher that was as talented or personable as Mr Holland. We had Mrs. Michaels. She was an older lady. She clearly knew her stuff and taught us how to read the musical staff and play the recorder and what the different kinds of notes were. But, at the risk of the pot calling the kettle black, she couldn’t sing. Or maybe she could, I don’t know. What I DO know is that when she did sing, it was always about 3 octaves higher than it should have been. That was really annoying.

However, that’s all just background and not germane to the point of this entry.

This one time, in music class, I stuck a flute in my we were singing the song “Git Along Little Dogies.”

The what?

The song “Git Along Little Dogies.” It’s an old western song. You can go here (just the first 4 lines will be fine) and then click on The Old Man Rockin’ The Cradle-Get Along Little Dogies(4.392 MB mp3 file) to listen to it (just skip to the 3:00 mark, that’s where the song begins). I know that’s an awful lot of hoops for you to jump through just for little ol’ me, but I don’t have my own personal domain where I could dump the file and I didn’t want to hotlink directly to the file. That would be unethical.

Anyway…I remember singing that song and thinking to myself, “I know this song from somewhere. Why do I know this song?”

I don’t want to sound like I’ve been obsessed for 30 years, but every now and then (like a couple times a month for years and years and years) I would hum this tune, think back to music class, and wonder how and when it got into my brain.

Then just the other day, I was at my mom’s house and I was looking through some of her old records. Records? Yes, records…those vinyl discs people would play using a turntable. I was looking through some of them and ran across a John Denver record. My mom said, “You used to sit and listen to this record for hours on end.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yes. One song, over and over again. You used to sing it all the time. Didn’t matter where we were or what we were doing. When we’d go to Kroger you’d have a crowd of people gathered around the shopping cart while you sang.”

“Which song was it?” I asked, looking at the list of songs on the album cover.

“Muhlenberg County. You used to sing it all the time.”

“Hmmmmmm….there’s no song called Muhlenberg County.”

“Well, maybe that’s not what it was called, but it’s on that record, that’s for certain.”

So I went online to the library catalog, located the CD and placed it on hold, to be delivered to my local branch for me to pick up at my leisure.

A few days later, I picked it up from the library, listened to it and ran across the song Paradise. Then everything came together in an instant. Yes! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! That was it! The song my mom was talking about. But, more importantly, it was the reason I recognized the Git Along Little Dogies song from a lifetime ago! Paradise was the nameless tune in my head that’s haunted me almost my entire life! Click here, scroll down, and listen to track #3. As I listened, memories came flooding back. Me sitting next to the stereo in the corner of the living room with my ear against the speaker, me being very careful as I picked up the needle to listen to the song again, me drawing a picture of a mule in an iceberg, me sitting in the cart at the grocery store singing while my mom was paying, me playing with a toy train singing the song, all sorts of things. Much like finding part 2 of Ultraman (which…if you don’t know that story…you can read about it HERE), it’s like I’ve discovered my own personal Holy Grail, and now I don’t know what to do. But I know I feel differently, somehow. Like some sort of weight or something has been removed. It’s weird.

Just so you’re aware, this is something that I wrote back in August of 2006…

Where to begin, where to begin?

Do I talk about falling down the steps, hurting my left butt-bone and getting rug burns down my arm?

Or do I talk about how someone I know won’t go near the women’s lingerie department when she has her kids with her because it’s inappropriate to display undergarments so predominantly?

Or maybe I discuss how I became physically ill after riding a ride at Paramount’s King’s Island and it pretty much wrecked me for the entire day.

No, instead I’ll talk about the free breakfast for every student at my kids’ school. That’s right. Each morning, every kid is given breakfast. It appears as though students do better if they have full bellies. Sounded like a spiffy idea to me…at first.

This breakfast consists of: one of those individual cereal boxes (in this case, Froot Loops), either a small carton of milk or orange juice, and an individually wrapped graham cracker. Every student must take the breakfast. They can choose to eat it, save it for later, or put it in the “recycling bag.”

My first reaction to this was, “Why do they HAVE to take it. Why can’t they decline it if they want?” I have since come to find out that this is just a way to “pad” the statistics. Look! EVERY CHILD was given breakfast! Yay! What a roaring success!!!

Whatever.

After more thought, there are other concerns about this program. Let’s pretend the kid(s) opt to decline the breakfast. ALL OF IT goes into the “recycle bag.” Yep, the box of cereal, along with the milk/juice, and the graham cracker…all into the same bag. Well, it seems to me that the graham crackers run the risk of getting crushed in this bag. Additionally, it would be interesting to find out how long these milks sit in the bag before being “recycled.”

And finally, there are several parents at school who watch what their kids eat. I know of several of them who are very strict about the amount of sugar they allow their kids to have. Froot Loops and cinammon graham crackers don’t make it on the list of “acceptable foods” for the kids. So what are they to do?

Certainly, the wheat side of me says that if you educate your kid and let them know that you don’t want them eating this type of food, then the kid will take the breakfast (as required) and then put it in the “recycle bag.”

However, the frosted side of me says that kids will be kids and when given a sugary treat they will eat it. Especially if it’s “forbidden Froot.” And as far as I know, there is no “diabetic-friendly” breakfast alternative.

So here’s the setup. The bell rings in the morning and everyone lines up. Intermediate grades 4-6 (approx 210 students) go straight to the cafeteria to get their breakfast. They take it to their homerooms and eat it there. Primary grades K-3 (approx 250 students) go to their rooms first and then head to the cafeteria to get breakfast and bring it back to the room to eat it. As you can imagine, that’s not easy to coordinate and it takes time.

WELL…a few years ago the school system changed the length of the school day to add half hour of instructional time to the day. It appears to me that extra half hour is now being used to give breakfast to kids who’ve most likely already HAD breakfast.

AND…lunch is at 11-11:30 and 11:30-12 and 12-12:30. Already there have been issues where kids haven’t been eating their lunches because they are still full from eating their homemade AND school-provided breakfasts.

This whole thing just smacks of someone saying, “Y’know what would be great? If we could make sure all our kids are fed.” Follow that up with someone else who said, “By Jove, I think you’ve got something there! Let’s do it!”

And, you know what? I think it’s a noble idea. Not necessarily sure I agree that the school system should be responsible for feeding our kids, and feeding them sugar on top of it all. I think the whole execution of it needs some work.

***UPDATE***
It didn’t take long for them to realize that compulsory breakfast was not working out. Breakfast is still available, but only in the morning before the bell rings and only for those who want to eat it.

A couple of years ago, my family and L’s dad went to LaRosa’s for their Spaghetti-a-Plenty night. We asked for separate checks, one for me and my family, one for L’s dad. It was kind of busy and the waiter was running around in a hurry because they were apparently short-handed. We were there for about an hour or so and when the time came to leave, the waiter brought one check. Z was acting up so I just left the money on the table, took my copy of the bill and we left, figuring that L and her dad would take care of making change and splitting it appropriately. A few minutes later they came out of the restaurant and we said our goodbyes. L’s dad was going to do some shopping somewhere and my family and I headed home.

As we were getting out of the van after pulling into our driveway, L asked S where her jacket was. Surprise, surprise, she left it at the restaurant. L took the kids inside to get ready for bed and I headed back toward the restaurant, calling ahead to tell them about the jacket and that I’m on my way to get it. The manager (Mindy) put me on hold while she went to look for it, but returned to the phone and said, “I’m sorry. We don’t see a jacket here. But we’ll take your name and number if it turns up.”

This totally amazed me, as we had just left the restaurant not 10 minutes prior, and I told her so. “Are you sure? We were just there, I mean…JUST there.”

“No, we didn’t see a jacket. Were you at that table in the back corner? Because there is a matter of an unpaid bill. $7.49 for spaghetti and a salad and a drink.”

I told her about the only bill that was given to us and that we left the money on the table. She acknowledged that one bill was paid, but there was a second bill that wasn’t. I was at a traffic light, so I looked at my copy of the bill and realized that the $20.00 indicated did not include L’s dad’s meal. I then explained the series of events at the table and said there was no way for me to get in touch with the “other party” as he was out of cell phone minutes and I had no idea where he was. Furthermore, I had no money because I had spent all I had on our meal. Mindy then graciously informed me that LaRosa’s would cover the cost of the meal, and if the jacket was found they would call me. I gave her my name and number.

I then called L to tell her everything that had just happened, but she still wanted me to go to the restaurant to see if anyone there might have it in their booth. After all, not a lot of time had passed and maybe, if it had been stolen, those who took it would still be there.

So I walked in, went up the front counter and asked to speak with Mindy. I reminded her of who I was (even though we had gotten off the phone with each other just several minutes ago) and told her that I was just going to double check on the off chance that the would-be thieves might still be on the premises.

I nonchalantly meandered about the dining room looking for the jacket, but did not locate it. At this point, all of the Diet Cokes I drank at dinner were starting to take their toll so I went to the bathroom. While standing there, I decided that I was going to flat out ask the manager if I could see where they put their trash in the store and where the outside dumpster is. I exited the restroom and my former server, Timmy, was standing there. “Sir, can I talk with your for a minute?”

“Absolutely, Timmy. What’s up?” I started walking toward the front counter.

“Well, we found the jacket.”

“Excellent!” Immediate relief. This would have been the second jacket that S had had stolen from her. “I’m happy to hear that.” We arrived at the front counter and there was the jacket, pizza sauce all over it.

Timmy said, “Sir, I need to apologize to you. I accidentally bussed the jacket with the dishes and we found it as we were getting ready to wash them.”

Before I could reply, Mindy (the manager) joined the discussion. “Sir, we’re going to have this dry cleaned for you. As you can see, there is some pizza sauce on the sleeve and we tried to get it out with water but it didn’t work out too well so…we’ll have it dry-cleaned and deliver it to your house. We’ll take care of it.”

I said, “OK, that’s all fine and dandy, but I just want to run over this again. You ‘accidentally’ bussed the jacket with the dishes?”

Timmy was right there. “Yes, sir. I am sooo sorry and I do apologize again.”

I looked at the jacket for a minute and turned to Timmy and said very calmly and with complete control, “So…the jacket was bussed. It wasn’t that you might have forgotten to present the second bill at our table so to cover yourself you claimed that a customer skipped out without paying and, to ‘get back’ at said customer, the jacket was thrown away?”

He shook his head. He didn’t look shocked or offended or appalled. He looked guilty.

“You bussed the jacket?” I said, one more time.

“Yes, sir. I bussed the jacket.”

I looked him dead in the eyes for about 10 seconds and said, “I believe you.” I could see the relief flood over his face.

Mindy jumped right on in. “Like I said, sir, we’ll have this dry-cleaned and deliver it to you when it’s done. Let me just get your name and number.” She had a pen and paper ready. I gave her my information, thanked them and left.

Everyone knows what really happened. But we all accepted the ‘official’ story that the jacket got bussed with the dishes. Sure, I could have gotten angry and demanded that Timmy be fired. But, really, what would be the point? At the end of the day, L’s dad got a free meal and we got the jacket back in better condition than we had left it.

When I got home from work last night, I found that L had made a big pot of stew. Beef, carrots, corn, potatoes, green beans, onions, etc. Man, it was good. I had two bowls of it and I’m looking forward to tonight when I can have more.

Wanna know what’s weird about me and stew? I actually like it. Y’see, I’m a picky eater. I like hamburgers (plain…bun, meat, bun), pizza (also plain cheese), cheese ravioli, chicken (breaded), French fries, raw vegetables (carrots, celery, green peppers), corn (not creamed) and…..well, that’s more or less it. I will never ever mix food together, which is why I don’t like tacos, burritos, etc. There’s just too damn much going on at one time. So the fact that I eat beef stew is somewhat of an anomaly.

I think the single biggest reason that I don’t eat a lot of food is that I just don’t enjoy the texture of it. Never have. When I was a kid, my mom would make me special meals, separate from everyone else. When Thanksgiving dinner was going on, and everyone was enjoying turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes, I had cereal. Maybe even a peanut butter sandwich. I simply wouldn’t eat what was on the table.

And it’s not like my mom didn’t attempt to get me to try things. She did. I just refused. That whole tactic of “You’re not getting up from the table until you’ve eaten the food on your plate” didn’t work. I just stayed at the table until I fell asleep for the night. Then there was the whole “If he’s hungry enough, he’ll eat what’s given to him” plan. I would eat cereal for breakfast but I wouldn’t eat lunch, snacks, or dinner. That went on for about a week before she finally would feed me things I would eat.

I don’t want you to misunderstand anything. I wasn’t participating in a battle of wills or anything. It was never a contest about who would give in first, I just didn’t want to eat what there was to eat. So I didn’t.

Now, as I’ve grown older (notice I didn’t say “matured”), my refusal to eat certain—pronounced “a majority of”—foods has occasionally turned into a battle of wills. For instance, the first time my wife and I went out to dinner with my friend Marty and his then girlfriend, we went to Red Lobster. They all ordered “normal” food, i.e. crab, lobster, salads, blah blah blah. I think I got popcorn shrimp. It’s breaded, which means I’ll eat it. Anyway, during our conversations over dinner, it was revealed that I had never had crab meat. Marty was absolutely amazed and he wasted no time in offering me a bite. I declined. I assume he thought I was playing “the etiquette game” because he assured me that it was ok to take a bite of his food. Again, I declined. At that point, there was a subtle shift in the air and it became apparent that battle lines had been drawn. He kept insisting…and I kept resisting. It got to the point where we were becoming a bit loud. My wife was telling me to “just try it, for the love of god” and Marty’s girlfriend was telling him to “just let it go.” He eventually “just let it go.” Not because my will was stronger, but because no one wanted the evening ruined. He still teases me about it, sometimes relentlessly.

I have tried crab meat since then and, while it wasn’t horrible, it’s not something that I would voluntarily eat again. I don’t like the way it feels.

While delivering something to the office at my kids’ school, I noticed some projects on the walls outside of the classrooms. There were pictures, biographies of famous people, poems…all the typical stuff 1st and 2nd graders do when at school. As I walked by one of the kindergarten rooms, I spied something on the door. Written by the teacher, on a decent sized marker board, was “The Chocolate Cheer.”

We love chocolate, yes we do.
We love chocolate, so should you.
Chocolate is so fun to eat.
Tastes so good and oh so sweet.

Now, I had never heard of The Chocolate Cheer, but I know what I would have thought about it if I had heard it back when I was in kindergarten in 1975.

I would have thought it was THE Chocolate Cheer. Something everyone knew, like THE National Anthem or THE Preamble to the Constitution.

I’m sure there are kids in the kindergarted class who look upon The Chocolate Cheer as something “official.” And it kind of makes me sad, because one day, they’re going to have that moment of realization that The Chocolate Cheer was just something the teacher had made up.

For some, that realization may be no big deal. For others, it will be a profound impact on their view of the world.

When I was a kid, if I ever got a cut on my foot or on my hand, my mom would make me soak it in hot, hot, HOT water with Epsom Salts for an hour a night for week. That shit would sting like the dickens! She never made me do this when I got cuts on my arms or legs…only when they were on my feet or hands. She would insist that if I didn’t do this, my “wound” would get a red ring around it. I was told that this red ring would become a red line that would follow a vein back to my heart and if I didn’t stop the progress of this red line…if that red line succeeded in making it all the way to my heart, my heart would EXPLODE!!! Man, I hated the Epsom Salts.

In a separate issue, I was warned about the possibility of getting rabies if I were to ever touch any kind of dead animal. And, if I got rabies, the ONLY way to cure it would to get 15 shots RIGHT IN THE BELLY BUTTON with a needle that was about the width of a pencil. That put the fear of God into me. I absolutely HATE any kind of contact with my belly button. Even watching those Pillsbury commercials, I would cringe when one of the commercial people poked the Doughboy in his belly. Just the thought of someone jabbing a spear into my belly button was enough to ensure I didn’t touch anything that was dead.

And I needed to be aware of my surroundings when I was playing, because if I were to ever step on a rusty nail or anything like that, not only would I get the Epsom Salt treatment…I could also get lockjaw and end up starving to death.

Along with these medical catastrophe warnings that were designed to modify my behavior through fear, there were always the things that “couldn’t be done.” Did your parents ever tell you that you couldn’t do something…for no other reason than it simply couldn’t be done? I’m not talking about things that had a consequence, such as “You can’t drink a gallon of Drano expect to live to tell about it.” That makes perfect sense. I’m talking more about things that are supposed to be “impossible.”

I know I didn’t explain that very well, so I’m just going to have to use an example. Let’s choose…oh, I don’t know…going to a wedding. I would want to wear gym shoes. My mom would say, “You can’t wear gym shoes to the wedding.”

“Why not?”

“You just can’t.”

Now, it’s important for you to realize that she was NOT telling me this in a “I’m-not-permitting-you” way. This had all the definite inflection and tone of a “It’s-a-matter-of-fact-and-I-can’t-believe-you-would-ever-think-such-a-thing-was-possible.” Kinda like “You can’t teleport to Rome……teleportation doesn’t exist.”

When I was younger (like 8 or 9), I just accepted it. “Oh, you can’t wear gym shoes to a wedding? Ok, then.”

It really confused me when, at the wedding, I saw plenty of people in jeans and gym shoes. They still looked nice, with a collard shirt and all, but they weren’t in dress shoes or slacks.

When I got older, I started asking her questions.

“You can’t wear gym shoes to a wedding.”

“What do you mean I can’t? What will happen?”

“You just can’t do it.” Again, it was with the tone of something like, “You can’t teleport.”

“Why not? Will my feet melt off my body? Is there some sort of force field keeping out those people who wear gym shoes? Why can’t I?”

“You just can’t.”

Eventually, I learned that this type of thing meant, “It’s just not right or socially acceptable. I don’t agree with it. Although people do it, I would prefer that you, my son, did not,” although I don’t understand why she never just came right out and said this.

I briefly doubted my epiphany on this matter once when, amid my mom’s declarations of “You can’t do that,” I went outside in winter without a coat. The look on her face seemed to say, “What…what is this magic that allows you to do this?” That really threw me for a loop for quite a while but, as I got older still, I figured out that look was her realizing that I was taking control of my own life and testing boundaries. When I remember that look today, I see it as her realization that she was not going to protect me forever and I would make mistakes in my life that she was going to be powerless to prevent.