Friday, December 31, 2004

News Flash For Pessimists: IRAQ IS FREE!

Happy New Year

Well, I'm not linking up to any big stories here and I'm interrupting my daily foray into personal story telling to talk about something so damned obvious, it almost cracks me up every time I get on a blog site owned by FREE IRAQIS and see some dipshit from the nether world of ignoramuses spouting some bullshit about "failure of Iraq", the "impending civil war", polls that say they hate America, hate Allawi, the terrorists are winning, the vote won't go forward, Iraq is Viet Nam, Americans are killing Iraqis by the thousands daily, Iraq will be the next Afghanistan under the Taliban, etc, etc, etc.

I was reading at Iraq The Model today, where the brothers had put up a "Happy New Years" post and there, right in the middle of everyone wishing the brothers a happy new year was this British jackass spouting off some crap about war crimes, deaths of civilians, illegal wars, yadda, yadda, yadda. Do I have to print it all here for you to get the picture?

I started laughing. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to bust a gut. This is right after I just went around the blog world and read about ten new Iraqi blogs that showed up in the last 20-45 days. I'm sure there's more, this just happens to be the ones I know of starting up. Not to count the endless number of blogs, only a few of which I have posted on my side bar, that have been out there for over a year or have cropped up in the last year. From Kurdistan to Samara, Iraqis are logging on the computer and saying what they've got to say.

You know what that means? For the dumbasses that can't think logically, it means...


You shitheads. Pull your heads out of your asses. You ever read an Iraqi blog while Saddam was in charge? You ever even read a Raed, Khalid or Majid Jarrar blog during the reign of that slimy bastard that has the blood of hundreds of thousands' on his hands?

The shear lunacy of some shithead showing up on the blog of Iraqis who not only post about how wonderful it is to be free, even with the stupid assholes running around blowing shit up, how much they want democracy, how thankful they are that America came and saved them, their family and the Iraqis in general from more years of oppression, torture and murder AND have started their own political party AND fucking live there, live it every day, has got to be the most ignorant, bizarre, insane, delusional action of the entire loon world running around with their heads so far up their asses they have to unbutton their Tommy you know who knock off shirts made in a Chinese sweatshop in order to see their computer screen.

Let me tell you something, Iraq is free, will you nil you, you fucking morons. Yes, I'm cursing. Yeah, I've heard it before about the intellectual capacity of people that use curse words, but, frankly, since I'm addressing the shit for brains that are doing this kind of bullshit on a daily basis, I figure I have to get down to their level for them to understand. That level being a sophomore numbnut whose world view is about as "progressive" as a fucking larvae on the stinking, bloated carcass of a rats ass in the sewers of Paris, France on the hottest day of summer.

Let's not forget the media news sources. Some headbanging wake up calls for you, too. Tell me, oh great naysayers of gloom and doom, the watchers of your own inanity, were you ever, I repeat, ever able to go to Iraq and interview any Iraqi without first putting on your best red lipstick and kissing the ass of every bureaucrat in the eastern hemisphere before even getting into Iraq, then slavering your tongue from toe to asshole up Saddam's unholy, lice infested body and then being monitored by a guy that wouldn't mind making you disappear for the price of a scoop of camel dung, BEFORE Iraq was liberated?

Didn't think so.

You know what that's called?


I can hear Mel Gibson's voice from Brave Heart echoing it even now.

Now you media types who never feared before to go into a blood bath war zone with your cameras and your pencils have abdicated your place in the world as reporters by holing up in the Green Zone, paying some Iraqi guy or other nationality to go around filming whatever, taking it, snipping it into pieces until all that exists are explosions and proclaiming yourselves the "truth tellers" about the state of Iraq.

In the words of a very young relative of mine, "You are so yesterday!"

That goes for the ass wipes running around bombing some Iraqi guys just trying to make a living or trying like hell to rebuild their country.

Wake up, you morons, you lost already. Yes, lost, because Iraq is already free. The cat is out of the bag. Democracy, voting, elections, just around the corner. But that freedom began on April 9, 2003, you just didn't know it yet because you were too busy trying to decide what color of dishdash to wear when you threw yourselves on the martyrdom sword. Yeah, it is true martyrdom, that of martyrs for lost causes. Now you are nothing but murderers as you proclaimed the rest of the world to be.

By the way, for all those idiot families who offered your son, brother, husband to martyrdom to fight the evil, imperialistic capitalists for the price of a paycheck, you lost already, too. Why? The minute you accepted the check you became...drum roll please...

Evil capitalists!

Yes, you sold your sons' lives for a dollar and then you went and used that dollar to buy a house, buy clothes, buy food, all of those horrible capitalistic things that are supplied by horrid capitalist companies. You probably even ate at McDonald's with it, bought a capitalist cell phone, a television, all the lovely capitalistic cultural icons that you blame for the decay of your culture. Look in your own pocket book. What is more "evil capitalist" than selling your sons' souls for that dinar or dollar?

Now, I laugh. I almost can't stop laughing because we didn't just win in Iraq, we are winning every damned day. Every time money from these activities gets spent, every time even one bullet is bought, one tea kettle, one phone, one pair of shoes, you can bet your sweet Ibn Battuti that a piece, a dime, something, came from, went through, or came to America. Because that's the way global economies work...suckers!

I know, I'm letting the cat out of the bag here, but I just couldn't help myself. It's New Years Eve. The New Year is upon us and people are still worrying about what will happen to Iraq and the Middle East.

No worries, mate. It may be the slowest and most underground victory ever seen, but victory it is. Capitalist democracies strike again and eventually, the whole damned world will be full of people with their latest capitalistic iconic gadget, bulging from their pockets, sitting on their TV stand, on their kitchen counters, in their driveway, on their desks, in their little "I want to be a socialist" briefcase, somewhere for all the world to see.

And, whether it says "Made in Japan", "Made in China", "Made in India", "Made in Afghanistan", or "Made in America", made where ever, it is part of the greater global capitalist conspiracy to take over the world. You lose, we win.

Isn't freedom grand?

Happy New Year!

Blonde Sagacity: ALa71 On Marriage

While preparing my next post, I noticed ALa linked up to here and then gave some advice on not compromising on what you want from your potential spouse since you must know when you are committing to this thing called marriage that it means you are committing to one person to whom you will wake up to, every morning, almost without fail, for the next 40+ years.

I must say, just writing "40+ years" sent a shiver of near fear down my spine. Just add that little shiver to the reasons why I'm not married.

Except, when I read her post, it gives me hope that I might get as lucky as the Queen of Conservatives. Maybe I should dye my hair blonde?

At this rate, we might have to start our own consulting services: The Blonde, The Kat and The Curmudgeon.

Curmudgeon will work on the men, I'll work on the women and ALa will do the "extreme make over" or "what not to wear to attract your mate" segment. ;)

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Eternity Road Gives Advice On Marital Relationships

On the post before last, I received a comment from the Francis W. Porretto regarding some posts on Eternity Road that I might be interested in. I am familiar with Eternity Road as a political and general commentary on life. It was very interesting to read these two posts and, to a large extent, feeling a little validated as well as even more educated on human relationships.

As I've been writing from a woman's perspective on romance and relationships, I decided that it would be a good idea to post some thoughts from a man's point of view. Interestingly, they don't fall far from my own thoughts on romance and relationships. Maybe men and women don't actually think that differently? Or maybe our experience is telling?

One True Love

With regard to love, there are about a million fallacies circulating as gospel truths. Our modern era is unusual in many ways, and particularly so as regards our sexual-romantic minefield. Because the risks are large and the difficulties often appear insurmountable, we’re unusually prone to believing things that we’d dismiss with a snort if we were in our right minds.

The worst of these fallacies is that of the One True Love.

There’s nothing in this world quite as unlikely as the prospect of meeting a woman who’s “perfect for you”: ready for you to love unreservedly and unstintingly, and who’ll love you back with equal fervor. It simply doesn’t happen. Human beings are much too complex, and too imperfect, for such a fantasy to be made real.

Let me interject here by saying I am very happy to know that I am not the only one that says imperfection is the norm.

"The one,” or some variation on the theme, is the reason most romances fail. A lot of younger folks carry an idealized picture of romantic bliss in their heads. They insist on comparing their current romance to that picture, and their current beau to the demigoddess of their fantasy. Besides being monstrously unfair to any human lover to do such a thing, it guarantees dissatisfaction from one end of life to the other.

To insist on “the one” is to insist that some real woman mold herself into a reproduction of your fantasies. It’s a demand for a golem, not a wife. Every real lover you’ll ever have will be irritable, distractable, ornery, perverse, and independent of mind. How could it be otherwise? Other people never live up to our hopes for them. Not even the best of them, and not even when you’ve made it crystal-clear what you want and expect.

But there is one person who has the potential to live up to your hopes for him.

You know who I’m talking about, don’t you?

Not long ago, a book came out for women called "The Rules" and it was supposed to be rules that women should follow for dating and relationships. Frankly, I read about half of the book and tossed it. Some of it was entertaining, some of it was realistic and some of it had to be written by someone who had never actually dated, but graduated from high school and married there beau: in 1955.

Now, you know I say that many things don't change, but those rules really did not take into account the reality of the surreality of humans. But, reading Eternity Road, I thought that these rules were much more realistic.

The Rules

Reality is independent of your opinions.

It’s also indifferent to your desires.

Every situation comes with incentives and constraints. Though you will try to maximize your harvest of the incentives, you must satisfy the constraints.

Effort put toward trying to control the uncontrollable is effort wasted.

The clock is always running; there are no “time outs.”

Actually, as noted at the site, these rules were not specifically outlined for relationships and dating, but are general rules that apply to just about everything. Humans and their relations among among them.

A note from Eternity regarding the knowing the rules and applying them (hint: two separate things):

I can practically hear you muttering, “Yeah, yeah, so what? Only a total bonehead wouldn’t know all of that.” Well, if that be the case, then to judge by the Romantic State of the Union, there are an awful lot of total boneheads running around loose.

Next, I can totally agree with this assessment, the bar scene is not the place you want to meet someone and will rarely, if ever meet "the one".

The modern mechanisms—singles’ bars; dating services; singles’ personal ads; trolling among coworkers—are mostly inadequate, too. Now and then, one of them will score a major success for someone, but most of the time, the matches produced by these approaches are fleeting, and end badly. After such a liaison comes to a close, the victims are likely to feel worse than they did beforehand.

I feel like I should just right after every extracted paragraph, "Yeah! What he said!"

Meeting Ms. Right

We all think we “ought” to be able to “find someone.” Reality thinks otherwise. In fact, reality frowns on the very form of the statement.

If you’re out there “looking for someone”—worst, if you’re “looking for Miss Right”—you’ve already taken the wrong trail and are virtually certain to reap disappointment.

This isn’t the way we want it to be, of course. We’d really love to be able to order the Perfect Wife out of a catalog, with a money-back guarantee that she’ll meet all the published specifications, and a lifetime no-cost replacement warranty should that ever cease to be the case. Sorry, folks. Sears can only do so much.

There’s a major constraint on your search for a lover that you must respect, ahead of and above any concern for your criteria for her: She’ll be a flawed and variable human being, just as you are, and while you’re measuring her against your list of desiderata, she’ll be doing the same to you. (...)

Can you control her evaluation of you? No. She could be insane, you know. I had a girlfriend like that, once. As soon as she sobered up, she left me.

I had a boyfriend like that once. As soon as I sobered up, I left him.

Now, some good advice for both sexes (again, it's all good advice for both, haven't seen any that wasn't so far)

What You Control

If she’s not insane, you can influence her evaluation of you. The only element in the tableau over which you have any control is yourself: your character and behavior. By building a better you, you can improve your prospects for gaining her good opinion—and keeping it.

Later, he talks about what sort of issues may be a problem for men:

It’s frequently said among women that “you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.” There’s an uncomfortable amount of truth to that, these days. Most men are inadequately courteous, obsessed with their own drives and pleasures, and generally oblivious to the desires and prerogatives of others. But it also underscores the need for patience and perseverance, something women have traditionally understood better than we.

I said in a recent post that I thought men (and women, really) were losing their common courtesy and that, if a man met a woman and he tried to practice those little courtesies like opening a door or holding her arm when they walked or admitting her first to an entrance, and the woman gave him grief about trying to oppress her or turn back the clock on the liberation of women, the man should probably run like hell. Of course, I also meant that women, most women I know, are very appreciative of such courtesies and, in today's society, actually shocked sometimes when it happens. That is one heck of a first impression.

Last piece I'm going to steal for here before I tell you to go read the rest yourself:

You might need to widen your social circle a bit. You might need to put yourself in the way of a greater number of contacts. But you emphatically would not profit from going back to the bars, the dating services, the lonelyhearts’ columns, et cetera ad nauseam infinitam.

Okay, I think you've got the picture. Head on over to Eternity Road and read the rest here.

Play Time

Connie observes with perfect justice that:

Men look and admire the Stiletto heels females, but they don’t really want them anymore than we want the shoes. They marry, love, and adore their sneaker wives. And it is their simplicity and their comfort that they love about them—they feel better wearing the sneakers—just like we do.

With a few exceptions—men who are destined thereby to be miserably unhappy their whole lives long—this is right on the mark. Yet there’s a byway that deserves to be explored, because it sheds so much light on the differences between the sexes and the complexity of marital relations: play time.


It’s been said, and truly, that “A woman marries her man expecting that he’ll change, and then he doesn’t; a man marries his woman expecting that she won’t change, and then she does.” But the epigram needs explication. Women hope for changes in men’s behavior patterns. Men hope for immutability in women’s bodies and sex drives. Neither development is odds-on. They clash with our natures. We carry our natures with us throughout our lives, and our divergent attitudes toward sex, romance, and the marital relationship are very much in the nature of the two sexes of Man.

And here, a paragraph agreeing with me on how men express their feelings, or in these words, his soul in poetry, deeds:

When it comes to sex and romance, men are regarded as by far the more prosaic of the two sexes. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s just that we don’t read our poetry aloud. ("A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty habits.”—Robert A. Heinlein)

The inaccurate assessment of men’s attitude toward their wives appears supported by our cessation of whatever romantic overtures gained us our wives in the first place. If you read the cards naively, this looks irrefutable. What it overlooks is the way men structure their lives: as a series of goals to be pursued, attained, and celebrated.

The romantic poetry in the male soul is expressed in deeds, not words.

Actually, I really enjoyed this aside:

I will pause here for a moment to address the concerns those who consider the above to be unspeakable effusions from the retrograde fantasies of an unreconstructed dinosaur of male chauvinism: You may kiss my bleeding Irish ass. You’re welcome.

As a woman, may I say, if anyone reads this and thinks I am some hackneyed anti-feminist throw back to June Cleaver, you may kiss my ass as well. Now, on with the rest.


Once mated, a man must fight down various drives to which he gave free rein during his single years. Most obviously, he must conquer the urge, written into his nature by evolutionary forces, to woo and win still more women to his bed. Though a civilized order would be impossible were it indulged, that’s no guarantee that suppressing it will be easy. Indeed, the evidence leans in the opposite direction.

One of the keys to success at restraining men’s xenogamous urges is the progressive extension and refinement of the sexual bond between husband and wife. Previous generations understood this better than the present one.

Maintaining the Relationship with Play Time

Life is a hard job: demanding, frustrating, and tiring all at once. It provides an infinite number of reasons why he might be ready and she not, or vice-versa. A certain tolerance for jags of timing is essential to dealing with such occasions...provided one spouse isn’t hiding something more serious behind a veneer woven of irrelevancies. There’s no substitute for candor between husband and wife, especially about sex.

One of the best ways to compensate for the real-world erosion a couple must withstand, and which can fatally damage an otherwise viable sex life, is to have a set of understandings about play time.

The opposition between the grinding job of real life and the frivolous freedom of play time ought to require no explanation. Play time is a safe zone, a retreat from the noise and clamor. It has no enduring consequences and few constraints. Responsibility is greatly diminished, if not altogether eliminated. The point is to romp, to frolic, to enjoy one’s body and one’s spouse’s body, not to advance on any goal or present any particular image to outsiders.

Now, head on over to Eternity Road and read the rest of it here.

You couldn't get better advice if you clunked down a couple of thousands dollars for counseling or spent your whole time in the self help section of the bookstore or library.

Thanks, Frances.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Why Am I Single? Let Me Count the Ways

To Be Or Not To Be

Yes, the bard. He knew a thing or two about twisted human emotions, twisted relationships and the twisted things we do.

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep:
No more; and, by a sleep, to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep! Perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of such long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of dispis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action...

Hamlet. Hamlet Act III Scene 1: A Room in the Castle.

Okay, this was not his most romantic moment. As a matter of fact, I believe Hamlet was trying to decide why he had come back to Denmark when he could have kept going, someplace else, and never had to deal with the fact that his mother was married to his father's murderer. Yet, in thinking about it, when he thinks of confronting the situation that he knows needs to be confronted, he thinks about not doing it at all. Couldn't he just ignore it at let things go? Then he chastises himself for thinking about it overlong because he might lose the momentum and the time to confront the situation will have passed. Let's not forget that his father's ghost was haunting him.

I actually love "Much Ado About Nothing" when everyone is playing a game trying to help or hinder the other and the whole time, no one, at least until the end, actually speaks for themselves to the person to which their emotions concern, leaving each person to draw their own conclusions and, generally, the wrong ones. Finally, someone says what they mean directly to the other party and all the confusion starts getting cleared up as well as identifying the "villain". Obviously, a very obvious play about human insecurity and the importance of direct communication if you want your relationship to survive.

How about "The Taming of the Shrew?" I know, as a liberated woman, this should not be one of my favorite plays, but I love it. It is full of witty repartee, veiled and not so veiled insults. It's a fast paced dialogue. Nothing boring there at all. It's also another grand presentation of the things people do in order to keep from admitting to something potentially as devastating as loving someone that may not love you in return. All the fascinating moments of denial we can submit ourselves to along with all of the stupid things we could say, just to prove we are right and we are in charge of our own destinies. Of course, in the end, the sky is not blue, the sun is the moon, etc, etc, etc. Katherine loves Petruchio and vis-a-versa.

Or, Othello, the supreme tale of jealousy? Mid-summer Night's Dream? What of Caesar? No, not romantic at all, but I always loved that phrase, "Et tu, Brute?" "And you, Brutus", just before Brutus delivers the fatal last stab of the stiletto into the man that basically raised him.

Yes, Shakespeare understood implicitly the twisted nature of humans and their relationships. I've often thought that, aside from all the strange gadgetry that he would see, if Shakespeare reappeared to day, he would not be in the least confused about current human relations. Not wars, not love, not jealousy. Nope, no confusion because man remains the same and does the same thing over and over again. That's why people like me, five hundred and some odd years later can still write about it and have other people read it. We are still trying to figure out how to avoid all the silly traps, picking the wrong person, doing it anyway even if it means we will be broken hearted in the end and generally mucking things up.

One wonders then, why, instead of just pointing people to Shakespeare and saying, "read this", I choose to write about it? Because it is still amusingly horrid and, like a car wreck or 50 car pile up, we can see it coming, but we can't look away. We have to keep looking at it, over and over, reliving the gore and the blood and the human angst. We all have sado/masochistic tendency. Me, I just get the fun of poking fun at people's relationships and my own. Sick amusement like watching a gladiator fight to the death or a bull fight in Spain. You know how it's going to end, but you just can't look away. Of course, there is that other Caesar like idea that one can control the mobs if you just give them "bread and circus".

So, here I am, diligently following Caesar's advice and providing the bread and circus. Or, at least the circus.

Before I go on and talk some more about Joe the Fireman and how I could not love him when he loved me and how, later, I think I could have, but he was with someone else (yes, the best sort of Shakespearian tragi/romance), I want to close up some other relationships in my little tale.

Maybe, just maybe, Shakespeare has something appropriate for this occasion, but I rather think that the best description of this episode is more likened to one of those scary movies, like "Scream" or "Halloween", when you know the mood music suggests that something bad is about to happen and you are screaming at the screen for the hero or heroine to "run!" or "don't go in there, you idiot, can't you hear the scary music? It means bad things are about to happen. Why in the name of God would you go to a building where the lights are flickering on and off and scary music emanates from within, when, if you will just do a 90* turn, you could be in a safe home with safe people and call the police!?" Why do the stupid heroines always run towards the scary music even when their friends warn them not to?

Tally and Jason

If you recall, Tally was living with us in our two bedroom apartment. She had the hideaway futon bed in the living room. Lisa and I kept our own bedrooms. Jason had somehow convinced Tally to forgive him after the news of his marriage leaked out. He still proclaimed that the child (of his soon to be ex) was not his even though he did not contest it and continued to support both of them. Frankly, I'm still torn about the subject. Jason could be such a liar sometimes. On the other hand, I did know some poor schmucks who came home from leave to find a pregnant wife or girlfriend, not that far along when the guy was out on six or so months of deployment. "Little surprises" I called them.

Other reality checks began to sink in for our friend Tally, but she was ever blindly in love, ever naive and just plain delusional about the guy that she intended to marry. It seemed, with every new revelation about Jason's lies and his real life, she continued to want to believe him so badly that she either made excuses for him or insisted they didn't matter. In the end, his proclivity for lying was the end, but not yet.

Tally had to find out the hard way that Jason's parents were not Jock and Ellie Ewing (Dallas anyone?). They did not own a spread to rival the Kings in Brownsville or South Fork in Dallas. They did own some acreage, but, by Texas standards, they were just dirt farmers. Dirt farmers who had 50 dogs, 30 cats, assorted parted out cars, tractors, you name it, in the yard of a double wide trailer parked on about 200 acres. Sounds like a lot, but wouldn't support the kind of herd that would be required to make a success of it. They were not genteel southern ranchers, but the epitome of "redneck" in the most "redneck" meaning of the word. Maybe even "hill billy" if there is such a thing in Texas. Not many hills there so I guess "hill billy" doesn't exactly fit the area.

I believe that Tally was in shock when she returned. Not to mention that Jason's family was wondering about a girl from New Jersey who would be running around with a married man (no matter how long he'd been separated from his wife or progress towards divorce). She was the epitome of a "Jersey Girl" and they didn't get many of them down there. I think they may have thought she was "uppity" when, in reality, she was just speechless at finding out the next lie in the tumbling brick wall of Jason's delusional vision of his life.

Of course, he saw nothing wrong with his description and she saw everything. Still, I don't know who was worse, Jason for his continued delusions or Tally for hers.

The next round of delusions was shortly on its way. One day, Lisa and I came home from the office. Tally had left earlier for some unspecified emergency. There was Tally in the living room with Jason and he was wearing a splint on his left leg. Not just any old splint, but, I swear, the exact same foam splint with velcro fastenings and the little hole for the knee that Carlos had worn a little over a year earlier. He had the wooden crutches, too. I know it was the same splint because it was dirty and decrepit from Carlos' use. Not a nice shiny pristine one out of the infirmary.

I asked Jason what had happened. He informed me that he had fallen during drill on the ship and sprained his knee. Seemed plausible enough, but my thoughts were still vibrating with that little yellow caution light. Or, as another friend once said, "My bullshit-o-meter was pegging red."

Tally asked Lisa if Jason could stay at our place for the week while he recuperated. Allegedly, he had an appointment to see the doctor at the beginning of the next week in order to be assessed and evaluated for possibility of light duty. Lisa and Tally both ganged up on me and had me feeling ultra guilty for even considering making him stay on the ship for his recuperation. Fine, fine, he could stay.

That weekend, we were at the club and our friend Craig found us. He asked if we knew where Jason was (actually, I know he knew where Jason was, but was trying to play it cool) and, if we did, we should know that Jason is AWOL and would we pass on the message that he should get his ass back on the ship before they had him as a deserter.

Well, color me surprised. Or, not.

We left the club pretty quickly and drove back to the apartment where I banged open the door and started yelling for Jason to get his ass front and center. He came out of the bathroom hobbling and Tally raised up from the couch. "What's going on?" they were both asking with some real confusion. Except maybe Jason wasn't as confused as he should have been considering that he had to know we knew about 20 guys off the ship and some of them were from his group.

"Jason, tell me again why you haven't been at the ship all this week?" I demanded.

"I fell and hurt my knee," he was slightly defensive, but playing it cool.

"Then tell me why they have you as AWOL?" I had my hands on my hips and my foot was tapping.

"AWOL?" he continued to try to play Mr. Innocent.

"Yeah, AWOL. Craig says you've been listed as AWOL since the day of your alleged accident. That's seven days. How long were you going to wait? Want to be a deserter?" I don't know who I was more angry for: Lisa and I for having an AWOL jackass at our apartment that several people knew about; Tally for being used by a schmuck or all three of us for getting bamboozled by a schmuck, particular one I didn't trust any further than I could throw him.

"It's a mistake." He insisted.

"Jas, I really hope it is. You need to get back to the ship and report in, get this cleared up." I believe if something is goofed up, you should make every effort to fix it right away, particularly as the days were adding up.

"I'll go on Monday. That's when I'm supposed to report in and see the doctor." He was being pigheaded, but so was I.

"No, you need to go tomorrow first thing. Why would you wait?" I replied getting a little exasperated.

"Because, nothing will be cleared up tomorrow until the doctor I'm supposed to see comes on duty Monday. He probably didn't file the papers right or they're lost in the system or something." He was flailing around for an excuse. I really didn't know military procedures well, but I couldn't imagine that no one would know that he had been injured, a report made and knowledge of his potential disposition by his superiors. Who sent him to sick call anyway?

Lisa and Tally, once again ganged up on me. Tally, of course, swallowed everything Jason said and I just looked on it with complete disbelief. I mean, the guy had a tendency already to be a liar. This just seemed like one more in his long line of lies. Lisa expressed some doubts about the story, but insisted that we could not know exactly the story. As long as he went on Monday, it should be fine.

Me, all I kept thinking was how many guys on the ship had been to our place for barbecues, knew we knew Jason, knew his girlfriend lived with us and, of course, Craig had been to our house earlier that week and seen Jason there before he knew he was AWOL. Not good in my book.

On the other hand, I'm a bit of a softy, so I eventually gave in and consented to him staying until Monday at which time I expected him to be at the base, reporting for duty and whatever had to happen to either clear him or resolve his problem.

Sunday, I was pretty sullen. I didn't speak to any of them and Jason knew I knew he was full of crap. He avoided me like the plague.

Monday, Tally got up extra early and drove him back to the base. I figured that was the last we were going to see of him for a little while. Imagine my surprise Monday evening as we prepared to cook dinner and Tally comes through the door with Jason.

"What are you doing back here?" I stood up from the couch and demanded.

Immediately, Tally began to defend Jason, "Kansas, it was all a mistake just like Jason said it was. Just paperwork didn't get where it needed. He's still on leave. The doctor says he needs another week before he would even consider light duty."

"I was asking Jason, Tally." I was staring at Jason hard and he was looking a little flustered. So was Lisa who had come to the door of the kitchen looking very uncomfortable.

Jason replied, not looking directly at me, but Lisa, "It's exactly as Tally said. It was just a paperwork mistake. You know how this stuff works. You get a raise and it takes months before it's processed. They just didn't get it done right."

"Jason, you had better be telling me the truth. I'm going to be severely pissed off if this is a bunch of bullshit." And I was already, but I was trying to keep my temper. I told Lisa I needed to speak to her and we walked back to her bedroom. "Lisa, I think this guy is full of crap. I don't think he should be staying here. Half the damned ship knows who we are and our relationship to this guy. I do not feel like having SP knock on our door."

"Kansas," she was the softest of all of us, "we don't really know. Maybe that's what did happen?" She looked like she was hoping for miracles.

"We can find out. If Craig calls this week, I'll ask him or follow up with him at the club. If it was just a paperwork snafu, then it should be cleared pretty quickly, don't you think?" I would give some benefit of the doubt, but I was not going to play stupid.

Lisa agreed, I came back out and refused to speak to Jason who, in turn, refused to look at me. As it turned out, I did not hear from Craig until late Thursday afternoon. I asked him about Jason's status and he told me he would find out in the morning and call me back. Late Friday afternoon I got the call at the office and Jason was still listed as AWOL. Fourteen days to be exact which meant that he was AWOL before he came to our house with the phony leg brace. I waited until we got home to confront both Tally and Jason.

First, I pulled Tally into the bedroom and told her what Craig had to say. At first she insisted on disbelief. Why would Jason do that? I had no idea, but Craig had no reason to lie and, for that matter, he could have passed the info on whenever he wanted anonymously. He was only holding back because we were friends and, maybe, some sense of loyalty amongst the enlisted guys for their own. Maybe he didn't cotton to being a snitch?

I don't know, I just informed Tally that this had to be taken care of and I was about to come down like a ton of bricks on Jason and that she was not to ask me for any favors this time. They were quickly being used up.

We went back into the living room where Jason sat, waiting like the condemned. He knew the jig was up. I told him what I had heard. He still insisted it was a mistake. Tally wanted to believe him very much. Lisa was quietly standing to the side. I asked Tally if she had seen him go on the base or had she dropped him off at the gate and then left? Dropped off. The base had a circular drive right in front of the gates, she had wanted to get going and not be late for work. I demanded that Jason tell us the truth. Did he realize what kind of position he was putting us in?

Finally, he broke down and said he had not gone on to the base, but had hopped a bus to a cafe up the street where he stayed until he took the bus back to the base and called Tally from the pay phone there. He did not go on base because he was afraid, even though he insisted it was a mistake, that he would be held accountable for the error and end up confined to ship or worse. At which point, I gave him another ear full about stupidity of such a decision when, if it was a mistake, he could have had it cleared up and, if it wasn't, he wouldn't get much, but some confinement to ship or base, maybe busted a rank, something, but this was getting to the point where he was in serious trouble.

I told him to pack his stuff and get back to the ship Saturday morning. Tally was to take him and watch him walk on to base. He was not to come back until the issue was resolved. If Tally wouldn't, I would. Tally was sobbing, Lisa was wringing her hands and I went out on the patio to cool off. Eventually, Lisa came out on the patio and said something to the effect that I was being too harsh on the guy. "Lisa," I replied, "this isn't just bout somebody skipping work and getting fired. Thirty days, he's a deserter. We're at fourteen now. If we don't make him go, he won't and then what? He'll be a freaking fugitive, we'll have harbored him, eventually somebody is going to turn him in. He's not doing any favors for Tally either. The longer he stays gone the more punishment he'll receive and then what? Think Tally's upset now? They throw him in the brig for a month or so, she won't see him at all. Not to mention the dumbass is ruining himself. He's only got six freaking months left in the Navy before he gets honorable discharge. Now, now I don't know what he'll get, but he'll be lucky if he doesn't get "dishonorable". Then what's he going to do for a job? No benefits? Nothing and Tally will end up married to the guy and her being the only person to support them."

"Well, don't take it out on Tally." Still a softy.

"Look," I said, "I'm just trying to shake Tally out of her little dream world where Jason is perfect and never lies. You and I both know he would lie to St. Peter if he thought he wouldn't get caught. Maybe do it anyway on the off chance St. Peter's too damned busy that day to verify. I don't care what they end up being to each other, but I do care enough that she's at least a little less naive on the subject and prepared to deal with it."

Lisa threw her hands up and went back into the house.

Early Saturday morning, they left the house, Jason with all his stuff and Tally looking like a dog that had been kicked. She later returned to the apartment and cried. She wouldn't speak to me at first, but, eventually, I convinced her it was for the best. Jason needed to go and take care of his problems or they would take care of him. I asked her if she had watched Jason walk on base. She said he had gone into the receiving building to turn himself in before she left.

That, I thought, was the end of that. She probably wouldn't see or hear for him for a while. In the meantime, I hoped it would give her a little time think about what she would decide to do. In reality, while Jason had six months left in the Navy, the ship only had four more in dry dock before it was prepared to return to it's base in San Diego. This meant that either Jason would be sent to another post or leaving with the ship if they didn't toss him out all together. Of course, I didn't know how long this whole thing was going to drag out.

Monday evening, Tally returned with Jason in tow, again. You cannot imagine my shock and surprise to see him again.

"Jason, I told you you were not to come back here until your situation is cleared up." I can't tell you how angry I was right then. I was sure that this situation was going from bad to worse and he kept insisting on putting us in the middle of it.

"I know, I know, but I'm getting it taken care of. I have Captain's Mast on Wednesday and then they will decide what will happen." The first believable thing he said.

However, I had a serious problem with part of the story, "Tell me how they allowed you off base when you were just AWOL for two weeks and you will be going up for charges."

"Now, Kansas, he said he was taking care of it." Tally was getting defensive again, but I had some idea how the military worked and recently AWOL guys were not going to just walk off the base and I said it again.

"Kat," he was trying to get personal here and convince me he wasn't a slug, "I'll be up on charges on Wednesday, soon enough. Can't I just stay here until it's done?"

"Jason," I replied, pacing up to where they were standing in the foyer, "I know you got Tally fooled, but you are trying to pull something on the wrong person here. There is no way you'd get that kind of break after two weeks AWOL. It doesn't happen. Therefore, I can only surmise that you've pulled another fast one and have yet to turn yourself in. You know I can check this out with a number of sources. Why are you trying to force my hand here? Why are you putting us in this situation? We've been more than kind enough to take Tally in when her folks threw her out (that was true, they didn't like Jason, go figure). We've taken you in. You are putting us in a bad situation. Why can't you just get this taken care of?"

Now of course, he had already played into the lie and he could not give it up. What is it about some habitual liars? They think no one will call their bluff. No one is going to find out? Wants to take the time to find out? Honestly, I believe the guy actually had some sort of mental problem and believed his own lies. His own life sucked so badly, according to him, that he had to live in a lie in order to actually just get by. I think I could pinpoint the moment that his lies began to get more and more outrageous. More and more delusional. It was, frankly, the moment that Carlos, his only friend, had announced that he was being sent to Panama. Jason tried to get orders to go their, too, but his specialty was not needed. It was at that point that it seemed Jason had begun to do his best to screw up on ship. He wanted to leave, even if he only had six months left. He was deliberately bucking for a change in orders, discharge, something, I don't know, but I had found out after this incident that he had been in trouble several times on the ship and that he had been a bit of a screw up before, but Carlos had covered for him as the senior petty officer in their unit and now he was even worse.

Strangely, in the end, I think that Jason had more emotional problems dealing with Carlos' departure than I had and I had been the victim of heartbreak.

Jason continued to insist that he was getting it taken care of. I said nothing more that evening except to say that Jason was not welcome to stay at the apartment. Tally allegedly took him back to base to stay on the ship. The next day, I called the number to the office that Craig said would take a message for him at the base. He returned my call that afternoon and I explained to him what Jason had said. We hung up with Craig telling me he'd contact his friend in security and get back to me. He called me before I went home and told me that Jason was still listed as AWOL and that he was not scheduled for Captain's Mast. As a matter of fact, he was starting to get some questions from his friend about where Jason might be and the friend was urging him, if he knew, to get Jason to come in before they had to find him and before he was gone 30 days and officially became a deserter.

Craig indicated to me that security had some idea where Jason was (ie, my place) since they had questioned a number of people in Jason's unit about his associations in town. Apparently, they had already contacted his parents and they had not been contacted by Jason the entire time of this incident. A visit to their place had confirmed this so they had narrowed down the probability he was still in town.

I told Craig that Jason would be at the ship tomorrow AM. I would call and confirm this with him. If not, I would arrange to let him know where Jason was staying and give him a specific time for the security detail to arrive, even if it meant my own place.

Frankly, I was angry. But, most of all, I had become very worried for both Tally and Jason. Mostly because, as much as I thought he was a liar, I felt sorry for him. I knew he was about to mess up in a big way. Desertion is not treated lightly. Not even in peace time. I expected that, if it went that far, he wouldn't just be subject to some time in the brig, busting his rank and discharge, but would be sent to jail or prison for awhile which would be even more devastating to Tally and probably put Jason in a very bad place emotionally and psychologically. I say again, I don't think the guy was just a general scum bag, I really suspected that he was not just a pathological liar but had other emotional issues.

I think, this was one of the hardest decisions I had to wrestle with in my mind. Whatever the situation, Tally was a friend of ours, Jason was, to some extent, a friend of ours. We had known him for a long time. In general, I felt he was harmless, but that he did not know how to be responsible and he would not resolve this thing himself. In the end, I thought this was the best course of action and that it might even save Tally from having to watch her fiance go to prison and sit around waiting for him. In a sense, also saving him from himself since he did not seem to be inclined to do so.

I went home that night and confronted Jason and Tally one more time as she had, once again, brought him to the house. I had the number for the security office from Craig ready for Tally to use. I was ready to trump him this time, ready to call his bluff and ready to make Tally do it so she would finally get it through her thick head that this was for real and Jason was screwing with both their lives and ours. I had explained to Lisa the situation and, by this time she was good and angry too because she had wanted to believe in Jason for Tally's sake. You know what? Me, too. I wished right then that Jason could be who Tally thought he was because I know how hard it is to find out differently. I wished Jason could have been that person for himself as well.

Again, I explained that I had contact with the security office and that Jason was still listed as AWOL. Jason, at first defensive again, said it was a lie and wanted to know who had told me such a thing. I took out the piece of paper and handed it to Tally explaining that it was the number to security and that the name on the paper was the officer in charge of the case. I explained to her what Craig had told me about thirty days to desertion and that tomorrow marked Jason's 20th day. Ten days before he would be in more trouble than he had ever thought of being in.

Finally, she turned to him and demanded that he tell her the truth. He tried to lie again and she threatened to call the number first thing in the morning.

So, the story went something like this:

Jason had become despondent over Carlos' departure (per his own words, but a little less posed). He couldn't get orders to go there, even if he had re-enlisted. No more billets. He was screwing up and, on the last day before he went AWOL, had made a major mistake and was going to be reprimanded for it. He decided not to go in that next day. He still had Carlos' splint and crutches in his beat up truck that was parked permanently in our parking lot. He decided that he would copy Carlos until he figured out what to do next. Upon the initial confrontation, he had Tally drop him off at the base and never went in. The second time, he went into the receiving building, but never checked in, just waited until Tally left to catch the bus down town. When I told him he had to leave and not come back, he spent three days sleeping in his truck, just around the corner until he caught the bus down to the base and called Tally from a pay phone to pick him up.

Tally was devastated because he had lied to her and made her look like a fool. Jason was crying because he didn't want to go back and face the music. Lisa was crying, too. I think I was the only person that wasn't. Frankly, enough was enough.
I explained to him that he had one more day to turn himself in. Tomorrow AM to be exact, otherwise I would give all of his information to them, places he went to, people he knew, I'd have his truck towed and I'd send a letter to Carlos letting him know as well. I'm not sure which was the kicker, but he swore once again that he'd do it. I looked at Tally and told her if she didn't want Jason to be spending the next year in Ft. Leavenworth she'd walk him into the building and watch him sign himself in.

She did. Jason was court martialed. Apparently, besides being AWOL he had also continued to receive paychecks directly to his bank account and spend it so, he not only owed Uncle Sam for those 20 days of AWOL but owed him a ton of money. He spent two weeks in the brig, was given thirty days confined to ship, he had twenty days service added on to the end of his term for the twenty he missed and an additional 30 days without pay to pay back the two paychecks he had spent while AWOL. At the end, he was stripped one rank to Petty Officer, third class and discharged as "other than honorable".

Immediately upon his discharge, he and Tally ran away to Texas where they got married directly after his divorce was finalized. There, Tally had twins and they proceeded to move from one place to the next, one job to the next. Jason could not hold one down. Tally would, from time to time, call us and tell us all her exciting news about Jason's new fantastic job. Within a year and a half and five jobs later, she had stopped calling. Until the last call. She was coming back to the Philadelphia area and she wanted to see us again. Jason had, for the sixth time, lost his job. Had lied about what he was doing. Tally wouldn't have cared as long as he was working, but he told her he was doing a job with a bank when he was actually the janitor.

It had been as I predicted, one lie after the other and the end of their relationship
with a huge fall from the pedestal. I don't put the blame on one or the other. They were both to blame. Tally for her unrealistic expectations and complete blindness and Jason for never growing up or growing out of whatever issues he had.

It was a 50 car pile up I seemed to watch in slow motion. It was a "B" rated scare movie where I screamed and screamed for the heroine not to go there, but she did it anyway. It seemed, the more I said, as if to a child, "that is hot, don't touch it," the more insistent Tally had been on touching it anyway.

Not that I learned my lesson on interfering or putting myself in the middle of other people's relationships. No, that would be too easy.

And so, I find that Hamlet actually may have said it best:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep:
No more; and, by a sleep, to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep! Perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of such long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of dispis'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action...

Monday, December 27, 2004

Why Am I Single? Let Me Count The Ways

Sixteen: Outside Looking In

If a person is smart enough, they will look around at all of the people around them and watch what they do, see what looks right, what doesn't work, what pitfalls to look out for and hopefully figure out how to avoid them. I talked about the voices (not literally mind you) that are in our minds warning us or urging us on and how we are just as apt to follow the wrong one as the next person. There are no perfect solutions. I sometimes think that we get, what amounts to, the luck of the draw. And, sometimes people get what they deserve from a relationship based on either their self delusions or the way they treat their spouse/significant other. Even the nicest people sometimes get what they deserve, good and bad.

I guess this leaves me wondering if I've gotten what I deserve: singleness?

I've noted also that there are no perfect people, only the people that we fall in love with. Since we are imperfect, it stands to reason that our opposites are imperfect as well. Sometimes though, they are perfectly imperfect. Not just a little imperfect with little habits that annoy us, or idiosyncrasies, but people that you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Or, maybe people you would wish on your worst enemy. I have been left wondering on many occasions how it is that I am single and some people that I wouldn't trust with my dog are married or in a relationship. Have you ever looked at people that you know and wonder how they ended up together? Or maybe, see couples walking down the street and wonder how exactly they met and came together? Maybe it's just a couple at a party or social gathering and you notice how they behave together and wonder how their relationship is behind closed doors?

Do they really love each other? Do they really care if their words hurt and sometimes destroy the other person? I guess it's similar to asking if an alcoholic or drug addict can really care about somebody else because these kinds of addictions are the ultimate selfishness. It is always about the addicted and never about the people around them. Not that you can always convince the significant other of that person of that fact. It's why we have invented knew psychological words like "co-dependent" and "enabler".

I've wondered, sometimes, seeing people who have been married for several years, maybe seven to ten, if their relationship started out the way that it had become? Was one of them always too busy? Slightly neglectful? Nagging? Hateful? Abusive? Do most relationships start out with some sort of rosy glow that wears off in short order?

I think, from my perspective that beginning a relationship is one part, building on a commitment is a second part and making that commitment stand through all sorts of trials, tribulations, daily life and just plain changes through growth of the people and the changing world, is the last part. That last part never ends, of course, and it would be nice if one could occasionally reflect upon that beginning, that rosy glow period and remember what it was that drew the couple together. I think it is all too easy for couples in part two and part three of a relationship to lose sight of that first rose glow. It gets buried somewhere deep underneath all the trauma, the daily life, the little things like paying the bills, running the kids to school or soccer practice, working to try to make life better for the family, sometimes people seem to lose sight of the people within their family, lose track of what is really going on with that person and they wake up one day to find a complete stranger sleeping beside them.

Lots of relationships end at that moment if the people can't remember part one of their relationship. It's like angst induced amnesia. Some couples can get it back. Some couples can start their relationship anew from that point on. And, others end up scrapping it out in court or over packing crates. God forbid that there are children involved. Children, rightly or wrongly, purposeful or inadvertently, become an emotional weapon between the parting couple. They forget sometimes that the most important part of having children is to love them unconditionally. But, in parting, there can be no way of totally keeping the children from the pain of the separation, from feeling slightly less important in the whole scheme of things, no matter how many times somebody tries to assure them differently. However it comes about, the parting of ways is automatically cutting the children's base in half and there is no way that they can be kept from feeling that pain.

In the relationships I've witnessed, I have seen complete devotion, which can be in itself destructive and total neglect. It is a tricky business to balance between them. It's like standing on a teeter-totter, balancing between both ends and trying to keep one end from touching the ground while not knocking your significant other off the other. Those who commit and can make a relationship work understand that the balancing act between the two ends of the teeter-totter are not always equal. Sometimes one end is down while the other is up and then it reverses. Sometimes, one end is just heavier than the other and is always the one hovering nearest the ground. There is no perfection. At best, one could hope that the person on the other side is doing their best to keep the teeter-totter level. Not that it ever will be perfectly level. It's physically impossible. But, if one pays attention to their partner enough, they'll realize when they are bringing the teeter totter down and will try to fix it.

The best method is communication. I know, it's a badly over used word. It's been used so much, it almost became a dirty word. Of course, if one is communicating ALL the time and not listening once in awhile, talking is not going to get you anything, but done.

Being on the outside looking in, I've noticed a number of things, seemingly silly, simple things that seemed to portend another problem in relationships and one or both people in the relationship are completely oblivious. So, here I am, ready to give some advice to any couple that would listen. You know how the saying goes? "Those that can, do and those that can't, teach."

Without further ado, three lessons in relationship building:

Shut Up and Listen

Shut up. Shut up and listen. Sit still for ten minutes or so in the other person's presence and just listen. If you're really interested, I bet you'd learn all kinds of good things in ten minutes that you couldn't learn in an hour of "talking". Let's face it, in our growth as humans with speaking and language being our main communication device, we've learned to make all sorts of words and phrases actually mean something completely different.

Like the all time favorite of somebody complaining about their job. Maybe it is just their job. On the other hand, if your spouse is complaining about their job, don't pop off with the infamous, "Well then, change jobs." Survey says....bbbzzzzzzzzz, wrong answer. You pretty much just admitted that you aren't paying attention to their life, their woes, you don't care, you don't have time for them, you don't want to hear their "whining", there are more important things to worry about. I don't know what that something important is when you are trying to make a relationship go, but there you go. That's what it sounds like.

I can tell you from personal experience, complaining about the job is about 4 out of 10 times about the job and about 6 out of 10 times about needing to make some sort of other personal change. Like they are missing something. They have lost track of themselves. They want to be something else, not just job wise, life wise. Your best bet is to avoid the over simplification of "change jobs" and actually ASK them what it is they want to do. Tone and inflection is everything. Exasperated, annoyed, irritated, hurried or "let's talk about this later" still says, "I haven't got a clue what you are talking about and haven't been paying one iota of attention to you for the last XXX months".

If you're in a hurry right that second, tell them you'd love to hear what it is they want to do that evening during or after dinner. This puts the ball back into their court and makes them think about what it is that is actually bugging them and makes them tell YOU what they want instead of you trying to make some fallible conclusions and saying "the wrong thing" at the "wrong time".

If you tell them that, be prepared to talk. By the way, a simple failure in communication and listening skills is the appearance of not paying attention. If you are giving that appearance, you aren't paying attention. So, stop what you are doing, put down the paper, the grinder, the remote control and look at the person. Men who have been in a long term relationship know that this is the most common complaint from women: not paying attention when she is talking. Generally, the inability to do so means that you are either a schmuck, don't really care or are hiding from it because you are afraid to hear what it is she/he wants to say. Just add that to the "schmuck" column you may already be building in your relationship.

Don't be an emotional "girlie man". Suck it up and listen. Ladies, you two. Is that football game, basket of laundry, news paper article, etc more important than your relationship? If it is, you're probably a schmuck. On the other hand, since we can be such emotional cowards or just plain selfish (even if it is unintentional), maybe that second isn't good for conversation. However, if you actually want to talk about it later, don't waive him/her off with vague promises of chatting later. You can look away from the boob tube or pile of laundry long enough to make eye contact when you ask them if you can talk later. And, it never hurts to apply good business tactics to that moment as well. If you are going to talk later, set a time and even day. "Tonight, when the kids go to bed, I'd love to hear what you want to do." Or, "Tomorrow, while the kids are at your mom's, why don't we go to lunch and you can tell me about it?"

Don't forget to tell them that you love them. Added bonus points for those words. Double bonus points if you say it while looking at them. Triple bonus points if you actually touch them, like a hug, while saying it and looking at them. You see how that works? Touching is non-verbal communication, eye contact non-verbal communication, the words: priceless.

Come on, don't be a schmuck, it only takes a minute or less to get it done. The game or whatever can wait that one minute to boost your relationship and keep you out of relationship hell where the person becomes more and more distant and you wake up with a stranger who decides that EVERYTHING is wrong and EVERYTHING needs to change, including you.

Shut Up and Think

Shut up. Shut up and think for a minute before you start talking. People need to listen and then swish what they heard around in their minds to make sure they've got the right idea about what's going on before you start talking. If you don't, it's guaranteed that you won't help the situation. Think "foot in mouth" or, as my grandma used to say, "hoof in mouth" disease. Simple things like your spouse asking you if they look okay, fat, old, whatever, on a regular basis doesn't just mean that they are worried for their own selfish reasons. If they are asking YOU constantly it's because they are afraid that they are losing your attention, losing that thing that they think attracted you to them in the first place. It's why some marriages break up during one or the other's "mid-life crisis". It's about them, but it's about you too. Some simple advice, if you want to avoid that kind of crisis, try telling your loved one how much they mean to you and how beautiful/handsome they are on a regular basis, not just when they are asking you that ill-fated question, "does this make me look fat."

I know that question is annoying to men, but women are subject to all sorts of body related doubts. They can't help it because, like animals in the wild, they assume that it was or is largely their physique that attracted their partner in the first place. It might be, but if a relationship hasn't grown into something about the person's mind or personality by stage two, the relationship is probably doomed anyway.

As I was saying, if you want to avoid this little catastrophe in marital or relationship bliss, don't wait to have to say it when they ask you, try telling that person over coffee in the morning, when they have bags under their eyes, bed head and crease in their cheek from the pillow that they are the most beautiful/handsome thing that you've ever seen. You don't have to do it ALL the time, but every couple of weeks will suffice. If you're the forgetful or human like the rest of us that get caught up in the daily travails of life, get your calendar out or blackberry or whatever and put a little notation on a day every week to remind you to take a moment and look at your spouse and say it. Pretty soon, it will be a habit and you won't have to have that little reminder anymore. Of course, you realize that special occasions call for extra special comments.

Again, if you are waiting to be asked, then you are waiting for trouble. In my experience, the phrase "you look fine" is tantamount to telling your spouse they are fat, their gray hair is really obvious, their legs are too short, their ass is too big, they are balding on top, you wished they'd pluck their over grown eyebrows, that mole is really huge and needs to be removed, don't wear your hair up because your ears are too big and stick out, the crows feet by your eyes looks like an entire troop of crows have been roosting there for sometimes, your paunch belly looks like a spare tire for a diesel, I don't really care what you look like because I don't really care about you, this relationship and I'm just marking time. And, by the way, when we go out tonight, I'll be ogling all the other women/men in the place looking for your replacement.

I know, I know. It's usually not what you meant when you said, "you look fine." Maybe the car's been running for a half hour already and you just want to go because you hate being late and she has already tried on half of the clothes in the closet, all her shoes and is checking her make up for the thirtieth time in the mirror or, if it's a guy, he's standing in the mirror, adjusting his pants again, sucking in his gut, doing the profile thing or flicking his hair with his fingers for the tenth time trying to cover that slight balding spot or cover the ever growing widows peaks from his receding hair line.

If you do end up in that situation, don't use the "you look fine" line. Think of that line as a ticking time bomb or a live grenade, pin pulled and ready to explode. The odds are, you are going to be standing there for another ten minutes to half hour while the person goes about the routine again and don't think that they will forget you said it the next morning. It's like the bomb goes off and leaves hot shrapnel in a wound. Like a brand on the mind. They will be turning it over and over in their mind trying to decipher what you meant even if what you meant was simply, "I think you're gorgeous/handsome all the time, can we just go?"

Very bad. If you want to extract yourself from the minefield of this question and potential foolish answer, you're going to have to suck it up and tell them that you actually think they are beautiful/handsome. And please, if you say it in that exasperated or patronizing tone, you might as well have just said, "you look fine" because you will get the same result. It's a little trickier than that.

Men, save yourselves from this potential catastrophe by first doing step one, shut up and listen. In this case, look. If she's been messing around for ten minutes on nothing in particular, you're heading for rough waters already. You can head it off if you take this action immediately upon noticing the second time she puts on a dress, pair of shoes or fiddles with her hair. If you aren't quick enough on the up take, don't panic, you can still save yourself if the question gets asked by the same method. Say nothing, walk up behind her, put your arm around her, kiss her on the back of the neck and whisper, "you look beautiful, gorgeous, fantastic" pick one. But please, don't add on, "as always". That might be true, but you will slip a notch or two back towards the "you look fine" level. Just repeat after me, simply, "you look beautiful, gorgeous," etc.

If she's looking in the mirror and you're not sure you can pull it off if you have to see yourself doing it, as soon as you zero in on the neck, close your eyes. It will give the impression that you are "savoring" the moment. It's almost like warfare or hunting. The arm around the middle and the kiss on the neck are decoys or distraction and the "you look beautiful, gorgeous," etc is the kill.

For added bonus effect, sometime during the evening, make sure you remind her that you love her by actually grabbing a semi-private moment and saying the words, "I love you." Just that. But, you should be looking at her when you say it. Extra bonus points if you are slow dancing, hugging or simply holding her hand. No bonus points for saying the "L" word to the back of her head. You could be talking to a mannequin for all that matters. Face to face.

I guarantee god status the rest of the evening. Snuggles in the car and some serious noogie when you get home.

If you can't bring yourself to do it, you are either a schmuck or don't really care about her or your relationship and you should be trying to figure out if you want to fix it or be gone. I know that sounds harsh, but a little personal introspection is needed. Why can't you say it?

Ladies, my advice is just as simple. If the guy is posing in front of that long mirror, checking his gut for the tenth time, step in between him and the mirror. You are the distraction. Put your arms around his neck, snuggle in real close and repeat one of the following, "You are gorgeous, fantastic, handsome" or "You are looking so fine, good," etc. The word "fine" is only usable when accompanied by the word "so". This may apply to men to women as well. You may also avoid the "you look" phrase completely and go straight for, "I love you", "have I told you lately that I love you", etc.

The "during the event, night out, etc" kiss, "I love you", squeeze the butt under the jacket move and/or lean into him (could be a "side" lean, but full frontals have the most effect) guarantees you goddess status for the rest of the evening. Your man becomes Hercules and can move mountains or Atlas and shoulders the world.

Again, phrases to avoid include, "You look fine", adding on "as always" and don't forget to avoid, "I love you just the way you are." Bzzzzzz. Wrong answer because you just implied that there is something wrong with them, even if you claim to love that wrongness, you do not pass "Go", do not collect noogie and go straight to relationship hell. Or, at least another boring night where you come home, throw off the clothes, jump into those flannel PJs, jump into the bed and hear your spousal unit snoring in five minutes. All bets are off if one or more of you drink yourself blind for the evening. You might get a bunch of "I love you's" but you will either hear snoring or wretching at the end instead of moans.

I know, some of this sounds a little "romantic" and, even as the guys and some women read that word, a shudder goes through them, "Uuuugh. Romantic? I don't do "romantic"." My only answer to that is a question, "How have you stayed together this long?" No, make that, "How did you get into this marriage/relationship in the first place?"

Remember, don't be a schmuck. "Romantic" is just a word and can be comprised of the silliest or simplest of moments including bringing someone their coffee in bed, in the bathroom while they shave, sit it by their morning paper that might be waiting for them at the table or kitchen counter. Very little things.

The Things You Say

If you're going to talk, the first thing out of your mouth is not about you or your views on the relationship. Ask them what they want. What do they think. What do they feel. I know it's hard because we are often cowards in our personal relationships. We don't like to be too introspective because we might hear somethings that we don't want to hear like we said something hurtful that we didn't think was hurtful, or we didn't care it was hurtful. We can do all sorts of nasty things to the people we love the most, generally because, when we love someone, we not only know their good, strong points, we know their weakest as well and, at the moment of our own pain, we can lash out and inflict some serious damage on the person that we love simply because we know exactly where the "kill" zones are and most of us go right for them. We don't always mean to, it is like the "wounded animal" syndrome. Cornered and bleeding animals stop thinking and simply start slashing with their claws or hooves. Humans aren't all that different from animals in that respect.

If you are going to have a "discussion" about something like bills, car accidents, little Johnny's bad grades, that new fishing boat, the thirtieth pair of shoes, whatever, try to avoid direct "personal" attacks like: "you're stupid", "irresponsible", "lazy", "your fault", etc. Any comments about intelligence or weight will automatically put you in relationship hell. If you think otherwise, you are either in extreme denial or are a verbally abusive person that just doesn't give a damn in the first place. Cursing and other profane name calling means that you have slipped beyond the the bounds of the relationship and should probably just get a divorce or pack your bags and leave. Once you start telling someone that they are a "bastard", "bitch", "asshole" or any other name of the sort, you've already lost the relationship and you just don't know it yet.

Of course, I've heard those terms used in "playful" ways, but arguments and raised voices have totally lost the "playful" side of things and turned them into ego stomping missiles that are even bigger than the trident missiles of "stupid", "fat", "lazy", "irresponsible", whatever. All of these things are designed to pick out the "enemy's" weakness and lash out at them with appropriate weapon. And, we know that weapon because we've been studying that person for so long, we've even got it down on the subliminal level: "how to wound, maim and or kill your relationship in five easy steps".

Say you're arguing about the bills and the check book being unbalanced. You just discover that you can't pay the credit card because your spouse bought the new $300 grill, or purchased some tickets to a Broadway show, or bought a puppy with papers, bought some earrings, bought a new power tool, whatever, they bought something because they thought that they had money in the bank. You discovered this problem and confront the person about making the check book error in the first place and then compounding it with their purchase. They either become defensive or apologetic. Even "defensive" is a sign of contrition, they know they made an error. People don't like to be confronted by their errors.

Usually, the confronter just sees the defensiveness as "denial" and gets more angry. That's when the predator's "kill" instinct comes into play. We sense their weakness. In denying that they did something or did it on purpose, we know that their weakness is "stupidity". Yes, they do not like to be seen or thought of as "stupid". So, what is our "kill" phrase, "What? Are you stupid?" or "I can't believe you were this stupid." or "Only an idiot wouldn't check the the balance before making that purchase" or "What, you think the credit card company is going to take that grill/coach purse/power tool/pair of shoes as payment?"

Honestly, the only thing that is happening after that is either complete withdrawal from the issue by the defendant or the "cornered and wounded animal" attack. They may come out swinging at your own foolish mistakes now and in the past. Particularly as, contrary to popular belief, we aren't perfect. We make mistakes, too. Next thing you know, instead of sitting down and figuring out how you're going to balance the checkbook and pay the rest of your bills and put food on the table, you are in a full blown fight. Doesn't solve a damned thing and both opponents are just going to walk away dissatisfied, if not deeply hurt.

Once people are inclined to use the word "stupid" or "moron" or other names in their arguments and it becomes routine, I can tell you that the words start slowly whittling away at a person's self esteem. The wound might seem small at the time, but it can fester with continued use of the phrases. They either become completely demoralized or, one day, you said those words again and they tell you, "Fine, you think I'm so stupid/irresponsible/lazy (whatever), I'll leave and you figure out how to do all this stuff on your own."

Ways to avoid this problem are first, avoid using those kind of denigrating words in the first place, even if you think that they just did the stupidest thing ever. Nobody is perfect, including you. Opening up the "you are imperfect" door surely leads to other thoughts of imperfection, including your own and they will feel compelled to use it on you.

If you say the words, you should be ready to apologize. Mainly because, if you really thought that person was stupid, would you have gotten into the relationship in the first place? Secondly, you need to heal the wound of your wounding strike quickly before it starts adding up to a "relationship killer". Again, non-verbal communication, like looking at the person or touching them is just as important as saying that you're sorry. If you can't do it, it will imply that you really aren't sorry, you're just making a lame ass apology because you know that you are going to hear about it later and you are attempting to avoid it.

Again, if you are using these words routinely, an apology is probably not going to cut it after awhile. You should be examining your relationship because there is something very wrong. Most likely you need counseling or should just go before you completely destroy your opposite or yourself. Of course, most people are blind to their own failings and will totally ignore that advice. It's why you see so many vicious divorces. It finally gets to the point where both sides are down to mindlessly and viciously swiping at each other.

It's been my observation that at least 50% of all divorces did not have to end in divorce. Generally, they become non-communicators at the end and that's where they end up at. Divorced.

Now, if one of the persons in the relationship is actually financially irresponsible, there are ways around that. No reason to get a divorce because one person can never balance the check book or doesn't think about the big picture of your finances. It might mean that they do not share your same goals, however, and you should probably sit down and have a conversation about what you both see as your future financial goals and how you're going to get there.

I had some friends where one was ultra anal about their finances and the other could live from day to day. The one was always asking where the money was that they brought home? How could they always be broke if they made that much money? The other was complaining about the spending habits of the person that wanted to know why they didn't have money to spend. They almost got divorced over a gas grill. At different times, one or the other would get fed up and toss the check book and bills at the other and tell them to figure it out for themselves. Of course, the one that was the "day to day" person made a complete mess out of the check book and totally fouled up their credit cards and utility bills.

Thus ensued another argument about financial irresponsibility and stupidity, etc, etc

Let me tell you, arguments about money in a relationship are some of the toughest and most common arguments to be found. Love and money are like oil and water. They both exist, but it is very difficult to make them mix together. Even Donald Trump can't seem to get married and stay married. Go figure.

My recommendation to my friends was to get three bank accounts: one for her, one for him and one for the bills. They both got paid on the same cycle so, the night of payday, they made no other plans but to sit down and figure out the bills. Both of their paychecks went into the third account for bills. After the amount that was necessary for the bills, the groceries and the amount to go into savings was figured out, they would then write the checks. This "bill" account was a joint account and had to have both signatures of the parties on the check so that both of them had to know how much was being spent and where. When all the bills were made out, whatever was left was split 50/50 between their own separate bank accounts. That included gas money, lunch for work, and spending money.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: that's a little ridiculous, how come one or the other couldn't just let one of them take care of the finances? Why couldn't the irresponsible one just act responsible once in awhile?

My question in return is, "How badly do you want your relationship to work?" or, "do you think that somebody is just going to change overnight because you decree one of their habits as "bad" or "irresponsible"?" Or, "Are you looking for perfection and you're just going to stomp your little foot until you get it?" There. Is. No. Perfection. Maybe you just like to have that one thing to pick on that person, to have as your weapon against them? Love is tough and people are scared of how deep it can go into their own personality and psyche. They like to have a weapon so they can keep the person from getting too far into them. Protect themselves.

Why wouldn't you sit down and try to figure out the best way to work around your or the other person's imperfection? I always like the demands for a person to change: "Why can't you become responsible?" My question is, why did you marry them in the first place if "responsibility" is a problem? You didn't notice it? Maybe that beat ass old car, the third hand furniture in his or her apartment, the lack of groceries besides beer in the refrigerator and the brand new Snap On master tool set in the six foot high rolling tool box or the new Coach bag/Prada shoes should have given it away?

You married that person for reasons other than finance, so shut up and figure out how you are going to fix the current financial problem and avoid it in the future. Even if that includes three separate bank accounts, who cares as long as it solves the problem. If you are just demanding that the other person change without changing how your financial system works, you have other problems. Like control issues. Maybe you just like to argue? Maybe you are a verbal abuser and this gives you the reason and the way to let that all out?

Maybe you have your own self esteem issues and having something to rag on somebody else about makes you feel better? In which case, you are in the 50% of people that are likely to become divorced. Then you can walk around moaning and crying about what an irresponsible asshole, bitch, bastard, whatever, your spouse was and how they are trying to take you to the cleaners again after nearly bankrupting you or making you lose the house or whatever lovely thing occurred.

It could have been avoided.

Even the most spend thrifty person in the relationship can be handcuffed enough that their habits don't interfere with your financial security or your loving relationship. But, that's if you want to work it out. You don't want to, go on with your bad selves and call me when the divorce is final.

And, hey, not just getting on the people that find the mistake. Financially challenged people, it is better for you to come clean, admit your problem to your spouse/significant other and figure out how you are going to try and help curb your impulses. Know your spouse's goals. What is the plan? Are you in agreement? If you are then get a hold of yourself and grow up. Buying $300 grills or Prada shoes and then worrying about where the money comes from makes you a child at the least and, yes, the ill fated word, irresponsible. Better that you hear it from me than your loved one exclaiming over the thirtieth over draft slip from the bank. Get a hold of yourself, step away from the credit cards and the check book. And please, if you bought that cordless drill, gas grill, or those three inch heels, don't tell your spouse that you did it for them. Not even the grill because they are not going to believe you and you are obviously implying that they are stupid and will believe you.

In which case, re-read this section because you just did not get it.

There you go, one single person on the outside looking in at the complete and utter messes I see married people making of their relationship everyday. It's so funny how I often long to have a relationship and how many times I hear my friends, family and associates say, "You're so lucky to be single".

Yeah, I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Through A Child's Eyes

Well, it's 6 AM on Sunday morning, the day after Christmas. I should be sleeping right now as I stayed up very late Christmas Eve and only had four hours sleep and have not yet been to bed tonight. Mostly because, as soon as I got home, I wanted to see the news and catch up on some of the soldiers' blogs and a few others that I read since I've been unable to do it successfully the last three days. Maybe, I was just too exhausted from all the excitement. I don't know, but I couldn't sleep.

I read some wonderful posts over at Sgt. Missick reminiscing about being at home and 2slick dropped by to return my message of Merry Christmas in my previous post. I also received a lovely message from Joe at AbleandKaneAdventures thanking me for my Christmas message. I read an email from Capt. Matteson at the banty rooster regarding a young wounded soldier meeting Donald Rumsfield.

The message that struck a chord with me most this holiday was from Mrs. Greyhawk, wife and co-blogger over at Mudville Gazette who left this very touching post to her husband, Mr. Greyhawk, who is deployed in Iraq today:

All I Want For Christmas Is A Soldier Coming Home

For those troops that are reading blogs to get closer to home, our thoughts and prayers are with you. We love and miss you.

Merry Christmas,
Keep Safe,
Come home soon.



I've spent too much on Christmas presents this year,
I think trying to compensate for you not being here,
but out of all those gifts under the tree,
the only gift these kids want is you to come home safe and free.


I hope the Greyhawks don't mind me reproducing this message here. Mrs. Greyhawk claims the message didn't start as a poem, but, by line number three, it was going there so she finished it up with a last line of rhyme. One that I thought was very stirring.

Iraq the Model had left a lovely post for all their commentors about Christmas in Iraq. Of course, my friend Ala71 at Blonde Sagacity had put up a lovely poem in the rhyme of "Twas the night before Christmas" where she remembered all her pals in the blog world.

So many to read and mention, but most are on the side bar and you should read them, too, if you get the chance.

Yesterday morning, I had gotten home around 2 AM and then stayed up for two more hours trying to burn CDs for my Step Mom since she was interested in a few of the "Country Classic" CDs that I have that my brother in Arizona had burned for me. It includes songs like "The Bismark" and "The Battle of New Orleans" and "El Paso". If you don't know these songs, you ought to because they represent some of the best story telling songs ever written. Most of the songs on the CDs are exactly that, story telling songs.

Long story short, I couldn't make the *&^%%$ CD burner work. Kept kicking my burned CDs out about three quarters of the way through and indicating it was unable to continue. I was really frustrated, but eventually gave up and went to bed. My brother Bill is going to try and burn some of them on his CD burner today before they leave to go back to the Ozarks. I was in bed about 4:37 AM. At 8:31 AM there was a definite knocking on my front door and my brother and sister in law broke into carols. Very bad caroling actually and the dog started barking insanely. Seems they'd been trying to call me since 7AM to get me over to the house.

Santa Clause had visited the night before and woke the kids up with a "ho-ho-ho, Merry Christmas" at O'dark thirty in the morning and the kids were chomping at the bit to open presents. They were waiting for me, so I jumped out of bed (no, I was not wearing a kerchief), threw on some clothes (as opposed to throwing up the sash) and leaped into the car (not to the window) to hitch a ride with them to the house.

We arrived at the house at appx 9:30 AM. When I walked in the door, I got two surprises. First, the tree was so full of presents that they were almost covering the tree. It hadn't looked like that when I left the night before. My brother, even after putting together most of the things that we donated to the needy family he had selected from the Salvation Army, had put together a fine Christmas. So, along with the presents that I had delivered the night before and those from my mom, dad and step mom, we had quite a pile going even though we had constrained each other to making minimal purchases this year due to some folks financial constraints and our desire to participate more fully in giving gifts to the needy instead of receiving. Usually, we had been more apt to give to the "Harvesters" program for food (which we still did), adopt an angel, give money to the local mission and the Salvation Army or drop off toys for the Marine Corp "Toys For Tots" program on an individual basis.

Well, just because we make a rule, doesn't mean that we don't figure out how to break it in some way. We had done our project for the year and the family we chose had received all the fixings for Christmas dinner and then some, two gifts each for the two children and the parents and a family gift of a futon couch. They had very limited furniture and had placed on their list of "large items" a couch. That usually meant, of course, that that is what they would get instead of all the little personal items, but we determined that we could do it all. It just so happened that I had a brand new futon couch in my office for the last six months that no one ever sat on because, when I was working in the office, they all felt compelled to stay out in the living room (I don't know why; then again, maybe I do). After a brief discussion with my brother about the list, we put the futon in the truck along with the presents, food and a few other items including stocking stuffers and a brand new set of pots and pans, tea towels for the kitchen, all sorts of good stuff.

The way it was supposed to work, we received a number to represent that family and put it on all of the items, drop it off and never meet the family. We were perfectly happy with that arrangement because it is about giving and not receiving. As much as getting somebody's gratitude is a nice boost to the ego, that wasn't the point of the project. It was simply to give. Last year, we hadn't been as quick on the up take for our plan to start a new, annual family tradition of adopting a family for Christmas and had been doing some last minute hopping around to get a family and select the gifts. This year, Bill was much more organized and had all the details taken care of. I only had to show up with some goodies and use the truck for delivering.

That's not exactly how it worked out. When we drove over to the drop off point the Friday before last and unloaded everything, the volunteers were surprised by the couch. They were not expecting that. They were familiar with the family and they only had a car with no way to take the couch to their home. After some discussion with the organizer, I told her that we could take the couch for them and the organizer was to tell the people that we were volunteers with the organization (which we were, techinically) so that they would not suspect we were the donors nor feel compelled to offer gratitude directly to us nor be potentially embarrassed.

They called the family up to come and pick up their gifts. We had no idea who they were, but, when they had shown up, the organizer apparently felt compelled to explain who we were and the jig was up. They were a nice young couple and when they came out, the husband seemed a little embarrassed and we were, too. But, brother Bill, gregarious as ever, quickly put them at ease by shaking hands with the man and getting down to the brass tacks of logistics for delivery. We loaded everything back into my truck and arranged to follow the couple back to their apartment.

When we got there, they were living in a small complex with very narrow stair wells leading up to the second floor apartment they occupied. Oh, boy. How were we getting this couch up to their apartment? Another discussion and I backed the pick up as close to the building and balcony as possible. Their neighbor came out and everyone lifted it up over the balcony and then proceeded to hand the other boxes up as well, standing on my tail gate. When it was all done, we were wishing them a Merry Christmas and preparing to jump down from the tailgate when the man leaned over the balcony and put out his hand, "Merry Christmas and thank you."

Well, for about two seconds I had a lump in my throat because it wasn't really all that much in the scheme of things, but it meant Christmas for them. We all shook hands and wished each other "Merry Christmas", then bro, sister in law and I jumped in the truck where their three kids had been waiting and took off to go to dinner.

You know what I said about not getting something peronsal out of it because it was just ego or something? Well, I can tell you, I don't know if it was my ego, but it was one of the most satisfying moments I've had in a long time. We were all very happy as we drove along and we burst into singing Christmas songs, completely off key and the kids tried to follow along. Even three year old Stormy, who only knew one out of every six words of only two songs, which she sang, even during the other songs.

Goofy, maybe, but I had to say, if there was anyone to be thanked, it was that nice young couple for getting us all in the spirit of Christmas. Particularly me, who had been feeling a little like the Grinch and thinking, "Please, can this holiday just get over?" I had not felt very Christmassy this year. I think that nice young couple saved me.

The second surprise, Christmas morning, wasn't a present in the physical sense. When I walked in the door and stood stunned at all the presents, three year old Stormy ran over to me like she always does, "Aunt Katty!" She can never pronounce my name right. And, like always, she wrapped her little arms around my legs so I couldn't move if I wanted to and hugged them with all her might. Before I could hug back, she jumped back, stuck out her little hand and said, "Aunt Katty, come, come." I put my hand in hers and she dragged me over to the tree and presents, "Presents! Christmas!" she said with her little three year old lisp and bent down, grabbed a present and handed it to me.

Well, it wasn't mine, that would make the story too good, but it was the sentiment that counted. All I could think about was how excited she was and how the tree must have looked to her little two foot nothing frame. "Enormous" I think would be the word. The presents were a treasure trove and it put me back on my heels for a moment, once again reminding me what the holiday meant and how once, when I was a child, a visit from Santa Claus seemed like such a magical event.

They told me I had missed Stormy jumping up out of bed and running into the living room, wide awake as if she had not been asleep, at the sound of "Santa" "ho-ho-hoing" out the door and Stormy yelling, "Santa! Santa!" at the top of her lungs and woke up the entire house. Which was why I had gotten a rude awakening yesterday morning. Stormy was not going back to sleep until she got presents.

Everyone sat down on the couches and chairs with the kids in a semi-circle on the floor, just like when we were kids, Bill set up the video camera on the tripod and began handing out presents. Stormy was ripping through the paper like no tomorrow and pulling out her gifts as fast as her little fingers could move, taking only a moment to look them over, toss them aside and go for the next one. She is only three after all and opening presents is still as exciting as the actual gifts. My nephews were much more deliberate in their gift opening and took time to look at each present and admire it.

The gifts the boys liked best were the Spiderman t-shirts my dad and step mom gave them and mine, of course, because "Aunt Katty" knows best what little boys want. Namely, things that will drive their parents crazy the same day they get them. I bought Alex a student guitar. Yep, a noise maker. He'd been wanting to play mine every time I came over with it so I determined that he could have his own and learn to play. Music has so many advantages including coordination, mathematics and socializing. I wish I could say that I got it for those reasons, but I would be lying if I did. Noise and a desire to keep my own guitar intact were the primary drivers.

For Karl, who always wants to be like his older brother, but not quite, I bought a small drum set with a basic snare, tamborine, morrocos and a harmonica. Why the harmonica was in a percussion set, I don't know, but it actually turned out to be his favorite piece. The rest of the day, in between dire threats from bro and sis in law for such a dastardly deed, I attempted to teach the boys how to play "Jingle Bells". Not particularly successful, but we had fun and they sang along with their own version of the music anyway.

Later, Alex took his guitar downstairs and I could hear him strumming on it for all he was worth, singing some song that he had made up. Of course, it was the most awful, beautiful sound you'd want to hear. Completely off key and not a chord change anywhere, but brilliant none the less. Karl was down there, too, playing the harmonica along with him and actually coming pretty close to making some music. I think they've both got an ear for it. Bro was rolling his eyes and yelling down the stairs for Alex to lighten up a little on the strumming before he broke a string. I told him to "chill", if he broke a string, I'd buy him some more. What? They didn't think I ever broke a string?

Bro went on to say that I should not expect that the guitar would be in one piece forever, the boys had little respect for their toys. I just smiled and said "we'll see". Alex came up and said, "What? I was pretending to be a rock star". Ahhh, the dreams of little boys.

Bro had a pained look on his face, "All I've heard for an hour and a half is "pling, pling, pling - pling, pling, pling". You need to take it easy on it if you want to have it for awhile."

Sis-in-law, looking at the guitar, "It's already got marks in the body where he was strumming it so hard."

Me, I was trying not to laugh at their agony. Sis-in-law threatened to bring the boys over to my house for an early serenade and said that, if I liked it so much, they could just come over and play in my little office/studio. See how I'd like it when Alex was singing in my microphone and belting out "pling, pling, pling" through my amp. I was laughing by then and told them I'd be happy to have them come over and make a tape of their music so they could play it over and over and hear that they made music. Not to mention torture their parents some more.

I told Alex to go on down and play. Sunday, I'd come back and show him how to play songs with the three chords I taught him. I told Bill not to worry, if it broke we'd get a new one.

I thought about my old yamaha guitar in the case in the hall, dinged up, slightly scratched on the front of the body from my own picks and strumming and on the back from my belt buckle. How many nights in a field outside the rodeo I had played, or at friendly get togethers, family get togethers or just sitting strumming for my own pleasure, companionship, and, sometimes, my solace. It's been a friend of mine for years, through thick and thin, across the country and back again, from California to Philadelphia.

If I gave the boys that one little thing, that friendship and understanding, then I would have given them the best gift of all.

Stormy, for her part, actually picked up the morrocos while we were playing our version of "jingle bells" and tried to play along. Maybe we got our own band brewing? Mostly, she was excited about the little princess gift set my dad and step mom got her. She brought the packet over to me before we were even done with the presents and made me open it. Man, that kid is strong. She had my arm twisted up behind my back in no time and I was compelled to open it, put the tiara on her head, the princess necklace around her neck, clip on the big, gaudy heartshaped earings and help her put on her princess slippers. Stormy still doesn't know if she's going to be a "tom boy", a little princess fufu or something in between. I'll be keeping my eyes out and making sure she at least knows how to throw a ball.

The boys got me a blown glass eagle with out stretched wings and an American flag clutched in it's talons. The only color was the gold at the tips of the wings and beak and the red, white and blue in the flag.

Do they know their aunt Kat or what?

It was, all in all, a lovely Christmas. When you can see it through the eyes of children, it reminds you what it's all about.

Here's hoping your Christmas was just as beautful and the new year brings you lots of joy.