Monday, February 25, 2013

Silly Rabbit, that's Floor Cleaner

     It wasn’t The Rabbit’s fault. I take full responsibility. Although the sands of time can be blamed too, but blaming my age for my problems is tantamount to cursing the darkness. I should light a candle instead.
     I am getting older. I will be 46 in just a few days. Sure in Galapagos Tortoise years I am still pretty young. I the lives of a sequoia I am still an infant. But if I was a dog I’d be dead. And 46 in human years isn’t too bad if one keeps oneself healthy. I could have done better. Regardless of how old I am, I am beginning to feel some age. The vision in my left eye was something in the lines of 20/70. It’s astounding I even found The Walmart Vision Center that day to be examined. I’ve got a lot of grey hair and for some reason, hair coming off my ears more.
And I can’t eat the same way I used to. I can’t eat flautas like I wish I could. The fried tortillas screw with my digestive system and turn it to spackle. And the other night I had the chance to eat something from my past, Trix Cereal. I had a big bowl and experienced once again that joy the joy of cereal and milk. I made the mistake of looking at the ingredients and saw trisodium phosphate. I have used that to clean floors. That night I had a bellyache. The next day I ate another bowl and had an even worse bellyache that gave me bizarre dreams. I can’t imagine eating that stuff for breakfast. But I know I used to be able to eat a whole box of Trix and wash it down with beer and feel fine. That is when I was young and didn’t know what I would do with my life.
Long before I washed sugary cereal down with beer, I watched Saturday morning cartoons and the inevitable commercials that went with them. That poor Rabbit with his Sisyphean life never getting the Trix. And I have only recently realized the genius of those ads aimed at kids. The rabbit always lost, the kids always won. Eat this sugary concoction fortified with Na3PO4. It’s just part of a nutritious breakfast. As a kid I thought that mean eating only part of it meant you were good.
TV people know how to reach kids. They have to have studied a lot of child psychology to know how to do that. And that got me wondering, do college students start out thinking that they want to study child psychology so that they can entice kids to eat floor cleaner? Or do they begin all starry-eyed with hopes of improving the world, and somewhere along the line sell their souls?
Back to when I was eating beer and Froot Loops or Trix. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. But if you asked me, I would not have cared for a job that involved poisoning children. And here I am 20something years later with an intolerance for what I used to love and a box of trisodium phosphate on my shelf of supplies, about to turn 46, and still certain that I want to do good in the world.
It’s been a long stretch around the points of my conscious thoughts this time. From aging to cereal to floor cleaner to child psychology. I’m not sure I’ve made a point or just ranted along for 589 words.
Here is what I am sure of:
·         I am having a birthday and that is just part of what is making me feel older.
·         I am stunned by how brilliant television ads made me feel like I could be a winner if I was a kid.
·         I am not a kid any more.
·         I am not a loser for not being a kid. Kids with their iron guts can have Trix. I have a whole box of trisodium phosphate I can clean floors with and that will make me feel tons better. 
Lastly, trisodium phosphate is a legitimate food additive and not actually poisonous when used in the quantities deemed safe by the FDA. Please, no-one sue me for that.
Here’s to another year.

Monday, February 18, 2013

30 years of Meaning

     It was early on I thought that the meaning of life was simple enough to be found in song lyrics. Thanks to Harrison paying for Rhapsody Music service, I downloaded an album last Saturday that I had not heard in almost 30 years. I had “The Safety Dance” on an 80’s compilation. But the whole Men Without Hats album, Rhythm of Youth had not played in my head since I had listened to it on my first generation Walkman® almost 30 years ago. Sometimes I would just lie in bed on a warm afternoon listening and contemplating the lyrics. I thought they spoke to the world and to me about loneliness, regret, nuclear war, and the meaning of life.
This last Saturday I listened to the album again on my iPod, technology that would have been inconceivable in 1983. In 1983 I hoped that in 30 years I would be a famous actor/writer/director like Alan Alda. If anyone had told me I would be a janitor I would have been heartbroken. If they told me I would be married with kids I would have been incredulous. You could, however have told me that a meteor would slam into my hometown and level buildings and kill half the world population. I would have embraced the idea of aliens coming to Earth. By 1983 I was finally beginning to accept that I didn’t belong in outer space with them. But you could have come up to me in February 1983 a week or so before my 16th birthday and told me that in 30 years, magnificent flying saucers would alight on Maui and approach me, apologize for taking so long and then let me fly a ship of my own home.
But God forbid you would have told me I worked for a church as a custodian, didn’t believe in aliens, and was married and had five children. And the most unbelievable thing of all that I would have vehemently denied, that I loved my life that way.
I’m listening to Rhythm of Youth as I write this right now. The B-sides never played on the radio have esoteric lyrics that made sense to me then, but not as much now. And maybe this is why: Back then, my imagination would conjure up meaning to fit things. I felt like I didn’t belong, so I must have been a displaced alien. Never mind that most teenagers feel like that sometimes and I was no exception. The reality was harder to accept. I was a teenager like thousands of others who had to cope with being an outsider. I wanted to be accepted but felt ashamed of wanting that. I wanted to be an actor, aloof and wealthy. People would like me then and I could choose whether or not to reciprocate.
So I lived outside of reality as much as I could. And as far as I was concerned, I would never enter into the real world. No, 1983 David, I know you won’t believe me, but in 30 years you will find utter joy in waking up early and feeding chickens. You will find fulfillment in being a husband and father. And you will own a mobile device not much bigger than a deck of playing cards that can play music, videos, and access just about any information in the world. You will use it to listen to actors just like you wish to be reading books. And you will listen to a digital version of this very music that you own on cassette tape. And here’s the thing 1983 David: you won’t care so much about the meaning of life. It is not a holy grail to be discovered.  If you could only trust God now, today… not make those bad choices later on…
Never mind, he’s not listening. He’ll go ahead and deny reality for another few decades. He will come around eventually.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Hurt Club

     A rat trap is humane, but it still hurts. I don’t know if something was wrong with me not being able to set it properly or the trap was just faulty. I kept pulling the bar back and trying to set the rod in place. My fingers were getting greasy with peanut butter and I was having trouble focusing on the close-up view. I raised my head to look under my glasses and kept trying. I heard the crack and saw my right thumb beneath the bar. Then I felt the pain. The rat trap had closed on my thumbnail. I had just been considering that this trap would break someone’s finger. I didn’t think mine was broken.  I could still move it.
I took a break from work and soaked my thumb in some ice water. Yes, it hurt. But I reflected back to three other times I hurt my fingers and tentatively placed this at number four. When I got back to work I tried to set the trap again, but my dexterity as well as my nerve was completely gone. The next time the trap snapped shut I sprang backwards leaving my eyeglasses on the floor. I left it there on the floor and tried to go back to my normal work.
I couldn’t turn keys and my thumb was beginning to hurt more and more. I did something I had not done in years. I took the rest of the evening off as a sick day. Prajna fussed over my injury. She helped me bandage it and borrowed some miracle ointment that really did improve it. Nathaniel made me a get well sign. I spent evening watching classic Star Trek on Netflix and slept reasonably well. I wore the splint Prajna bought for me to work the next day and assured people that it didn’t hurt that much. And really, compared to the time I mashed two fingers with a sledgehammer head six years back, this was pretty minor.
Two days later I was vacuuming at work when I felt my phone vibrate. Prajna told me that Nathaniel had seriously cut his thumb. He had been cutting himself an orange and sliced his left thumb. We conferred over the best course of action. She was still a little jittery and Nathaniel was wrapped in a blanket. I asked to talk to him and she put him on.
I told Nathaniel that I was sorry that he cut himself. He didn’t seem to upset anymore. Then I told him that he and I were both in the hurt thumb club. He seemed to enjoy that realization. I asked him if maybe he could make a sign and membership cards and he liked the idea. He has not made anything yet, but we have a special handshake where we gently touch sore thumbs and make a little ding.
This morning Yucaipa and parts of southern California are reeling from a tragic bus crash just north of town. The fatality count is still growing. That in addition to the senseless violence in the news is heartbreaking. And sometimes my theology is shaken. I become confused as to if God allows bad things to happen and I think that I used to know the answer to this question and felt solid in my belief. But just like how the trauma of watching a rat trap snap on my finger killed my nerve, I lose my nerve sometimes in believing that God is in control.
I do however stand firm on this belief: God never wastes a hurt. When my youngest son was sitting on the couch, I don’t know how traumatized he was from seeing his thumb bleeding all over the place. But he was able to talk to someone who said, I know how that feels and you and I have a special kinship. I don’t think that God had Nathaniel’s injury in mind when the trap closed on my finger. I don’t know how His plans work. I was just grateful that I could be there for my son.
I just wanted to share what I am convinced of. God will never waste a hurt. And if that is true, God is indeed in control.
Nathaniel's get-well sign