Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Uncanny and Involuntary Ability to Scream Like a Girl

Acute Stress Response, also known as Fight or Flight, is a very basic and primal instinct. It's that click in your brain that reminds you that you are vulnerable. It also decides for you whether or not you will face danger head on, or turn and run. Or, in my case, turn, squeal, and run. It's natural. There is nothing you can do about an initial instinct. It's what you decide to do once you've had time to process the threat that matters....or so I tell myself.

My first story starts back when Amanda was eight months pregnant with Jackson. I had this great game that amused me time and again. It was called "hold Amanda hostage." Don't be confused. I did her no harm. I didn't even have to touch her. I would simply wait until we got in to Wal-Mart, or the mall, and would start making jokes. That's the weird thing about Amanda. As classy and lady-like as she is, she has always cracked up at my trivial, third grade humor. I can get her every time with a few off color wise cracks. Now, any of you ladies out there that have had children can probably already tell where this is going. During pregnancy, the child can think of no better place to rest than on top of mommy's bladder. That added pressure can really make laughing in public a scene right out of "Mission Impossible." So, I tortured her. The harder she laughed, while unable to move, the harder I laughed. She promised me that I would be paid back in spades for this, and she would have the last laugh. Boy was she right.

When Jackson was born, I fell in love. I was amazed at every little thing he did. I was convinced that his gas giggles were actually a sign of his approval of me as a Dad. I wanted to make sure that I did not miss a thing. Not one milestone.

One Saturday, we needed to make a grocery run to Wal-Mart. No problem. Amanda would handle the shopping, and I would run interference with the kid. We got to the store, and I popped his infant carrier in to the cart. This was so much better than lugging the stroller around with the cart. Plus, it was rear facing so I could keep a close eye on him. We finished up shopping and Amanda bolted out in front of us to crank the car, to cool it down, and pop the trunk. She saw it coming. I did not.

As we head up the aisle toward our car a few loyal patrons were also exiting the parking lot. Now, I'm not afraid of dogs. I'm not really fond of them, but I'm not afraid of them. However, my flight response dictated otherwise. As two cars rolled past my cart, I'm focused in on Jackson, completely unaware of the 150 lb. rottweiler hanging out the passenger window of the second car. This dog must've have the IQ of a chia-pet, because he apparently identified a doting father and his infant son as a threat to his owner's 2000 lb. car. As the car passes, this maniac dog leaps toward my right ear, barely stopped by a half-rolled down window, and barks at me like I stole his lunch money.

I would like to tell you that I glanced to my right, scoffed at the animal, and kept walking. This was not the case. Before, I knew it. I screamed. Not, yelled in a manly fashion. No, I screamed like a 13 year old at a NKOTB concert. But that wasn't all. I also jumped about three feet high and two feet to the left. Not both legs at once, more like a sideways skip. I also cursed, LOUD! So loud in fact, that combined with the girl-like wailing I had managed to get the undivided attention of every person in the Wal-Mart parking lot. As the blood rush out of my head and returned to the rest of my organs, I realized that no one else seemed nearly as worried about my safety as I had been. Instead, they laughed. Not giggled, belly laughed. As I surveyed the symphony of laughter, I found that Amanda was apparently the conductor. She was down on both knees in the middle of the parking lot howling in laughter, shaking violently. No longer was she the victim. Justice had been served. I loaded the kid and the groceries as Amanda stood next to me with one hand over her mouth and the other pointing at me, still laughing away. To this day, I can't just jump in to the "Crazy parking lot dog" story without giving her a few seconds to get some giggles out of the way.

My second story puts Amanda in the cross hairs. Sometimes the fight or flight response reminds us that we are all, seemingly, in this thing alone. Sometimes it's just every man (woman) for himself. Amanda is petrified of snakes. I would take it so far as to say phobic. She knows that her feelings are sometimes irrational, but she's totally fine with that. I never really knew just how scared of snakes she was, until I took her to play golf with me when we were in college.

This was her first time on a golf course. Little did I know, but this was a big deal for her. She does not enjoy walking in grass, because she might not be able to spot a snake. She expresses a little concern about this, but I ensure her it will be fine. I've played golf a thousand times and only seen a snake once. So, we tee off on hole number one. I hit a beauty, right down to the edge of a pond, leaving me a nice wedge shot in to the green. In front of the green, just past the back side of the pond is a mound where the grass is a little high. Huge green, small mound. I hit my ball right into the mound. What luck. We park the cart about forty yards, up the hill, away from the mound. I grab my wedge and putter and head toward my ball. Amanda follows alongside. As I get to the mound, I can't see my ball in the tall grass. So, I begin stomping on the mound hoping to find the ball by stepping on it. Around the third stomp in, I felt my spikes dig in to something. Not only that, but I felt that something move slightly. Panic.

I gently lift the insole of my right foot and spot the scales. This wasn't just a snake, it was a water moccasin. For those of you not familiar with snakes, you know how there is always some idiot on the Animal Planet channel or at your local zoo that tells you how snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them? Well, they ain't talking about water moccasins. They're the devil. I freeze, slowly turn at the waist and tell Amanda to take a few steps back. She asks why. I inform her that I may have just stepped on a snake. Before I can say another word I hear the pitter patter of Amanda's feet SPRINTING up the hill. I didn't see it because she was behind me, but it sounded like something out of a cartoon. I was now focusing on her ridiculously fast running, rather than this monster under my foot. OK Jamey, back on task. As I lifted my foot, the snake's head flopped on top of my foot. He missed. I'm not sure if he was striking or just writhing in pain. I jumped back, armed with my putter, and awaited his charge. But, it was early March, a little cold, and he didn't have the energy to fight. He quickly scurried into the pond, a little worse for the wear. By the way, this was not a small snake. He was a little bit bigger around than a baseball and about 4-5 feet long.

As I returned to the cart that Amanda was trying to climb and my adrenaline slowed and I thought about her response. Her brain processed the equation of self-preservation vs. moral support so fast that I was in awe. Would I have done the same? If so, what kind of man was that? I would like to think that if it was her that stepped on the snake, I would have sprung in to action and saved my damsel. Maybe. But, that's the thing about fight or flight, you don't know till you're in it. The weird part is that it's not always one way or the other. Sometimes you fight. Maybe too often. Don't keep score. Just laugh about it when you can.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Father's Day

I’m a father of two boys. My oldest, Jackson, is an incredibly imaginative six year old whose thoughts are usually racing so fast that rules only get in the way. He reminds me of myself. It always seemed to take something impactful to drive home my Dad’s way of doing things. It’s not that I didn’t understand what was expected of me, I did. It was that I never could fight off those voices in my head assuring me that if I just went for it, the reward would definitely be worth the pain. Most times, those voices were my downfall.

With that said two stories of discipline from my childhood really shaped my views toward parenthood and how to herd the cats of Jackson’s mischief.

My Dad is a very, very routine person. Everything has a routine. Every task has an order and an expected outcome. Yard work was the best example his special brand of neuroses. My parents are geniuses. They somehow designed a half acre lot that was capable of supporting 7,841 pine trees. It was incredible. My numbers might be a tad off, but this was how my mind’s eye perceived it. For those of you that may not be familiar with the hell that is maintaining pine trees, it goes something like this. They are too tall to climb (this is critical to a growing boy), and they shed incessantly. They shed pine cones that make it impossible to walk through the yard barefooted without being hobbled by splinters. They shed pine straw that will kill all of your grass. Finally, they drip pine tar that will de-value your vehicle faster than plastic spinner rims.

Therefore, mowing this small yard was a process that went something like this: Pick up any sticks on the ground >>> bag them, and put on the street for pick up >>> pick +/- 2000 pine cones >>> bag them, and put on the street for pick up >>> rake pine straw for 2+ hours >>> pile on street corner for the mulch guys to pick up >>> riding mower >>> trimming mower >>> re-rake clippings >>> blow off drive-way and pool deck >>> skim pool. This process usually took about 4 hours for a half-acre yard. So needless to say, as an early teen I could think of many better ways to spend my Saturday mornings.

One Saturday in particular really sticks out to this day. It started with a 7:00 a.m. wake up call from Dad, who told me to grab some breakfast and get started on the yard. I groaned. Twenty minutes later, same script. Ten minutes later, you guessed it, same script. Finally, he wings my door open and gives me the ultimatum. “Son, I’m gonna run down to city hall and grab some groceries from Myatt’s (local grocery store). If you haven’t started on this yard by the time I get back, I am going to tear your ass up!” OK, here’s something I want to clarify about my Dad. He was not the disciplinarian in my family. He was mostly a talker, whereas I still wake up in the middle of the night, screaming at the thought of my Mom with a tiny switch. In fact, just typing that caused the back of my legs to tingle.

So, this threat did not fall on deaf ears. If he said it, he meant it. So, I quickly closed my eyes and dozed off for a few more minutes. It was the only logical thing to do. I figured that I would run grab the pine cones, screw the other 74 steps and mow the front yard before he got back. I guess I thought he would be so marveled by my efficiency that he would overlook my process short-comings.

In one of my earlier blogs I discussed “Nolan luck.” If you are familiar with that blog, you should already know what’s coming next.

I hopped out of bed; quickly picked up what pine cones I could, and ran to the back yard to jump on the riding mower. This mower was great. It was produced some time shortly after the civil war and was mostly held together by years of caked on clippings stuck to the frame. It usually took a good four of five yanks of the cord to wake the old girl up, so I wasn’t too surprised when it didn’t crank right away. However, maybe it was the 95 degree June temperature, or the 100% humidity, but I really think it was a combination of pulling the cord 130 times and fear that caused me to collapse on to the grass. I couldn’t bear to pull that cord one more time, so I tried other methods. I beat on the top of the engine with my fists, kicked the tires, cursed at it, even spit on it. No luck.

That’s when I heard it; the whine of my Dad’s car pulling in to the driveway. “James Devan!!!” He marched to the back yard never breaking eye contact as I frantically tried to explain how I had been sabotaged by the demon machine. And wouldn’t you know it. My old man walked straight up, grabbed the cord, and the damn thing purred like a new Ferrari. Oh no. He quickly looked up at me, pointed his finger in my face, and lowly growled “go get my belt.” Needless to say, I should have just push mowed the yard afterward since I wasn’t able to fully take advantage of the ability to sit down while mowing.

But this taught me something. Maybe the mower should not have been the key piece of evidence to guide his decision. Couldn’t he see my desperation? But, as a parent I now understand how tricky it can be to distinguish between the desperation of a child that’s trying to please, versus a child that’s trying to cover something up. I try so hard not to rush to punishment. I try.

The second story is quite the opposite. I was about sixteen years old and the world was my oyster. I had a little Toyota pick-up truck where I spent most of my time. What better way to get in to trouble that to have the ability to do it away from home! The only problem was there wasn’t a lot to do riding the back roads of South Mississippi. One day in particular I found a fool proof plan to waste time. I would go shoot stuff. We had a few guns hanging out around the house, and I had been shooting since a child. I had taken hunter’s safety class, so I had to be an expert, right?

I grabbed a little .22 revolver, and some extra ammo, and headed down to the creek to shoot some cans. I drove up to the creek bank, cranked up some music and began loading the pistol. Once it was loaded, I decided I would practice cocking and releasing the hammer a few times, like you see on TV. The hammer on this pistol was really long and not very ergonomic to my teenage hands. Sure enough, the first time I went to release it, my thumb slipped off of the hammer, causing a round to discharge. Now, that’s a really diplomatic way of saying that I shot a dang gun in my truck. My initial focus was whether or not I would ever hear again. After about fifteen minutes, the ringing subsided and my focus quickly shifted to the hole in my windshield. How in the world was I going to explain this?

I drove home, parked where my parents couldn’t see my windshield and mentioned nothing of the event. Then, as my parents drifted off to sleep, my plan was put in to motion. Disclaimer: I HAD ABSOLUTELY NO CLUE WHAT TEMPERED GLASS WAS. No one ever explained to me that car windows actually have a layer of plastic in the middle to keep them from exploding should something strike them. My plan was simple. I would drive to work early the next day, only to return in frustration over the fact that a mysterious dump truck threw a rock through my windshield. One problem, the hole was too symmetrical. It was too clean. So, I snuck out to my truck, grabbed a decent sized rock and began trying to force it through the hole.

Thank God it was dark. I can only imagine what someone would’ve thought had they seen me standing on my hood, staring at my windshield, crying at the realization that my plan would never work. I would have to own up to this one.

Defeated, I slinked back inside, quietly woke my Mom and explained to her my misdeeds. In a haze of exhaustion she sighed and told me to go back to bed. Paranoia sets in. When was it coming? I barely slept that night until my door opened at 4:30 a.m. My Mom poked her head in and said “Jamey, come tell your father what you’ve done.” Oh God, anything but that. I stumbled into my parents’ room and laid down on the bed next to my Dad who was barely awake. He muttered, “What did you do this time?” as he raised his arms and rested his hands on his forehead. “Dad, I messed up. I took the .22 out to the creek and accidently shot a hole through my windshield.” Seconds seemed like hours. Finally he softly sighed, almost like a prayer “You are so, so stupid. Go back to bed.”

When I got up for school nothing was mentioned. Not one word. I got dressed; duct taped the hole, and went to school. However, when I came home Dad was waiting for me in the driveway. He hopped in the truck and told me that we needed to go see a man about something. We met up with the man who had a mobile home full of junk. It stunk to high heaven. Dad then told me to grab the hand truck and retrieve an old refrigerator from the mobile home. We loaded it up and headed back to the house with not one word mentioned of what we were doing. As I unloaded it, Dad returned outside with dish soap, bleach, some scrub brushes, and steel wool. “Make it shine” he said, as he smiled and walked away. Three or four decades can create some very interesting smells and stains inside a frig. I dry heaved more than once. Some hours later, it looked brand new. Dad got it working again, and sold it off to a friend of his for just enough money to replace the windshield.

It was a powerful lesson, but not for the obvious reason. I was old enough to understand that mistakes take work to fix. I also understood that some mistakes can never be fixed. But, what he really taught me was grace and mercy. He could have easily screamed at me or made me feel ashamed. But he knew I was already ashamed. He took the opportunity to allow me to work it off, rather than taking it out of my rear end or my self esteem. I was spared, not spoiled. I’ve never forgotten it. It’s something I go back to over and over again. It taught me not to pile on. I can see when Jackson is ashamed or afraid. It’s the saddest look I’ve ever seen. But trust me, nothing makes that look of fear and shame disappear faster than when he knows that I understand how he feels. He still has to work to fix the mistake, but only the mistake.

Thanks Dad, I love you. Happy Father’s Day!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Should have called ahead.....

OK guys, this week's post is a special request that I'm more than happy to fill.

As, the old adage states: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Turns out, this is pretty good advice for most any situation.

As I wrote in my first entry, I studied music in college. What I did not mention, was that I dropped out of school with one semester left to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard. It was the best decision I've ever made, career wise. It sounds crazy to be that close and quit, but when you're burned out it's actually an easy move. I spent my first year in the CG tending buoys on the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. It was a very difficult, disgusting, and rewarding job. After that year was over, I decided I had been "rewarded" enough and went to A-school to make rate. I spent nine weeks in Yorktown, VA completing Marine Science Technician A-School. For the non-CG savvy, an MST deals with regulatory compliance, pollution prevention, and what ever else falls in their laps.

The year following the landfall of hurricane katrina, I spent finishing up my bachelor's degree in Security Management. This degree is similar to criminal justice, but focused heavily on physical security and emergency management. Now, before you all fall asleep, I'll get to the point. My career, after my enlistment ended, as a CG civilian based pretty much preparedness 24/7. Half of my job was to be the hurricane officer for Sector New Orleans. This entailed writing an evacuation plan and putting it in place with absolutely no budget. I learned a lot about planning after working through Isabel, Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Gustav, a huge oil spill in the river, and the deepwater horizon spill. But one thing really stood out, planning is critical. The easiest thing to do is shoot from the hip and throw the plan out the window, but that's precisely when mistakes begin to pile up quick. You would think that seeing all of this in my work life would've taught me a little would think.

I love Alabama football. Following the ins and outs of Alabama football is far beyond a hobby, it's obsession. I don't just watch during the season. I follow spring practice, fall practice, and recruiting. That means I spend a ton of time (not as much lately) watching scratchy videos of high school kids playing football from all over the country. For example, when Reggie Bush was in High School, I watched tape on him long before he committed to USC. I still remember the picture on his player profile where he was wearing a track uniform instead of football. I know, it's sad.

The only person that supports me in this endeavor is my best friend AtrickPa. Ah, forget it. I realize many of you may have figured out his real name. It's Patrick. Amanda assured me that encryption is not my strong suit. Anyway, every year Patrick and I scour through e-bay and stub hub to find semi-reasonably priced tickets to Alabama games. We usually hit one, maybe two, a year. It's been fewer lately because we both have kids now, but we do what we can. Well, in 2007 we scored great tickets to an out of conference game against Florida State. Here's a detail that would prove to haunt us later. The game would not be played in Tuscaloosa or Tallahassee. Instead, a neutral site was chosen, Jacksonville.

I'm not sure if any of you have ever been to Jacksonville, but it's quite a hike. Mapquest said that it should take us about eight hours to get from my house to the stadium. Now, eight hours is nothing. I love road trips, mostly because I hate flying. I've driven 17 hours with no problem, many times. But, there is just something about driving across the pan handle of Florida that kills you. I equate it to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. You know it's only six hours long, but half way through two towers you find yourself screaming at the TV. "RUN FRODO! DON'T WALK. GOOD LORD, HOW LONG CAN IT POSSIBLY TAKE TO GET TO MOUNT DOOM!

So, eight hours of reality turns into something like thirty soul crushing hours of monotony. For some reason, I always forget a small detail. It's like watching a sitcom where the main character misses the cute girl's flirting glance, only to toil in love anguish for the entire season. (Jim and Pam anyone?) Well, on this little adventure it completely slipped my mind that we might actually need somewhere to sleep after the game. I guess I thought we would do a drive over/drive back. Yeah, right! Another fun fact that I should have noticed was that Auburn (satan) was playing Florida in Gainesville on the same night.

We got an early start that morning and made it to Jacksonville just in time to park and hit the stadium. Three hours later, we slinked back to the car, sun-burned and depressed from an Alabama loss. There was no way we were going to get a room in Jacksonville, so I decided that we would just head toward Slidell and stop when we got tired. That didn't take long. We made is all the way to Lake City, FL. A cozy little one tooth town in the panhandle that was just big enough to have a handful of hotels near the interstate. We swung in to Taco Bell for a nutritious meal and watched the remainder of the AU/FL game on their TV. Then the geography hit us. All of those inbred AU fans are headed this way. We might be looking for a room for a long, long time.

We quickly finished our taco perfection and hit the door. We sloughed off the nagging idea of trouble as we hit the parking lot of the first hotel. A really nice Hampton. No luck. In fact, the girl behind the desk may have giggled a little as we casually stated that we wanted to check in. We then tried a few more, only to be rejected. Then, on our next to last try, the desk clerk gave us a very hopeful piece of information. Notice, I didn't say helpful. He cringed a little as he informed us that every hotel in Lake City was full save one, the america's best value inn! Value is a tricky word. I should have taken heed of the look in his eye when he said it. It was very reminiscent of the nervous, telling look that a hostage gives an unknowing cop at the door. He may have even mouthed "don't do it." But, I didn't get it.

Saying this hotel was a value is like saying that the $5.99 ribeye, stuffed with giblets of broken glass, is a heck of a buy! We arrive at the hotel to find that they had saved the best parking space just for us! In fact, they saved most every space. hmmm. We think nothing of it, grab our bags, and plow through the front door ready to hit the sack. And there it was.....nothing. To say the lobby was sparse would be an understatement. There were no light fixtures, no plush furniture, no fresh flowers. There was only a particle board desk with a metal folding chair on the other side. No attendant. We stood there for a few minutes. Surely the staff was hard at work preparing for the rush of guest for the evening. Yeah, that had to be it. After a few minutes I kind middle eastern man slowly walked to the desk. He almost seemed surprised that we wanted to check in. He fumbled around with the paperwork as if the process was foreign and finally swiped our card to cover the fare.

As we asked for the key, he informed us that the electronic lock on the door did not work. We could just let ourselves in. He stated that the hotel had just been renovated so some of the new devices still had glitches. Seemed plausible. He told us to just turn the deadbolt once we were in, to make sure we were safe. OK, that's a little scary. We grab our bags and head down the hall about 15 feet, to the first available room. Well, that is really convenient for us to get the first room. That way, we don't have to take any pesky elevators and huff up and down the hallways. We get to the room, and sure enough, the door is cracked open. We head inside to find the single most filthy, smelly, and possibly infested room I've ever seen. It smelled like that rush of warm air that hits you in the face when a dump truck passes by. The carpet was moldy and sticky. There were roaches in the bathroom and the room had no furniture besides two full size beds and a TV on a stand. Yep, we just rented a future murder scene.

We quickly drop our stuff and head up to the Chilli's on the corner for a cocktail. As we return to the hotel, we notice that Haj, our friendly attendant is no longer manning the front door. We quickly head in, make a plan to get about six hours of sleep and get the hell out of this dump. I try to turn on the TV to watch sportscenter. Hmm, the remote is dead. Never mind, I'll just use the controls on the TV. Wait, there's only a power button. That's cool, I'll go ask Haj if he has any extra batteries lying around. It was then that we met him. Haj's late night relief. He wasn't at the desk though. He was in the office, which consisted of a chair, a small TV, and a dorm sized refrigerator. He was about 5'10", 350 lbs, with long curly hair. He was wearing dirty tube socks, boxer shorts, and a too tight t-shirt with a lifetime's worth of stains on it. As I approached the door he was shoveling cereal, mostly, in to his mouth and laughing WAY to hard at a sitcom.

I think I spooked him as I got his attention. He quickly turned around, with a startled look, and eloquently stated, "What?" Nice. "Umm, excuse me, but our remote is dead and I was wondering if maybe you had some extra batteries lying around?" "No," he retorted. "But, you can use mine, if you want to." He then fumblingly handed me a sticky universal remote, that he apparently stored on top of his belly, and quickly returned to his show. I froze. Was this a joke? Was he also going to bring me a half wet towel in the morning to dry off with? Dear God, please let this end.

Patrick and I then decided to forgo sportscenter for the night. We each laid, fully clothed, on top of the covers of our respective beds, using our bags as pillows. It was at this time that I had to break the tension. I mentally torture Patrick. I begin detailing to Patrick how Haj and Grimey would soon be picking the locks to our doors, making sure that we were asleep. They would then probably chloroform us, rape us, kill us, and sell our organs to fund Grimey's hardcore cereal addiction. Trust me, I was very detailed in this account. We both are laughing so hard that it somehow takes our minds off of the fact that my story is probably factual.

We sleep just long enough to see the sun rise. We lived! Sometimes it takes a Haj and Grimey type situation to remind that mommy isn't there to wipe your butt for you anymore. Make a plan, or pay the consequences.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hey There Mr. Fancy Pants!

Diann was the lucky one. She was the lucky Nolan child that was not given a nickname. My other sister's name is an abbreviation of her first and middle names. My parents were creative enough to turn my masculine first name (James) into Jamey, a name that veers sharply to the feminine side of ambiguity. But it's my older brother's nickname that inspires my birthday special blog posting. His given name is Dale, like my dad. However, as a child he did what all little boys do, he dressed up in my dad's Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. One of dad's friends then loudly exclaimed that he looked just like a little man. And that's just how quickly a nickname sticks. To this day, my brother Dale is referred to as Man.

But this posting isn't about nicknames. It's about the phenomenon of never wishing to be your current age. Man wanted to be a grown up. This, as it turns out, seems to be the natural course of things, no matter your stage of life. I, on this most ho-hum of birthdays, just want my hair back. Not all of it mind you, but just enough to avoid having to varnish my scalp with spf 6000 prior to any long-term outdoor activity, just to make sure I can run a brush through my hair for the next month, without screaming like a child. I digress.

We are surrounded by this notion daily. Every formal wedding in America undoubtedly features a gaggle of 4-7 year olds dressed in teeny tiny tuxedos and dresses. Conversely, you don't have to go much further than your local Wal-Mart to find a granny sporting some interesting combination of hot pants, cowboy boots, and a tube top. These are the poles of this concept. They make sense. Grandparents love seeing little kids dress up, and hot pants Mildred is just trying to hang on by a thread. I believe the really embarrassing ones happen in your twenties.

Your twenties seem to thrust you in to adulthood, with little to no warning. But, you embrace it. You have no idea what it means, but you embrace it. Before you know it you have a job that pays more than tens of dollars, a credit score, pine sol, and maybe even kids. What? Pine sol you say? Yes. Nothing is more adult(y) than purchasing pine sol at a grocery store. No self-respecting adolescent gives a crap about why their kitchen floor doesn't smell like a forest. It's a mothball type product. It's during this time that your chest puffs up a little and you add the slightest of struts to your step. Danger Will Robinson!

Amanda and I are pretty good at marriage, but we SUCK at wedding anniversaries. We both forgot our anniversary five of the first seven years we were married. Well, it became so common that one year we actually planned a romantic anniversary outing. "Hmmm, let's invite some friends!" We poked around and finally came to the conclusion that we should invite our best friends (another couple) to join us for our anniversary dinner and subsequent Ghost Tour through the French Quarter. Forget what those commercials say, NOTHING says I Love You like a trite, overly-dramatic, walking tour through the quarter, in the heat of summer!

So we set off to NOLA, destined for Besh Steak for dinner. Besh Steak is Chef John Besh's steak house inside Harrah's casino on Canal St. Forget the fact that it's mere steps away from player's club pensioners repeatedly slamming one-armed bandits hoping for the big payoff, it's a REALLY nice restaurant. Not the type we generally patronize. Something about my Dad's appreciation for the Burger King value menu usually forces me to scoff at $100+ meals, but this was to be a special night. Plus, they validate the valet. cha-ching!

We are promptly seated by a kind hostess. Then it happens. We meet our waiter. I'm sure there are many avenues I could go down to appropriately describe how smug of a human being our waiter was, but we'll just leave it at smug. Most of the time, I'm a pretty confident person. But, there is just something about dealing with some smug twit with a superiority complex that really turns me in the other direction. I'm so focused on trying to figure out why the person holds themselves in such high regard, that I begin stepping all over myself. This would, no doubt, be one of those occasions.

Growing up in South Mississippi provided me with a very unique experience. What it did not provide me with was fine culture. Most of the time, when I look at the menu of a fancy restaurant, I skip over any word from another language and focus on the staples. Steak blah blah, with a potato blah. Yum, steak and potatoes; I'll have that. Oh, it comes with a blah blah reduction? That sounds great, but can I get it on the side? You get the point. This strategy had worked for years, but tonight I would be exposed as a fraudulent simpleton.

Everything was going great. They brought out these complimentary little slices of toast with a delicious spread to go on it. My first thought: Attack the free food. So I start digging in, as Amanda gazes at me in disgust. "That tastes horrible" she exclaims, as I smile and start round two. Finally, captain smuggo returns and I inquire as to the name of this delicious spread. "Oh that? That's foie gras." Gee, that names sounds really familiar. Oh yay, I just double-fisted pureed goose liver. Suddenly, what was once quite tasty becomes very earthy and too rich to eat. I push it aside, barely able to stand the smell of it. That was the first sign that maybe I was a bit out of my element. I did not have experience with fine dining, and suddenly began to feel like a child in a suit 18 sizes too big.

Then it came time to order the main course. My inner voice was screaming at me to aim for the staples. "Don't Ask Questions!" Too late. Before I knew what I was saying, I asked smuggo "what is a ragout?" Now, for those of you who know that word, and it's proper pronunciation, keep it to yourselves. Without warning, smuggo explodes into laughter. After a few seconds, he composes himself and corrects me, "You mean, what is a Ragout (pronounced ragoo)? Upon hearing of my mistake, and seeing my embarrassment, my lovely wife quickly joins in with our friends and smuggo to have a good laugh at the redneck's expense. Smuggo then dismissed himself to place our order, and apparently tell the remaining staff the story of the rube he had sitting at table 34. The giggles from passing waitstaff were all too obvious. I might as well have kicked off my shoes and chewed on a toothpick.

But, I was not alone in my embarrassment. My best friend would quickly join team rube. I'm not using his real name, to avoid any embarrassment on his part. Let's call him AtrickPa. He decided that since he was having a nice steak, a bottle of wine would be a great accompaniment. He wisely hides the intimidation of the wine list and picks something he recognizes. He should have stopped while he was ahead. As the bottle was delivered, smuggo popped the cork and poured a nice sample for my buddy's approval. Now look, I can handle the fact that he sniffed it. Wine smells great. But, I shivered in uncomfortable delight as he raised the glass to eye level and swished it around to check it's "legs."

So, I'm faced with a moral dilemma. I love AtrickPa. He's a true friend. I also know the shame of being exposed as a fancy pants. I had just lived it. But there was NO WAY I would allow him to carry on this charade. I burst open laughing at this sight and screamed "what in the world are you doing?" Again, smuggo and our wives joined right in with my roaring laughter as AtrickPa took his turn in the barrel. He shrunk three inches.

But a funny thing happened. We relaxed. It was like the realization of who we really were was comforting. I didn't really know fancy food, and he damn sure didn't know anything about wine. We had been trying so hard to be "all growed up" that we weren't enjoying why we showed up in the first place. After that, we had an amazing night. We laughed, mostly at ourselves, and told stories. We ate great food, minus the goose liver, and then hit up the quarter for the ghost tour.

It might be my favorite memory of what being twenty-something was like. Amanda looked beautiful in a flowing gypsy skirt, with a permanent smile, as we soaked in the tongue-in-cheek spookiness of the tour, laughing loudly at all of the inappropriate times.

I don't think I'll ever properly pronounce the word ragout. I now wear it as a badge.