What’s in a Year?

I often lament Facebook’s On This Day feature. Future generations will know no such burden, having outlawed Facebook after the torture of gazing upon every unfortunate event and terrible decision they ever made on a daily basis finally overwhelms the entire human race to exhaustion.

There are beautiful things on there too, and here I go again with the lamentations of hiding such things inside a swollen cow’s anus just to be forced to plunge in shoulder deep to retrieve them.

Hopefully I’ve learned something from this, but we all know that hope is a mistake.

Today while I pushed down the malaise of retail life by gazing deeply into my not-yet-exploded Samsung, I was caught off guard by a juxtaposition of two selfies taken on this day, exactly one year apart.

young-bob
Exhibit A, Young Bob, September 19, 2010

There he is, Liz Taylor blurry, looking grizzled and dreamy. There’s a tuft of wispy hair up top, which I carefully managed with precise, nerve-wracking haircuts performed by the fine follicular surgeons at SportClips. These were always accompanied by a massage, which I recommend, and a generous tip, which was to compensate for forcing some poor wage slave to touch my shoulders when they’d probably rather be eating safety glass.

Oh, and the sideburns. Can’t leave that out. I’d been rocking those since high school. They once provoked my district manager at Sam’s Club to ask me, point blank, “What is the deal with those sideburns?” I laughed and told her we weren’t far from Memphis, and Elvis was still King.

I’m always struck by my photographs as the years flip by me daily, back and forth, 2008, 2014, 2011, 2009. Something happened in there, somewhere. There’s a point where I go from looking like balding Bill the Vampire to Old Bob, and I never could quite put my finger on it until today, when this popped up:

oldbob
Exhibit B, Old Bob, September 19, 2011

The first thing I thought was, “Dad died,” and that has plenty to do with it. I’d started shaving my head and quickly got lazy about it. I still sport old man fuzz half the time because the thought of getting all itchy is excuse enough to stay my buzzin’ hand.

Yeah, I can still pull off Young Picard when I take a razor to everything except my eyebrows, but this is when it happened. This is when I went from being a Young Man to being a Man. Don’t get me wrong, I am in my goddamned prime, and this isn’t supposed to be accompanied by sad violin music.

Still, I notice these things, and like those before and after slideshows of Obama or Dubya, something happened in there, whether it was overwhelming stress, Lovecraftian horror, or plain old boring mortality.
Shit has occurred. I got divorced, Dad died, I got married, and yeah, two-thirds of that was my fault, but it doesn’t change the fact that Bob was going to carry that weight a long time.

Red, Gold, and Green

All my kids want to do is watch those terrible Play-Doh videos on YouTube. It’s not just Play-Doh. They unwrap toys. There are people in homemade Olaf costumes who perform inane skits in someone’s backyard. This vexes me. I am vexed.

Late Capitalism shouldn’t surprise me at this point. The commercials become the show. The ad becomes the star. I find myself rooting for Disney’s attorneys at this point. There’s a fucker on here creating a narrative with Elsa from Frozen and some jackasses dressed up like Spider-Man and the Hulk. Cease and Desist. Cease and Desist!

Stop complaining about Millennials, America. There’s a younger generation here right now and I’m not sure how they’re going to machine tools in caves when civilization collapses. Tony Stark may have done it with a box of scraps but I have to hide the Netflix screen or the kids will change their minds about what we’re watching at least 17 times before I’m able to hit Play.

Last night, Gina pointed out that they probably won’t even remember this shit. Sure, it’s constructing the architecture of their brains, but they won’t have autobiographical memories about it, just a general feeling of uneasiness unless small, brightly colored packages are constantly being opened six inches from their eyeballs.

Then again, I remember shitting myself while I watched The Dukes of Hazzard and I couldn’t have been more than 18 months old at the time. It’s the earliest thing I clearly recall. The next thing that immediately comes to mind is when the neighbor kid read one of my animal books out loud and recited the words to “Karma Chameleon” instead of the actual text of the entry on chameleons. The song was better, anyway.

Did these events have lasting effects? I do enjoy sweet jumps and jean shorts (viewing, not wearing). I have a general distaste for the Confederate Flag and the color orange, though, so it didn’t all stick. I am wary of law enforcement but you can also chalk that up to Smokey and the Bandit and every other 1970s or 1980s race, chase, heist, and action film, or, perhaps, the systematic oppression of the poor and people of color in the United States of America since forever and ever, Amen! Maybe it was that.

I do, however, still enjoy the works of George Alan O’Dowd. We are shotgunned with culture. Some of it sticks, and some of it doesn’t. Culture Club almost always does.

When I do the math, though, there must have been years between those two events, so we get a handful of memories before four or five years of age if we’re lucky? The age difference there correlates with the gulf between my children’s development levels. It’s strange to think that Coraline, at just over four, may be able to retrieve these things later, while Beatrix, at just over two, is probably bouncing around like a little automaton.

I have other early memories, but it seems like they all took place when I was four or older, like when we went to the hospital to see Mom when Lauren was born, or when I crawled through the weird double closet in our old house to enter her room and stare at her as she slept in her crib.

One time I knocked a fishing pole off the wall in the garage, which ended up driving a fishhook all the way through one of my fingers. I dragged it, pole and all, up to the front door and yelled for Mom. I also distinctly recall the time I plugged a vacuum cleaner into the outlet on top of one of my tiny fingers and rode the lightning, as they say. Then there was the time Mom actually did ride the lightning when she got struck while talking on the phone during a storm. I was pretty sure she was dead.

The early things that stuck with me, which all occurred after the Hazzard Incident but before Lauren’s birth, seem to have pain or fear in common. The Incident itself is no exception. I’ve run this by Mom before and she thinks this must have been The Crappening after which I potty trained myself. I saw a big fudge wave, a doo doo snake, crawl down my chubby baby leg, and I couldn’t have had the words but I absolutely know the feeling, which was, “What the fuck is that?” At that point, I, still a baby but now an aware baby, decided to stop shitting my pants.

Was this the instant consciousness finally bubbled up through my forming brain? The more I reflect on it, the more I am sure it was the moment I became more than an animal, a mammal, a primate.
It was when I became a small human, a little person who shat himself while he watched The Dukes of Hazzard and resolved to never do so again.

I shit therefore I am.

My fear is that my kids will come into being while we watch some dude peel a Play-Doh Barbie from a giant plastic egg. I guess it isn’t so bad. It probably won’t happen unless they have a “Eureka!” moment while stubby man-fingers carefully remove salty modeling compound from oversized Easter merchandise, but it could.

Maybe this is the recipe for human consciousness. Maybe it’s discomfort, poop, and the developing human brain.

“Oh my God, I am a meat sack.”

Welcome to life, kid. Don’t forget to flush.

Reflections on Robin +2

Robin Williams died two years ago today.

I dug (and I mean dug because Facebook is a shitpile when it comes to locating anything) for the post I wrote that day and re-read it. It was heartfelt, but it was also full of assumptions about him and misconceptions about my life.

We know now that he had been suffering from a terrifying degenerative neurological disorder. He killed himself, was forced to brutally kill himself, because euthanasia isn’t a thing around here. Maybe it should be.

I didn’t know him, and I’m not a doctor, but I assume that he didn’t want to die any more than the people who leaped from the World Trade Center. For him, there was nowhere else to go but out.

David Foster Wallace put it better than I did when he described suicide and the will to live. He reasoned that no one really wants to die, but the encroaching flames seem too much. When it’s the inferno or the window, people often take the window. Rest assured they know they can’t fly.

David couldn’t fly, either.

On that note I want everyone to know that I’m okay. I said some things about myself that day and they weren’t completely accurate. I wasn’t lying, but I was confused and distressed. I did eventually talk to a professional about it, and while it wasn’t under the best of circumstances, we finally realized that most of the bullshit I’ve called dire was a combination of situational depression and poor coping skills. Not all of it, but most.

Welcome to the Land of Consequences, right over the Bridge of Bad Fucking Decisions.

While I’m at it, I need to clear up something else. I was (am, always will be) in mourning for my father and I tried to tie him into all that somehow, as if depression were slaughtering us all. Dad. Robin. Me. How’s that for a narrative?

Thing is, Dad wasn’t a depressed guy. I’m not sure he even understood what that was. He was a functioning alcoholic who had a bad interaction* with prescription medication and it took years for the aftereffects to kill him. That’s it. I don’t get to hammer events into a pretty box so I can make my world seem orderly and tug people’s dopamine strings.

Robin was in a horrifying situation, Dad made a mistake, and I’m “Howlin’Mad” Bob Talbot with clinically diagnosed Assholery (call it dysthymia complicated by being a Massive Jerk if you need something to put on your chart), but I’ll be fine. I love my wife and my family and I’m not going anywhere until I’m dragged kicking and screaming.

Guys, I’m over drawing conclusions, because there aren’t any. You live, you die, and maybe you learn in between. I’m still learning, so bear with me. Today I’ve learned that I can’t make things make sense. It would be quite convenient for something other than Hook to tie us all together.

That’s it, though. The Hook brings us back (I ain’t tellin’ you no lie). Hook, Robin, Dad, a theater, and us. That was enough. I shouldn’t have tried to make it more, but I didn’t know enough then to do it any differently. Now I do.


*Note: I originally wrote accidental overdose here but I’ve changed it after some reflection. It was accidental. Alcohol and high blood pressure/cholesterol medication do not mix, but the word “overdose” implies that he swallowed the wrong dosage. This is not the case. He took the amount he was prescribed and he continued his daily routine of drinking in the evening. This is what ultimately landed him in the hospital. It is also important to note that from that day in late 2008 to his last day, on February 23, 2011, he did not touch a drink. He was serious about living. So am I. 

This is not a post

I’ve tried too hard to do art farts and I’ve censored myself quite a bit as well, which has really cut down what I publish online. Wait, this is misleading. It’s not like I have some grand work waiting in the wings. I’ve been going to the bookstore, exercising, and hanging with the fam’. Noble pursuits, I know, but they do nothing for the ol’ EXISTENTIAL ANGST.

For example, I’ve probably deleted half a dozen shitty poems in the past couple of weeks but the world doesn’t need more shitty poetry. I thought of doing a post in defense of my classification as a young Gen X-er instead of a fucking Millennial. Goddamned Millennials. I considered calling it Gen X Babies and tying it in to Muppet Babies. As in, if you grew up watching Muppet Babies you might be a Gen X Baby. This follows the Foxworthy “You Might be a Redneck” format too much and also who gives a fuck, really?

I just watched Stranger Things with Gina. I thought of doing a post about how the nostalgia affected me but it felt too much like being a shill, which is weird, because I gain nothing material. I don’t work for Netflix or Kellogg’s. I’d also run up against the inevitable, “You were only five years old when that show was set,” argument, which I can’t really rebut. I was fucking alive and aware of my surroundings, but whatever. Also who am I arguing with, myself?

Oh, and I’m not mentioning all the political temptations that I refuse to get into. Fuuuuuuck that shit. I guess I can do metaposts forever about how I can’t write.

I have been reading some philosophy during my breaks at work. I recently finished Winning Arguments, by Stanley Fish. It’s not a how-to guide. He describes what the winning arguments have been, historically, and how they came about. I’ve started on Intuition Pumps by Daniel Dennett. While I’ve gained some insight, I’ve also lost quite a bit of motivation to talk to anyone about anything because it seems even more futile. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t! It’s all about the struggle, really, since that’s all there is, but right now I guess I don’t feel like struggling.

This year is making everyone insane.

I haven’t even attempted to read the new Harry Potter book. I had quite a bit of fun dressing up as old whiny britches himself and running around the store being ridiculous at the midnight release party on 7/30. Gina told me she was proud to be my wife. That was nice and I’ll never forget it. However, there’s a however coming. However, I was pretty down about it in the days following, because it was fun, and I did feel important and liked, and that seems too rare to the sucking black hole self esteem singularity that lives at the center of my soul, which requires, no, DEMANDS rock star level worship at all times.

This is a perfect segue into the other thing I keep not writing about. I keep thinking to myself, “Why aren’t there more books and films about THE SUCKING HOLE OF DOOM,” and then I realize that there are, but they at least try to come at it from an interesting angle. You can’t fill a work full of sad, pathetic shit and expect any large number of people to read it. Well, you can, but it has to be Steel Magnolias or one of those really gut-wrenching Robin Williams movies like What Dreams May Come.

So, I do this. I go through the motions and put it out there, like the days when I don’t feel like working out but I work out because if I don’t I’ll have the regrets. That’s another deleted post, by the way. My Workout Routine, #Slothswole, spiced with hilarious musings from The Bob Talbot. If I actually wrote every idea I had there’d be two posts a day.

The other night at 2 am I almost got out of bed to write a post about how I’d gone to Doctor Who conventions in search of some meaningful interaction with people and, while I had found it, I had also encountered so many cringeworthy moments that made me feel like the most unpopular kid in the schoolyard.

Maybe this is what I need. Maybe I’ll just be silent and let it build again, and then metapost more about the things I didn’t do. I can do that as well. Maybe I’ll proofread this 30 times, more times than there will be readers. Maybe I’ll get down about that act of futility. Well, everything is futile in the long run.

This is the workout I don’t want to do. These are the reps I did when I had influenza. These are the push-ups I did, often do, in an office because it was my only opportunity that day.

It’s not lost on me that I do so much and still find time to do this, but it isn’t enough.

Scream into the hole. Scream into the hole. Shitty indie films have been made about less. Insert pop culture references. Breathe. Fart. Shart.

Look. It’s a post.

1066

After my parents divorced in 1989, my siblings and I were with my father every other weekend. He had to keep us entertained on Friday and Saturday night, and if there was anything good on (and sometimes even if there wasn’t) we’d go to the Malco to catch a flick. Regardless of the movie situation, though, we almost always went to Hastings.

For those of you who don’t know, Hastings Entertainment is (soon to be was) a retail enterprise based out of Texas. Right now they have over 100 stores, all undergoing a liquidation sale. Since the Great Recession (I refuse not to capitalize that) we’ve seen the fall of music stores followed by the fall of bookstores. This has caused me no shortness of trepidation as a bookseller, for all my crying over retail life. Chalk it up to the duality of man, Private Joker.

Hastings was a variety store with a bit of everything, which included all the crap you’d find in a GameStop (previously Babbage’s) or a Spencer’s or a Hot Topic. I’m pretty sure that most of them had a coffee shop eventually, although it wasn’t the case when I was a child. They even did buybacks in their later years, which is a process familiar to customers of GameStop. The local Game X Change might be the only remaining place in town to sell a used DVD. I’m not sure how the employees handled the never-ending pawn shop process of fencing what must have been, at least occasionally, stolen merchandise, but they seemed to weather it well. Hastings was a pretty rad amalgam of things, if you ask me, but apparently it was also a beast too strange to survive in these times.

There was another Hastings, years ago, before it took on the atmosphere of Fred Sandford’s yard. It was like Blockbuster and Borders had a baby, on steroids. They rented computer games, if you can imagine that. The games were mostly CD-ROM, but I’m pretty sure DRM wasn’t even a thing then. Most people probably didn’t have the equipment to copy them. We often shopped the shareware endcap and bought cheap versions of things like Hugo’s House of Horrors or Wolfenstein 3D on floppy disk.

The book department was huge and diverse. I still have a copy of Expedition, by Wayne Douglas Barlowe, which Dad bought for me there. I used to stare at it for hours on end. I still own other books from that era, but most of them were purchased by him or myself at Waldenbooks in the Indian Mall. Oh, the Indian Mall. That’s a story for another day.

The walls at Hastings were stacked high with VHS tapes. The music department was a small square in the center of the store with its own information desk. There was still a fairly large section of cassette tapes, although they were being phased out in favor of CDs. The newsstand was full of newspapers! Those dinosaurs were packed in like a university library. In early days they’d have a recent issue from just about every major city in the United States. Dad loved to flip through those. We’d leave him there and scatter to the winds. Oh, the days when parents just set kids loose in stores. Not that people don’t still do it, but then it wasn’t the exception.

I have Dad and Hastings to thank for my early film education. We spent many nights lounging about in his condominium, and later his house, watching whatever he’d picked out. I don’t recall having much of a choice. One time he forced us to watch Raging Bull and he turned it off halfway through while apologizing. I was actually enjoying it but guilt had taken hold of him for some reason.

There were other times when we soldiered on. He rented Glory one night and, well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but everyone dies. It’s been out for over twenty-five years, okay? Anyway, it might have been the greatest movie I had ever seen at that point in my life, and the 54th had just gotten slaughtered while charging Fort Wagner. I was beside myself with grief. While I sobbed, my old man said, “Don’t you cry for those Yankees.” My father was not a hateful person but he was definitely a product of his upbringing. I do suspect, however, that he was attempting to interject levity into an emotional situation. He was not so comfortable with open displays until his later years, and this was the sort of tension breaker he employed at times.

We always returned our tapes (later, DVDs) in the big green metal return box that still sits outside the store. There used to be one of those swing out mailbox-style handles on the front but it has long since been cut off and replaced with a welded-on chute. Dad used to call it the “idiot test” in reference to the common compulsion to pull the handle again in case the rental hadn’t fallen in properly. I’m not sure, though, if one was an idiot for double checking or for not checking. I have a feeling it was the former. I still do the same thing at the post office. Every single time I smile and think idiot test.

I don’t reckon the metal box will remain, but the building will. Just like the Goodwill, which used to be a Books-A-Million, which used to be a Kroger, right next to the Burlington Coat Factory, which used to be a Kroger, which used to be a Wal-Mart, across from the street from the current Kroger, which sits on the lot of the demolished Indian Mall. My, Jonesboro, how you have changed. I work in a bookstore that sits where cow pasture once was not much over a decade ago. I used to ask Dad when they were going to put something out there. It seemed strange to have such a large empty lot in what was becoming the middle of town. He’d wonder too, at the cost, which he reckoned would be in the millions. As far as I know, it was.

When I was a lad, I always wanted to work at Empire Records. I was a Nineties post-grunge neo-hippie longhair who spent most of my afterschool days hanging out at Spun Doctors. My friends and I were shit silly fuckers, still scared of Marilyn Manson, and we’d stock up on all the psychedelic, hard, and hair rock we’d missed. I guess I couldn’t have known my elementary years spent at the Trumann Public Library, which was not 100 yards out my backdoor from ages five to 18, would have been an experience that would mate and conglomerate with my later interests and give birth to this bald, bespectacled suspender-sporting bookseller. Where I ended up seems obvious in hindsight, but it just as easily could have been Hastings.

We take too many photos now, but I wish we had taken more then. It was cumbersome and expensive, but it is not lost on me that I have 50,000 photos of things I’d rather not remember, and few to none of the things nowhere real, only knocking around dusty and dented in this old brain. Instead I’ll catalogue every place I walked with my father, each blade of grass, each pavement stone. Shitty Internet Sisyphus. This is how I occupy myself until it’s my turn to be remembered.

Hastings, you old heap of knicknacks. Into the great unknown mystery, you go first. Perhaps we’ll meet again, in a parking lot where the pavement doesn’t heat past sweltering, but I do not hold out much hope for that.

There’s Something to Be Said for Escapism

Did you ever go to the movies back before someone invented stadium seating? Sometimes there was even a dip in the middle of the theater and then the row elevation would start going back up again towards the front. Oh, the despair of sitting in the dip, especially as a child. If it wasn’t wintertime and you didn’t have a puffy jacket to sit on, good luck staring at the back of some old dude’s head for an hour and a half.

Did you ever see one with a curtain? A real curtain that drew back before the movie began? When I say “before the movie began” I mean right before, because there were three trailers, max. Back then we called them previews. You might have five minutes to make it if you were running late. These days you have about twenty.

The first film I really remember seeing in a theater was E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. There was a muppet movie in there somewhere too. I know for a fact that I saw The Muppets Take Manhattan, but I’m pretty sure I recall one before that. It had to have been The Great Muppet Caper. I could be wrong.

I used to lie to my friends and say that I saw Return of the Jedi at the movies. That’s bullshit. I’m pretty sure Mom and Dad went, though. It used to be such a badge of honor, before the Internet, before DVDs, during the dawn of VHS and Laserdisc. It was such an accomplishment if you saw it on the big screen. You’d witnessed something historic, right? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, opening night, I was there. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I was there. Ghostbusters 2? Hell yeah.

I lost a baby tooth to a milk dud during The Neverending Story 2, which was the most notable thing that occurred that day. Even as a kid I thought, “Wow, this is a trainwreck.”

Dear Old Dad usually took us on Friday night. It wasn’t always kids’ fare, either. Yeah, we saw Hook but we also saw Terminator 2 and Robocop 2. As long as it was rated R for violence it was fair game. I’m pretty sure the first pair of onscreen titties I saw was when Mom took us to see Under Siege for my 12th birthday. Thanks, Mom.

I remember seeing a lot of weird 1970s movies in the theater but I’m pretty sure that happened when the day care center loaded us up and took us to town for the morning reruns at Malco. During the summer they’d show Benji or some odd thing. I’m pretty sure they still do that over at Hollywood Cinema.

Dude. Santa Claus: The Movie, that big ol’ Coca Cola advertisement. Saw it. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, back before Tim Burton became a caricature of himself. Saw it. Just Google “1985 movies” and you probably need to watch every one of those. Back to the Future and Teen Wolf came out the same damned year. Real Genius? I’ve seen all those films, most of them on HBO the year or so after they came out. HBO, God bless ya’. If we weren’t watching MTV it was HBO, and here I stand, an 1980s kid who has seen Revenge of the Nerds back when you either had to whip out that little paper guide to find it or rewind it when you were done.

Speaking of rewinding, if we weren’t catching it on cable, we had to hoof it on down to Jan’s Video in Trumann, Arkansas, and rent it for a dollar. I’m pretty certain it was fifty cents at one point. We usually rented NES games, or a Turbographix 16 on special occasions, but when we did rent movies it was usually something with Jim Varney in it. My brother, Blake, had a particularly eclectic taste for films. I’m pretty sure he rented Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie at least a dozen times. Unless the rental records of Jan’s Video still exist in some dusty filing cabinet somewhere, I guess I’ll never know the exact number of times I was subjected to that horror.

There’s a point to this.

I haven’t been able to write lately. I’ve been staring at the Internet with my jaw dropped open, stunned into silence. I don’t think I have anything particularly insightful or interesting to add. My personal problems pale in comparison, really, so I can’t talk about those either. Having to deal with the stress of chronic understaffing at my thankless job seems small when people are dying in the streets. Stupid political arguments about this farce of a Presidential race seem insignificant. It’s best to lock my jaw in position, shove these flying fingers into my pockets, and soldier on.

It’s the height of narcissism to think that my rad tweets, dank memeposts, shitty poems, or salty screeds would change anything. I can’t do it anymore. Not today.

If anyone needs me I’ll be at the movies.

Don’t try this at home.

I don’t know what the 4th of July meant to you as a child, but to us it always meant war. It was an arms race of burned fingers and fireworks. The city park was ablaze. Our house was situated on one of the surrounding streets and our backyard bled right into acres of grass, rusty playground equipment, and vandalized pavilions. The park was our backyard on Magnolia street, one we were constantly having to protect from invaders.

It felt like the wild west. The fields were littered with broken glass. Our garden was often robbed of its fruit, or sometimes just ransacked for the hell of it. We did our own damage, of course, beating the bark off trees with sports equipment and lighting grass fires.

Independence Day was no exception. Any time fireworks were being sold, there was violence to be had. There’s nothing like repeatedly flicking a depleted lighter with numb, burned fingers in the frigid black of New Year’s Eve while being charged by someone with a battery of Saturn Missiles. We’d carry lit punks in our teeth like machine gunners chomping a Parliament. Some of the rougher kids probably skipped the metaphor altogether and used a cig.

I do not know how we weren’t permanently maimed. We were burned plenty, first and second degree, and it wasn’t uncommon for a Roman Candle bazooka to backfire and end up cooking someone’s hand.

My aptly named friend, John Adams, had always invented some new contraption for firing bottle rockets without getting sparked. The other neighbor kids did, as well, and our innovation approached Butter Battle Book levels of ridiculousness. By our later teens we made grenades with medicine bottles and gunpowder. This was before, back when you could draw a map of the school on fire and maybe elicit a chuckle from your teacher. We just liked blowing shit up. Who doesn’t?

I salute all you old pyromaniacs, you engineers of grade school combustion. Here’s to unsupervised childhoods survived. Here’s to nitrate nostalgia. Here’s to fingers, intact.

SPORTS

I am not an athlete.

I’ve never been exceptionally fast or strong. I took up running for a bit as an adult. Miles. Rage filled miles. In retrospect, I was coping. I’d do six, seven, nine mile runs, in pain most of the time, talking to my deceased father. Praying to my ancestors. There was no such thing as moderation. I ran, screaming, past the point of all reason. I’ve actually had the fabled runner’s high multiple times. Bursitis of the knee forced my retirement, and I’m somewhat glad. It may be my anxiety talking, but I usually expected myself to drop dead. In reality, it’s much more likely that I would have been creamed by an inattentive driver.

In the fuzziest of memories, I am swimming. I loved the water. There were M&M cookies involved, somehow. Horseflies and wasps abound, alive and dead. Chlorine. Wet Funyuns. Pennies thirteen feet down. Teenagers screaming Revenge of the Nerds references. I was cute and I’d get carried like a baby by wet cheerleaders. People called me Short Round. Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.

After I exited those skinny, brown years of floating around the country club, things weren’t so hot. I was chunky to obese as a child, depending on the time period, and I was always clumsy. I played tee ball and whatever they called the thing before little league but I was afraid of the ball. One time I actually made it to first base and overheard my coach tell my mother I was “grinning like a possum.” I remember very little about my baseball adventures other than the wonders of the concession stand, but this stuck with me.

Mom enrolled Blake and I in Taekwondo classes when we were young. At this point I was so fat I had little boy titties and I would wear a t-shirt under my white uniform. The guys would always say, “Are you a girl? Only girls do that.” I peaked at a yellow belt with a number of green stripes, a number I don’t actually recall because the real number has been erased by all the lies I’ve told about the amount of green stripes I had, as if it mattered. This is similar to the tale (read: terrible lie) I have told about how I got an overall 30 on the ACT. It was a 29, actually, but I had a 32 in Science and Reading. That 26 in Math brought me down. See, I’m still so proud that I have to explain it.

I tried out for the basketball team in ripped sweatpants when I was ten or eleven. This was when I still danced at parties. This is when I was still a funny chunko who didn’t know shame. It embarrasses me even now. What must I have looked like stumbling around and failing at layups with my underwear showing? Not long after this I rocked a mullet and a do-rag. The early 1990s in rural Arkansas were not kind to anyone’s fashion sensibilities.

When the time came, I got this close to signing up for football. A couple of teachers were actually excited because I was so overweight that I would have made a good defensive lineman, in their minds at least. It would have been a fucking disaster. I changed my elective to band at the last minute and I do not regret this decision. I did excel at marching but there’s not going to be an Olympic medal for that any time soon.

I’ve had a personal workout regimen going for well over a decade. It has mostly involved some form of resistance training. I won’t write a book about it because it’s not impressive, but I’m proud of it anyway. I try to think of it as something as routine as taking a shower or a dump. Maybe I’ll live longer for it. Maybe not.

I’ve been shunned in countless conversations because I know jack shit about sports. I can’t make myself care about it most of the time, and if I had to guess I’d say it’s because I’ve always been terrible at everything that involves moving, but that’s a bullshit lie. Once, when I worked at Sam’s Club, I turned a corner running full tilt and met a toddler. I lept and spun, a move worthy of Nancy Kerrigan herself, cleared him completely, and landed it. Then again, one time I ran into a pallet of Gain and broke my ribs.

Let me back up a bit here.

When I started working at Sam’s, I was a big dude. I had just come off the tail end of being a shut-in for a couple of years and I was proud of the gainful employment. When someone asked me to do something, I hustled, and when it was at the back of the store and I was at the front, I ran.

I swear that I remember seeing Sam’s Club employees on roller skates when I was a kid. My brain may have invented this. Either way, I’m shit at skating, roller and ice. Add those to the list.

It might have been inadvisable, especially to their insurance department, but I ran, and ran, and ran. I started wearing a pedometer everywhere. This was before smartphones and Fitbits so it was the only way to keep up with it. On busy days I’d run 12-14 miles. I’d play movie scores in my head. It usually varied, but for a while I was stuck on Rudy.

It helped me to imagine doing something cinematic and important when all I was really doing was fetching a box of Tide or a case of Gatorade. It resonated with me even though I had nothing in common with the guy Sean Astin depicted in the film. Upon further research, Rudy actually didn’t either. It’s all fiction, but the fantasy served me well while I trudged warehouse club concrete for the Waltons.

Still, it’s nostalgic to think about footballs flying through the crisp autumn night and the itch of Bermuda grass. Basketballs beat and sneakers squeak where the pep band once played. I may not have been on the team, but I was there. I can still crank out a Manly Single Tear when I hear the Olympic theme that John Williams composed. That shit just echoes Raiders and Superman and E.T. It’s the eighties. Nerds and Queen. Wheaties and gymnasts and Mr. T. Aren’t we all so enamored with the decade in which we became a little human?

I never thought I’d write an ode to athletics but, you know, there’s something to that. There’s something to those bodies huddled together in celebration. That’s society. That’s the herd. That’s church.

I’m not an athlete, just a standard body maintenance man who played in the band. I’m a retail track star who medaled in the toddler jump. I’m the winner of the Jonesboro Grief ‘n’ Hollering 10k. I’m a Self-flagellation Hall of Fame inductee.

You can take that last one whichever way you like. They’re both accurate.

Happy Birthday

The Internet has informed me of the many birthdays today. Early October must be prime time to get busy. I’d like to wish a happy one to you all, but especially to my big little brother, Blake.

I do not get to see you as much as I would like, Blake, but I must tell you what an influence you’ve been on my life. There were times when it was hard for me to get along with my father, but I saw you doing it, and I realized that it could be done. I built a relationship with him while he was still sitting behind that old desk listening to talk shows on the radio, before the storm. Thank you.

I also remember, vividly, that you were not my “little” brother for long. People confused us for twins, and then you were my big brother. I’ve been told by strangers that I have angry little man syndrome and a Napoleon complex. While I’ve definitely had to work through the negative side of that affair, I’ve come out with a supreme sense of justice and what it means to fight for the little guy. It made me stronger.

Please don’t take this the wrong way. I know I usually started it.

You have become such a patient person. You’re strong, physically and emotionally. I have seen you in situations where you could have gone off like an atomic bomb, laying all to waste, but you didn’t. You are a master negotiator. You are empathetic. You are understanding, and kind. To my friends who do not know you, I compare you to Thor. You are, in a way, my hero.

Our father would be so proud of you. I know this with more certainty than I have ever known anything.

Happy Birthday to you, Blake. You are the Schwarzenegger to my DeVito. I would not have it any other way.

Love,
Bobby

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Sun Day

Gina & Willie are hibernating. Cora is asleep on the couch. Bea is watching the Backyardigans on her tablet. She’s covered in paint and mud, and she’s holding a carpentry level. These things happen.

Tomorrow is Bea’s second birthday. I recall reading the ancient Romans didn’t consider babies people until they reached age two, then they had a huge celebration of their survival. I may have dreamed this. I have no citation but it doesn’t matter. Someone once told me life is too short not to believe in the Loch Ness Monster. I Want to Believe.

Bea has always been a person to me, long before she was born. This is not supposed to be a controversial statement. Willie is real to me as well and he’s still parasitic. Well, more parasitic than most.

I’ve always needed people so I guess I made my own. Isn’t this what we do? Regardless of the best laid plans of everything living, they all had parents. Or a parent. Or ancestors. You know what I mean. You may stop whenever you like but the history of the entire universe resulted in you. My my, butterfly.

And there it is. What better day to celebrate my youngest daughter’s birthday than Father’s Day? Lawnmowers and weed eaters buzz outside. I handed a $25 dollar check to my lawn man an hour ago. As my father once told me, the American Dream of home ownership comes with the burden of lawn maintenance. However, I’d not deprive some budding entrepreneur income when we could both benefit from an arrangement. Sweet symbiosis.

In a few days, we’ll have another cake for Cora’s fourth birthday, after which, she has informed me, she will be sixteen.

It will probably seem that way.

Here in this sweltering swath of America, it seems like peace could be a reality. “Hold me, hold me,” Bea says. I’d better do that, while I can.