Friday, December 16, 2011

God's Little Corner (Cue the Spooky Music)

There are many misconceptions out there about parenting. It's tough, but not for the reasons one would think. It can get a little pricey, but I'd probably find something to spend the extra money on anyway. The hard parts sneak up on you. It's discipline vs. compassion. It's supportive vs. domineering. It's finding out just how much chaos one can survive. But mostly, it's the logistics. Without kids, a trip to the store simply involves enough clothes to keep from getting arrested and a mode of transportation. With kids, it's an entirely different evolution. Your car becomes an appropriately nerfed rolling entertainment center. I'm not just referring to the portable DVD player. One must also assume that at some point one, or both, children will choose to self-entertain. In that case, a handy collection of age appropriate toys must be accessible.

Next, you must assume that at some point during your venture, no matter how short, one of the kids will express a bodily fluid at the worst possible time. This means you should definitely pack extra EVERYTHING and enough wipes to dam a river. Don't believe me? Make sure and read my other post, titled: "Seriously, How Did I Get Here?"

Various types of snacks and drinks should also be considered. It's damn hard to scream whilst chewing. I recommend a man bag, diaper bag, or purse roughly the size of Utah to ensure ample space. You would never believe the amount of goldfish a child can eat in one setting. That's because it's an optical illusion. It may look like the food is in their little mouths. Truth is, you'll find most of it the next time you remove your car seat. There, crushed into your seats will be the remains of thousands of sad little cheddar flavored fishies that never met their intended destination.

Once they are packed, your brain is so shot that you'll probably forget most of your own essentials. I would recommend making lists, but that's a sissy move. Live dangerously. Anyone can handle a stinky day or two, should you forget to pack the deodorant.

Packing the truck for our Thanksgiving trip was a nightmare. After all, this wasn't a simple trip up the road. We were stopping for one night in Alabama, to spend some time with my family, then pushing on to our final destination, Pigeon Forge. We would then spend three nights in a two bedroom cabin with Amanda's parents and her brother's family. If you're in to math, that's nine people in a two bedroom.

The cabin was a result of a last minute decision to take the trip combined with the fact that two million other families decided to share the same holiday dream. After looking on many various sites, with no luck, I was shocked when my father in law was able to acquire a cabin so quickly. Most of the ones we looked at were woefully overpriced or not available. My shock quickly turned to concern when we arrived at the cabin. First of all, it was suspiciously tucked away, down a long and winding one lane road. As we drove up to the cabin, and I literally mean UP, I became very concerned about the parking situation.

The truck came to rest at a 45 degree angle, and the parking brake whined sadly as the entire weight of the truck tested it's worth. While straining to keep from falling down the mountain side where our cabin was precariously perched, I instantly began to dread what came next. There was a very real possibility that the carefully packed luggage and assorted accoutrement would most likely tumble out of the truck, and down the hill, the moment I open the rear hatch. Luckily, only a few items shifted during transit and I was able to keep them from tumbling into the darkness.

(Cue the spooky music)

I've waited until now to reveal the primary source of my concern. Our cabin was named: God's Little Corner. Now look, I'm as God fearing a man as the next, but this name concerned me greatly. First, it's a little condescending. The all knowing, all powerful God of the universe certainly doesn't require a "little corner" to call his own. If he did, I doubt he would choose to place said getaway anywhere near Dollywood.

Second, I was sure the name wasn't referring to the fact that this cabin was so palatial and grand that it must be like a little piece of heaven.

Finally, I'm not a fan of being murdered in my sleep. Why was this place so readily available when nothing else was? Here we are, an unsuspecting family of do-gooders paying good money to meet our doom at god's little slaughterhouse. Sounds plausible, right?

Surely my fears would be relieved once we got inside and settled in to our new comfortable digs. Wrong. The owners of "God's Little Corner" wanted to make sure that we got the message. Every square inch of wall and shelf space in the entire cabin was chock full of figurines and paintings of angels. The Vatican would be jealous of such a spread. One could not find a place to sit where a host of heavenly angels weren't creepily staring at you. Amanda's brother even complained the next morning that he had a hard time sleeping because he felt like he was being watched the entire evening.

As we settled down for bed that evening we were faced with the ominous task of sharing a bedroom with two kids, one under the age of two. Some people don't think that humans possess the instinctive abilities that we see in nature. I disagree. If you've ever tried to sleep in the same room as a small child you will agree that we all possess the ability to move in complete silence, like a ninja. Because we know that one single grunt or cough could turn a peaceful evening into a gauntlet of pissed off kid. Once you're in bed, you feel like a prisoner. Not laying in a comfortable position? Tough shit. You're stuck there until morning. Lord knows you wouldn't want to risk shifting to your back. Next thing you know, he's standing up in his travel crib glaring at you. This glare can't be avoided either. You can't simply pretend he isn't there. If you do, he'll result to other means to let you know that if he ain't sleeping, ain't nobody sleeping.

Perusing the entertainment center in the living room was when the "culty" factor stepped up a few notches. The TV was accompanied by a VCR and a handful of VHS tapes of unrecognizably tasteful movies. We're talking MUCH lower rent than the dreck spewed out on ABC family. However, they did include a copy of Forrest Gump and Sister Act. Good lord. They couldn't even spring for the far superior Sister Act 2. Who were these monsters?

But no multimedia collection would be complete without an entire catalog of religious CDs from some random pentecostal housewife. Every CD cover was a unique scene of a heavy set, middle-aged woman in an indiscriminate floral dress staring off into the distance with a cheesy nature backdrop behind her. I'm not talking two CDs here. More like eight or nine. Apparently this chick was a big hit in the snake handling, jazz organ circles.

All of this led me to one very pressing thought: Webcams.

Yep, time to search the cabin up and down for the hidden webcams. My heart raced at the thought of some deliverance type psycho sitting behind a laptop sharing MP4's of my bathroom rituals with some businessman in Tokyo. After an exhaustive search, and no I'm not kidding, I was unable to locate said cameras. This guy was good.

The next day we decided the best place to eat lunch and enjoy some entertainment would be the Dixie Stampede. If you've never been, let me break it down for you. Your party, and 1100 of your closest strangers are packed in to a rodeo arena to dine in the darkness. They actually take pride in the fact that they do not have utensils. That's right, let's reinforce all the hillbilly, backwoods stereotypes out there by serving a four course lunch with no fork in sight. And we're not talking ham sandwiches. More like, cornish game hens, pork and even soup which you are forced to drink from the bowl like a refugee.

I've been a part of some pretty uninspiring performances in my day, but nothing compared to the energy of the Saturday lunch show we were privy to. This show consists of some basic horseback races with predetermined winners to ensure that we would all be on the edges of seats while at the trough. The Christmas portion even included some people dressed up as toys dancing to a collection of very austere Christmas muzak. It was like something out of an ambien commercial.

After surviving our lunchtime extravaganza Amanda's family shockingly decided to grant my request for the weekend. I'd read about this place called Cade's Cover that was supposedly a natural marvel, complete with wild animal encounters and breathtaking views. Bull crap. It was a single lane eleven mile road through some random fields. And wouldn't you know it, Nolan luck swept through the area like a toxic fog and scared away the animals. That's right. We saw two stinking deer and a handful of boring turkeys. What a waste.

But our trip was not complete. Nature was not finished screwing with us yet. Our entire eleven hour drive home was in a torrential downpour. Here's where you really earn your pay as a dad/husband. As soon as droplet number one hit the windshield, my entire family, Amanda included, entered a coma-like state. So there I am, driving through the mountains in a monsoon, while maintaining perfect silence in the vehicle. This requires copious amounts of caffeine and a vivid imagination. With every mile that passed, my mind did what it usually does; It relived. One of my more annoying habits is that I tend to dwell on encounters. I relive them over and over creating new and exciting outcomes to whatever the conversation was, at the time. I'm sure I would've looked like a complete psychopath, if Amanda would awaken to find me pantomiming a ten year old conversation, but at least we weren't careening in to oncoming traffic.

I guess that's how we are supposed to survive the logistical nightmare of having kids during the holidays. Find your own coping mechanisms. Find something to keep your mind off of the mind-numbing lengths you go to so that your kid can laugh and tell jokes with a cousin who lives far away. The jokes, hugs and memories are that much sweeter if you can ignore the fact that a horse-filled, sporkless lunch shouldn't cost $120, or that some Japanese CEO has pictures of you in your whitey tighties.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Life as a Criminal

There are lots of drugs in this world. Some alleviate pain, while others alleviate conscious thought. Some help you sleep at night, while others keep you up for days. Some help you open your mind, while others prevent you from being able to spell. But there is one drug that completely rules them all. There is one substance out there that completely skews your world view so wildly that you can no longer perform the simplest of tasks. It destroys your physical image. It ruins your view of your loved ones. It turns them against you. It makes you seem like, most of the time, you're speaking a completely different language than non-users. You destroy life-long friendships and lose the ability to attract the opposite sex. Sounds terrible doesn't it? It is. The worst part is that once you start using, you lose the ability to control it. You simply have to hold on and ride it out, with only a faint wish that one day you will snap to senses. Maybe then you can repair the damage left in the wake of teenage hormones.

While in the throws of this addiction, there is no simple way out. It seems as though adulthood is some distant land that must surely be a trick that resembles a taller version of eighth grade. With every struggle to understand your new feelings and physical mutations you continually think to yourself: "is this going to be forever?" I look back at those years now and see all of the paths I could've taken. I wonder why thoughts of college or the future NEVER ranked higher on the list than second base. I could never fathom anything more interesting or mysterious than a bra strap. If there was something out there that rivaled it, I was certainly not ready to learn it.

This causes you to do crazy, and I mean CRAZY things. If I would have worked as hard at school as I did trying to garner female interest, I would have been south Mississippi's Doogie Howser. Still, I never thought that one day, my tireless effort had the ability to get me killed.

In the neighborhood of human personalities, pompous and naive are next door neighbors. One doesn't know it's an asshole, the other doesn't know there's such a thing. As I look back now, I see that most of my crazy behavior is more related to naivety. I truly never considered that consequences ever got more severe than a stern talking to.

As is always the case, this story centers around a girl. Let's call her Elise. I've never known anyone named Elise, but she seems like a nice girl already. Elise understood the mind of a teenage boy better than anyone I've ever met. She was beautiful and smart, but her devious nature, which was never too far below the surface, was the thing that truly brought all the boys to the yard. Her interests centered around Stevie Nicks, horror movies, and anything else filed under "macabre." She kept many on the line, and was truly able to make you feel that if you withstood her folly long enough she would make it worth your while. I think I always knew it was a game with her, but was never able to muster the strength to call shenanigans. For most of my high school years I hung out with my best friend Joey. We chased the same girls, listened to the same music, and shared an interest in movies.

He lived in a nearby town, that was closer to Hattiesburg, so we spent most of our time cruising Hardy street looking for trouble. We weren't troublemakers, by any stretch of the imagination, but like all teenage boys, in our minds we were half a step away from being the reincarnation of James Dean.

Being the cool cats we were, we went right along with any request Elise made, even when she requested that we sneak up on her and her mom in the walmart parking lot and "kidnap" her. To her, it was a fantastic goof on her mom. To us, her bra strap seemingly outweighed life in prison if her mom overreacted. Honestly, I remember thinking that her mom would get a kick out of it. To me, we would pull up to their car, jump out wearing masks, make it seem like we were serious, and then reveal that it was all a ruse.

So there we are, pacing the aisles of the walmart parking lot on a Friday night, wearing gorilla masks, viewing ourselves as jokesters, rather than potential kidnappers. After ten minutes or so, we didn't see Elise, so we gave up and drove away.

The hardest part about puberty is that one minute you feel like an adult whose opinions should somehow matter, and five minutes later you're back to being a kid.

After leaving walmart, we drove around for a little while and eventually stopped at the office depot adjacent to the mall. We went inside and did what any common sense adult does in an office depot, we raced up and down the desk chair aisle attempting to identify exactly which was the fasted chair. We were having so much fun that we barely noticed the police officers running up and down the outside aisles of the store. They glanced at us and kept on going. "Hmm, must've been a shoplifter," we thought. After a few more minutes, we headed to the register so Joey could purchase a fancy new pen. While waiting for the cashier to ring him up, the front sliding glass doors open and in walks a tall and quite grumpy Lamar County Sheriff's deputy. To my surprise, he's coming right for us.

"HEY! Which one of you is (Joey's full name)?" Joey whips around and says, "I am. Can I help you?" Now, my inability to type sarcasm doesn't accurately convey how Joey's response sounded. It was snarky and condescending. And while it really thrilled the officer, I got the most benefit from his tone. I was empowered!!!!

The following exchange went something like this:

Officer grumpy pants: What in the world were you doing riding around in ski masks?

Naively confident me: We weren't in ski masks.

Officer grumpy pants: You weren't?

Naively confident me: No, we were wearing gorilla masks. (hey, details count)

Officer grumpy pants: Gorilla masks? Why in the hell were you doing that?

Naively confident me: We were going to play a prank on a friend of ours.

Officer grumpy pants: What kind of prank?

Stupid, but not that stupid me: Oh nothing really. We were just going to sneak up and scare her. Plus, wearing a mask isn't against the law, is it?

At this point, officer grumpy pants' blood pressure spiked to near-stroke levels and I'd won the conversation. With every breath, he yelled more and more while I remained calm and oblivious to his threats. I told him that we didn't commit any crime and he should leave us alone. That's when he asked me a very interesting question. He said, "boy, have you ever had the barrel of a gun pressed against your head?"

My naivety lead me to believe that he was out of reason and was now just trying to "scare us straight." Didn't work. Try again meathead.

This entire time, Joey is visibly uncomfortable with my unknowingly cavalier attitude. He's using every non-verbal method possible to get me to shut up, but I wouldn't back down. As the officer walked back out of the office depot, I puffed out my chest, satisfied that I stood up to the nonsense, and kinda looked cool doing it.

As we started up Joey's dad's Bronco and pulled in to the empty Dillard's parking lot, the cops were on us before we knew what happened. All at once we were surrounded by six cop cars. Lights, sirens, and loudspeakers galore. As we stopped the truck, they all kicked open their doors, guns drawn, and began to give instructions aloud.

Cop: Turn off the ignition.

Cop: Throw the keys out the window.

This instruction led to Joey opening the door to loudly explain that he had power windows and couldn't roll them down with the ignition off. Then he shut the door.

Cop: Uhh, okay. Uhh, turn it on and roll the window down. Then off again and throw them out.

We complied. Step by step, we were instructed to leave the vehicle and place our hands on the hood. As we stood there staring at each other across the hood of the truck we laughed and joked at how and why we got to this point. Ahh yes, a girl.

In an instant Officer grumpy pants is huffing and puffing in my ear, "you're not so funny now, huh?" To which I replied, "am I under arrest for being funny?" He snarled and walked away. As they searched the vehicle they found a bag of fireworks in the trunk area. "What do you plan to do with these, huh?" "Uhh, pop 'em?," Joey replied. Just then, I heard a common phrase that haunted me to the core.

An officer off to the side said, "wait a minute, are you Dale Nolan's kid?" Oh crap.

This response personifies the teenage mind. There I was, hands on the hood and a gun in my face and nothing made a bump on the old fear needle until my dad's name was mentioned. I turned around and met my accuser. He asked me, "son, what in the world are you doing out here, and what did you do to piss off officer grumpy pants so bad?" I took a few minutes to explain our situation and that we were truly no danger to anyone. He told me that an elderly couple saw us in the parking lot and followed us to home depot while on the phone with 911. They thought we were going to kill someone. Great. Thank God grandpa wasn't packing heat. He would taken us out all by himself.

Once everything calmed down, I apologized to grumpy pants for getting him so angry, and we were once again free men.

As we walked in to Joey's house, his parents invited us to join them in the living room. It seems that when the cops ran the tag on the truck, they ran through office depot looking for his dad. They then called his house to find out who was driving the truck. He'd been on the phone with them the whole time, and knew everything that had taken place. Like something out of a bad ABC family movie, Joey's dad jerks out a huge handgun and sticks it in our faces. "How does that make you feel guys? Is that a good feeling? Are you scared NOW?"

To which Joey replied, "not really dad. It's a revolver, I can see it's not loaded." Through gritted teeth his dad growled "GO TO BED." A few seconds later, his dad came to the bedroom door and handed me the telephone. "Call your parents and tell them what happened."

The ladies and gentlemen of the screen actor's guild would've been proud of the performance I put on during my two minute fake phone call to my dad. I explained the entire thing even feigned demure as I got an imaginary earful from the other end. After a few "yes sirs" I hung up and handed him the phone. "He said I could stay, but that I need to come home first thing in the morning."

As his dad closed the door, our minds shot back to the most pressing question resulting from tonight's escapades. "Where the heck was Elise?"

Yes, I do fear the looming storm of Jackson's karmic teenage payback on the horizon.