Million Dollar Idea 3, Part 1

As a single man, there’s a lot about kids I have to come to understand over the years that a lot of parents probably realize pretty quickly. Take, for example, a child’s ability to walk. I was walking through the north terminal the other day and saw this kid, maybe 3, just doing a Flash Gordon to, well, nowhere in particular. But he was getting there in a hurry, by God. And power-walking behind him was Mom. Which is funny as hell in itself. Seeing a grown adult crab-walking to keep up with a sprinting toddler. And the look on the kid’s face was even better. They have absolutely no worry about colliding with the giant rolling bag or 4-wheel dolly loaded with soda and water or the wheelchair attendant Michael who would absolutely cackle if a kid ran head-first into his chair as he rolled away with a screaming senior citizen. They just don’t care. And their parents know they don’t care and so have to keep constant, moving, vigilant tabs on where their child is going.

The best part about it is the look on little Johnny’s face. It is apparently that specific day in his intellectual life that he realizes that A) His legs will sustain the weight of their torso and B) There is at least 10-15 things in a given room that he can’t wait to explore that he decides in his little germinating brain that the only way to get to these things is at maximum velocity. And he is beaming ear to ear with no regard for the fact that he’s about to kiss the marble pillar he’s bearing down on yet oblivious to.

But in an airport terminal, there is the looming prospect of so many things that Mom and Dad have to be mindful of. The edges on drinking fountains, trash can lids at eye-level, the shady looking Arab (oh, don’t get all sensitive on me. It’s post-September 11th and it’s an airport. I’ve seen the stringy-haired dude with the Guns ‘N’ Roses T-shirt get some raised eyebrows).

As I was thinking about all this, I saw something that apparently is a fairly common remedy of the “wandering toddler” problem. A woman was walking along, examining her ticket and boarding pass and behind her, wailing away, was a little boy on a leash. I have never had to actually clamp my hand over my mouth to stifle laughter until that moment. Even that didn’t work too well because some spittle and a little snot ended up on my thumb and I’m pretty sure I snorked at least once. I immediately posted on Facebook how hilarious I thought this was and got three comments from parents about how awesome those leashes are and the freedom they grant the parent to walk at their own pace. I know, yet another example of a simple solution to a first-world problem I thought was hysterical but hadn’t really considered the sound, pragmatic practicality of said solution. In fact, I’m kind of surprised my friend Scott, the music lover, in his zealous support for the leash, didn’t elaborate to include perhaps a generator belt for Dad’s cell phone and IPod. I mean, I always joke to passengers that sometimes I feel like a glorified pack mule as I haul them, the chair, and 2 or 3 bags around Eppley. Might as well put Junior to work, I say.

A couple days later, I saw a little boy careening through the south terminal and coming dangerously close to the path leading past the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, the literal point of no return unless you want to go through the whole grueling process of the metal detectors and Superman vision scanners, and back out towards the ticket counters and restaurants on the main concourse. Mom broke into a frantic run and managed to loop her arm under her little boy’s jaw and heave him back over her body into a sitting position directly behind her. And the kid freakin’ lost it. Mom didn’t seem too happy with herself either as she picked the little boy up and sweet-talked him all the way to the newsstand to buy him the biggest piece of chocolate (Price: $37) they were hockin’.

But what choice did she have? TSA has got their panties in such a bunch they probably wouldn’t have let the kid back through without his boarding pace and photo ID. And honestly, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if Mom had seen what he was doing and just said “Screw it, I’ll have another kid. This boarding pass to Rochester cost $400.” And it was at that moment that I got an idea …

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Disbelieve

I don’t believe in death

Many don’t believe in God

Nor do I

And I do not disbelieve

What happens when we die?

Please …

Explain love.

See?

Heaven, Hell, Limbo

The colors in our spectrum

Which always change

 

Words in a foreign language

For which we have none in ours

And that’s enough

Because it has to be

Where is Here

When is now

Our true selves cry

And laugh

We weep and cherish

All that is good

And all that is bad

We learn from this moment

We must

Or our hearts shrivel

We are numb

Asleep

To the wonders of our lives

Birth of a Flirt

Disclaimer: The opinions, observations, musings and assertions in this blog post are mine and mine alone. I freely admit to the possible and likely errors of all of these and do not to pretend to really know if they are correct or not. It’s just what and how I think. Don’t judge.

I don’t know how to flirt. And I’ve tried for most of my adult life to come up with reasons not to have to flirt. Some of them are valid. Some are not. For instance, I won’t try and flirt with married or otherwise taken women. I tell myself it would be disrespectful to them and to their husbands or boyfriends. And, because I have been and can be good at flirting when I try to be, I worry that one thing will lead to another and … and I most definitely won’t be the guy a taken women cheats on said husband or boyfriend with. Like I said, pretty damn good justifications for not cultivating my flirting skills. But it doesn’t get to the root of my issues.

I try to convince myself (Oh who am I kidding? I do a damn good job of convincing myself of this stuff) of their validity in precluding myself of perfecting my inner Mac Daddy. And regardless of my status of taken or dating or involved, I most assuredly should not be not honing these skills because regardless of how I feel about my skills, if I do it and do it well, I can make even women who are in relationships feel good about themselves. Flattery is not only a great way to make the woman in question enjoy the pleasure, but I would also garner the good favor of others in many ways. Nobody ever says “Oh yeah, Tom was gonna come out with us tonight, but that chick magnet stayed home and played Call of Duty.”

This is not to say that I would be an opportunist by telling a woman she has pretty eyes or a beautiful smile or anything of that nature. Because I don’t say things I don’t mean. And if one of the welcome results of doing so is the woman in question treats me with a friendlier attitude than she would, say, somebody who is more interested in discussing Call of Duty, then so be it. It’s that feeling that I would possibly be doing a thing that could be construed as opportunist by others that makes me hesitate to do it at all.

Which makes total sense, right? Jesus Christ. You see the madness that goes on between my ears? I’m debating whether or not to compliment a woman because she might think I have alterior motives, and thus I don’t do it. So, I’m more comfortable, apparently, being a cold asshole because it’s somehow more pure than being kind to others by being nice to them. Man, stinkin’ thinkin’ right there.

But back to being a flirt. I can be good at it. I mean, I’ve never really developed any skills at trying to be smooth, but I can do it. And I think it’s because I don’t really try. Which is work. Y’know that scene in the movie Juno where she tells Bleaker that he is so cool and he doesn’t even try and he says “Actually, I try really hard”? That’s what I’m talking about. I simply try to do be the best Andy I can be and sometimes, it works. It works well enough that I magically become an extrovert and people kind of want to be around me because I say nice things to them and am genuinely friendly. But then something happens.

My biggest problem is separating the Dark Side of the Force from being Yoda. If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I can be a very dark person with huge, nebulous clouds of negativity circling around my body, mind and spirit. Sometimes its good having them around. I mean, they are the reason I go to the gym 3-5 times per week. Nothing drives you on the Stairmaster or swimming or lifting far more weight than you should like thinking of yourself as the mopey fat kid all the time. Hey, don’t knock it. It’s been my motivation at the gym off and on for 20 years. And now that I have quit drinking and regulating my diet more than I ever have before, I have very brief moments, when I catch myself in the mirror and think “Y’know, I don’t look half bad these days.” But then, as always and evermore, the guy in the mirror morphs into the fat kid I was for so long and he’s hanging his head and gobbling E.L. Fudges by the truckload (Which I used to do. Seriously, I would bitch slap that Little Debbie if she didn’t have enough Swiss Cake Rolls for me at the end of the night). And you’d think I would take some sort of solace in the fact that a great many men my age have twice the gut I’m so desperately trying to get rid of that I would just get all Zen about it and accept that this is how I look here and now and be okay with. Have you ever seen a painting or a statue of the Buddha? Talk about a spare tire. But no, I don’t. I guess this is an obsession that is keeping me fit. So it’s kind of a good thing. Sometimes, I flatter myself that Mike at work calls me The Hulk because I’m a big fella that looks ultra-pimpin’ in my silly-ass work uniform. But I think it’s mostly because the people I work with somehow interpret my stoicism and calm gaze as building anger and, potentially, blind fury.

Unfortunately, sometimes, that’s spot-on. Hence the daily meditation. But most of the time, it’s just because I don’t know how to keep a calm smile on my face and not look like Jack Nicholson. Like looking like Jack would be a bad thing, right? Who wants to look similar to the arguably wealthiest, most successful actor in the world? Y’know, the guy who kissed Helen Hunt in As Good as It Gets? Because I would never want to do the exact same thing. Be walking outside the bakery at 4 AM and kissing her on the boardwalk. As if. Plus, since I’ve lost a bunch of weight and have built quite a bit of muscle, I am, dare I say it, kind of good-looking. People have been telling that to me for a long time but until I got sober, lost weight, and generally started feeling like I’m not a fat, drunk pile of shit only worthy of the dregs of womankind (unless, I was drunk adorable Andy who somehow managed to hook-up with a girl who, the morning after, would think that maybe she needed to go to a meeting), did I finally start to believe it, if rarely. But now that I do think this way occassionaly, I really want to go up to some of the pretty people, pull them aside and say, “He he he, ahh … listen, I’m new to this whole being desirable thing. Do I need a membership card or is there a secret handshake I need to learn or- wait- No! Don’t leave! I need to talk to you dude!” And if it’s not that, then it is completely inverted and I begin to see the pretty people as my adversary, to be reckoned with like any worthy opponent. Because, you see, if I engage the prey in conflict, by nature of that fact do I deserve to be in the conflict and am thus not just faking it.

You see what I mean? I’m 38 and I’m either staggeringly intimidated by women or I view it like a freakin’ Navy Seal hunting down Bin Laden.

The solution, I think, is to work really hard on trying to make engaging with the enemy – sorry, I mean talking to women, a more instinctual thing. To somehow make it second nature to convert from being the brooding, Timothy McVeigh character in the black leather jacket into being the quiet writer sporting a slight grin and a mischievous look that really does have a heart of gold, loves his mother and sort of plays the piano. Also in the black leather jacket.

He Ain’t Heavy

That’s a pretty tired line for me to use for a title for a post about my brother. I realize that. But hey, I’m from Omaha, the home of Boys Town and the birthplace of Father Flanagan’s mission to devote his life to the aid of wayward young ones. Besides, Flanagan was an Irish priest, and I have been neck deep in them since I was a wee lad. So I have the bragging rights, ‘kay? But, I will concede, I can do better than that. Let’s try this again.

Take 2:

“Andy’s in trouble.”

A pause.

“Well, it ain’t car trouble.”

Thus began Dave Sigler’s tumultuous period in his life as my brother. Everything had been pretty normal before that. There’s four years between us, so we really have never had much as far as experiences we shared until we were both out of the house. Sure, Dave had his moments as the torturous big brother. A few times he pinned me down and dangled a loogy strung from his mouth and inches from my face. My personal favorite would be the tortuous routine he engaged me in when we shared a room at our family’s first house. Dave would lay in his bed, me in mine, and as I drifted off to sleep, purely for his own amusement mind you, would, in the darkness, say “Andy.”

“What?”

A moment. “Nevermind.”

He would then repeat this exchange until he was sufficiently drowsy and he would drift off to sleep himself. But not before he said, one last time, “Andy.”

I would wait, trying with every fiber of my being to keep from saying, “What?”

But after a few moments, I would say it anyway. And he wouldn’t reply.

He was already asleep.

Yeah, he could be an asshole sometimes, even as a youth. I digress. The about the “car trouble” comment. He was fielding our father’s response after he had informed said father I was in jail in Iowa, of all places, for getting collared for weed. And I managed to stay in some kind of trouble, periodically, for most of my adult life. Sure, some of my legal problems were comical. The Wrigley field incident comes to mind. The incident on Sheep Mountain with Dave providing the comic relief in those instances. But most of them were my fault, most of them involved drugs and alcohol, and most of them were pretty goddamn depressing. I just wasn’t a good criminal. Let’s leave it at that.

Ugh. Let’s try this once more, shall we?

Take 3:

“I want a foot massage.”

Yeah, that’s what he had to say after I did my 9th step (Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others). My mother was weeping. My father had that thoughtful, stoic look Dad’s get sometimes. My sister was … well, Liz was Liz. And after I bore my soul to my family, making an earnest attempt to apologize for the some 2 decades of grief I caused these people, that’s what he had to say.

“I want a foot massage.”

And I said “No Dave, I’m not giving you a foot massage.” Which is actually completely antithetical to the concept of doing your 9th step. You’re supposed to do anything they say will set things right. So the fact that I said “No” really just ensures that I’m going to have to do a Step 10 (… continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it) on this foot massage for the rest of my natural life.

All this is not to say that Dave Sigler doesn’t have a soft spot. He certainly does. About 6 months ago, he sent an email to me, my parents and my SIL about how all of life’s best practices are best summarized by Mr. Rogers. I promptly replied that an emotionally soft moment from Dave Sigler is kind of like a category 4 hurricane. They only come along every 10 years or so, but when they do, they bring down the house. When I was a young upstart of a teenager, I mused that I thought I might one day change my name from Sigler to my Mom’s more Irish-sounding maiden name O’Malley. I asked my brother what he thought.

“I think it’ll break Dad’s heart,” he said and resumed whatever he was doing. He was right, of course.

When I was smack in the heart of what he calls The Waste Land, he was the only contact I had with my family and seldom did I speak to him over the phone when I was at least kind of drunk or stoned. Actually, there was awhile there when I didn’t do much of anything when I wasn’t drunk or stoned. And he knew it, too. He tried once to reason with the blessed little enabler I was shacking with, who was crazy as a loon and often drunk herself. He started to tell me that conversation once after I got sober, but I think my tone and my demeanour clued him in to the fact that I didn’t want, nor would I ever want, to revisit the person I was when I was with her. He was dead. He had become Him. And from now on, He was mine and mine alone to deal with.

We’re night and day, me and my brother. He has always exceled in his chosen profession of education. He’s a great father (at least as far as I know, I’ll get back to you if I hear from my sister-in-law on that), and he has exactly one emotional ligament in his left calf. When it comes to anything touchy-feely, forget about it. When we went for a walk around Walden Pond in Connecticut, he strolled along and ripped on transcendentalism the whole time. Just because he knew it was get my goat (I don’t think Thoreau had goats on Walden. I could be wrong). Recently, I told him in a text that I had taken up studying Buddhism and attending Buddhism services at a local temple. He texted me back that he had just run over his bonsai tree. When I started saying “jagoff” all the time, the chosen term of endearment of the regulars at my neighbourhood tavern in Chicago, he told me to shut up with that. Dave Sigler knows that at the core of the essence of being, there’s healthy personal development and there’s, well, being a jagoff.

You see, all my life, I’ve wanted to impress my brother. I’ve said things and did things solely for the purpose of making him think I was cool. I used to say that some greasy spoon in Chicago was the diner Tom Waits went to when he was in town. I have no idea if that is true. I just conjured it up so he would think I really knew what I was taking about. When he would come to Chicago at all I so desperately wanted him to think it was “my town” that I would try to act like I knew where the best bars and restaurants were. Please. I was just picking stuff will-nilly or borrowing from my waiter friends. I didn’t realize that Dave didn’t come to Chicago so I could show him the town. He came to Chicago to see me. And I always seemed to say things and do things that were so decidedly uncool, I’m pretty sure he left wondering why I was trying so hard. I know from looking at pictures and videos, I’ve been doing that my whole life. Trying to impress him. It’s not lake I made every decision with his approval in mind. Quite the opposite in fact. Dave is a left brain, analytical, solution-oriented man who sees no real purpose in dwelling on that which doesn’t have an immediate solution and the things that don’t have that frustrate the hell out of him. I’m a writer, a poet, a seldom musician and I love my friends and family just as deeply as he does. He and I just show that in very different ways.

Now that I am sober, I feel like I can relate to my brother in the way he has hungered for the whole time. The way he deserves. The way only two grown siblings that have been close and been distant can, both in terms of life choices and mileage. Many people suffer from going it alone, not having the sometimes watchful, often bemused look of an older sibling over their shoulder. I have the privilege of having this look in my life again after almost royally screwing it up. I don’t plan on making that same mistake again.

Dave has two kids and a wife and a career that takes him from one location to the next on a regular basis. Last fall, Mom and Da regaled me with a story about texting with Dave back and forth when he was in some airport on a, like, 3-hour layover. Staunchly against text messaging in principle, I think I was the last person in North America to get it. I’m glad I did. After so long trying to impress my brother, I can just be around the next time he just needs to talk. Or he runs over another bonsai tree.

Him (Moment of Truth, Literally)

“I’m coming! I just have to sweep up the storage unit.”

I walked back to the storage space, 9-2. I paid for it for 21 months. That number is ingrained on my brain. The lantern I had bought just for the purpose of navigating the space was pushed to the doorway and inexplicably off. I turned it on.

The space, front to back and side to side, was bottles. A knee-high collection of bottles. Patron and Cuervo. Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. Brandy and wine. The liquor bottles had been opened but were full. The wine bottles were uncorked and corks, stained red, lay all around. Wine cascaded from the necks. In the middle of this sea of alcohol, He sat on a stool in the middle. In front of Him was an enormous, thick pot plant with big fluffy buds.

“Purple Kush,” He said. “I’ve never tried this particular strain before, but I think I know someone who wants to.” He drank from the trusty flask He had pulled from His ragged black cloak. The flask with my initials on it. And the date. Today’s date. He swallowed big and grinned. “I, of course, enjoy only the really hard stuff. Nothing like a snort of Everclear to wash everything away. All the sadness, all the anger, all the resentments. All of it.” He drank again.

I looked in the corner. There was the handle of the broom, sticking out of all the bottles. The lantern flickered off for a moment. I picked it up and banged it on again. The space was now empty and He was standing in front of me an arm’s length away. Droplets of clear liquor dribbled out of His mouth. He ran His left hand across His nose where blood was trickling onto His lips. His gesture smeared blood on His right cheek. I was used to His evil grin, the hallmark of His deathly, deadly persona.

“I gotta admit, I didn’t think you had it in you. 21 months in the sober-living house and not a drop. Not a toke.”

I stood there in my scrubs, the last and best vestige of my attempt at veterinary technician school. That and the Muck boots I now wore when I volunteered at the Humane Society. Of course, I wasn’t wearing them Friday when I met with Wendy, the volunteer coordinator. When she told me she was going to personally recommend me for a job in the Behavior Department.

“But you did it homeboy! How about a celebration snort,” He said and produced another pint of liquor from His pocket. He shoved the bottle at me. I caught it and held it. I stared at it.

“I can’t. My roommate will know something is up.” I was half bluffing. The part about taking a drink. Tomorrow and the next day and the next week and the next year, I will always have that option. To take the drink.

“You’re roommate will never know,” He said, brushing off my comment.

“Oh yes he will.”

“Please. How is your roommate gonna know if you take a drink now? Or when you’re flying first class and the drinks are free and no one you know is on the plane. Or when you are in San Diego or Philadelphia or at the Westminster dog show. You can lie. You may not be good at it, but you can still do it.”

“He’ll know because I know, Even if I pull off any of the 19 pantomimes Christopher Walken talks about in True Romance. He’ll still know.”

“And how, pray tell?”

“Because as of yesterday, he was my sponsor in the Program. And I’ve known him for 20 years. He was the first guy I ever got drunk with,” I said and threw bottle to floor against the wall where it shattered. “I figured if I was going to do this Program it would help if I did it with someone who knows me better than anyone.”

His face was stone.

“And because I cannot tell a lie, they will know what I did when I turn in my key at the Humane Society, even if I say nothing. Because I will have betrayed their trust. The same trust I’ve finally earned back of my family, my friends, the people in the Open Group For Bedlam Farm, the good friends I’ve made in the Program. All of them. Every last one of them. Above all, I will be betraying myself. I will be pissing away the 21 months I’ve had to prove to myself that when I got off that operating table 9 years ago, I wasn’t the idiot simpleton that alcohol convinced me I was. That you convinced me I am. And all the anger, all the sadness and all the resentments only get worse and worse because I knew the way to wash my hands of all it and I somehow, somehow, I chose to return to loving you and hating myself.  No, friend, I won’t be taking a drink. Not today.”

“But you will one day. Mark my words. You will drink again,” He said, folding His arms on His chest like a 6 year-old who refuses to go to bed.

“I can’t say I won’t,” I said as I turned and walked to the door. “But I won’t take a drink today. One day at a time, homeboy,” I said, fishing my keys from my pocket and lining up the padlock in the latch. “You can let yourself out,” I said, closed the door to the unit and locked it.