Pay attention kids. I'm going to explain to you one of the most important lessons of your life. You know how people say, "there are two kinds of people in this world: Those who like (insert something trivial) and those who like (insert secondary trivial item). Well, those people are wrong. The world is divided into two types of people, but it doesn't have anything to do with pop culture, music, movies, or food. The world is generally divided into carnies and rubes.
Carnies are those people that wake up every morning dreaming of how they can get a two inch advantage on the nearest rube by running their con du jour. Rubes are the unsuspecting masses that are usually too bored by the mundane manor of their existence to offer up the tiniest bit of cynicism toward what they're being told.
You'll see it on television, politics, religion, and in any kind of art. One of the hardest realizations of your life is when it hits you that some jerk got one passed you because you were too busy watching the card in his right hand, while his left was stealing your wallet. It happens. I happens because the input is too great. Capitalism has led to an increasing population of wolves scratching and pawing to make you their next meal.
So, here are some simple steps to help you steer clear of the carnies in your world.
1. Question Everything.
I was raised in an environment that was not pro-questioning. Much of that probably had to do with the fact that I was the last of four children and my parents were most likely exhausted. Plus, I was a curious little twerp. The kind that at 6 years old believed that I deserved a justifiable answer to why singing at the top of my lungs during dinner was unacceptable, morally. Because I said so didn't cut it. I wanted to know my parents' motivations for their responses.
As much as I annoyed my parents with trivial questions about everything, I completely supported my right to do it. And I'll always support yours. Don't take anything at face value. As overwhelming as the answers may seem, always try to figure the world out at a motivational level. The same things that drive you, drive others. Trust me......or don't.
2. There's no such thing as a limited time offer.
That slimy salesman who's telling you that it's now or never is full of it. Everyone needs groceries. Everyone has a house note or car note that comes around every month. He's going to need your twenty bucks just as bad next month as he does today. The only thing on this planet you can control are your decisions. Take your time and make a good one. Don't let someone with motivations other than your own make your decisions for you.
3. Don't miss the forest for the trees.
Usually, the big picture is the right picture. Every decision you can make is made up of details. Sometimes the details are used to take your mind off of the big picture. "Ooo, this shiny new car gets 3 mpg more than the one I have. I'll save TONS." Sure, but the one you have is half paid for, and the financing charges will drive your monthly payments up by 20%. Big picture: You have a car. Stop right there.
4. Don't believe anything you see on TV.
You're not the audience, you're the market. Never forget that.
Now, here's the point in the blog where I tell a ridiculous story that is loosely based on the moral above.
Christmas time is made of traditions. Most of them have little to do with why we celebrate the holiday, but we hold to them because the makes us comfortable. Nothing is easier to control than comfortable people.
One of those traditions in my day was a ridiculous Christmas movie called, "A Christmas Story." It revolved around a young boy in the 1940's struggling to deal with whether his one Christmas wish would come true. It's a funny movie that we watched every year. Towards the end of the movie, his family's all too important Christmas meal is destroyed. In a last ditch effort to salvage the holiday, his father takes the family out to the only restaurant in town that's open on Christmas day.
Skip to Christmas 2006. Jackson was two years old. We'd celebrated our respective family Christmases at both families and left Jackson with Amanda's parents for a few days. The plan was for him to return home to find the goodies Santa had left behind. The truth was, that I was active duty Coast Guard at the time, and was assigned to stand gate guard duty on Christmas day.
So, Amanda and I returned home on Christmas eve and worked tirelessly to assemble Santa's gifts. When dinner time came we were faced with the harsh realities of a bare cupboard and empty stomachs. We rang up a few local eateries to see if anyone was open. No luck. That's when my mind flashed back the "A Christmas Story." Surely, if they were able to find a meal on Christmas eve, we would be able to find something. So we headed down to a brand new Chinese buffet that had just opened near our house. The "open" sign flashed with the distinct glimmer of fried rice hope.
We spent the next half hour or so scarfing down indiscriminate meats coated in copious amounts of soy sauce. We dined along side the saddest collection of Christmases gone wrong that the imagination could assemble. We stuffed ourselves and headed home. After a couple of hours watching television, we killed the Christmas lights and hit the sack. After all, I had to report to work at 0600. Work was over an hour's drive away, so I'd need to be up and running by 0430 at the latest.
My mind raced with the excitement of my child's Christmas, time spent with family, and a fortuitous meal as I drifted off to sleep.
Now look, it was December. It was cold outside. Not freezing, but pretty chilly. Surely this was the reason that I was roused from my sleep somewhere around midnight. My feet were like icicles. The rest of my body was cozy and warm, but my feet were freezing. I couldn't explain it. So, I got up and put on a big, thick pair of tube socks and returned, carefully to bed so as not to wake Amanda. Ten minutes went by and my feet were still shockingly cold. So much so, that my entire body began to tremble uncontrollably. So, I got up and put on another pair of 1980's chic tube socks. Ten minutes later, still trembling. Something must be wrong.
I finally got the courage to wake Amanda up and explain my condition. She checked me for fever, but everything checked out. So, I spent the next hour or so tossing and turning in extreme discomfort. By body pulsed, quivered, and even began to convulse a little. You know how I said earlier that you should question everything? Well that doesn't apply to the small voice in your brain that gently recommends that maybe you should be near a toilet.
Thank the Lord I listened to my still, small voice. No sooner than reaching the bathroom did I begin vomiting. I'll spare you the lovely details, and tell just this one thing. At some point, you run out of things to expel from your body. The bad part is that your stomach never relays that information to your brain, so the dry heaving continues. After two hours of vomiting and heaving I began to be concerned with the state of my eyeballs. I strained so hard that I was sure they would pop out of my head.
This leads to Amanda entering the bathroom to check on me, only to find me hunched over the toilet, heaving with my hands over my eyes to protect them from the power of the repetitive thrusts. Truly, a sight to behold. Kids, marriage ain't always pretty. But, it is usually funny.
Somewhere around 0330 the sickness subsided. I hurt. Notice how I used the word hurt as a verb? That's because I wasn't hurt. I actively, and continuously hurt. Which part, you ask? Every damn one of them.
My bout with apparent food poisoning had left me a whimpering, weak, shell of a grown man. I barely had the strength to raise my head. I struggled to find my cell phone and locate the phone number of the watch leader. She would be my only salvation from any continuation of this nightmare.
Now look, I'm an emotional guy. I'll tear up over movies, or the occasional sad episode of extreme makeover home edition, but I don't usually cry from pain. I get mad and drop a curse word or two, but not tears. The same cannot be said as I heard my calls continually go straight to the watch leader's voicemail. There I sat, slumped over in the dark, my uniform shirt half on and unbuttoned, with one pant leg barely pulled up past my knee, too weak to get fully dressed. Seeing this scene, Amanda pleaded for me to come back to bed, then relented and helped me finish dressing. You know you're in bad shape when your wife has to tie your shoes for you.
What happened next is a mystery to me. Somehow, I blinked and was standing in front of the gate at work, wearily staring at Chance, my guard mate for the next twelve hours. Chance and I were friends. If I remember correctly, he looked at me and accused me of showing up to watch intoxicated, as I stumbled to my post. I relayed the story of my evening to him and he was kind enough to allow my to rest in the guard shack until a relief for my watch could be found.
Around 1000, my relief showed up, and I headed home, stopping by the gas station to pick up large doses of gatorade. As I walked through the front door of our house I collapsed onto the carpet, unable to gather the strength move. I called out to Amanda, who was now just as sick as I was, to let her know that I'd made it home. We both slurped down some gatorade and went back to sleep, all day and all night. Lesson learned.
I never should've listened to that stupid Ralphie kid and his degenerate father!