Month: August 2015

Exit 70. It seemed extraneous at the time.

Just follow me on this one.  It’ll sound rambling and disjointed, but I really do have a point.

A few years ago, I was making cookies in the kitchen, and for some reason I stepped outside.  Maybe because I had just remembered that the plants needed watering… something insignificant like that.  The door out of my kitchen is a sliding glass door, and there is a dowel about an inch in diameter that prevents the door from opening.  The lock technically works, but it really isn’t all that strong.  Anyway, that day, with cookies in the oven, I opened the door with the dowel propped up against the door, but not completely removed.  As I was absentmindedly closing the door from the outside, probably because the air conditioning was on and I wanted to keep the cold air inside, I realized that the dowel was falling back into place, and that I was effectively locking myself outside.  I didn’t have my keys with me.  The door was only open about two inches when I realized what was happening, and there was no way to reach the dowel and knock it away.  The garage has a keypad, so I was able to get into the garage and get a screwdriver, to try to remove the door entirely.  It didn’t work.  That’s good for my house being hard to break into, but bad when I’m the one who needs to break in.  At this point, I’m panicking because (1) I’m locked out of the house with no way in, and (2) I left the oven on with cookies inside.  My neighbor across the street (for those of you who have been to my house, this is the older guy with the motorcycle) saw me at this point and said hi.  I told him I locked myself out, and he chuckled and said, “Good job.”  He then came over to see if he could help, if any of my locks would be easy to MacGyver open… and at that point, he turned the knob on the door connecting the garage to the rest of the house, and it opened.  I wasn’t locked out after all, which is weird because usually I keep that door locked.  I might have been able to save the cookies had I tried opening that door first, but all things considered, one dozen burnt cookies is a small price to pay for not having to break a window to get back in the house.

The 1992 movie Wayne’s World was a favorite of mine in my teenage years.  The movie, featuring characters from Saturday Night Live, was about Wayne and Garth, two heavy metal headbanger types who have a low-rated cable TV show where they pretty much just hang out in Wayne’s mom’s basement and talk about things.  In one scene, a security guard at a concert (played by the late great Chris Farley) tells Wayne that a bigshot record producer will be traveling back through the area a few days later, and Wayne, who has a tendency to break the fourth wall, makes a comment about how the security guard sure had a lot of information.  Wayne’s love interest is the lead singer of a local band, and a few days later, he is trying to win her back from a smarmy Hollywood type.  He comes up with a plan to broadcast a really strong radio signal into the record producer’s limo as he passes back through town, to help her get a record deal.  Wayne makes a comment about how the security guard’s information was useful, even though it seemed extraneous at the time.

A year and a half later, Wayne and Garth were featured in another movie, called (you’ll never guess!) Wayne’s World 2.  In my opinion, Wayne’s World 2 had funny parts but seemed a lot more contrived than the original.  The extraneous information joke was recycled in Wayne’s World 2.  Wayne and Garth encounter some guys stacking crates of chickens and watermelons in the middle of the street, alongside two guys who cross the street with a giant sheet of plate glass every couple minutes, for no apparent reason.  Wayne wonders aloud if this will pay off later, and of course, later in the movie, Wayne’s car crashes spectacularly into all of those things.  The men he met earlier say that their work is done now.

I have a friend who lives in Minnesota.  I hadn’t seen her since 2003, and I’d never met her husband, until they were here a few days ago.  She sent me a message a few weeks ago saying that the two of them would be taking a road trip and passing through my area in a few weeks, and that they hoped to see me.  I offered to let them stay here if they needed a place to stay.  It was a short visit, but a very nice one.  They spent most of the day driving down the north coast among the redwoods (that’s a pretty curvy and mountainous drive), and they had someone else to see in my area earlier that day.  But I did get to talk to them and catch up for a few hours, and they stayed here that night.

The main issue I have with letting people stay at my house is the problem of locking up if they leave while I’m gone.  There has been at least one time when I had friends over Saturday night, and one of them was still asleep on my couch when I left for church Sunday morning.  Obviously, when my friend is in that situation, they can’t lock the deadbolt, so they would either have to leave the door locked without the deadbolt or borrow a key and then return it at a later time.  In this case, my friends from Minnesota would be leaving my house while I was at work, and borrowing a key would be impractical with them being from outside the area.  I considered having them return the key to my work, but that would be out of the way for them as they headed to their next destination.  I was working out all these scenarios in my head… could I have them leave the key in some hidden place in the yard?  Can they drop off my spare key with a neighbor?  Would I feel safe leaving my door locked without a deadbolt for about seven or eight hours?  Would I feel safe giving them the combination to the garage door, even though then the door from the garage to the house would have to be unlocked?

Then suddenly, the answer came to me.  Suddenly, the three different stories I’m telling in this post are going to come together.

I messaged my friend, “Better idea.  I know (from experience, sadly) that it is possible to lock yourself out of the kitchen.  So you can leave the front door deadbolted, leave through the kitchen, lock yourself out just like I did, and then go through the gate to the front of the house.”  Just like the information that seemed extraneous at the time in the Wayne’s World movies, my experience of locking myself out and panicking about the burning cookies ended up serving a useful purpose years later.  Now I’ll feel much less stressed any time I have a friend staying over who needs to leave when I’m not there to lock up behind them; I’ll just show them how to lock themselves out of the kitchen.

And as I’m writing this, I have my music on shuffle, and of course, a song from the Wayne’s World soundtrack comes on.  It’s funny how life works out like that.

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Exit 69. Why did I stop watching?

Full House, a popular television sitcom from my preteen and teen years, has been in the news again.  It was one of the great campy family sitcoms of that era (1987-95), but the family it featured was very atypical.  Danny Tanner was a local TV personality and the widowed father of three little girls, DJ, Stephanie, and Michelle.  At the beginning of the series, Danny’s brother-in-law Jesse and best friend Joey moved in with him to help take care of the girls.  As the series continued, more and more people ended up living under the same roof: Rebecca, Danny’s television co-star, became a love interest for Uncle Jesse, and when they got married, she moved in with them.  They ended up having twin boys in the later seasons.  DJ’s best friend Kimmy, the requisite annoying neighbor that every sitcom of that era had, was also a regular character throughout the series, and DJ had a boyfriend in some of the later seasons as well.

As I said, the show has been getting attention again lately for two reasons.  First was the announcement that Netflix is working on developing a sequel of sorts with many of the original actors.  This show will follow a similar premise to the original, but starring the next generation.  DJ is now an adult whose husband has recently passed away, and Stephanie and Kimmy move in to help her take care of her kids.

The other, more hilarious reason, is because of a video the San Francisco Giants baseball team released last week.  Full House was set in San Francisco, and the Giants have a Full House tribute night coming up in September.  The team made a video where they reenacted the opening sequence of Full House, featuring Giants players.  They reenacted scenes from the opening sequence perfectly.  (As an added bonus, Dave Coulier, the actor who played Joey, appears in character at the end.)  (If you don’t remember the show, you’ll appreciate the video below if you click here and watch this one first.  The opening sequence changed several times over the show’s run as the characters aged, but this one seems to have all of the scenes that were referenced in the Giants video.)

(Note: the video I originally linked had been removed by early 2016.  Here’s a link to a bootleg copy on YouTube: https://youtu.be/tiqQEbEf4PY)

So all this renewed attention on one of my regular childhood TV shows got me thinking: Why did I stop watching it?

The show ran for eight seasons, and I’m pretty sure I stopped watching somewhere around season 6.  In researching this post, I’ve read about some of the major plot developments in seasons 7 and 8, and I don’t remember them at all.  The final season would have been my freshman year at UC Davis, and I didn’t watch much TV at all that year.  I vaguely remember being in my dorm room in the spring of 1995 and getting a phone call from Mom in which she mentioned that she had just watched the series finale of Full House, and it was kind of sad.

This is very unlike me.  I’m the type that once I get into a TV show, I stay loyal to it until the end, even when most of its fans have decided that the show has jumped the shark and it’s time to move on.  I watched all 13 seasons of King of the Hill.  I watched all nine seasons of X-Files, even the final season where Mulder and Scully weren’t even in in much.  I’m still watching new episodes of The Simpsons and Survivor.  I had always assumed that I stopped watching Full House because I outgrew it.  It was a very kid-friendly show, and as the show went on, it seemed like there were more and more episodes where so much of the plot revolved around Michelle doing something cute.  The producers seemed to be trying to capitalize on that too much.  Combine that with the fact that I took five AP classes during season 7 and went away to college during season 8, and it seems perfectly understandable that Full House would fall to the bottom of my list of priorities.  But then I remembered something else, something I had forgotten for 22 years, that I think affected my Full House watching as well.

At some point during high school, I remember overhearing one of my friends say that Full House was lame.  I’m not going to mention any names, and this is not someone I’ve stayed in touch with, although if he were ever to, say, send me a Facebook friend request, I would gladly accept.  Some of my high school friends reading this will probably know who I’m talking about.  This guy was in a lot of the same classes as me, and I must admit I admired him for all the time I saw him stand up to extremely liberal history teachers with his opposing views.  But sometimes he kind of bugged me too, although it certainly wasn’t intentional on his part and I hold no grudges today.  Anyway, this guy had a disproportionate influence on me for a couple years.  For example, I started listening more closely to one of his favorite bands during that time, after my reactions to their earlier work had ranged from neutral to what-the-crap-is-this.  I still today love much of that band’s work from that time period, even the song that originally made me say what-the-crap-is-this, although I’m not as fond of their newer stuff.  I don’t know that he is the only reason I stopped watching Full House, but now that I think about it, hearing him say that Full House was lame certainly got me thinking about the fact that maybe I had outgrown the show.

What makes me sad about all this is that this is exactly the kind of behavior pattern that I have spoken against.  It seems that now as an adult, the idea of being yourself, not caring what others think, has become so ingrained in me as the right way to live, but here I was as a teenager, letting my equivalent of Kimmy dictate what I watch and listen to, doing exactly what I’ve told so many people not to.  Everyone has their moments of weakness.  I used to be influenced a lot by what the people around me think, and I don’t think that this is anything that can ever be shaken completely.  It’s hard to find that balance of living your own life while surrounded by others.  And, of course, there are moments when other people’s opinions of you really do matter.  I’m not going to decide one day to show up to work naked on the grounds that I feel like living my own life my way, for example.  I’ve had such a history of being too self-conscious about what other people think.  I don’t want to live life that way as an adult.  But it’s hard when people, and culture in general, can be so judgmental.  And this is why it is so important that I keep encouraging people to be themselves.

And maybe someday, I’ll have to go back and find a way to watch seasons 7 and 8 of Full House.

Exit 68. For one thing, it makes me feel like a time traveler.

I turned 39 this month.  So far, it doesn’t really feel that different from 38… that’s what everyone says when they’ve just recently had a birthday.

I think a lot these days about getting older.  I know that everyone ages at their own pace, and there is no right or wrong way to live, but it’s hard not to feel like I’m not a normal run-of-the-mill 39-year-old.  Many of my age peers are dealing with things like being parents of teens and preteens (and even parents of young adults, in some cases), and I’m… not.  Furthermore, I didn’t start a family at the normal age, but I started my career teaching at an unusually young age.  So I’m in this awkward time warp, where I have former students who are in their 30s, and yet I’m still in my 30s myself.  (I taught these students when they were 15 and 16 and I was 23 and 24, right out of college, if you’re trying to do the math.)  There are around seven or eight students from that group that I’m still in Facebook contact with, and sometimes I see them post pictures of them with their spouses and children, or occasionally I see them in person, and it feels like they grew up and I didn’t.  They’ve become adults, and I’m still pretty much living the same lifestyle that I was living at 23 when I had them as students, although I’ve moved a couple times (but all within northern California).

It’s hard not being a normal run-of-the-mill 39-year-old.  My church is currently taking signups for new small groups that will be starting soon.  I’ve been having some big questions on my mind lately about whether or not I need to look for a new church.  That’s another issue for another time, but I didn’t want to make a final decision without checking out these new small groups.  Part of the problem is that I feel disconnected from the rest of the community, and a new small group might be the answer to that.  But I walk into the building today, I see the signup table, and the first thing I notice is that the groups are separated according to the same old tired categories that I don’t fit into anymore: couples, young couples, families, senior citizens and empty nesters, singles (the singles group at my church is a de facto divorced and widowed group, I know from experience), etc.  There were a few mixed age groups, which I ended up signing up for, but there just aren’t a lot of guys my age who have never been married at big suburban evangelical churches.

But not being at the stereotypical place in life doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  For one thing, it makes me feel like a time traveler.  It makes me think particularly of the beginning of series 7 of Doctor Who, when Amy and Rory aged a few years in between each episode.  The Doctor would bring them on another adventure with each week’s episode, but in Amy and Rory’s timeline, they had lived a few years of normal young couple life since the last time the Doctor saw them.  More importantly, though, I’m living my life on my terms and being myself.  Many of the most memorable figures in history didn’t conform to society.  I have a lot to be thankful for, and I’ve had a lot of experiences in my 20s and 30s that wouldn’t have happened if I had started a family at 25.  So I’m hoping to spend the last year of my 30s continuing to be myself and make the best of it, whatever that looks like.

Exit 67. Thinking out loud.

I suppose a lot of blog posts are thinking out loud, at least they would be if they were spoken instead of written, but in this case I’m referring to the song.  “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran is a major hit song released in late 2014.  If you haven’t heard it, find a radio station that plays contemporary pop hits, and leave it on for approximately 5-10 minutes, and they’ll probably play it.  Or if you went to a wedding in the last few months, it was probably the couple’s first dance.  If you still don’t know it, here you go.

My first thought hearing it was that it sounds pretty much the same as Let’s Get It On.  My second thought was that it’s kind of nice, for a sappy love song.  I don’t have the strong emotional reaction to sappy love songs, because I can’t relate, but this one is catchy, and sweet.  Then one day on the way to work a few months ago, the song came on the radio, and I suddenly heard it in a different way.  I was going to write about it, but I never did.

I recently attended a wedding reception where this song was the first dance, and the circumstances reminded me of the thing I never wrote about.  This couple, now in their mid-20s, had been friends since childhood, but they didn’t discover feelings for each other until just within the past couple years.  And under those circumstances, the line from the song that made me see it in a different way months ago hit me all over again:

“Right where we are.”

The song is all sappy I’ll-love-you-forever-even-when-we’re-old-geezers stuff, but then the end of the refrain says that “we found love right where we are.”  The “we” of the song didn’t have to go out searching, love was there all along.  My friend who got married has lived in four (I think) states over the seven years I’ve known her, but her husband is someone she knew when they were both growing up right here in Sacramento.

Might that still happen to me someday?  What I learned about finding love from college Sunday schools doesn’t work in middle age, as I’ve said before.  Trying to make that work isn’t going to do me any favors, and neither is nostalgically wishing for that kind of relationship.  I have to work with what I have, right where I am.  Is there someone or something that I’ve been overlooking for years?  Or is there someone here who I haven’t met yet because I’m looking in the wrong place and trying to make square proverbial pegs fit into round holes?

(Oooh… ending on a question… that’s a new one for Highway Pi.  Crap, I ruined it, because now I’m not ending on a question anymore.  Or am I?)

Exit 66. You don’t get to decide what I do or don’t find embarrassing or traumatic.

The other day, a news story that went viral, as the kids these days say, caught my eye.  Morris Bart is the eponymous head of a large New Orleans-based personal injury law firm that advertises on daytime television in Louisiana and surrounding states.  A toddler named Grayson Dobra absolutely loves his commercials.  When Grayson celebrated his second birthday earlier this year, his mother decided to give him a Morris Bart-themed party.  She made a cake and a t-shirt with Morris Bart’s picture on it.  She contacted the law firm, and while Mr. Bart was unavailable to make a personal appearance, he sent an autographed picture and a bunch of promotional merchandise.  (Here is an article from their local newspaper about Grayson’s party.)

My first reaction, as was probably the first reaction from many of you, was cheerful laughter.  Everyone knows some little kid who has a weird obsession, and many of us probably were that kid at one time in our lives.  I’ve had those weird obsessions before, and I’ve written before about one that I had when I was considerably older than Grayson Dobra.  Seeing pictures of Grayson Dobra’s Morris Bart cake are just adorably cute, when you think about what little kids are like.  It still makes me smile, and I’ve read the story several times in the last 24 hours.

But there’s a darker side to this.  I’m afraid for Grayson’s future.  Specifically, I’m afraid of what will happen if someday he outgrows his obsession with Morris Bart and wants to put it behind him, but his mother insists on dragging out the pictures from the birthday party on a regular basis, and reminding Grayson of his Morris Bart phase every time a Morris Bart commercial comes on television.  In this era of social media, hundreds of people see everyone’s embarrassing baby pictures, and the maternal tendency to smile and laugh at a child’s awkwardness.  I cringe at the thought that Grayson may someday not want to be reminded of this, but his mother insists with an excuse like “Oh, but you were so cute then!”  That kind of behavior is extremely disrespectful on the mother’s part, and it sends the message that the child’s feelings and personal boundaries don’t count.

Maybe I’m just projecting my own past onto the Dobras.  There have been plenty of times over the years when my own mother has insisted on bringing up embarrassing and traumatic things in my past because she thinks they were cute, or she thinks that I’m overreacting when I say I don’t want to talk about it.  No, Mom, I’m sorry, but you don’t get to decide what I do or don’t find embarrassing or traumatic.  (Mom, I know you read this, but I’m going to say all of this anyway.  I know, though, that you weren’t setting out to hurt me intentionally, and that it’s only human nature that what is not that big a deal to someone might be to someone else.  And I definitely do have to admit that you’ve been better about this in recent years, and that you did apologize after I wrote last year about the weird obsession from my early teens, so thank you.)

One of many examples that I remember well happened at a family gathering for Thanksgiving in 2000.  Mom was telling my aunt about something that had happened to me recently, I made it clear that I did not want to talk about it.  Mom kept egging me on to fill in my aunt on some details of the story that she couldn’t remember, and I kept saying I didn’t want to talk about it.  Eventually Mom and my aunt went into the other room, where Mom could continue telling the story out of earshot of me.  The message that this sent, of course, were that my feelings didn’t count, so Mom was going to keep disregarding my feelings out of earshot of my objections.  One of my greatest regrets in life is that I didn’t, at that moment, walk the couple miles to the Greyhound station and find a bus home.  That would have sent a much stronger message, that I won’t put up with someone being so disrespectful to me, and that I will take whatever steps are necessary to remove myself from situations like that.  I really wish I had done that.

Maybe Grayson Dobra is going to turn out just fine.  Maybe he will be able to let his Morris Bart phase go peacefully with the ability to laugh about it later.  And if he doesn’t, maybe his mother will be respectful when he says he doesn’t want people looking at those pictures anymore.  I certainly hope so.  Many of my friends have children around Grayson’s age.  I know you enjoy Facebooking and Instagramming your children’s cute embarrassing moments–and I enjoy seeing the pictures and videos as well–but please respect their feelings if they indicate someday that they don’t want you to share something.  I don’t want your kids to grow up thinking that you don’t respect their boundaries, because those turn into the kind of kids that hide things from you, out of embarrassment and shame.  Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot to hide that would have gotten me in trouble, but not all kids are like that.  Grayson and his family probably won’t ever read this, but if they do, I hope they keep this in mind.