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My eyes snap open and I wake up in the dark. Floating stones, hidden rooms, jeweled eggs, life's answers, what a dream! Too bad it's not that simple. However, it's still better than my other recurring dream in which I am naked at the high school assembly.
The clock reads 3:45 am. Great. Now I'll have to spend the next two hours trying to get back to sleep. It probably won't work. Strange dreams aside, I've had lots of trouble sleeping lately. Maybe it's the stress, maybe it's my job, maybe it's always trying to please everyone, maybe it's my age, maybe it's...
Jeez, stop whining.
Today is Saturday. Monday is my birthday. I'll be 43. I'm already halfway through my life—if I'm lucky. I need rest. It's a big weekend for me. My wife and daughter are going on a two-day camping trip with a YMCA group, which means I'll have the whole place to myself. This is a good thing. I'll be able to channel surf, work on the hot rod, go without shaving, pee in the bushes when I please, and have precious time to think.
Of course, since I'm wide awake, I guess now's as good a time as any to start thinking. When I think, it's usually about something big, like how to accessorize my lawn tractor, or how to get a few extra horsepower out of the garbage disposal.
At least that's what I used to think about. Now, because of this mid-life thing, my attention has been diverted to thinking about the big questions that everyone asks when they suddenly realize they're not going to live forever.
"Who am I?"
"Why am I?"
"Where do I go from here?"
"Just where is here?"
"Can I still hear?"
To try and answer these questions I've started reading a lot. Not fiction, exactly. Or philosophy. Different stuff. I have one of the books on my nightstand right now.
It's about quantum physics.
At first this stuff was really exciting. I absorbed everything I could get my hands on. My reading list was sort of The Celestine Prophecy of Motorcycle Maintenance Embraced by the Light on the Road Less Traveled by the Dancing Wu Li Masters of Hyperspace. I know. I'm on a roll. I can't seem to stop. I'm on a personal quest to resolve big issues. I want the answers to the big questions. And just for old times sake I want to know how to squeeze more garbage into smaller cubes in the trash compactor.
The book I'm reading now, The Tao of Physics, says that no matter what well-known laws of physics apply to us and our everyday world, that at a subatomic or quantum level the rules are, well ... different. Normally, I couldn't care less, but now, as a man at mid-life, this really bothers me. Apparently, these teeny particles that, incidentally, no one can see, can be in two places at the same time.
I can't do that.
They can travel back and forth in time.
Can't manage that, either, although I've hurt myself trying.
Also, sometimes they're particles and sometimes waves and sometimes both at once, which means that they are at one location and everywhere at the same time.
Now that would be really neat to do because it would completely eliminate boredom and the exorbitant cost of today's air fares. I could catch every mayor sporting event, go to every great party, witness every great volcanic eruption, and be abducted nightly by aliens without ever leaving the house.
Weirdest of all, quantum physicists say that unless certain conditions are met, these subatomic particles don't actually exist. At least I think that's what they're saying. These are pretty complicated concepts, and suggest a very different view of things. In the books I'm reading they leave out a lot of the math and heavier proofs, the stuff I wouldn't understand without going to college for five more years.
Here's my big problem: Since, at the most basic level we're just a bunch of quantum particles, I hope this doesn't mean what I'm afraid it does, that in some very scary way, I'm not really here.
Now for the bad news: If I'm not really here, neither are you. It's a lot more complicated, but the bottom line is that if we're not really here, then nothing we think, say, or do means anything, right? What's the point of being good? Why do I spend two hours at the gym every day? What really happened to that delicious steak I ate for dinner?
This stuff is enough to keep anyone up at night, particularly a guy like me, who is too close to his mid-40s. That's the fulcrum. But I don't want to get into that at the moment.
It's 3:54 am. I've got to get some sleep.
Don't think I'm not trying. My eyes are closed, but my clock's face is so bright that the time five minutes ago is still burned into my retinas.
Clocks have always been a part of my life.
My Grandma's electric clock had a metal panel in back that said DO NOT TOUCH! If you sat in a chair with your feet off the ground, touched it, and then touched someone else, the electricity would fly. My brothers and I had lots of fun playing Shock-a-Sibling.
"Dave, come over here a minute. Grab my shoulder."
"Ow! God, what is that?"
We'd did this for hours, until we accidentally touched Grandma affecting her pacemaker in such a way that she launched into twenty minutes of a really impressive rhumba.
When I was a little older, I got one of the first AM/FM clock/radios with a sleep timer. You remember those? It was great waking up to rock and roll. Then there was the purple clock radio with the two dials that looked the same. You thought you were changing the station. You were really setting the alarm for 2 am. Next, I got one of the first-generation digitals, with those Rolodex-style flipping platters that fell over every minute, like little Olympics judges lived inside. There's nothing like trying to sleep with the sound of crashing plastic in your ear. Then I got a glowing red digital, but I didn't keep it long. Because I'd seen every James Bond flick it just gave me anxiety dreams about disarming the damn thing before it blew up the world.
My current timepiece is a sterile humorless unit I bought to tide me over until the next wave. I've had it six years. Pathetic, right?
But it was heavily discounted.
I finally fall out hard at 5:27 a.m. and sleep soundly right up until the alarm buzzes at 5:30 a.m. Amazing how refreshed you can feel on three minutes' sleep. They say that during sleep the body repairs and regenerates itself. Three minutes is long enough for healing half a
shaving nick and some minimum toenail growth. Nonetheless, it's time to get up. The girls need to meet the bus in the YMCA parking lot at 8:00 am., so it's time to start moving.
Rolling over carefully, my feet hit the floor and I instinctively reach for my lower back. Lately, the word "chronic" has taken on real meaning. The whole ritual of waking bothers me. Also, going to bed. I even have trouble getting into and out of the shower. Maybe transitions just bother me. I think this aging thing is going to cause problems.
Next stop, the bathroom. Some mornings it sounds like I'm pouring a 12-quart pitcher nonstop into the bowl. I have to look in the mirror because I'm afraid that overnight I might have turned into some barnyard animal.
My wife's absolute favorite morning ritual of mine is throat-clearing. Women don't do this. They have noses and mucus, but my guess is they somehow amortize the phlegm buildup by quietly going "ah hem" all day long. My grunting and coughing wakes her up and I hear Laura call from the bedroom, "Timmmm!" as if I'm doing it on purpose. Then it's into and out of the shower. Quickly.
Laura is still in bed when I finish my routine. I love her, but I wish she'd get up and get going so I can have the place to myself.
For the entire weekend.
Now that I'm up, there are chores to be done. First, take the dog outside. This is a dog I said no to, but fell in love with anyway. We named her Spot due to the large black spot that covers her entire body. Black Labs are generally known for this particular marking. We keep her in a little kennel in the house. We'd let her run free but Spot has a problem. Much like her name, she leaves little spots. We tried all the housebreaking tricks, but nothing worked. We were so frustrated that we took her to the vet.
It's a good thing we did. He told us she was sick and that she needed a liver shunt—whatever that is. The vet also says that without a risky operation Spot might not live very long. If that isn't sad enough by itself, it's worse because Spot is my daughter's puppy.
Then why doesn't she feed it and take care of it? Just an observation ...
I hope nothing bad happens to Spot. I had enough trouble trying to explain to Kady, she's six now, about the impermanence of living things and the theory of entropy when her fish, Carole, died two years ago.
Besides, you can't just flush a puppy. Well, you can. There are certain toilets I've used—the one in prison comes to mind—that would suck down a pony. Cons used to let it inhale full-sized towels just for fun.
At the back door, Spot and I do the big hug thing. But when I unlock the slider I realize I've forgotten to shut off my home security system. Spot yelps while I race across the house to disarm the ear-splitting screech. On the way I whack my little toe on the corner table. I always whack the same toe. By now you'd think it would be smart enough to get out of the way. I guess that's why the call it "the little toe." The pain forces me to do the one-legged "whee, whee, whee" hop all the way to the back door, where I hustle Spot out.
While Spot takes care of business I can see the sun peek over the horizon. The clouds are pink and this looks to be a very pretty day.
Did I mention that I have on no clothes? I know. The first thing most people do when they get up—my wife, certainly; the Nordic 20-year-old twin girls next door, unfortunately—is put something on. Not me. It just seems more natural to walk around on a brand new morning, in a half dark house, with nothing between me and Mother Nature but my good intentions. It would be great to answer the door this way when the studio limo and driver comes to take me to the set ... but I don't have a limo or a driver, making this fantasy nearly impossible However, the UPS girl ...
There's still time to watch the early news before I have to get my daughter up, so I turn on the little television in the kitchen. I may be naked, but I'm not worried about the newscasters seeing anything because Big Jim and the Twins (Ping and Pong) are hidden below the counter. Even I know where to draw the line. You'll never catch me watching TV this way in front of the big set in the den.
The news begins with the murder of the day. What a great way to kick off the morning, but let me ask you something: There's got to be more births than deaths, right? Wouldn't we be a lot better off if we began the day with pictures of happy parents with new babies?
Here in L.A. and probably where you live, too—the weathermen were apparently born with names like Dallas Raines and Johnny Mountain. Pretty soon it will be Brian Blizzard, Claude Cloude and, best of all, Getitwrong N. Stillgitpade. I don't even know why we need weathermen in most places. Do we? What can they really say about weather in the southwest? Its degree of sun, the angle of the sun, when the sun is coming up, when the sun is going down, what the sun looks like, what to look for if you've missed the sun, how to recognize the sun if you've never seen it before.
"And in case you're from out of state, the sun is that bright, hot yellow thing in the sky. Don't look at it directly for too long, folks."
Go to the Northwest and it's all about rain.
In Alaska, you can pretty much say, "It's going to be cold and white and if you're a wuss ... unpleasant."
Next up is the cheerful California Highway Patrol officer standing against a freeway system backdrop, telling us that every car in Los Angeles is moving along at a standstill. Why am I not surprised?
I have a great idea Why not combine the weather map with the freeway map, and show the murders and tragedies with push pins? That way we can get it over all at once.
My biggest problem with the newscasts is that I don't understand why all of life is divided into news, weather, and death. This seems a little out of balance. I'd really like a segment on what I should have for breakfast.
"Good morning. Brice Krispies here with the breakfast report. This morning, as a bit of a challenge, try shredded wheat without milk. And tomorrow, simply a banana shake. On the weekend live it up with a dash of cinnamon in your Kona coffee, and if you feel really daring, try a cinnamon bun."
Brice is right about those cinnamon buns. They're not only good, but good for you. If you want to die soon. Each one contains 800 grams of fat, the same as a Big Mac and a hot dog. Or two pork chops and mashed potatoes with a healthy pat of butter. Many of us eat a hearty American breakfast of bacon, eggs, and hash browns and then polish it off with a cinnamon bun. There should be a warning on the package: "Do not eat if you have a heart condition or if you want to avoid one." Also, "If you have circulation problems, don't even open the cellophane." And, finally, "Okay, we warned you." No human can eat one of these a week and live. But if you do survive, this load of fat and calories can easily be burned off by drinking a gallon of grapefruit juice and climbing Mount Everest with the Anvil of the Gods strapped to your back. Sorry, walking up and down the stairs or to your car just won't do it.
Cinnamon buns are not only hard to resist, but hard to keep in their original shape. Get them home quickly because within twenty minutes they slowly disintegrate into their constituent fat molecules. You have to eat it fast or it loses its shape and melts into a clear, mucus-like substance. It's not really a pastry, but reconstituted beef fat and beef talon. It's just dusted with flour. Not that I'm complaining, because I love the things.
Do you know what else would be helpful? Ideas about what clothing to wear. I can never figure out my guy-type ensembles, but if I knew that two salesmen from Barneys would be on each morning to give me wardrobe tips, I'd be there.
Anything would be better than the wife saying, "You're going out in that?"
"No, I just want to see if I still fit in these shirts. This is just a trial."
I could also use some practical guy advice. "Instead of rushing around groggy in the morning trying to find the things you have to take to work tomorrow, put them in your car the night before." Or, "Remember, khakis go with everything."
I'm just killing time. I wish the girls would get up.
Maybe I should put on some pants.
I would rather pickup dog mines in the backyard than wake up difficult people. I understand, because as a kid I would have sold my grandmother for a few more minutes in the sack snuggling with the great white biscuit. My wife is impossible. It is only safe to wake her from a distance, like Portugal.
I always try to rouse Kady with an exciting thought so that she just pops up ready to go. (Amazing how kids can do that without any coffee.) I usually kiss her, and say something like, "I dreamed about being trapped in the Venezuelan jungle."
She'll say, "Gee, Dad, this is getting creepy. That's the third time this week."
Actually, I don't say that, but I do try to get her brain active. "Hey, I dreamed about pigs flying."
She'll say, "I didn't dream at all."
Then I know I've got her. "Why not?"
"I didn't want to dream because I didn't want to come in and visit you two." Lately she's had strange dreams and ends up in our bed.
Now, I'm standing in her doorway without a shirt on, teasing, "Well, I'm going to work now."
"Why not? I'm late."
"You can't go to work like that because people can see your belly."
We both laugh and she's up.
I'm wondering how real or unreal the world of dreams is compared to our waking world. The Hindus and Buddhists say that our every day world is an illusion called Maya and what I've been reading about quantum physics seems to support that. I mean, right now, as I sit here in the kitchen waiting for Kady and Laura, my butt and the chair it's resting on both seem pretty solid, right? It's a solid butt/chair relationship. The physicists tell us that matter is almost totally empty space, so to them my butt (and the chair) look like the view of the heavens from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. In addition, because on the micro-level there are supposedly no definite hard line borders between anything anyway, from that perspective my butt also kind of blends with the chair like cheese on a cheeseburger.
This is almost enough to put me off of eating fast food ever again. Sheesh ... I don't like it when my kid has nightmares and now I'm going to have some.
Laura rushes into the kitchen while I'm making breakfast for my daughter: cereal and milk with a dash of half-and-half. Anything to get the kid to eat. We have to leave to meet the bus in thirty minutes, and no one is really ready. Kady still needs to get dressed, which means she'll try on different outfits for fifteen minutes and complain about not being able to do a thing with her hair. Women! I also need to finish dressing and deal with my impossible hair.
Out of nowhere, my daughter announces that she doesn't want to go camping. That really bums me out. I've been looking forward to being alone for the weekend. Laura's also bummed because now that means a little argument. And as I expected, the girls begin snapping at each other. I'd step in and try to stop it but that would be wrong, because then they will find a way to blame me for everything. This goes on until Laura looks at me and says, "I've got such a headache."
"Motrin IB, Mom," Kady says. "The pain stops here."
Laura laughs and raises an eyebrow. "She's right. But she still watches way too much TV."
While they settle things I look through the laser disc cabinet to find a couple films for tonight's audience of one. Forbidden Planet looks good. Now all I need is a companion feature, but my view is suddenly blocked by a sheet of paper Laura has thrust in front of my face.
"What's that?" I ask.
"It's the list of stuff I need you to do while we're gone."
One part of me resents this because it takes away from the things that I thought I was going to do. The other part resents it also.
"Don't forget to call the plumber," she says. "He can come over this afternoon. And remember to pick up the clothes from the dry cleaner." She means her clothes; my fancy t-shirts are all machine washable. "And someone's going to drop by with tile samples for the new house. Just pick one."
"How do you decide between seven shades of sand?"
"Choose whatever you like."
"Mohave? Gobi? Sahara? Just remember you said that. What else?"
"Feed the dog."
"You have to tell me this?"
"I know how much you hate the smell."
"I'll live. I'll gasp for air, but I'll live."
"And you know about the medication?"
"Okay, tell it all to me again."
"She eats three times a day. Half of the can in the morning, quarter of the can in the afternoon with just kibble, but no water. And a quarter can at night. And make sure she gets outside."
"What about the medicine?"
"Make sure she takes her pills. Two pills at the first feeding, two pills at the second feeding and put that gel on at the evening feeding."
"Okay. I've got it. Two cans in the morning ..."
"Can't you hear me? Half a can in the morning!"
"I was just having a little fun ..."
I don't know why she worries. The dog will get fed, even if I don't do it exactly as she would have. Spot may get her gel in the morning and the pill sometime during the Nightly News, but I promise she'll at least be alive when the girls get home.
"Oh, and put the cat out at night."
"We have a cat? Wait, we do have a cat. I've seen her. Her name is ... Player." (Our daughter named it because the cat plays. The cat couldn't really argue because she also does other things, and it could have been worse.)
"Congratulations, you do live here. By the way, I left a chicken breast and thigh in the fridge for you ..."
"That's sweet. But you know I'm not attracted to chicken."
"... and a casserole. You just put the rice in that sauce, and add the peppers to it. Then you take off the chicken skin, cut the chicken into pieces ..."
"... put it in a frying pan, turn on the stove ..."
Laura plans meals for me. It's her way of being nice, but it just ain't going to happen. I don't have the heart to tell her that I've already planned my favorite meal: a bologna sandwich. And none of that low-fat, plasti-wood, leather-look vinyl garbage, because one day while on the golf course I overheard a physicist tell someone that if you eat enough low-fat fake bologna and fake low-fat cheese food, and add a pop tart, that you can pass a transistor. It's all basically linoleum in the end. So I'm going to make it on Wonder Bread and put potato chips right on the sandwich. And I'll have a Classic Coke. The last time I fixed one of these beauties, Laura caught me red-handed. She said, "You're going to eat that?"
"No, this is a sample lunch. I'm just trying it out before I make my real lunch. But there's no sense wasting the good stuff."
When the girls are gone, I'm not even going to set the table. If Laura was here by herself, she would actually put out place settings with utensils in the correct spots, arrange fresh-cut flowers, eat a wonderful dinner, and do the dishes that night.
I'm ready to go but, as usual, I m still waiting for the girls. So I'll look on the bright side: This gives me a couple minutes to slip into the garage to check out my "baby," a 1946 Ford I've been restoring. Anyone who lived then would have thought this car kind of ugly. It was no big deal, but I like it because it's got a big round back and fat fenders, plus I can take six people for a ride—whether they want to or not. I told my folks about the car, and I can't wait to take them for a spin when they come to visit. From up top the car may look original, but underneath it's running about 300 horses, disc brakes, and fully independent suspension. I always smile when I picture my folks smoking the tires and getting her sideways on an entrance ramp.
The car just looks like a memory, yet there's something about that memory I connect with: This car had a life, and has since been totally forgotten. Maybe I can't restore the original magic, but I can make it better than it was. I can combine what used to be with something new and make it live forever.
You'll also be able to see this hot rod coming. I painted it candy apple red because, well ... it's an outrageously juvenile color. Not very subtle. Very Sixties. Totally guy-like. Take the most macho guys and trick out a car and suddenly lime green, metallic purple, and candy apple red are their favorite shades. We become hairdressers. And house cleaners. The bottom of the car has to look as good as the top.
"Check out that oil pan. Clean enough to eat off of."
This early in the morning, the garage is still and cool and lonely. Later, when I get back, I'll open the big door, let the outside world in, and put the finishing touches on my hot rod. There are just a couple things to do, plus put on the hood ornament.
I might as well get it down now, while I've got a minute. I left it on the shelf above the work bench ... which is where I'm looking now, which is ... why isn't the box here? Wait ... here's the box. Nope, this is not the box. Maybe it's behind this box. Uh uh. Maybe another box? How about this one? It's not in here, either. All these boxes look alike.
Laura pulls open the door from the house and pokes her head into the garage.
Gotta go. I'll have to deal with this later.
We're finally on the way to the YMCA.
I've driven to the "Y" probably 200 times and yet somehow whenever I'm in the car with Laura, the power struggle for navigating starts immediately.
"I think you should take the freeway," she says.
"No, I'm just going to go down Ventura"
It's a no-win situation. If there's any trouble on Ventura, she'll say "I told you to take the freeway." If I try the freeway, which I don't want to do, and it's jammed up, she'll say "You should have stuck with your instincts."
Like most decisions in life, this is one best not to over-think. You just decide, stick with it, and move on.
So I take the freeway—and it's jammed. Now I'm mad at myself, she and the kid are mad, and the car grows unusually quiet.
Fortunately, I have all weekend to take any road I like and do anything I want.
We pull into the "Y" parking lot. Kady sees a girlfriend and runs over to talk. Laura stays in the car with me.
"I'm going to spend a whole weekend with 16 little girls and their moms," she moans. "What was I thinking?"
"You mean you'd rather stay with me?"
"No. I just wonder what I was thinking."
"Kady wanted to do this. You like to do things together. I'm jealous. I wish I could go."
"Okay. You go."
"Ah ... I'd love to but, you know, I've already made plans."
"Oh? What are you thinking?"
"Oh, nothing much. First I'll take care of all the items on your list. Very important. I'll probably work on the hot rod a bit. Then maybe I'll look for some Korean hookers, get a massage—a real massage—and invite the blonde 20-year-old twins next door over for a sunset hot tub."
"Well, have fun," Laura says, unfazed.
"Okay. So maybe I won't get the massage," I say.
"But you will play music really loud because I don't let you when I'm home. And watch movies until 3:00 in the morning, sleep all day, and eat horrible food."
She knows me so well. Maybe I can just leave the uneaten casserole in the refrigerator and she'll understand.
"Have fun. I love you," she says, and gives me a long, soulful kiss, clearly designed to make me forget the twin blondes next door. It seems to be working.
"And Tim ... ?"
"Do yourself a big favor and stop reading that book on your nightstand. And don't buy more. You're not getting any sleep, the pets are already spooked, and you're beginning to scare me. Read a novel. Or work in the garage instead. Put something together. And this time, read the manual first."
"But I have to figure out this stuff."
"No, you don't. It's got nothing to do with real life."
"But what if I'm not really here?"
"Feel that?" Laura says, punching my shoulder, hard.
"You're here. But I'm leaving now. Have a nice weekend."
"I love you, too," I say. "Oh, did you pack the cell phone?"
"Did you bring a good flashlight?"
With that, we get out, unload the bags and join the other kids and their parents. I'm not sure I'd want to be the driver on that bus. I can see it now: Twenty women going, "Left. Left! No, you take the freeway!"
Even more worrisome, I'd be distracted, specifically by Shirley Johnson's butt. Nice. I used to see her at the gym all the time—along with some of the other moms and dads—but what can you tell through baggy sweat pants? She looks great in makeup. Maybe I would want to be the driver.
I give the girls a big hug and kiss and watch them climb aboard. I also peek around Laura to catch another glimpse of Shirley.
As soon as the bus pulls out of the lot, the urge to do a triple low fist pump overcomes me. "All right! I'm free. This is going to be great. It's just me!" While I am dancing and flailing, the other dads look at me from a distance like I'm either some kind of freak, or being hassled by a bee. I don't care what they think. I'm enjoying my little dance of joy on the blacktop.
I'm in the mood for breakfast. A real breakfast. Double helpings of sausage, eggs, and toast. Maybe a cinnamon bun. Forget the yogurt Laura left me. And that cereal no one can pronounce. Mooselips. Mouse Licks. No matter how good it is, if I can't pronounce it I'm not about to eat it. And this afternoon I'll go to the speed shop and hang out with the guys. And maybe I will get that massage.
Yes, I'm in a pretty good mood.
Until I get to my car. The way the light hits the driver's door it looks like there's some kind of ding. There is: A big ding and some little dings around it, like planets around a sun. Now how did that get there? I've only been parked for twenty minutes. This really irritates me. Who would do something like that and not leave a note with a full explanation?
To tell the truth, me! One night long ago I was out drinking and howling with my buddies. Somehow I got it into my head to run across a row of car hoods. Don't ask me why. Then I slipped and slammed down on one hood so hard that the air cleaner impression came straight up through the sheet metal. I almost broke my back. When I recovered, my pals said, "Go in there and find the owner and tell him."
"I'm not going to do that," I said. "He's got insurance."
On the way home everybody in the car was mad at me. "You ass. Why didn't you do the right thing?"
Didn't want to take the responsibility, is why. Decided to act like I'd never really been there. Now I realize that what goes around comes around. Karma's found me and paid me back. I've only got a ding. I should consider myself lucky.
Maybe I should try to find the guy whose car I ruined. The restaurant probably has its old reservation book. It was only twelve years ago. Nah. But at least my heart's in the right place.
This bit of remorse doesn't do much for my mood, though. Suddenly, the music on the radio doesn't sound so great, the day doesn't look so wonderful.
I think I'll just go home and work on the hot rod.
This time, just because I want to, I take Ventura Boulevard home, instead of the freeway. It's jammed.
That's okay. The slow pace gives me the chance to consider and rank the many activities available to a single married man on the loose for the weekend.
I believe we all have different aspects of our personalities inside our heads, vying for attention, though some are more troublesome than others. The young boy in me wards to get right to the fun stuff. Shop for TVs, test drive cars, go to a matinee, eat junk food. This will only kill a couple hours. The adult wants to take care of the many chores Laura left for me. But it's really not what's on my mind. I need to look under the heading, "What Men Do When Their Wives Are Out of Town," cross-referenced with "What Men Think They Can Get Away With."
Immediately, the words "other women" pop into mind. That's my bad self speaking. Sometimes I like him.
Another thing about getting older Even if I had the inclination, who has the energy? Besides, one sobering thought sticks with me: All the women I know and really like are on the bus with my wife and daughter.
Of course, there are always strip clubs, but who the hell is stripping at 8:30 in the morning? I don't think I want to know. Even if I drive 30 miles to the nearest strip bar and see a sign that reads, "Live Nude Girls," I'd have to be honest with myself: At this time of morning it's just going to be the bartender, the bouncer, and me—and I'm not taking anything off! Anyway, strip clubs are all about frustration. It's kinda like going to a buffet restaurant where you can look at the food but ... HEY! DON'T TOUCH THAT!
These days I just look at the young women. I can't help myself. And according to science I'm not supposed to help myself—even though the "biology-is-destiny" excuse never works with Laura. Let me paraphrase something I once read in Newsweek: Did you know that before puberty and after menopause women have essentially the same waistlines? But between those times, while guys are supposed to be filling out like prehistoric hunters, a woman gains nearly 35 pounds of so-called reproductive fat around her hips and thighs? And I'm supposed to look at those curves because it's our species' way of signaling reproductive potential. According to a University of Texas psychologist, "You have to get very close to see the details of a woman's face, but you can see the shape of her body from 500 feet—and it says much more about mate value."
Sometimes Laura catches me looking. I just tell her it's no big deal. "Think of it as me visiting the Museum of Natural Beauty and they're the fine artwork." She lets me get away with this because I think she knows that my real problem is that I'm too old and too married for any of this. I'd have to be about twenty-five to have something to talk about with these women. But twenty-five seems so far away. Had I married and had kids early, like my brother, these women could be my daughters. Or his daughters. Oh, oh.
I'm hungry. I never stopped for that breakfast. Now, a hamburger sounds good. Do they serve hamburgers this early? Soon it will be too late for breakfast, but it's still too early for lunch This seems to me to be the main feature lately of my whole life: too old to do this, too young to do that. Too awake to do this, too tired to do that. Too busy to do this, too ... well, I'm always busy. Honestly, I don't even really feel like eating right now. Eating is no fun when you've got to watch your cholesterol. Trying to remember to eat right just gives me an anxiety attack.
What would my wife do if she was on her own for the weekend? She'd go shopping. Maybe I should go and buy a Ferrari. Or I could check out the gadget store. I'd pretty much buy anything that comes in Styrofoam packing, or that says, "digital," "all steel construction," or "240K" on the box.
Maybe I should go to the gym and work out. Nah. I could just cruise around, but idle time is the devil's time. Suddenly the truth hits me hard in the gut: I have absolutely nothing to do. My big plans have evaporated, along with my energy.
That means it's back to the house for a bowl of Mouse Micks and skim milk. Then maybe I'll tinker with the hot rod.
I check the gas gauge. Half full. I floor it and take off, wishing more things were happening.
As I pull up to an intersection, I see a homeless man muttering to himself on the corner. He seems young; too young to be homeless. Maybe he's just dressed that way for fun. He's bundled up for winter, even though autumn has just begun and Indian summer is still in the air. His space is littered with his belongings. Wait. I think I recognize him. Didn't he once run comedy programming at the network?
It must be strange to suddenly not have a roof over your head. The thought of how quickly things can change or go wrong in life is scary. There are so many things I would like to ask this guy about his experiences. I would also really like to know where he got that great American Indian blanket.
Oh, great. He must have seen me staring at him because he's heading this way. Okay. So I'll pull a couple bucks from my wallet, roll down the window, and hand them over.
"Here you go, buddy."
He snatches them, looks at the bills, looks back at me, and says, "Did you buy the eggs?"
"Eggs. Did you buy the eggs?!"
"I'm sorry, I, uh, don't know ..."
"You do know. You know the answers. You. You have them all."
"Look, I gave you three dollars," I say, quickly rolling up the window. "Get a whole carton."
With that he flips out, curses, and starts stomping on the sidewalk. Only a thin sheet of glass separates us. My heart races at the thought of what he might do next.
The light turns green. I floor it, looking back to watch this nutcake still fuming Then I turn around to see where I'm going and ... holy shit!
I slam on the brakes as fast as I can. The anti-lock hits, the back end slides out. I tap the curb and almost jump it, just missing a trash can.
I am very lucky. A split second slower reaction time and I'd have plowed into a mom walking two children across Ventura Boulevard. Can you imagine doing anything more horrible? And it's all because I'm not paying attention to the world around me.
I try to apologize but the young mother is too shook up and mad to listen. She can only glare at me and try to stop her kids from crying. A pedestrian who offered to help turns to me and says, "Didn't you see her?"
"It was my fault. I should have been looking at what I was doing." I feel like I'm going to throw up.
Fortunately everyone's okay. The damage to my car is incidental, not that it would matter to me if it had been totaled. Anything is better than the alternative. The mom and her kids cross the street and disappear into a drug store. The crowd disperses. One guy wants an autograph and a picture with me.
From the corner of my eye I see the homeless guy across the street. He points an accusing finger at me. But when I spin around, he's not there.
I slide into the driver's seat, start the engine, and drive slowly toward home. I don't know why, but for some reason I check the gas gauge again.
Now it reads half empty.
Copyright © 1998 Dr. Richard Carlson. All rights reserved.
Posted February 24, 2001
ok this is one of the few books ive really injoyed. I loved this book so much that i went out and got his first book the day after. but im starting that one now. I origanaly got this book because i thought it would be filled with man jokes and the goofy tim taylor antics that i see on tv ,but instead i got a better deel. i got many different veiws and ideas about the world about life and about being a man in this world. lol but i recomend this book very highly.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 5, 2000