How Awkward: A Date Night Tale

I have not felt like a teenager in some time. I’m a man of a certain age and while I may carry around my own personal supply of self-doubt and self-consciousness, they both fit in a perfectly normal sized backpack that does not in any way draw attention to me. It is the standard teen drama we all carry around, hidden safely, strapped to us to inform our sense of self.

So, as I stood there, cheeks reddening and heart racing, I was once again that same teenager who would walk to school, past the buses lined up dropping off all my peers. Dreading being seen and fearing not being noticed. Worried the eyes I could feel boring into my skin and my psyche were because a pimple or a stray booger had sprung forth unbeknownst to me. All this while not noticing I was completely naked from the waist down. Sure, this was a dream. I never in fact walked to school while naked down there. But I dreamed this a lot.

You can imagine how jarring it was to be feeling these feelings after not feeling them for so long. All because I was once again making a fool of myself, a thing done with such startling regularity when I was a teenager that it was a nightly job to process embarrassment in dreamland.

What can cause a 45 year old man, fully self aware and fairly unselfconscious to find himself once again blushing? Could it be a physical reaction? In this case that couldn’t be ruled out. That said I have a sneaking suspicion that it was much the same thing as caused me to feel so unabashedly and unavoidably awkward those many many years ago. In this case it was in fact the presence of a teenage girl.

Please know that she is, by all accounts, a perfectly kind, warm, thoughtful person whom I would have been embarrassed in front of in the same way were she a 45 year old man like me. I simply note her ‘teen girlness’ for the remarkable symmetry it provides with my earlier embarrassments.

This young woman was here to do her first of hopefully many future nights and days of babysitting for our kids. She had been here for a half hour before to meet the kids, but this was still squarely in the ‘first impression’ stage of our relationship. So, as so many parents do, we had spent the day cleaning. To put our best foot forward. For our high school babysitter. I mean, we worked for hours. Okay, maybe I’m not entirely unselfconscious.

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pretty much how I’m feelin’ right before I injected myself…

Anyway there we were in our date night best. We hadn’t done date night in a while, so for our standards we were looking sharp. All that was left was to show our young employee the where’s and what’s and the whatnot’s. It was exhilarating.

Then, right before we were to leave, I stood in front of her and jabbed myself with an Epi-Pen. Right there. In our kitchen.

Sure, I was blushing. Yes, my wife and the teenager were laughing pretty hard. Yes, I did think, ‘Oh, no! What have I done!’. I quickly realized I was in the clear. The needle barely touched my leg. I didn’t get injected with anything. I was safe. But the laughs became more nervous. More giddy. They even belied a fair bit of actual concern.

Why were my cheeks getting so hot? Why the heart racing? Why did I want to crawl into a ball and hide under the table?

Because I’m the knob that just played the cool guy and jabbed himself in the leg with an Epi-Pen. In front of his wife, who could only be half surprised at best at such jack-assery and our new babysitter.

‘We’ll be texting to check in and please please please don’t hesitate to text us. We would love to know how it’s going.’, my wife said as I hustled us out the door awash in shame and certain I was getting pimples, urging Karen to hurry it up in the clenched teeth, hushed tones of teen boys for millennia as I waved Karen to the door.

‘Please text, we’ll definitely be checking in to see how you’re doing.’, I added, trying to regain my composed adulthood.

‘Perhaps I will have to be checking in to see how you are doing after that.’, she added with a smirk.

It was funny. All of it. We were able to have a good laugh about it.

Then, for the first time in maybe 25 years, I dreamed I was walking to school again. I never looked down. Didn’t have to. I knew.

A Moment to Treasure

Some moments are just magical. They arrive unannounced and if you are lucky you recognize what’s happening in time to capture it in some way. This is not one of those moments.

‘Daddy? What’s your favorite butt cheek?’

Hmm. Thinking. Resisting every inappropriate joke running through my head.

‘My left butt cheek, I guess.’

Phew, dodged all bullets.

‘No. I mean between me and Teddy.’

‘I don’t have a favorite. I love all four of your butt cheeks equally.’

…and, scene.

How I Became the Creepy Dude at Walmart

 With great power comes great responsibility, sure. But with middling power and autonomy there comes some amount of privilege. When that power and autonomy is exercised at great distance, and when it is accompanied by insane committment and endless hours, so many that you move to work for a few months to attack the job at hand, well, it comes with the privilege of ocassionally taking liberties. In my case my great liberty was I skipped first breakfast. I brazenly entrusted my senior staff, their staff and the staff they supervised with breakfast for the 6-12 year olds.

It was understandable and in my defense I tried hard to be there by the end of Wawa breakfast to at least check in. My skills were rarely needed here and my support was hopefully felt in other ways. You see, the hours of a summer camp professional, roughly sun up to sundown to curfew to on-call until sun up, are the hours one keeps when they are a mythical creature or a college student. Being neither, being in reality a 33 year old man with a quite specific, though veiled case of Peter Pan syndrome, I felt it was within my capacity to do this job that I’d been doing in some capacity since I was the college kid getting up at the crack and getting my guys ready to be to breakfast on time. I was normally right. I did the job well, really well and by the end I at least maintained ‘well enough.’ This was probably the sunset of my ‘really well’ years and I knew how to operate.

There is a specific thing that goes by the wayside at camp. Vanity. Actually, now that I say that I realize it’s a lie. I was awash in vanity. It just looks different at camp. Vanity is masked in disgusting personal habits, lax hygeine, scattershot bouts of shaving and an overall bedraggled appearance that screams for attention with witty asides and hats that once spoke whimsy that now speak to tradition. I did all the things. I was a fully institutionalized man you could say, a camp guy. Complete with my own unique quirks and a signature style of management. I was a guy that by all accounts was camp basic. Standard issue to all who were more than an arms length away. I was quick with a smile, easy in conflict, ready to stand up to anything and ready to help whenever asked and happy to be invisible when things were good.

My day to day at the camp was as often at a desk as it was out and about. I loved getting out though. I loved stepping always from budgets, off the phone, away from my responsibility to my bosses who were based hundreds of miles away in the city. The camp day was a race to accomplish all the proactive planning one intended to do versus the reactive responding one was compelled to do and often it left you working until all hours. Then it left you waiting until the very end of the talent show to see the routine the cabin of 14 year old guys had been working on all week and responding to the girl who couldn’t understand why the girls she liked didn’t like her, or she didn’t think they did.

Then it was the counselors, the hardest working 17-22 year old kids you’d ever want to see finding you to tell you all that transpired that day and the week leading up to that day (for context) and why it was all so unfair to them. Then walking the smartest, most talented people I’ve ever worked with through the experience they lacked in order to build them up to earn the experience they’d get from facing the challenges that come with being accountable to 30-40 kids with special needs, the parents and caregivers of all those kids, the bosses, like me and others they were working with and all their friends who now needed so much from them now that they were supervised by them. This last part was my favorite.

On the day in question I was asked at breakfast, not the one I skipped, the second one, the older kids breakfast, If I’d be making a run. This was another one of my jobs. Making the hour plus drive to Walmart to get supplies. I wasn’t planning on it, but they were kind of stuck if I didn’t. It was for the girls cabin and I asked Lexi if it was stuff they NEEDED needed or if it was stuff that could wait til next week. I was home on weekends (more of that earned liberty taking) and had a busy day of commitments. She said yeah, it would be good if I could go.  She was uncommonly talented and knew at 20 how to gently tell her boss, ‘Yes, dummy, this is important.’ Being good at being the boss I understood her. I wasn’t going home til the end of the following day, so I was sure I could make it happen, even if it was at the end of the night.

The day proceded however it proceded. As it was getting to the end of second dinner I was telling Lexi I’d be heading out and would drop the stuff off at the girls cabins when I returned, after evening program.

‘Um, can you help me with something first?’ She said.

‘Sure. What’s up. Do we need to step outside?’ I asked.

‘No, but come with me.’ She grabbed her tray and radio and stood up.

‘Go sit with the STEP guys. Hang out for a minute. Tell me if you see anything.’

So I did. STEP was our older guys, 18-24 or so, who were capable of coming back and having a work experience be a part of their time here. It wasn’t for everyone. We had at most room for 10 per session. Kind of a graduate level camper. They had need for support, but they had a great deal of independent skills as well.

‘So, did you notice anything about Taylor?’ She asked.

‘Not particularly. Seemed to be in a good mood.’ I replied.

‘Yeah. I mean, he’s always in a good mood. But it took me a bit too. He shaved his eyebrows off.’

‘WHAT?’

‘Yeah. I asked him why and he said, my mom told me to shave my whole face while I was at camp.’ She said.

‘Oh my GOD!’ I said and started cracking up.

‘I know. I asked him how he liked his new look and he said he thought it looked cool.’ She said.

Now, I can’t tell you how much this is no big deal for someone like Lexi. She was poised beyond her years, emotionally and in all other ways intelligent and intuitive. But when you are 20 and you take your job of taking care of others kids seriously, and you are a tad shellshocked from being the point of contact for parents of kids with special needs, day and night for weeks on end, who are on ocassion quite nervous to be alone without them for what is often the very first time, well the potential for disaster in calling a parent to tell them their kids will be coming home with at best a five o’clock shadow where their should be eyebrows, well, it can call for some support from your boss.

We talked and laughed and talked and laughed and finally arrived where we needed to be.

‘How’s your relationship with his mom?’ I asked.

‘Great. I mean, until now.’ She said.

‘How about we just laugh. Life is short and she seems like someone who gets it. I mean, I’d be happy to make the call if you like, but I think we should just treat it with her like we’re treating it now. No one got hurt, it’s super funny. We could present it that way. I’ve always known her to get it. What do you think?’

She was down, and she would make the call. But this was a risky approach. We had faith that she would have a good perspective, but I was going to be there. So, once whatever the activity was that was going on that night was off and running we stepped out to the office to make our call. Being a pro I took the pro’s approach…

‘Oh no, I’ve done a ton of these kind of calls, you get used to it. You want me to do it?’

‘No, I think I got it.’

Phew. She bought it. Now, lets see how this goes.

Ding ding ding… We were right! His mom coulndn’t even stay on the line long enough to say goodbye in real words. She was in stitches. Crying, laughing. It was a highlight of my life hearing the volume of that laughter that came from that phone as Lexi joined her cracking up at something that was genuinely funny.

So, dusk upon us I told her I’d be heading out.

‘What do the older girls cabin need? In the hubbub of dinner I didn’t get a list.’

‘It’s not a list. They need a few cans of FDS.’

‘What’s FDS?’

Sometimes when you are young you forget that people who are right next to you don’t posess all your knowledge. She was dumbstruck.

‘um, really?’

‘Really.’

She hemmed. She hawed. I waited, unaware why she was so uncomfortable.

‘Our girls are a little older. You know, we go up to 18?’

Nope. I’m still staring at her blank faced and innocent.

How about this…

‘What does it stand for?’

‘Feminine Deoderant Spray.’

I was inclined to say something like, Oh, like ‘Secret’, but the implication was that it was not ‘secret’, and  it was.  Nuff said.

‘Where do I find that?’ Okay, one more question.

So there I was, a list from the younger girls cabin in my cargos, unshaven and unkempt in clothes that were wearing me headed off into the late night to do my little part that took a long time. An hour plus each way to the Walmart in Kingston where I would ocassionally see several people I just knew were there doing the same thing. Making time where there was none to do things important but not important enough to be done earlier than the middle of the night.

Now, all of this is context. I was away in the woods in a committed lifelong pursuit to make the world a better place. I was a man who cared about how he spent his time, but not so much how I appeared outside of this little world where all of us, dirty, tired and worn, understood who we were and why we were there. We were the good people, dammit. Breaking down barriers in the real world and in the minds of children who would go on to build on our small but hard earned successes. We were planting seeds and tending gardens that would bare fruit for our children. But to the other people in Walmart, I was just a clearly unwell man, one who could use some help taking care of himself. Someone to be cautious of, someone to perhaps be careful with. Who smelled funky.

But there is no one who was more concerned for who I was or what I was up to then the woman at the cash register as I lay my admittedly very small pile of items onto the belt for her to ring up. If there were a silent alarm system under the till I am both thankful and concerned that she didn’t activate it. You see my list consisted of three items and three items only. The aforementioned Feminine Deoderant Spray. A few packs of multicolored underwear for little girls. Candy.

I saw the look in her eye and rushed my way through all my explainations. I’m engaged to be married, I run a camp for kids, sleepaway. I was sent with this list. I didn’t even know what this stuff was a couple hours ago. Ugh. It was only making it worse. We both survived our one and only interaction, but we were both scarred, far as I could tell.

As I dug into the candy for the ride home I did something I never did on any of the other nights I was out and about running errands throughout the Catskills. I set the cruise control. For the exact speed limit. If ever there was a night when the cops might be looking for me it was this one.

Sometimes trying to make the world a better placed can be severely misunderstood.

On Magic and Memories

‘No’ is My Love Language

andrew-seaman-645932-unsplashI am spending the summer home with my sons. They are 5 and 7. I fully appreciate the unencumbered, freewheeling imagination of these bright young boys. I do. I say this as a disclaimer to be applied to what might be considered a hurtful thing to say did you not know how truly enamored and impressed I am with these children. They are the apple of my eye and the light of my life.

They are also the progenitors of the largest private collection of horribly conceived ideas I’ve ever come across. The tonnage alone makes their collection impressive. I am the sole arbiter of these ideas. I am the judge and jury and I can tell you, I could shout ‘NO!’ at the outset of any question beginning, ‘Daddy can I…’ and I’d feel justified and correct in my response 99 times out of 100.

Being a good person and modeling the patience I wish them to possess I listen fully to most of these proposals. Here’s a small sample of things I’ve said no to this summer.

‘Daddy, can we bring the hose into the trampoline?’

‘Daddy, can I walk to the store alone?’

‘Daddy, can Charlie drive me to Grandma’s house and you and mommy stay here?’

‘Daddy. Can you open my window so we can jump down to the top of the umbrella on the deck?’

‘Daddy, can we go by ourselves out to stop strangers with dogs to pet them, right by the road, around the corner where you can’t see us and ask them if they have candy and if they would take us for a ride in their windowless van?’

Okay, that last one wasn’t asked, the 5 year old just did it. Granted, it was just the petting strangers dogs around the corner part, but any decent parent fills in the rest and doesn’t allow them out to the back porch without supervision once they are reminded of the total lack of common sense possessed by a five year old.

These are the times when they think to ask. Other times it’s just luck that I caught them in the act.

‘What are you doing?’ I ask incredulous.

‘I’m putting sunscreen on my tongue.’

‘NO!’

Saying no to my kids was once a hobby. After this summer, seeing the decisions they’d make without me, I have come to think of saying no to my kids more as a passion. It is what I need to do, sure, but it is also what I love to do.

Besides, saying no to trying Fortnite is so much easier when it is part of a larger milieu.

 

Bidet to Day Marriage

There is nothing more exposed in me by our marriage than my pridefulness stubbornness vanity  my unending need to be right. This was a surprise to me. Before marriage I could delude myself into thinking myself nearly always validated. If not by actual confirmation of my rightness than by a complete and utter lack of having to own my wrongs. I could always just take my conviction with me, fully intact and unharmed by anything approaching a fair adjudication. This is the great privilege of being single; a deep and unloveable self righteousness that I miss. Sincerely. That’s the good shit right there. But marriage, with all its pleasures, brings with it a heavy dose of reality. Which in my case reveals the aforementioned, strickened attributes. Comeuppance for short.
Still, sometimes, backstage, my old self comes out. Unafraid of conflict and unmoved by evidence and I will stand my ground no matter how wrong I am. I should note that in what is to follow I’m not even certain I was wrong. She very well could have been. Most likely it wasn’t even a disagreement based on disagreement. 

Marriage sometimes requires subtle parries around simply who we are. We were likely just in need of some generalized disagreeableness. It’s okay. It might sound awful to one considering marriage. That’s okay. I’d have spent a good deal of time judging that when I was not married too. For sport I now realize. But at the time it was serious and important. Just know that your feelings are more important and I’m considering your reasoned scorn and doing some good hard thinking about myself, buttercup. And to my married friends, I think you know what I mean. Some good old fashioned, no blood, no foul, standard issue, Sunday morning silent sneering. It passes with some minor pointed statements, some purposeful planned ignoring and a good 15 minutes of alone time, usually under the guise of a trip to the bathroom on one or the others part. In this instance it was me who scrammed.

The last angry thought I had that particular Sunday morning was likely some 10-15 minutes later. I sat there largely cooled off before thinking, ‘Why the hell don’t we always have a spare roll on the back of the GD toilet like every other f****n’ bathroom in all of suburbia!’ Yes. There I sat, praying there was a hidden bidet we’d never noticed at purchase. This would be the PERFECT time to test out a bidet. I mean, I’ve never tried one, but god, it sounds luxurious. Besides, when better to take that private leap than when you are in desperate need of assistance but your personal shortcomings as an actualized person keep you from doing the only logical, only sanitary thing and calling down, in the age old tradition, and asking your spouse to come up and get you some TP. Well, needless to say I wasn’t doing that. I considered calling the kids, but that was too suspicious. Besides, they would sell me out somehow faster than I’d be caught out if I did call her for the help. 

Nope. I ‘prideful manned’ it out of the bathroom, through the bedroom, all the way to the linen closet and duck walked all the way back to my proper perch. It was the act of a desperate man. Immediately upon my return I realized how very, very stupid I am. It made me laugh. Than I meme’d it. Because I’m 44 and desperate for likes and smiley faces. This further de-escalated me and like that the disagreeableness was over. I came down, after washing my hands thoroughly of course, showed my wife and we were once again right back in to the lifelong laugh we are sharing. No worse and probably a little better for having asserted a little thoughtless ego preservation. 

  

The Husky Dads Million Dollar Idea

I’ve never been truly thin. Not even as a kid, when I reasonably could have been considered ‘lanky’. Whatever wireyness I might have possessed was due almost entirely to my reaching my height sooner than most of the kids I grew up around. I’m 6’2″ if you go by the tale of the tape next to my headshot in the program. 6’1″ easily if you go by actual measured height and I got a legit 5’11” of that height by the time I was in 7th grade or so. But even then I knew not to go shirtless too regularly. I was kinda fat-skinny. 

In the years since then I’ve become just plain old husky. I’d be burly if I could pull it off, but doughy tugs pretty firmly at me. I’m 43 now so I’m not sure I’ll ever dip down below 200 lbs ever again. I’m okay with that as long as I’m able to stick around for as long as my kids really need me. But let’s just say the metabolism ain’t where it could be. Or rather, I’m 43, from what I hear it’s exactly where it should be.

This cake was magical. Been chasing that dragon ever since..

If you are not yet of an age, let me tell you this central and universal bit of misfortune that comes with age; You can gain significant weight in one lost weekend and you can’t lose that weight without a month or more of committment, discipline and sorrow. At least I’m told you can. You certainly can’t lose it with a months worth of backsliding committment and little to know will power and endless taking it easy on yourself and having that extra cookie. That much I can say for certain. That path is one I’m testing. Been doing it twenty years now and while I’m not yet fully ready to share my data, I’ll let you know that I’m starting to notice some pretty predictable patterns. I mean, it’s like the least groundbreaking science you’ll ever see. To that end I’m taking it easy on my overstressed joints in hopes of making them last a tad longer. Cross your fingers for me!

So this post weekend was the worst kind I’ve come across over my many era’s. While it was thoroughly enjoyable in all other ways, this weekend was a disaster for my ever diminishing hopes of ever getting back into that suit I wore on the wedding day. A day I should note happened in my mid thirties when I was significantly past my playing weight. And don’t get me started on ever fitting in that speedo I’ve yet to buy that I’ve always imagined I’d use to embarrass my kids at beaches over the summers of their youth. Though that’s perhaps more of a committment issue for me. I mean, I really have to go for that bit for it to work, but I’m just not there yet, guys. Please don’t pressure me.

Cookie. Nap. Cookie. Nap. This is my cycle. Has been since they were little..

This past weekend was a quick trip to the grandparents. Well my kids grandparents. My inlaws. They are the nicest, kindest people on earth. So nice that they, well, she, makes ALL of the things I’ve ever complimented and told her I loved. Have you ever had pumpkin pie ice cream? Not pumpkin pie with ice cream, though I will note this here for future reference, but rather pumpkin pie flavored ice cream. I have. I hadn’t when I woke up last Friday. Now I’ve had an easy half gallon. Super easy. Like so easy. 

I remember hearing for decades now that you can get serious control over your diet by writing down everything your eat. It’s supposed to keep you from overindulging I guess. Maybe spur some healthy, light self loathing. After loosening my fat cargo’s I thought, maybe I have to do it. So I took a sheet of paper and wrote. Chicken salad sandwich, 1 2  3 bowls of pumpkin pie ice cream, chocolate chip coo- and I stopped. Right in the middle. Damn that was one fine homemade chocolate chipper she gave me, I thought. There have to be more. No one bakes one cookie, I thought some more. And like that I was off. Sure enough. Full tin. Right there, out in the open. Where I could grab a half a cookie anytime. There, maybe six halves, whenever I walked by. Damn, damn, damn. Writing didn’t work. Don’t worry, there were rich buttery scones to get me through breakfast. 

Anyway, it occurred to me this past weekend that Perhaps I’m missing a real opportunity here. Maybe there are other men, men like me, men of what we like to call a certain age. Men who pause a beat too long when someone says to us from behind a counter, ‘Sir, I said we have a chip reader’. I love chips. I just learned how to make them from scratch. Well I mean, it’s pretty basic, but I digress. My million dollar idea is simple. It will take some marketing to convince my customers, but I’ll be the first and most enthusiastic of adopters. Without further ado…

It’s well past time that men like myself should have a good, high quality, fashionable, High waisted, control top, boxer briefs to wear in the wake of these lost weekends. This market is real

Who’s with me!