Friday, May 24, 2013

Comeuppance Bathed in Ranch Dressing

I trust me.  I've met me.  Yep, myself and I have spent lots of valuable time together.  You can learn a lot about a person by being them.  I know what I'm good at, and what I'm thinking.  I know when I've reached my limit, and when I'm just getting warmed up.  That level of comfort with my own capabilities usually leads me to prefer my method of doing things.  Some would call me a control freak. I would call it......ok fine, I'm a control freak.  I don't do it out of some dark narcissistic place, or because I fear others' success.  I'm not sure why I do it.  I guess I'm just willing and almost craving to accept both the credit and the blame for everything I do.  That's much less scary to me than not having had a hand in my own doings.

By asking me to join you on a road trip, ostensibly you've asked me to drive you somewhere.  By planning a cookout, you've challenged my ability to grill the world's best burger.  Don't even get me started on the subject of board games.  I'll be rolling the die for our team, thank you very much.

There are many things in your life to control, if you really consider all of the decisions you make and behaviors you exhibit on a daily basis.  It's a bit overwhelming, actually.  That's probably what leads people to agoraphobia.  By trapping themselves away, they are more capable of controlling the limited amount of stimuli to which they expose themselves.  I wouldn't consider myself to be anywhere near that extreme of a case, but if you see me at wal-mart buying blackout blinds for the windows and mason jars to pee in, do me a favor and get in contact with a member of my immediate family.

And just when you think you've got your little master plan worked out, when all the pieces are in place, and when the storyline finally makes complete sense, that's when someone drops a bomb on you.  For me, things were going well.  I had a new career, a beautiful new wife, and a neat little shotgun cottage in a seaside town to call my own.  The world was my oyster.  Things were going great at work and newlywed bliss was, well, blissful.  Then I heard something so slight, almost a passing thought, that would rip any semblance of control from my grip.  One night, while I stood watch on the Coast Guard Cutter Blackberry, Amanda called so we could talk about our day.  We joked, planned the coming weekend, and finally, she gave me a shopping list of things to pick up on the way home from watch.

Shopping List:

Diet Coke
Pregnancy test

Wait.  "What the hell was that third thing, again?"

That's right, boys.  Six months into my newly formed marriage, Amanda became pregnant with Jackson.

Fear crept in.  Cold sweats and stomach knots.  The whole shooting match.

Youthful arrogance is the world's fiercest paper army.  The first beat of the real life's war drum dashes your might and leaves you with the empty realization that you are, in fact, a pompous fool whose age had outgrown his maturity.

 Weeks crept by.  While trying to explain relativity Albert Einstein stated:

"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. THAT'S relativity." 

That's almost perfect.  My version goes like this:  "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour.  Overreact to every sensation, movement, and noticeable step of fetal maturation over a gruel period of nine months, with absolutely no ability to sooth or fix anything, should something go terribly wrong, and time will move slowly enough for you to count the cricket farts at dusk.  THAT'S relativity, and it's possibly God's cruelest joke on humanity."

Sure, it's a bit wordy and graphic (insectually speaking), but entirely accurate.

All the same, the mental anguish I was experiencing over my lack of control of pregnancy would soon manifest itself into one of the purest imaginable pictures of comeuppance.

About four months into the pregnancy the Coast Guard sent me to "A" school.  For eight weeks I would live away from my pregnant wife and spend my days learning my new job, in a classroom setting.  I met a friend at "A" school named Michelle.  Upon hearing that my wife was pregnant, Michelle offered to switch watches with me so that I could go home every weekend to spend time with my wife.  This was a kindness I'll never forget.  Every Friday, I would load my little Saturn sedan up and drive three hours back to North Carolina.  Every time I arrived, I knew what was in store for me.  Amanda would greet me at the front door like I'd been gone for ages.  The type of romance usually reserved for newlyweds, and since that's exactly what we were, we lived the stereotype.

The next day, we'd drive twenty minutes to Wilmington with three tasks to accomplish.

Task 1:  We'd hit a few different baby stores and purchase a few new blue items for our precious baby boy.

Task 2:  We'd go see a movie.  The theaters were usually kept pretty cold, so this was a nice break from the North Carolina summer's heat.

Task 3:  Hooter's.

Amanda loves the Hooter's restaurant chain.  The lure of fried pickle perfection and spicy buffalo sauce allowed her conscious to overlook the fact that we were being served them in a self-esteem wholesale warehouse spurned on by a myriad of missed daddy-hugs.  When your baby wants wings, you give her wings.

So Saturday after Saturday we performed our little ritual and Amanda couldn't have been happier.  This all changed on about my fourth weekend home.  Somehow, while I was gone for the week, Amanda's cute little baby bump had shifted to what resembled a basketball smuggled in her shirt.  No longer did she greet me gleefully at the door.  Instead, I knocked on the door and through the window I noticed a very different reaction.  She looked at the door, rolled her eyes, took a deep breath, and fist fought with gravity to get to the standing position.  I almost passed out.  

Everything went great the next day, until we pulled into the Hooter's parking lot.  There I sat, staring at my very pregnant wife.  Sure, the look on her face was a brand of voracious anticipation usually reserved for children on Christmas morning, as dreams of pickles scorched in vegetable fat danced in her head.  The look on my face was the realization of what was about to happen.

Sure enough, as I seemingly dragged my poor pregnant wife into Hooter's to scope community college dropouts in shorts the size of band-aids, "Amber's" and "Kourtney's" (spelled with a K so you know she's spunky) perky smiles turned into scumbag scorn.  I spent the next forty five minutes with my head staring straight down to avoid eye contact.  I wanted to scream.  I wanted to stand up and say "Look, this wasn't my idea!  She loves it here.  Her heart goes pitter patter for wing sauce.  For God's sake she's got sauce up to her elbows and a smile a mile wide!  I'm not the kind of guy who drags his pregnant wife to Hooter's to scope out 19 year olds.

That's when I realized that she actually DID have sauce up to her elbows, and most importantly, a smile a MILE wide.  She was so happy.  I slowly lifted my head.  This was not an occasion for shame.  I did it.  I contributed.  This was my role.  I couldn't do anything about the stuff that really mattered.  I couldn't pinpoint the cause of her phantom pains.  I couldn't MAKE the baby safe.  I couldn't magically fix her placenta previa (look it up).

But I could do this.  I could follow her around baby consignment shops looking at 6,435 different designs for baby bedding.  I could drive home every weekend.  And, I could definitely fight off the cut eyes and hateful snickers of Hooter's girls so that my sweetheart could drown her uncomfortable condition in a bath of wing sauce and ranch dressing.

Now that I think about it, I really hope Kourtney didn't spit in my food.

P.S.  I know I was a little rough on the Hooter's girls.  It's all in good fun.  I'm sure they're actually nice, well-meaning ladies. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The #1 Rated Blog in Las Vegas

It had to be perfect.  There was very little room for mistakes or ambiguity.  If I was going to nail this anniversary vacation, giving Amanda a truly memorable trip and thereby securing my status as "thoughtful," then every contingency must be considered.  Our decennial anniversary deserved nothing less.  Only the cream of the crop of leisurely activities would make the cut.  This would take skill.  This would take commitment.  Most importantly, this would take the patience of digging through a myriad of mostly valueless results when the words "vacation Las Vegas" were typed in the google search bar.

No matter how many Yelp or Tripadvisor reviews you read, at some point you're going to have to make a decision.  There's too much to see, too much to read, and far too many options.  To stay on the strip or not stay on the strip.   Which shows do we see?  Where do we eat?  What's worth spending our precious and limited time?

You can read all you want.  You can make lists of pros and cons.  Go ahead, build up your tower of pre-conceived notions.  It doesn't matter.  Once our plane landed, the real education on Las Vegas and our Anniversary vacation EXTRAVAGANZA began.

Here's what we learned:

1.  Little League

It doesn't matter what you do, or how well you do it.  In Las Vegas, everyone gets a trophy.  From the moment your step off of the plane, you are bombarded with advertisements.  The only thing remarkable about advertising in the Las Vegas is the massive amount of money spent on one basic concept.  Be it a show, a restaurant, a resort, or a used underwear store, they're all #1.  I'm not saying that they value their product, and it's many mentionable qualities.  No.  Those don't matter.  The only thing that matters is that someone, somewhere, listed them as #1 at what they do.

Advertising executives in Las Vegas must be collectively stroked out by the desert sun, or too enamored with the potential of free drinks at the penny slots, to realize that at some point as potential customer may wonder what it is they're selling.  But they can't be bothered with that.  They show up Monday morning, splatter the heading that there product was listed #1 by some random blogger or daily rag, then head back to the golf course for the back nine.  It's good work if you can get it.

2.  Beware the Good Deal

We needed a car.  Parts of our vacation would include trips out to Red Rock Canyon and the Grand Canyon.  That's a bit of a haul on rollerskates, so a rental was needed.  Now, I rent cars often.  I usually rent from one of the bigger chains because they have offices near my house, but that simply wasn't an option in Vegas.  My jaw draped perilously close to the floor when I saw the going rate for rental cars in Vegas.  I think they confused rent with purchase.

However, in the long list of available rentals, two companies listed near the bottom certainly captured my attention with their commitment to competitive pricing.  But, it made no sense.  Why were two companies so much cheaper than the rest.  Were they fly-by-night operations?  Did "full-size" really mean "horse drawn carriage?"  If so, I'd need new boots.

But still, I booked it.

As we approached the sales counter, my heart sank into my stomach.  Every other rental company visible in the rental center zoomed customers through the check-in process and got them quickly on their way.  All the while, "cheap company A" had a line a mile long, the head of which consisted of employees seemingly arguing with would be customers and trying to convince them to purchase their "guaranteed fuel program" like something out of a bad timeshare pitch.

I knew it.  This would be painful.

When our turn arrived, I approached the counter, gave the employee my name and reservation number, and awaited my paperwork.  The deal I agreed to, through a third party website, was for $77, not including insurance.  The employee confirmed my selection, entered the info on my driver's license, and returned with a price of $207, and change.  As soon as the price left her lips, I quickly snapped, "no."  Apparently, that's the magic word because she immediately tried to renegotiate by stuttering, "uhh, how about $130?".  I informed her that this too was an errant price and that I refused to pay it.  I showed her the agreement on my handy dandy smart phone, which was listed as follows:

Base Rate - $47.85
Tax and Fees - $29.68
Total Price - $77.53

Upon seeing this, she informed me that I would need to add all three of those figures together to get the real price.  This when the reigns on "snarky Jamey" could be held no longer.  Right there at the counter, two lessons were given.  First we discussed the meaning and usage of the word "Total" in the English language.  Next, I made her add the base rate to the tax and fees rate, and even instructed her how to carry the one, a la first grade arithmetic.

This brazen act led to a silent solidarity among fellow screwed over customers, as smiles were shared and heads were collectively nodded in approval.  No longer would we stand for this injustice.  No longer would additional fees and fuel plans balloon our prices beyond budgetary constraints.  This is America, damnit!  We're not going to allow you to terrorize our vacations by stealing manna from our Vegas buffet mouths!

Just before we were able to don matching kilts, paint our faces, and start war chants, the manager arrived at the desk and confirmed my low, low price.  Whew, that was close.  He had no idea how close he was revolution.  I had the mob on my side.  Crisis averted.  And even though the rental employee smiled at me through her teeth, I could tell she was still terribly confused by addition.

3.  "Oh, it's just right there"

Here's a Vegas vacation Jamey pro tip:  pack rollerblades.  Even though they seem to be adjoining, everything in Vegas is extremely spread out.  Distance is simply a mirage.

4.  Jose Canseco in a push-up bra

I just think I'm savvy.  In reality, my naivety is apparently limitless.  I would never have thought that adult aged human being would consider the Vegas strip, at midnight (or any time for that matter), as an appropriate place to bring their children.  Walking the sidewalk of the Vegas strip is like having an AOL email account in the late nineties.  No matter why you're there, eventually you're going to get spammed by porn peddlers.

This usually comes in the form of people wearing shirts with the words "Girls, Girls, Girls"across the back, handing out flyers for free cover charge to the nearest strip establishment.  These flyers resemble business cards seemingly designed by a ruthless hoard of 13 year old boys.  They don't waste time with helpful information.  It's just a picture of a nude, or at best scantily clad, twenty year old and an address.  By the end of the night, the sidewalk is littered with these cards.

And there, as parents struggle to negotiate the crowded sidewalks and bright lights, they can't be bothered with checking on the actions of their cute little rugrats.  This usually leads to the kids picking these cards up and trading them around like the world's most inappropriate baseball card.  Amanda and I watched in horror as a young couple walked away from their four year old little boy, who stopped in the middle of a busy intersection to kneel down and pick up booby a crowd of hundreds.  Sometimes you wish child services responded to some sort of bat signal.

5.  Bambi

Time in Vegas isn't really measured in hours.  That's far too complicated.  Rather, it's measured in motif.  The morning hours are dominated by hangover shuffles, heels-in-hand walks of shame, and bathing suits.  The afternoon is dominated by those seeking to acquire show tickets in their comfy shoes and sunglasses.  But nighttime.  Oh nighttime.  That's when the hair gel, hooker heels, teeny skirts, and shiny shirts come out to play.  We enjoyed this time of day the most.  That's when the people watching aspects of Vegas really kick it into high gear.  On our final night in town, we decided to run out to a nearby restaurant for a nice meal before seeing Cirque Du Soleil.    As our weary feet knowingly carried us through yet another stale and smokey casino, a bustling group of young twenty-somethings burst out in front of us.  They couldn't be bothered with the fact that they'd nearly trampled us to death.  No, no.  They were far too important and well dressed for such a selfless notion.

The group dynamics were as follows:  Two single girls, complete with skanky dresses and blown out hair.  One single guy with shiny shoes, a shiny tan, and an even shinier shirt.  Finally, the ring leaders.  The power couple at the center of this obnoxious orbit were straight out of central casting for Jersey Shore.  The guy was a brand of confident rarely seen in the human race, completely devoid of insecurities.  His best girl was a sight to behold.  She was about 5'5", 84 lbs, in a shiny leopard pattern dress like something out of that terrible toddlers and tiaras show.  Her shoes were more stilts than heels.  I began to wonder if she might be a Cirque performer.

Just as my disillusionment with the human race reached it's climax a cleansing and powerful wind of humility swept across the group.  In the course of their young and invincible strut through the casino, stilt girl failed to consider that the equation of ridiculous shoes + marble floor would most likely result in tragedy.  Time slowed as her ankles resembled those of a baby deer struggling to take it's first steps.  It took her a GOOD second and a half to complete her fall.  Captain slick hair, try as he might, was unable to rescue his toothpick with bangs from her descent.  In the struggle, they ended up collectively collapsing in the middle of the crowded casino.  For that moment, the glitz and fake glamour of Vegas revealed itself as lacking the stability and foundation of common sense.  This was Vegas in a nutshell.  

Don't let this blog fool you.  It was an amazing vacation.  We had a blast.  We spent time together....alone.  We made each other laugh.  We pushed each other to hike the freaking Grand Canyon.  And we even massaged each others calves the next day as the limitations of ibuprofen became all too obvious.  It wasn't perfect, but we were.  We committed ourselves to enjoying our time away.  We committed to having long, in depth conversations about grown up topics.  And mostly, we committed ourselves to go with the flow, even if it involved a math lesson or two.