Monday, August 29, 2011

Bloody Socks, and other misadventures of a bumbling mess

I was heartbroken. Devastated. My dreams were instantly dashed against the rocks of reality. I would never live in a teepee or hunt wild game with a bow and arrow. I would never don my war paint, leaving my squaw behind to protect my people. For this day, this horribly dark day, was when I realized that when my dad referred to me as "bull in a china shop" he was not calling me by my native American moniker. Instead, he was referring to my innate ability to destroy everything in my path with relative ease. It's a gift; what can I say? It's become a running joke throughout my entire life. "I can't have nothin nice!" If I get a nice shirt, I get splattered with grease. If I buy a new car, I ding it leaving the lot. I can break anything. But, that's not the frustrating part. What really drives me crazy is that the harder I try, the faster everything falls apart. I'm the anti-Fonzi. By the way, did you ever notice that the only thing Fonzi ever beat up was that stupid jukebox?

I would describe the child version of Jamey as a people pleaser. These days I realize that most people would be much better served by my lack of involvement in their day to day lives. But as a child I desperately wanted to have a hand in other people's happiness. I couldn't get out of my own way. There are two instances from my childhood that truly drive this point home.

If the doors were open, we were at church. I'm sure that my mom's devotion to taking me to church was not solely based around her concern for my eternal soul. I figure that she was more than happy to release hurricane Jamey on anyone dumb enough to agree. Relax mom, I'm just joking. But seriously, you were always WAY too excited every year when our week long vacation bible school rolled around. That's a heck of a respite.

Anyway, the thing about a people pleaser, especially a very independent people pleaser, is that you have to be very careful what you say around them. If you give them the slightest opening for them to slap on their superhero cape, they'll do it. Someone really should've given Mr. Terry, my Royal Ambassador's teacher, this sound advice. One Wednesday night, he goes in to graphic detail about the struggles of a future mission trip that he intended to take. He was very involved in church building, and told us all about a church he would be traveling to in California to help finish building. This was going to be no picnic. This church had massive funding issues and was far behind schedule in their progress. I remember being horrified at the thought of these desperate builders who had completely run out of money to buy nails! How could these poor people ever expect to worship if they can't hold the building together. I imagined that California must surely resemble one of those third world countries I'd seen on TV. I guess I thought Sally Struthers was hanging out somewhere near the Bay area.

This would not do! This was a job for Jamey!!! I stewed on this information for the next two days and finally developed a sure fire plan to save this church. I would panhandle outside our local grocery store. After all, who else was better equipped to come to the rescue of these poor Californians than the steady flow of millionaires patronizing a stop and shop in a rural Mississippi town? So off I headed, with a collection box of sorts, riding my bmx down to the grocery store first thing Saturday morning. Just to make sure it was on the up and up, I visited with the proprietor to explain my intentions and the dire need of this mission. He agreed that I could stand out front. I can only imagine the employee pow wow before they opened up. "OK guys, we really need a strong day today. It's summer, so all the BBQ items will be flying off the shelves. Cashiers, we are no longer accepting checks from Mr. So and So, he's bounced two this year already. Everyone have a good day, and don't forget to point and laugh at the Nolan kid out front begging people for money."

I put in a full day's work. The patrons were awestruck at the stories of woe I told about this mysterious unfinished church. The coins, and occasional bills, were flowing like milk and honey. I was really working the crowd. My tales were met with oos and ahhs to beat the band. I fancied myself a young televangelist. If only I could muster up some tears to really seal the deal. But no, that would be too much. After all, these people had bills of their own to pay. If I turned the pity knob up to eleven, God only knows how many people would've coughed up every penny they had! Once lunch time came, I retired to the Nolan house to grab a bite and report my success to my parents. As I walked in the house, my mom asked me where I'd been. To which I replied THIRTY SIX DOLLARS!!! "Huh," she said as she stopped what she was doing to come investigate. "Where did you get that money?" I looked at her quizzically and replied, "from lots of people." I then went on to explain that it was for Mr. Terry's mission work. "OH MY GOSH, JAMEY. You've been collecting money in the middle of town." That's when the error of my excited state hit me.

My mother then spent the next thirty minutes trying to get me to remember who all had given me the money, to no avail. She finally decided that we would give the money to the church during the next offering. That way, it would be used for good. It's amazing how quickly you can go from feeling like a savior to feeling like an idiot.

The next story comes from junior high. My 7th grade year, I was drowning in the depths of hormonal embarrassment. Nothing is worse than when you realize that if you're "cool" enough a girl would like you, yet you have NO FREAKING IDEA how to be "cool" enough.

To understand this story, you need to learn a little geography, so I'll draw a map below.

***SCHOOL*** ***Mom's office*** ***Grocery Store***
Highway 11
                                                                ***Donut Shop***

As you can see, my mom's office was on the way to my school. Down the highway a little was a grocery store on one side and a donut shop on the other. My mom worked for the postal service and went to work very early in the morning. I figured it would be a nice gesture to surprise her with breakfast before heading to school. Again, I hopped on my bmx bike and huffed it down to the grocery store to see what their bakery had by way of breakfast items. I was upset to find their selection and quality somewhat lacking. Running low on time, I decided to huff it back across the highway to the donut shop for a last minute breakfast rescue. Now, crossing a major highway on a bicycle can be a daunting task for a 13 year old, so I took the haul ass approach. I took off and picked up enough speed to dash in between cars, not realizing that what you don't see can definitely hurt you. I had no idea that right in my path, on the other side of the highway, was a pothole that would rival the marianas trench. By the time I saw it, it was too late. My front tire disappeared and I flew forward with a surprising jolt. One problem, I didn't separate from the bike. Instead, I became entangled in the bike frame and we collectively tumbled through the gravel parking lot, coming to a grinding halt about twenty feet from the pot hole. As I struggled to my feet, the guy behind the donut shop window asked, "holy crap man, are you alright?" I nodded and requested two of his finest glazed donuts and a dozen donut holes.

As he prepared my sophisticated order, I began to survey the damage. Yep, just as I figured. I'm bleeding from EVERYWHERE. I'm numbed from the shock, but can somehow feel the slight tickle of blood trickling down my arms, legs, torso, and chin. I pay for the donuts and dutifully deliver them to my mom's office. As she opens the door, she screams in horror at the visual in front of her. I don't say a word. I simply reach my hand out and hand her a white paper bag of donuts, covered in blood. Wow, what a breakfast. She takes me to the back bathroom and tries to tend to my wounds. In all honestly, I probably needed stitches, but we simply applied more band-aids and off to school I went.

I'll never forget sitting in Mr. Schlott's class as one of my female classmates shrieks in horror and raised her hand. "Umm, Mr. Schlott? Jamey's bleeding into his socks!"

Yep, I was clearly on my way to ladykiller extraordinaire!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Seriously, how did I get here?

Arriving at boot camp is a very interesting experience. Your stage of anticipation is set over the duration of a two hour bus ride from the airport. A bus load of nervous kids, who have no idea what to expect chatter incessantly about where they are from, what they want to be, or what music they’re listening to. They talk about ANYTHING but that feeling in the pit of their stomachs. You arrive and are given four seconds of very specific instructions by a guy in a smokey bear hat, which basically boils down to “Get your ugly faces off this damn bus!”

You then fall all over yourself and scramble to line up on the markers out on the street. Then they yell at you for a good ten minutes and you rush inside to screen your belongings, which mean they pretty much throw everything you own in giant trash cans. After an hour and a half of very condescending instructions, they bring you to your temporary squad bay and give fifty five guys approximately eight minutes to shower, shave, and line up next to your bunk. After you are instructed to lie in bed at attention, they cut the lights out. There in the darkness the only sound you hear is a faint whimper from some guy who was terrified by the entire dog and pony show. That’s when you have the thought. It’s a thought that happens periodically throughout your life that causes you to snap back in to reality and truly see the absurdity around you. “How in the world did I end up HERE?

I would imagine that the “how did I end up here” thought happens more frequently as you get older. Somehow you have to come to terms with the realities of your life and its contrast with the ideas you had about life as a child. It’s not a bad thought, at least not always. It’s more a grasp to swallow the surrealistic nature of what it’s really like to be an adult. I find that being a parent seems to really increase the frequency at which these moments occur. In fact, I had one yesterday as I stood out in front of our local pharmacy spraying chunks of vomit off of their sidewalk with a water hose. It was like an out of body experience. Therefore, I’d like to share a short list of some of my “How did I end up here” moments as a parent.

My oldest son, Jackson, had a LOT of ear problems as a small child. After our first ENT’s third chance to get tubes in his ears, he referred us to the buddha of ears at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. Over a year and a half long period, we probably had about fifteen appointments. Amanda’s job, at the time, was not very flexible with days off, so I took him to the doctor alone a handful of times. If you know Amanda and I very well, you know that we are extraordinarily co-dependent and thus do not do many things alone. Our marriage is a team sport. So this one man trek to uptown NOLA was sure to be quite an adventure.

In order to keep Jackson, who was about two and a half at the time, happy during our hour long commute I do what any insecure parent does, I surrounded him with junk food and fruit juice. By the time we hit Tchoupitoulas Street he has a curiously green look on his face. About three blocks from the hospital Jackson mumbles “Dada,” and as I turn around he sprays a conglomerated mixture of gummy worms, potato chips, and apple juice all over himself, the seat in front of him and most of the back seat. It was a river that just kept flowing. He began crying loudly, trying desperately to wipe it off of his hands, as I swerve in to the hospital parking lot. Realizing that I did not pack extra clothes, I’m left with only one choice.

The facial expression on the lady at the front desk was quite memorable. You would think that a woman who comes in to contact with every patient at a children’s hospital would be completely desensitized to a man and his child covered in multi-colored vomit from head to toe. Instead, she jumped back and sat motionless as I explained my predicament and asked for any help she could give. At least, that’s what I thought I asked. I had a hard time concentrating since Jackson had not yet stopped screaming in to my ear. Finally, she brought me to a back room and offered me a plastic bag to put his gross clothes in and some clean, warm sheets to wrap him in. Once I got all the gunk off, I stood there in my under shirt, holding my now-soothed child, staring at mount throw-up, and it hit me. I was over-whelmed by the fact that an infinite amount of decisions, be them what clothes to wear or where to live, led me to standing in a small room in a hospital in NOLA, holding a child, staring at a pile of stinky clothes, while somehow feeling like a disillusioned hero. “How in the world did I get HERE?”

Not all of these moments, as a parent, are centered around bodily functions. Most of them are, just not all. Another moment inducing realization is the fact that your running buddies change. And no, this is not one of those single people have more fun things. This is more about the fact that in order to socialize your kids, you are forced into loose relationships with other parents that maybe wouldn’t be in your crowd otherwise. I won’t go in to specifics because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but some people have very different concepts of what’s appropriate in mixed company. Let’s just say that I will live the remainder of my life unable to forget the story of random mother A’s episiotomy. You know what that is? That’s assault. She assaulted me by forcing me to know that. As far as I’m concerned, she could’ve had her baby delivered via FEDEX; I don’t need the details.

Finally, I’ve decided that I know why parents take so many pictures of their kids. It’s because they are so freaked out by the responsibility they’ve undertaken, and are simply capturing evidence of the result of their decisions. Every time I whip out a picture of my boys I’m not only sharing the pride I feel about them and their accomplishments, I’m also giving you a glance into my psyche. If you look carefully you will see that every picture is not only a reminder of “how in the world did I get here,” it’s also a “where in the world do I go from here” moment. You see, that’s the freakiest thing. Once you identify that millions of seemingly meaningless decisions led you to where you are, the prospect of every future decision seems much more weighted.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Holiday Roads

I’d like to set the stage for what might be the world’s most annoying joke that nearly drove a middle-aged mother of four to the brink of insanity/homicide. In 1989 a mother, father, ten year old boy, and an insanely vicious 3lb. peek-a-poo packed two week’s worth of belongings in to a tiny station wagon and drove from Mississippi to Canada. The route north was through the Rocky Mountains, while the trip home went from California straight across Texas. It was an amazing trip that took about three weeks. You guessed it, I was the ten year old and smutley was the vicious dog. Man, I hated that dog.

Here’s a helpful tip from me to you: If you rescue a dog from an abusive household and the first thing it does is bite your child’s face, ask around to see if there are any junk yards in need of a night watchdog. DO NOT pile it into the backseat of a car with the aforementioned child and expect them to become fast friends. I would’ve never thought it possible for a dog to continuously growl for three weeks. Smutley proved me wrong. I spent most of my car time trying to sit as still as possible hoping that “have teeth/will travel” wouldn’t go nuclear on me because I wanted a sip to drink. It was like I was sitting on a land mine, frozen in fear. The worst part was when the little monster would come over and snuggle against my leg. You’re thinking “aww, that’s really sweet.” WRONG. That was his setup move for a sneak attack. If you looked close enough, just behind his “let’s be friends” puppy dog eyes sparked the glint of “I can’t believe this dopey kid is going to fall for it.”

I'm actually sitting here angrily remembering how many times this psycho bit me for absolutely no reason. Why was this dog allowed to live in our home? Why did we put up with his prima donna/roid rage attitude? I'm not sure if he ever allowed me to pet him. The only thing that gave me solice was hearing my dad scream at night. You see, smutley would sleep on my parents' bed, under the covers, near my dad's feet. About once a week or so, smutley would wake from an apparent nightmare, and viciously attack dad's little piggies. Nothing was funnier than hearing my dad cursing at the dog while simultaneously trying to escape out from under the covers, stumbling in the darkness.

However, one thing kept me amused on the trip, despite satan’s spawn sitting next to me. A van. To be accurate, a minivan. To be specific, the Mazda MPV. Minivans were a fairly new concept in 1989. Our gigantic Chevy conversion van quickly became passé. We were terribly behind the fad craze over the minivan. It was the perfect suburban vehicle. You could fit a family of 34, load it down with groceries, strap your all too handy kayak on top and fill the tank with about eight bucks. Needless to say, the middle class were clawing each other’s eyes out to get to their local minivan emporium. Living in petite Purvis, MS we were apparently buffered from minivan madness. However, once we hit the road for vacation my dad was awestruck at how many minivans we were passing. This led him to pontificate over the meaning of the MPV acronym. The obvious answer was that it meant Most Popular Van.

As he quipped at how popular the van was, my mom made the mistake of ignoring his jokes. We Nolan’s don’t get subtle hints. If you’re ignoring my joke, then obviously it wasn’t big enough. Or sometimes the glossed over joke just needs simple repetition to drive home its witty components. This led to my dad remarking “that’s a popular little van” every time we passed one. That may sound innocent, but once I realized just how many MPVs there could be between Mississippi and Canada I began to panic. Surely he couldn’t keep this game going for three weeks, right? Wrong. Somewhere around the late afternoon of day one my mom was already getting annoyed. After week one, she began having physical reactions to that five word phrase. She would throw her hands up, sigh audibly, and shift in her seat. By the time we reached home again, she was threatening his life with tears in her eyes.

I was MESMERIZED by my dad’s commitment. If I had to guess, he probably said that phrase 14,000 times in a three week period. My grins gradually progressed to side-splitting guffaws at every passing minivan. He would try to work it into conversation, like “you know what I really loved about Yellowstone? That popular little van.” I know you are thinking that the joke isn’t really funny or my dad was being cruel by not letting it go. You’re wrong, it was hilarious. To this day, it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever experienced. My mom still reacts badly when I bring it up.

I inherited this fascination from my dad. I love to wind Amanda up, or anybody else for that matter. There is something quite powerful about being able to “control” another person’s composure. One of my favorite ways to wind Amanda up is to play characters. She loves/hates it. Actually she tolerates/hates it. Lately, I’ve been working on “misogynist Jamey.” So far, the reviews are quite mixed. It all started at Amanda’s Bible study class last year. It was a women’s study that focused on lessons from the women of the Bible. Well, she screwed up and mentioned to me that they discussed the “men are the head of the household” concept. Now, this is interpreted in two very different ways. The first is that the man is responsible for the family, and should work hard to ensure that they are provided for spiritually. The second is that this concept promotes a male centric model where the family is there to serve the man. I adhere to the former, obviously.

I’m kind of a hippie when it comes to our marriage. I see marriage as two people who love each other so much that they choose to allow one another to experience everyday of their one shot at life. That’s a pretty heavy thing. I only get to live once. Along the way, I’m going to need to give and receive love, support, friendship, and guidance. What I don’t need is some strict, life-force sucking regimen of sex-based roles to tell me how my household should run. Therefore, I was amused at the subject matter and decided to take it to the absurd (imagine that).

Thus misogynist Jamey was born. Every once and a while I break it out when Amanda “steps out of line.” I imagine that misogynist Jamey would have to wear a T-shirt with “HEAD OF THE HOUSEHOLD” airbrushed in bold print. I’ll interrupt her and say something like “Please! The head of the household is talking,” or “shouldn’t you be getting me something to drink?” It sends her off the deep end. She knows I’m joking and don’t mean a word of it, but the concept still drives her crazy. Another one of my favorites is “answer me a question. Why am I in here ironing my own clothes?” Nothing makes me giggle more than watching her reaction change in an instant. I swear she’s going to kill me one day, but until then……she retaliates.

Monday, August 15, 2011

First Dates (Who needs 'em)

Guilty Pleasure: An activity, hobby, or fascination that does not align with the social norms of a person’s sex, age, socio-economic status, or religious background that must be hidden from one’s peer group to avoid embarrassment or any potential wedgie situations.

Everybody has one. Some people really like Abba. Some love Harry Potter. And some adult women are FAR too enamored with silly vampire movies to see an enormous hole in the plot. Why does a vampire, who is seemingly hundreds of years old, choose to date a teenager? This vampire has seen countless generations of teen angst and stupidity and yet chooses to fall for one of the most emotionless, angsty characters in cinema history. That cat is either a pedo or a loser possessing just enough intellect to enthrall a sixteen year old. Either way, it’s pathetic.

But I digress. I have a couple of real stinkers in the guilty pleasure department. The first is my love of cheesy 80’s love songs. Picked out hair, combined with synthesizers and bad lyrics gets me every time. Think Atlantic Star. The second is my fascination with romantic comedies. I watch the ones even Amanda won’t touch. While Jennifer Anniston is no Meryl Streep, I’ll gladly watch any of her high school drama department quality “films” over and over, Except “The Break-up.” That was a terrible, terrible movie with absolutely no redeeming qualities.

Anyhow, I think the thing I love most about bad romantic comedies is the incredulous concept of a perfect first date. The ones where two people share caddy glances across the aisle of a grocery store, leading to witty conversation, and ultimately a nervous call to set up the first date. Then the beau (yes, I said beau) arrives at her front door, perfectly manicured, carrying a tasteful bouquet of flowers with his top of the line sports car parked on the street behind him. What girl wouldn’t love that scenario? Fancy dinner, charming strolls down the boardwalk, even though the movie takes place in Denver, and a magical goodnight kiss. First dates like that quickly lead to wedding bells, right?

What comes next is inevitable for this cute couple. Two years down the road, he’s got a girl on the side and she’s snorting enough prescription pills to kill a horse just so she can muster the strength to put her make-up on in the morning without slitting her wrists!!! Too dramatic? I say no. They were screwed from the get go. Their first date set unrealistic expectations. While it may seem important to appear perfect to your date, you don’t want the drop off of the real you to be like falling off a cliff. You’re looking for more of a gentle slide. It’s the cliff scenario that causes you to be disillusioned with your mate once you realize that the handsome beau has some serious mommy issues, feet that smell like dirty diapers, and can only sleep peacefully in the fetal position. And there ain’t anything sexy or masculine about a grown man in the fetal position. The problem is, most of the time that crap doesn’t come out on a first date. Some people can hide their issues for years.

That’s why I say perfect first dates are for chumps. If you really want to see where this relationship is headed, you need some trauma thrown in to the occasion. Thanks to Nolan luck, that’s the exact picture of my dating life. Two dates in particular can shed a lot of light on how you ended up with your spouse (assuming you have one), your first date ever and your first date with your spouse.

My first date was in June of 1994. I had just turned fifteen years old and had my driver’s license for all of about four minutes. This was to be a double date with two sisters and my friend Greg. Greg and the younger sister were a year older than me, while my date was three years my senior. It was obvious I had no chance, but this was more about feeling grown up and hitting the town. However, this was in small town Mississippi so we’d all known each other our entire lives. Still, we were very excited, or at least I was very excited. Then again, I tend to get excited. So Greg and I met up and decided to stop by a convenience store for some gum before picking the girls up. Oh the hubris to think that I had to have gum to ensure that perfect first kiss.

Before I explain what happened next I need to lay out the scenario for you. As an adult man, I’m about 5’9”. As a fifteen year old, barely in the throws of puberty, I was about four foot nothing. I was painfully short. If I sat back and relaxed in the driver’s seat of my Toyota pick-up I could only see the road through the space above the dashboard and below the top of the steering wheel. This was not a recipe for safe driving. Combine this with the fact that my truck was incredibly long and a stick shift, and you will see that most of the time I was barely in control of the vehicle.

Greg and I purchase our gum and head out, each in our respective trucks. I wheel mine out of the parking place a little too quickly and hear a loud bang, as my truck stops abruptly. Oh my Lord, I’ve just had an accident on my first date. I jump out of the truck to find that I was the only car involved. I backed squarely into a short concrete post in the store’s parking lot. The result of which was a bumper with one side lying on the ground. The driver’s side of the bumper was still firmly attached, but the passenger side was completely severed. This is just great. My truck looks like something you would see on blocks, with grass growing up around it. I’m freaking out as Greg proposes a solution. He has a couple of bungee cords in his truck that we could use to fasten it back to the frame. I agree and we rig it up the best we can.

We pick up the girls and head off to watch a very romantic movie, Maverick. Nothing says romance like a western card shark movie. So far so good, we are enjoying ourselves chatting on about the comedic genius of Mel Gibson (obviously prior to his anti-Semitic episodes), when we decide to waste some time riding around for a while until the girls had to be home. In all of the excitement I had failed to mention to my date that I had damaged my truck, so when she noticed sparks shooting out of the back of my truck through the passenger mirror she panics. “JAMEY, I THINK YOUR TRUCK IS ON FIRE!!!” That’s when I realize that the bungee cords had done all they could and my bumper had slowly lowered back to the ground. This caused sparks to burst from the rear of my truck every time I hit a bump in the road.

As she screams, I clumsily wheel my vehicle to the side of the road and explain the situation. She dies out laughing as we stare at my bumper which has now been grinded flat on the bottom from all of the friction. Suddenly, I don’t feel very grown up. I also realize that maybe this date wasn’t the most important thing in the world. It was just a play that we were acting out like we’d seen others do before us. But no matter how lofty and romantic I felt, all of that came crashing down with every obnoxious slam of my bumper on the ground. After this, I never took dating too seriously. I guess I decided that whether I wanted it to or not, my broken bumper would always expose it’s self, so why hide it.

Four years later, I met Amanda. We were in band together at MC and we lived in adjacent dorms, so I saw her a lot. I was obviously enamored with her, but had no way to really kick up a conversation other than passing hellos. Plus, she was pretty shy and mostly let her roommate do the talking. My roommate, Michael, was a nice enough guy who just so happened to be OBSESSED with his ex. So much so that dropped out of another school and transferred to her school, MC, after she broke up with him. He was going to win her back, or possibly kill her (my guess). After listening to him pine over this girl every night, I knew I had to invite him along on a giant movie outing on $2 Tuesdays, at the local theatre. Supposedly, a huge group of students from the music department were going so I invited a few people to tag along with us. Michael was one, and Amanda and her roommate were the others. Important to note: This was not a date, it was a group hangout. I purchased the tickets to “She’s All That,” and shot back over to the dorm to get ready.

That’s when I got the call from Amanda’s roommate. She would not be joining us and neither would Amanda due to a night class. Well that sucks. I called around to a couple other people I knew on campus to see if anyone wanted these prize tickets, but no one obliged. At this point, I was willing to eat the six bucks and call it a night. Then the phone rang again. It was Amanda. She got out of class early and wanted to make sure we were still on for the movie. I hurriedly got dressed and Michael and I met her outside. Michael agreed to take his truck, since mine was a two-seater. As we got seated, just before the theater lowered the lights, Michael’s ex walks in with another guy. Perfect. He begins rambling about not being able to handle seeing her with another then jumps up and bails. I follow him outside and remind him that he is our ride. He tells me he’ll be back to pick us up. “Trust me” he says. What turned out as a group thing, quickly felt like a date.

What he didn’t say was that he would be able to drink about eight beers in an hour and a half. As we walk out of the theater Michael beeps the horn and waves from his truck, across the parking lot from a couple of cops. As I open the door for Amanda, a beer can falls out on to the ground. Classy. She quickly hops in and I grab the can and jump in the back seat. He’s the kind of drunk that resembles a Hank Williams song. Luckily we make it back to campus amid his desperate longing for understanding and I invite Amanda to go grab a bite to eat. She quickly agrees. “OK, this has very quickly become a date, with a really cute girl who’s WAY out of my league.” I’m not even sure how it happened, but embracing this odd situation turned out to be the best date of my life.

We jumped in my truck and rode around Jackson talking for about three hours or so, finally ending up at ihop sometime around two in the morning. We shared a plate of chocolate chip pancakes (her favorite) and chatted it up far too long. This led to us returning to campus about 4 a.m., which was a bad thing since freshmen girls had a midnight curfew. The miracle in all this was that Amanda wasn’t expecting a perfect first date, and neither was I. Had we held ourselves to the unrealistic expectations of a stupid movie, she would’ve been out of there as soon as she heard the phrase “two dollar Tuesdays.” Twelve years later, two kids. However, I can’t state this part of the story enough; “The Break-Up” is a terrible movie. Vince Vaughn should wake up to a punch in the face every day for having been a part of that atrocity.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Carpe Diem!

There are times in every person's life where the stars align perfectly. It's up to the person to decide how to react to the opportunity that lies before him/her. Before I go any further, this is NOT going to be some rah rah crap about making the most of yourself. In true Jamey fashion, this is more about never missing the opportunity to create a memory, no matter how ridiculous and embarrassing. Put it all out there. Our lives are not filled with do-overs. A friend of mine recently tried out for the 610 Stompers. If you've never heard of them, it's a group of uncoordinated white guys, who wear ridiculous 80's gym outfits, and absolutely tear it up on the dance floor. Their dancing is usually rudimentary and sloppy, but they are a BLAST to watch. The reason is that they put all reservation aside and go all out. They don't care how it looks, as long as it looks fun. That's very wise advice.

So what is it that holds us back from wearing it on our respective sleeves? I think it's that we lose perspective. We fear the judgment of others. But, we forget that no person's opinion can ever truly hurt you if you have perspective. I would classify perspective as a mental inventory of those things in your life that are truly important. The things you can't live without. If you're doing it right, it's a pretty small list. Mine consists of a handful of people. No job, no house, no possessions (save my trumpet, for sentimental value), and certainly not status. I think the status thing comes from my upbringing. The most important thing was always to know who you were, not who others perceived you to be. You can't control that, so why try.

Back to the inventory; Once you list those things, your ability to screw them up is greatly reduced. Love your spouse, care for your children in every way, and honor you parents. Other than that, what can you really lose? Once this fear is stripped away, senseless shame falls by the wayside and you can embrace how crazy you are dying to be. Trust me, I know it's not just me. Everyone is a little crazy; I've watched "Cops."

So we look back, and we are either left with the regret of opportunities missed or the legend of opportunities seized. Here are some of mine:

In my hometown, your die was pretty much cast from about the 6th grade. You were either in athletics or you weren't. I loved baseball. I played baseball from a very early age, like all the other boys. While I wasn't the best, I don't remember being the worst either. Youth baseball is VERY important in South Mississippi. So much so that my coach, whose son was also on our team, had a regulation baseball field built on his property to host our practices. However, even though I loved it, by baseball and football career died somewhere around the 6th grade. Music dragged my attention from baseball, and football died because I was a very naive, nay ignorant kid. I wasn't hip to the lingo used to make men out of boys at 12 years old. So when the junior high football coach came to visit the 6th grade boys, to get us ready for 7th grade football, I shuttered at what he had to say. He began raving about football being a MAN'S sport and how no momma's boys should even show up to his practice field. It felt a little like the opening 20 minutes of full metal jacket. Like I always did, I began to obsess on the threats he spewed. "No momma's boys?" What in the world does that mean? I loved my mom. He said I shouldn't even show up.

This quickly turned in to "screw it, I'll just be in band." I had a year of that under my belt already, so why rock the boat. But the question stayed with me for a long time. What did coach have against my mother???? My naivety never ceases to amaze me. So after this, my athletic career was over. That is, until my opportunity came to seize the day.

My senior year in high school was miserable. I won't get in to the details now, but just know that it was a very painful year. That being said, you can imagine my trepidation when some of my jock friends, who had just completed a playoff run in baseball, invited me to join their summer league team. I laughed at them, reminded them how long it had been since I played baseball, and declined. But they were persistent. I was assured that not only would I play, but I would some fashion, and that we would all have a blast before college. Of course, in my mind I knew this felt like a setup. To me, my friends represented Lucy just waiting to jerk the ball out from in front of Charlie Brown. I would undoubtedly end up lying on my back, staring at the sky, while everyone laughed it up.

But something happened. I embraced it. I owned the fact that I would most likely be terrible. This turned out to be one of my favorite memories of high school. For that summer, we traveled around to our neighboring towns and beat the crap out of the other teams, with absolutely no help from me. That's not true. I made two plays that entire summer. One was a base hit where a buddy of mine from the opposing team served me up a very slow pitch right down the middle. He actually winked at me before he threw to let me know what was coming. The second was actually a good play, much to my surprise. I was in left field when the batter hit a screamer right to me, and I caught it in the air.

I can't express to you how little I had to do to make that play. It's not that he hit the ball in my general vicinity, it's more like he was trying to assault me from 250 feet away. I didn't take a step. I just held up my glove, made the catch, and jogged back to the dugout like I'd preserved our pennant hopes. One of the umps even gave me an atta boy as I jogged by, and I shamelessly played it off like it was no big deal. What a fraud. Inside, I was repeatedly screaming to myself "DON'T TRIP" as I made my way back to my cheering teammates.

I had done it. I had truly embraced what I logic told me to resist. I knew I would suck, and I did, but for that summer I let it all hang out. Every strike out, and there were many, I either laughed it off or pointed to the pitcher and assured him I'd get him next time. Tongue in cheek of course.

Story two is about never letting the opportunity pass you by try something a little dangerous. Now, before I'm misunderstood, I'm not talking about robbing banks. This story has more to do with sticking your neck out for a memory.

College Choir. Most of you probably picture something very proper like tuxedos and classical music. While that's certainly part of it, you're missing a very important part: College. When I started junior college at PRCC, choir trips more resembled a national lampoon's movie than high art. Giving 18 year olds the freedom to roam, in packs, is a dangerous thing. One trip sticks out in my mind. All of the community college choirs in Mississippi were going to come together for a mass choir performance of Faure's Requiem in Jackson, MS. To us students this meant one thing, hotel party. Like a plague, we descended on to a hotel in west Jackson loaded with enough booze to fill a swimming pool. The details are a little fuzzy. All I remember is being woken up by our director at 6:00 am, with two prevailing thoughts. 1. "Who hit me in the head with a sledgehammer? 2. Wow, I really need a shower.

By some miracle, we all made it on the bus and trekked over to Hinds Community College for the opening session. As we slumped in to the auditorium we noticed that it appeared that we were not alone in our teenage debauchery. Every other student there, about 500 in total, seemed to be trapped in the very same fog. About fifteen minutes in to the welcome session, the president of Hinds CC greeted us and began what would be the most painfully boring twenty minutes of our lives.

What happened next will go down as the hardest I've ever laughed....EVER. I'm not sure who's bright idea it was, but the word was passed down my row of guys, quickly. When I heard the plan, I surveyed the crowd to see most people's heads in their hands, praying for the tylenol to kick in soon. This just might work.

Just as Hind's president roared in to his speech on parking spaces and campus speed limits, we collectively took our shot. Our row began vigorously applauding. This led to 490 other students snapping back in to reality. Heads popped up, and they began to look around confused as to the meaning of this special occasion. Sure enough, the haze of hangovers began to applaud as well. This was our go ahead sign. We pushed our chips forward and went all in. As the applause increased, we began to whoop and holler. This sent the crowd in to a certified tizzy. Once their applause level matched ours we sprang to our feet. Wouldn't you know it, the sheep followed right along. After a few seconds the entire crowd was on their feet cheering away.

The greatest part of this was not our ability to influence the crowd. It wasn't the confused look on the kids faces. It was the reaction of the president. At first he stepped back from the mic with a confused look on his face. Then his ego got the best of him. He was not going to allow the opportunity to revel in a standing ovation to pass him by. So, he smiled, held up one hand in thanks, and invited us to return to our chairs. It took him a good twenty seconds to regain his composure and finish his welcome speech. I don't remember much of it because our entire row of guys was laughing so hard that we only heard the shh's from our teachers. This was a truly liberating experience. Sure, we got in trouble, but it was definitely worth it. In truth no one was really hurt. We got a laugh, the other students got a free wake up call, and the president learned that he may in fact be the best orator on parking spaces on planet earth.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Excuse Me, Are You Even Awake (My List of Crazy Part 2)

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog posting titled “Superlatives.” I informally titled it “My List of Crazy Part 1.” In it, I examined the things I feel may one day cause me to lie on a couch somewhere, heavily medicated, and explain what happened when it all fell apart. I imagine that conversation going something like this:

Therapist: Well Mr. Nolan, why don’t you tell me a little about yourself? (Feverishly scribbling in her note pad)

Me: Umm, well I guess my earliest memory of being crazy was when I went door to door in my neighborhood, at age 9, trying to put the word out that I was opening my own detective agency.

Therapist: Uh-huh. Really, go on.

Me: I remember understanding full well the condescending look in every housewife’s eye as I explained my portfolio of services. They allowed me to complete my pitch, then smiled and sent me on my way. I’m sure they had a nice laugh around the dinner table that night trying to figure out the obvious cocktail of medications that Nolan kid must be on daily.

Therapist: (as her scribbling quickly slows down) How did that look make you feel?

Me: That's the most frustrating part. I knew they had no idea just how brilliant I was at solving crimes and mysteries, but I simply couldn’t pull off the image of a legitimate detective at my age.

Therapist: Ok, Mr. Nolan was your childhood home located directly under a power line, or near a nuclear plant?

Me: What the hell does that have to do with my skills of deduction?

Therapist: Ok Mr. Nolan, we’re out of time for this week. Don’t forget to fill that prescription!

What can I say, I was an entrepreneur. Anyway, Part 2 of this list will not focus on me. This list will focus on what everyone else in the world does that is driving me to the aforementioned couch. This is YOUR list of crazy.

1. Obliviousness.

Cogito Ergo Sum. Translated: I think, therefore I am. This is one of the most puzzling concepts of mankind. On a basic level it means that I exist because I have the ability to question whether or not I exist. You people, I’m not so sure about. The problem is that the evidence is far too contradictory for me to assume that everyone else in the world actually exists, and are not just unrealistically annoying fabrications of my own consciousness. The argument for your existence is quite strong. There are great philosophers, physicists, doctors, teachers, musicians, and artists who perform feats that I can barely comprehend. If I can’t comprehend what they do, then how could I possibly create them in my own mind?

Then there’s the argument against your existence; EVERY SINGLE PERSON, OTHER THAN ME, WHO HAS EVERY DRIVEN IN THE FAST LANE!!! I don’t get it. How can you possibly not see that there is a laundry list of cars, bumper to bumper, behind you screaming at the top of their lungs? Did you think that it was your day to be the line leader and we are all simultaneously cheering you on?

That’s the problem. Most of you never notice the line, much in the way that you never notice shopping carts weaving back and forth behind you in the grocery store, as you slowly march down the dead center of the aisle. Wake up people! Walk outside, take a deep breath, and try to take note of all of the other humans walking around you. They are not scenery. They have stuff to do that has absolutely nothing to do with you.

We are really trying to teach our children to be courteous to others. But, the most important part of that lesson isn’t the fact that they shouldn’t poot in public, it’s getting them to realize that there are lots of people around them who may be negatively affected by their actions. Stop being oblivious!

2. Waiting to Talk.

In my line of work, I deal with a lot of consultants. Consultants are hired by companies to act as a liaison between the company and the government. They grease the skids. Some are very good at their jobs. They understand that we have a job to do, and work with us to so that everyone’s happy. Others take a more bulldog type approach. It’s like they’ve watched a few too many courtroom dramas. They employ more aggressive tactics to get the job done. They threaten you, talk down to you, divide and conquer, and play buddy-buddy. But the worst tactic they use is the “wait to talk.”

This is where they don’t hear a word you say; they are simply waiting their turn to continue arguing their case. They stay on script and don’t bend, which usually results in failure on their part. There is one particular consultant who is infamous for his blatant use of this tactic. (Some of my CG friends are smiling right now)

I don’t do a lot of impressions, but I’ve got this guy down pat. He will lay his case out like his Perry freaking Mason, then lean back confidently in his chair. As I begin my rebuttal to his point, he sits up quickly, leans forward, holds up his hand, and quietly begins repeating the sound “Uhh” over and over as if trying to interrupt. Imagine a grown man who can’t listen to a counter argument, or attempt to compromise. Instead he makes this sound over and over, rapidly, until you pause to let him jump in. It’s embarrassing.

The bad part is that I know lots of people that do some version of the very same tactic. It is one thing when they do it consciously, but it’s another thing altogether when you realize that’s just how their made. I can’t stand talking to someone who won’t make eye contact with you, mutters while you speak, and interrupts you half way through because they missed part of what you said. It makes me want to grab them by their face and scream, “I know you didn’t hear me, because you don’t have enough respect or attention span to listen the first time! You were obviously far too busy staring off in to the distance pondering the meaning of life.”

3. Homophobes

Stay with me on this one, it might get bumpy. I get up every morning, after not getting enough sleep, and rush to shower and get dressed so I can hit the morning commute. I then recreate a NASCAR race on I-10, with 2000 of my closest friends, and try not to die in the process. Once I get to work, I’ve got to park, walk to the office, pick up some breakfast, and finally hit my desk before the stacks of paper get too high. Once off work, I NASCAR home, eat supper, spend time with the boys, spend time with Amanda, watch a little tube, and hit the sack. My point is: If your life resembles mine in any possible way, how in the world do you find the time to completely absorb yourself with other people’s lives and choices. This one could capture any group fixated on other people’s lives.

There are millions of things for me to concentrate on that are much higher on the list than who someone else is sleeping with, or how I feel about the rights and wrongs of another culture. The phrase “get a life” is thrown around a lot. But we’ve lost the message of that phrase. What is really means is: you would be so much better served if you spent your energy and limited waking hours on bettering yourself than trying to convince yourself that it really is nurture vice nature. Get over it. Instead, why don’t you focus on the fact that your car needs an oil change, or your child needs more help with their math homework?

Honestly, I’m somewhat jealous that you’ve got your life so figured out that you can now turn your attention toward correcting what you consider to be society’s woes. What is your secret? You should publish it, because it would be the top selling self-help book of all time.

4. Oh, I’m Sorry, That Was Rhetorical.

If you and I are sitting in a room, sharing a quiet moment, and I ask “so, how are you doing,” I really do want an answer. However, if I am passing you in a hallway, on the way to my office and ask the same question, just say “fine” and move along. Please don’t stop me and hijack five minutes of my time to explain that your boss has really been riding you hard lately. You know what, mine has to, which is why I don’t want to stand here anymore. It was a rhetorical question. Treat it the same way you would the word “hi.” This is really more about not picking up on social cues. If during our conversation, I’m slowly taking steps away from you while interjecting with phrases like “Ok, sounds good,” I’m begging you to wrap it up.

5. And Finally, Don’t Touch Me.

Seriously, don’t touch me. I’m not a hugger. Neither is Amanda. I think we got married because we were the only people each of us was willing to hug. I’ll shake a hand, that’s fine. But seriously, you don’t need to put your hand on my forearm to drive home the importance of your point. I’m not really a germaphobe, but people are gross. Plus, there is something a little too intimate and familiar about touching another person, and we’re not there yet.