Is It Bad That I Want to Keep This?

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I’ve been hitting a magical streak of finding unopened generic 80s/90s toys at the thrift store. Two weeks ago it was those walkies talkies, yesterday it was this amazing ELECTRONIC PULSATING FAZER II. (No doubt an upgrade from the Fazer I, if that ever even existed.) Like the walkie talkies, I bought it with the intention of selling it. Some weirdo on eBay would want this random generic toy gun from 1991.

Aaaand that weirdo is me.

I had to surgically extract the long-dead demonstration batteries, which had exploded and leaked twenty-year old battery acid on my hands during the excavation. Pretty sure my cancer risk just increased another 1% today.

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There is nothing particularly special about this toy gun. It’s your standard toy gun that makes the same dinky electronic sounds that they all make, running through a pattern of telephone rings, machine gun sounds, and other singsong beeps, while flashing blue/red and vibrating.

And yet, upon closer examination, it just had these lovable 1990s hallmarks about it: the “rad” neon colors and the futuristic see-through “science.”

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Gah. I’m a goner. I’M KEEPING IT. One day, me and the boy are going to have a ray-gun battle, and the classic 1991 Pulsating Fazer (II) will be weapon of my choice.

Life, Turtles, The Snot Sucker

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I’m still here. We’re doing great. We have 66 days to go, or more, or less, depending on how much you want to scare us. The wife is big, stunning, gorgeous. Actually, all of the above.

I’ve been productive. I painted the nursery. I built the crib. I finally tackled the mold growing on the ceiling in the shower. Even though me and “projects” don’t generally get along, I don’t have any funny stories of how much I screwed these up, because I didn’t. I’ve found a well of patience within myself that has never existed at any point in my life.

I think I’m also experiencing some sort of pre-life-change crisis, because I’ve been fighting off the urge to buy shit I don’t need like crazy. And sometimes I don’t even fight it off.

Like these new Kid Robot mini-figures:

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Me: I’m going through some sort of crisis. I just bought more Ninja Turtles.

Wife: That’s cool.

Me: I think I’m having buyer’s remorse though.

Wife: It’s okay to still buy things for yourself!

Me: Okay, cool. You want to see them? *pulls up picture online*

Wife: They’re cute! Which one did you get?

Me: …all of them.

Wife: Oh.

See? I hate myself. They do glow in the dark though. GLOW IN THE DARK THOUGH. And they come on retro-styled cards that mimic the original action figure packaging. And I’m sure in three months when I’m completely overwhelmed and sleep-deprived, they’ll be an unending glow-in-the-dark pool of comfort and happiness….right? Right?

And now let me give you a preview of what this blog may be like for the next year. (Feel free to abandon ship now.) The wife had her first baby shower, given by her co-workers. She came home with mountains of stuff. It all seemed pretty standard to me: blankets and rattles and tugboat outfits. You know. Baby shit. I got this. I can dig it.

But one gift we received gave me pause. No, it gave me something else. It gave me that sort of bone-chilling anxiety that life would never ever be the same. I mean sure, I knew that, abstractly. But now I had physical evidence of it.

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We got a snot-sucker.

I looked at it for a long time, without words. I considered it. It’s a tube that you stick one end in baby’s nose, and one end in your mouth, and you suck the snot out of his nose.

Pause.

Pause to let the bizarre new life wash over me.

One day, I will take my son in my arms, put a straw in his nose, and suck his snot out with my mouth. It will be a bonding experience.

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This is apparently a thing that people do.

I guess I knew that babies get mucus. I guess I knew that it has to come out, somehow. Actually I’m lying. I did not know this. Maybe you guys should warn me of more, or less, depending on how much you want to scare me.

Ode to These Awesome 1980s Walkie Talkies

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Remember when this blog used to be about fun stuff and awesome 80s toys? Remember before my life got super serious and introspective? Remember when I was a different person? Young and carefree? Yeah, that.

Well I found these old school walkie talkies at the thrift store. I had every intention of flipping them for a few extra bucks on eBay, but I also knew there was no chance of it happening. Because look at them. When you think of 1980s toys, you think of the major touchstones in popular culture. You’re not remembering the generic crappy day to day toys that made up the actual bulk of your toy box, your life. I think I had these exact walkie talkies. I think it’s possible that every kid on the planet once had these exact walkie talkies.

Every aspect of them was somehow perfect. Let’s take a closer look.

PERFECT ASPECT #1: Friendly Reminder Kay-Bee Sticker

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PERFECT ASPECT #2: Weathered Tape Barely Holding Box Together

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PERFECT ASPECT #3: Styrofoam, Baby

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PERFECT ASPECT #4: Confounding Morse Code Translation. Seems Legit.

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PERFECT ASPECT #5: Fancy Belt Clip

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PERFECT ASPECT #6: The Freaking Receipt

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Pregnancy Is

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According to Google, pregnancy is a blessing. And a hypercoagulable state, whatever that is. Oh God. Do I need to worry about this? I’m not going to google that to find out.

For the wife, pregnancy has been the thing that made her barf in her hand that one time in the middle of kitchen, upon smelling the dog food that was sitting in the other room across the house. It has been the thing that makes her crave pancakes. It has been the thing that makes her burst into tears simply by announcing how much she loves the baby inside her.

For me, pregnancy has been a humbling experience between me and God, by which I mean, it has been a complete ass-kicking from God. But, in God’s defense, I needed it.

We found out the wife was pregnant two days before my mom died. She was in a coma when I told her about her first grandchild. There was no response except for the ventilator tube mechanically sighing and my father crying.

That’s not fair. I hate it. I’ve let go of a lot of pain, but not that one. I carry that one around burning.

So look, I wouldn’t even try to go toe-to-toe with God. You can’t. God has a plan.

But look, I was a kid who used to challenge the department store Santas and wack-looking Easter Bunnies, much to my mother’s humiliation. She was just trying to get a cute picture of her kid, and I was sitting there arms-crossed, skeptical, and vainly emboldened, telling them how fake they looked.

I don’t think you can hurt the feelings of mall Santas. I don’t think you can hurt the feelings of God. So I won’t put that burning part down. I’ll carry that up like a torch to his very face, and say that part — that part of the plan — was bullshit. And somewhere, my mother will be cringing.

I’m thankful, too. I am humbled. The pregnancy has been an incredible blessing. It has spared me so much grief and filled me with excitement and hope.

It has also terrified us. We’ve had an “eventful” pregnancy, full of scares and bedrest for the wife, leaving me with EVERYTHING ELSE TO DO IN LIFE. The baby has been fine the whole time, totally chilling. Thank you God for that, but also God, you know me. You know I have a few thoughts about all the anxiety. And I feel like, it’s like, well…

Fuck it. I got nothing. You have the controls. I’ll just be, you know, over here, getting repeatedly whupped into submission/shape/parenthood.

Day 187. I still suck at cooking eggs. 93 days to go.

The Shed

When I was a teenager, I was a budding filmmaker, by which I mean I happened to own a video camera. I had a great idea for a documentary film called “The Shed,” which would have been an exploration of the shed in our backyard. Ominously rusted and sunken into the earth, it had ceased being a functional storage space, and was more of a tomb for abandoned household items, old bikes, and gear from our long-deceased swimming pool. Pools have a way of becoming family members. It’s so sad when they die. It’s like you can never bear to part with their skimmers and chlorine floaters.

I also was dramatically certain that the shed was filled with Amazonian spiders, raccoon nests, and moldy new lifeforms festering in the dark. My film would have been part nature documentary and part horror film. And I know something exciting would have happened if I’d ever had the opportunity to make it. Maybe I’d have found a drifter living in there. A rabid family of possums. Tetanus, at the very least.

However, my father had none of it, informing me that there was nothing interesting or worth filming in the shed except our old bikes and some tools.

“Don’t mess around in that shed,” he said, sending the film into development hell forever.

These days I have my own shed in my own backyard, and I still sometimes entertain the idea of resurrecting the film. I’m imagining the opening sequence, shot in art-snob sepia, first-person style. All you hear is the measured breathing and the rustling through leaves as the camera shakily approaches those metal doors.

Suddenly the screen goes black and you hear the awful screeching of the doors being pried open.

The screen comes back. And you see.

In the corner, a grass seeder that was just used once in the failed grass growing experiment. The camera rapidly pans across. A bag of charcoal for the grill that is now rusted shut. The camera spins around. Broken hedge trimmers, unused mulch, a cracked planter. The breathing is heavier now. A balled-up patio umbrella net from the time I envisioned creating a screened-in effect, but instead got the effect of protecting ourselves from the malaria outbreak.

I know now what my father knew then. The Shed is not a horror film. The Shed is ultimately a tragedy, a place of broken dreams, an unorganized vision of a more perfect yard that I do not and will never have.

Well, and the wife would be quick to inform all of you that one time there was a spider. And not just any spider, but a spider the size of a fist. In fact, it was the size of a small sovereign country. This thing could still totally be a horror film.

Of course, there would be other films in the docu-series as well: The Attic. The Sump Pump Pit. That Red Tupperware Bowl in the Back of the Refrigerator (Oh God How Long Ago DID WE MAKE THAT) — quite possibly the most terrifying film of them all.

Shark’s Teeth

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I have an uncle that died a few months ago. No need to express condolences — he was a man I barely knew, a man with many demons, an uncle only by familial relationship, my father’s brother. And yet he has always been something more, an intriguing symbol of my childhood. After Marvin’s funeral, my sister said to me, “it feels like we’re losing our childhood.” I understood just what she meant.

They say when you lose a parent, you lose your past. We lost our mother recently, and while the past and present suddenly feels cleaved in two, it has never felt lost. Yet what do they say when you lose a distant stranger of an uncle who struggled with addictions? I don’t think they say anything at all.

Well, I have a few things to say.

My parents divorced when I was too young to remember. After this, I saw my father randomly and sometimes rarely, my mother soon remarried, and life moved on. Well, it would be easy to say life moved on, but something always remains behind — something complex and conflicted, mysterious and unsolvable.

Visits with my Dad often took place at my grandmother’s house, where Uncle Marvin also lived, in the basement. My grandmother’s house was a fascinating and cavernous place, filled with very breakable objects — which my sister and I were often reminded of as we ripped around the house in play. Unlike our house that was filled with our abused action figures, beheaded stuffed animals, broken game controllers, and a television with black spots from the time I stuck magnets on it, my grandmother’s house was a museum of exotic antiques.

There was an antique globe that just begged for me to spin it like a Harlem Globetrotter. There was the Victorian wood stereoscope that cried out for me to wear it like a virtual reality mask and crash into walls. There was a creaky old mechanical bank that longed for me to wind it up a million times, just to see that little dog whir out and take up the penny over and over.

(AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER AND OVER until an adult made me stop.)

These visits with Dad were often whirlwinds of lost time crammed into a weekend or a holiday. Between the jaunts out to the Smithsonian, the trips for ice cream, and the stops at the playground, the visits were exhausting, overstimulating, and always ended with the dog bank getting broken.

More alluring than even the dog bank however, was Uncle Marvin. Marvin lived in the basement in what could only be described as a lair — an actual lair, a makeshift of half-finished drywalls and hanging flags and drapery, concealing a carved-out corner in the dark recesses of the basement.

He lived down there with a menagerie of taxidermied animals, clothes made from human hair, knives, crossbows, black lights, ashtrays, and an apparently legendary record collection. But most importantly to me as a six-year-old, he had a pet tarantula and a collection of shark teeth.

Covered in tattoos and faded denim, he resembled something between a biker, an outlaw, and Jesus. Tall, lanky, with missing teeth and stark icy blue eyes, he looked like no other human being I’d ever encountered. A subterranean creature, he rarely emerged from the basement lair. All of this combined made him something of a legend to me. It made him Walt Disney. It made him Robert Ripley. It made him absolutely terrifying.

For me and my sister, getting a peek at him was our greatest mission in life. Just one tiny peek. One glimpse to see the spider, the knives, the shark teeth, the bat in the jar, the cat skull, the pirate flag, the shag rug, the man, the myth, the legend. But mostly the spider.

Getting that coveted peek meant going on a spelunking mission into the basement. We’d crawl and lower ourselves slowly down the steps, careful not to cause a single creak on the old wooden staircase. Once we reached the cool tiled floor, we’d be barely breathing and desperately concealing our giggles. It could take an entire hour for us to work up the courage with each careful step, as we’d agonizingly ford the length of the basement toward the back corner.

Once there, we’d slowly peek in through the drapery, where he’d be in the center thick of it, on his couch, contentedly watching television or listening to music. We’d take it in for a second — if that — before tearing off as fast as we could, back up the stairs to safety, breathlessly reporting that we saw him. We saw him! We saw him.

I don’t know if I ever got a solid look at that lair — my entire memory of it is comprised of second-long glimpses combined, flickering together over the years. I don’t know if he ever noticed and or cared about the two kids stalking him out. I don’t know if he even knew who we were. All I know is, something about him made everyone want to hold onto their own piece of him, and the thrill of peeking into his lair was mine.

After the funeral, my dad gave me Marvin’s collection of shark teeth. My sister got one of the knives. Having a piece of that lair is having a piece of childhood, though not a piece that’s like an old beloved toy. It’s a complicated piece, a piece of something complex and conflicted, mysterious and unsolvable — much like the man they once belonged to.

How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs, and Lived to Tell My Story

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This post has nothing to with the band Korn, finding God, or kicking drugs. Well, sort of. There’s an actual book with that title by the member of the band Korn, but I’ve never read it, nor do I know anything about Korn, except that I used to work in a record store, and all the kids who bought their records were terrifying socially awkward a little raw around the edges. There. That’s a good way of putting it.

I’m getting ready to have this kid in four months. That’s weird. I keep picturing him at different stages of life — as a newborn infant (HOLY SHIT WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS) or as a teenager talking back at me (HOLY SHIT WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS.) I’m picturing this while I’m eating Flaming Hot Cheetos out of the bag, in the middle of the hallway, considering it part of a balanced lunch.

Surely an adult would not be eating these — or would at least choose the more conservative regular Cheetos that aren’t the color of cartoon acid. At the very least they’d politely pour a serving size out onto a napkin first. And consider it more a snack than actual lunch. Nope, there I am, chewing open-mouthed and mindlessly, over the bag, in the hallway, not quite even dressed for the day, realizing no child is ever going to take me seriously as some sort of authority figure.

Some things I can picture easier—like playing with a five-year-old, sprawled out on the floor with Legos or action figures. That, I can handle. But then I also picture him doing sweet jumps off the deck with a trash bag tied around his neck as a parachute, just like I used to do. I wonder where the line is between letting him be a child and letting him paralyze himself from the waist down. I wonder how quickly he’ll cross that line, or I’ll cross that line. I guess we’ll meet in the middle, that place of childhood disappointment, parental anxiety, and bribes of ice cream instead.

But this post isn’t about me going on and on about the pending doom most fulfilling event in my life. I’ve been thinking about a lot of things during my Serious Reflections on Life Cheetos Binges (TM). Childhood happens just once. Being a teenager is once. But then we spend the rest of our lives in this thing of being an adult.

Yet being an adult is never just one thing, this one frame of life. You end up being many adults, as you evolve and learn over the years, as you bump into people you’ll know forever and others you’ll never know again, as you whittle away at time in various ways, until you make a nook where you decide to stay awhile.

I have been many adults. For a few years I worked at a sporting goods store. I was twenty-one, in college, glorious in my laziness and boredom and disdain for everything—particularly the rich, yuppie soccer moms who insisted on only the most high-end of shin guards for their blonde-haired, sun-kissed spawn. They were not me. I was not them. I was a rebel, a chain-smoker, a poet, a dreamer.

I was an asshole.

I’ve often said that sometime I’m going to write about all my experiences at the sporting goods store. But the stories always end up feeling too slight, too thin, and not really that interesting. Except for maybe the story about the Ab Energizer.

Ah yes, the Ab Energizer. It was one of those infomercial exercise gadgets—part abdominal workout, part Medieval torture-device—promising that you could get the tight abs you’d been dreaming about without breaking a sweat and with only the touch of a button.

The Ab Energizer was an electronic ab belt that you strapped around your stomach, placing electrodes on the target muscles. The electrodes then delivered electric impulses to the muscles, forcing the muscles to involuntarily contract and relax. Basically, it delivered hundreds of tiny jolts of electricity to your gut. So basically, it electrocuted you into shape. Or something.

I used to ring up customers on the register, next to the Ab Energizer display, listening to the infomercial play in loops on the television, featuring Kita Pelly, “nationally recognized fitness expert.” Recognize that name? Nope? Exactly. The Ab Energizer was sketchy as fuck. So naturally, we sold hundreds of them a day.

That’s it though. That’s the whole story. Oh yeah, there’s the salacious part of the story with the lawsuits, third-degree burns, and cancerous lesions, but in retail land, that just meant that eventually I set up the display area with the Ab Swing instead and then went outside for a cigarette break afterwards.

Another story I’m going to write sometime is the one where I got addicted to drugs. See, but the story stops being good right there, because the drugs were just those alternative medicines like Bee Wax pills and Echinacea. And I wasn’t really addicted. I’m just being dramatic theatrical. I’d gotten dumped by an ex, which was like getting dumped into a lifeboat in the middle of an ocean. I remember that’s how life felt. Like floating.

There was a massive Christian bookstore/emporium down the street from my office job, where I’d sometimes end up wandering around on the my lunchbreak. More than just books and tacky Jesus trinkets, the store was also an apothecary of alternative medicine and herbal remedies. There were remedies for every ailment—things you didn’t even know you had, like an alkalinity imbalance or other things I became certain I had, although it was really just severe depression.

For a while, I had a little regimen of random pills and powders and flax seeds I took. Acai pills for allergies. Chokeberry for all the free radicals—whatever those were, but I was sure I was bogged down with them. Royal Jelly for insomnia. Ginseng for high blood pressure. I probably had it. After all, I felt like I was dying all the time. The more I spent on feeling better, the more sick and unhealthy I began to feel all the time.

One day I realized I had no idea what the hell a Chokeberry was, and realized I was completely insane. After that, I got clean, quit Korn, and so on. I quit smoking cigarettes and started exercising. But that’s a pretty boring end to the story.

Here’s a weird story. For a brief, very strange few months of my life, I worked at Yankee Candle as a second job to help pay a few bills. Yankee Candle is America’s best loved candle. Or perhaps you just know them as that store in the mall that sells those garish candles in jars. Ahem. That jar is called the Housewarmer. Do not refer to it as a jar. (Page one of the employee training book.)

I’ve never really talked about the time I worked Yankee Candle. Partly because it’s embarrassing that I know more about candles than what is socially-appropriate among my peers. And partly because it was the end of a certain stage in my life, the one right before I grow up, get married, buy a house, and have kids. It’s so strange to talk about a past self, a temporary self.

Then again, the main reason I never talk about it is because nothing exciting ever happened.

Retail stories are war stories. They’re about the comradery with your co-workers, a unique little band of people whom you’re in the trenches with every day. War is hell, and so is customer service. But at Yankee Candle, the customers are middle-aged women who have dumped their husbands off on the bench outside and are shopping for expendable luxury items for themselves. At that moment, they are the happiest, most pleasant people on earth.

At Yankee Candle, the war was entirely mental. Besides customer service, the main job description was making sure all the candle jars were facing the same direction, each label front and center across the wall, with not a single deviation. For some reason, I enjoyed this immensely.

It was around this time that Bath & Body Works, a little ways across the mall, began selling their own competing line of White Barn candles. Let me tell you, that shit was like a gang war, east coast vs. west coast. Okay, I’m lying. It was nothing like that. The manager of my store, a slight woman with mousy gray hair and a penchant for turtleneck sweaters, raised an eyebrow and dryly said she “never even cared for the smells of their soaps that much.”

Okay, here’s a good story. Once, I was reaching for a candle—like Citrus Tango or some shit—and I dropped it. Glass shattered and somehow a large chunk of glass lodged into the middle of my finger, splitting it wide open, leaving a bloody mess and permanent scar.

I have a scar from Yankee Candle, of all places. And that about sums how exciting my life has been. Upon that realization, that’s when I pull out of my Serious Reflections on Life Cheetos Binge (TM), only to notice I’ve eaten an embarrassing and shameful amount of the bag.

I can handle this parenting thing. Life lessons always end up being the same, no matter how mundanely you learn them. Always stay away from drugs, son. Remember, there’s no such thing as a one-minute workout. You won’t be able to fly with a trashbag tied to your neck. I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried.

I was pretty cool once, you know. No seriously, I was—even if I have to lie and tell you this scar came from the time a White Barn thug tried to jump me.