For Dee Dee:
Fish Stories. Life is filled with fish stories. Some are easy to spot. They revolve around conquests or accomplishments. Others are a bit trickier to identify. It seems to me that every aspect of manhood holds within it the ability to explode into some extravagant fish story where the hero could not have his wishes quelled by the realities of nature. However, the most annoying fish stories are those that you live, daily. There is a great C.S. Lewis quote that pretty much sums up this important truth. "Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn."
For me, it started as a child. My Dad was infamous for this type behavior. Logic says that if you go to war with a filet knife and the knife wins, GO TO THE HOSPITAL. Not us Nolans. We would rather use duct tape to secure the wound with adequately sterile paper towels. The fish story here is that "Rules Don't Apply to Me." It was as if, through genetics, I had been granted a waiver from many of society's rules, not to mention common sense. I can track my application of this concept throughout my life, but will choose to ignore the fact that it usually correlates to a very embarrassing situation. So without further adieu:
My Dad, my brother Mann, and I all have a very interesting personality quirk: we obsess. Now, I'm not talking about some unhealthy obsession that controls our lives day in and day out. It's actually quite the opposite. It's usually something small and innocuous that we focus our attention on for a brief, but intense period. Examples include, my brother's love of all things tech. He always has a fantastic new toy. My Dad usually finds something like a local Chinese restaurant to obsess over. I do the same, except with Mexican food. However, I also find myself obsessing over things I hear on the radio/ipod. For those of you that don't know, I love my ipod. It might be the best purchase I've ever made if you relate dollars spent vs. time spent listening. The weird part is, I don't listen to a lot of music. I mostly listen to podcasts. LOTS of them. Right now, I'm subscribing to about twenty five different podcasts. I love talk radio type entertainment. However, before the ipod, I would spend my time listening to xm radio. It was during this time that a certain radio commercial grabbed my attention.
I don't remember the exact name of the product, but it was one of those cleansing systems. Basically, this thing claimed that after a few short weeks of use you would feel more energetic, drop a few pounds, smell better, drive safer, grow taller, and add +/- 40 points to your credit score! Wow, how could I live without it! One problem, at the time (2003) I was an E-3 in the Coast Guard making a cool $1600 a month. There was no way that I would be able to afford 344 easy payments of $34.95. ARGH!!! But there had to be a work around.
That's when I heard some fantastic news on a news talk show interviewing some random doctor. Basically, the host asked if these type products were all they were cracked up to be. He then repeated some of the advantages of a system cleanse, and even though he failed to bring up credit scores, he did mention one key piece of information. He stated that these new-fangled products were really nothing new. He went on to explain that any OTC laxative, when taken properly, would generally provide the same benefits. However, I'm pretty sure he skipped out on explaining what happens if you don't take it properly.....(editorial note: this story will NOT contain crude descriptions, it's a pretty safe read.)
I remember the scene well. Amanda and I standing in the laxative aisle at the Wal-Mart in Southport, NC. Amanda repeatedly shaking her head in disapproval as I ignorantly survey the ingredient lists of various products. "Oh look honey, this one has 150 mg of blah, blah." Her: "I don't care. Just remember, this was your idea, not mine." Finally, I figured that I should just go with name recognition. Ex-Lax. However, surely the garden variety "regular strength" would not provide the benefits I sought. If I was going to take this seriously, I had to step it up a notch. I skipped straight over "maximum strength" to "ULTRA." Let's face it, ultra sounds cooler (damn you creative marketing!)
So we returned home and I read the instruction aloud "1 Pill Daily." Nah, let's kick start the old girl and take her down the road a piece. I'll start with two. Amanda cautioned me as I swallowed them down. "Jamey, it's 8:00 p.m. you are going to be up all night." Hmm, small price to pay for digestive health. One problem, nothing happened. I stayed up till about midnight to make sure, but so far....nothing. So, I hit the hay looking forward to a great weekend with my new bride.
Now, I've never actually swallowed molten lava, but I think I have a good idea what it feels like. At 4:00 a.m. I awoke, in an almost out-of-body experience, to find myself curled into a ball screaming in anticipation of what was sure to be a re-creation of the diner scene from Alien. What had I done? Amanda slept peacefully, almost ironically, as I writhed around on the bed, and then the floor for the next half hour. Then the pain, without reasoning, subsided. HA HA! I had conquered it! Maybe I should've tripled the dose.
The next morning I woke up to a quiet house. Amanda had risen before me and was watching TV in the living room. As I walked in to the room she gave me a look that said "did you learn your lesson?" I played it off. "Nothing happened. I guess I'll just continue on with this psychotic regimen until I get some real results." So, I took more. We carried on with our day watching TV and planning the rest of our weekend. Situation: normal.
Now, to truly understand what took place next, you need to understand the lay out of town where we lived. Southport, NC is a very small town adjacent to the mouth of the Cape Fear River. It's a beautifully sleepy town that has one main drag. This two-lane street, with red lights expertly placed every twenty-five feet, to ensure that citizens were safe by making sure that you were never able to get your car past second gear. It could make a one mile drive last fifteen minutes. Southport also had another fascinating landmark: Famous Subs and Pizza. I challenge you to find me a better meatball sub anywhere in the world. It was sublime. So, around 11:30 we begin to discuss what to do for lunch. I wanted a meatball sub, but Amanda doesn't want to get dressed for the day quite yet, so we call in a pick-up order and hit the road.
As we pull into the drive-through I feel the tiniest twinge of discomfort. A reasonable person would have assessed the situation and turned the vehicle around. But, has anything in this story, as of yet, led you to believe that I am a reasonable person? So, we stayed. As a line formed behind us, and we were only one car from the window, I would like to quote my Dad: "Business picked up." I immediately slammed both feet into the floorboard of Amanda's car lifting my entire body approximately 6-8 inches off of the seat. My faced turned white as sweat began pouring down my brow. This is where time stood still. Logic tells me that the car in front of us paid, got their order, and drove away none the wiser. But my mind was telling me that they obviously knew of my distress, along with the entire restaurant staff, and were part of God's plan to teach me a lesson. I'm pretty sure I lived three, maybe four lifetimes before they moved.
By the time we reached the window, I was visibly trembling. My thighs were beginning to cramp and my eyes bulged like bull frog. I could barely speak as the girl at the window asked for our money. Amanda, who is nervously/hysterically laughing, hands over a check. The girl looks at the check closely and identifies that we are using new checks with a low check number. This meant that she would have to call the bank to verify the funds. I whimper.
By the time we get our food, I'm cursing. I peel out of the drive-through, body still lifted off of the seat and stare down the gauntlet of red lights that stood between me and relief. I somehow imagine that swearing loudly will take my mind off of the fact that I must somehow sustain this ridiculous posture for at least 5-10 minutes more. I can only imagine what some pedestrian thought as this little car comes swerving by, barely under control, being driven by a raving lunatic who is obviously having some type psychotic episode, while slamming on the brakes every twenty-five feet. We reach the house, and only one obstacle remains, the porch. Our front porch was a raised slab about two and a half feet high with no stairs. This presented me with two options, try to take a step, or sit and roll. Since my knees were involuntarily clinched together like a vice, the latter would have to suffice. So, I sat on the slab, like a lady riding side saddle, and rolled to my side to get to the front door. I made it.
News flash idiot: The rules apply to you! They always have. You don't always have to do things the hard way, just to prove you can do them. Sometimes it's best to shut up and follow instructions.