A misfit among misfits

The kid looked out of place in the waiting room.

His glasses were smudged and he couldn’t stop fidgeting in his chair. He kept bouncing his feet up and down on the chair and accidentally kicking his mother. She had it with him. She kept telling him to stop and he kept telling her that he was bored.

When I looked at him, I couldn’t help but think of myself at the same age. Like him, I had thick glasses; my hair curled this way and that, never seeming to flow in one direction; my clothes usually were rumpled or grass-stained from playing outside; and, when I moved, I moved in herky jerky, skittish movements, constantly hitting the kid next to me on the bus or one of my brothers at the dinner table.

I liked playing sports — any sport for that matter — but I wasn’t an athlete. I liked to read, but I wasn’t an academic. I liked talking with friends, but was far from being gregarious.

I was a misfit.

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Which pretend superhero are you?

DC Comics supervillain, the Joker, stared back at me across the conference table. His skin bleached white and his hair a ghoulish green, the Joker asked in a high squeal if the paper he held in his hands was my best work.

The Joker is a homicidal maniac, bent on creating havoc, and rarely, if ever, fights fair, relying on acid-spewing flowers and fatal laughing-gas. I knew better than to take his bait.

I simply imagined what would Batman do in this situation. I sat up in my chair in my best Caped Crusader pose, smiled back, looked him straight in the eye and said, “My team and I gave it our best shot. We put in a lot of hard work, sought out feedback of others and polished and polished our proposal until we thought it shined.”

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When is a size 4, a size 12?

I have a bone to pick with clothes retailers.

When my wife and I visited my daughter a few weeks ago in  Washington, D.C. we decided to take her out shopping for a formal dress. She has a formal event this weekend at her college. I’m the last person you want to take shopping, but I knew that she would be hesitant to splurge on herself. I figured it was a great opportunity to reward her for all her hard work.

Now I’ve gone shopping with wife and daughter plenty of times over the years, but each time I go I’m still amazed at the challenge. It’s nothing like shopping for a man.

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One sad look, a friend forever

She looked up at us with the saddest brown puppy dog eyes. She looked so tiny and fragile in the store window. I leaned over to get a closer look and she reached up and pawed the window.

Paw to fist, fist to paw, we were instant friends.

We had to make a quick trip to pick-up something at our local mall. We never go to the mall. We buy most things online now, but coming out of the mall, we stumbled across the little guy.

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A large tag in one corner announced that she was a beagle and her name was Annabelle, a big name for a little puppy. She couldn’t have weighed more than a few pounds. I guessed that a stiff wind might send her tumbling. I whispered through the window, “hang in there big guy.” She didn’t bark, she didn’t whine, she just kept looking up at me.

We have an eight-year old dog that takes much of our time and I have my doubts about the store. I worry about where it gets its animals. I suspect most come from nearby puppy mills, but I still joked with my wife and son that we should take the puppy home.

“What do you think? Can’t you see Annabelle in our home,” I asked.

I could see Annabelle, our other dog, Nittany, and my son playing in the front yard. Annabelle and my wife snuggling on the couch. Annabelle and Nittany lounging throughout the day. (My wife didn’t quite share my dream. She promptly told me that Nittany would have none of the friend stuff. Nittany has been the queen of our family for too long. She wouldn’t react well to an intruder in her home.)

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In the end, we continued on our way and walked out of the mall. We had other errands to run and I still needed to get ready for work the next day. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about Annabelle: Is there anything more adorable then a puppy?

If I had a large farm or even had more time to take care of and train her, Annabelle would have been ours in a heartbeat. In the end, though, she needed another loving family. In the end, Annabelle needed a family and not a spur of the moment purchase.

We made the right choice for Annabelle and us, but it still took everything I had to not drive back to the store. Oh the love of a family pet. Oh the love an instant friend.

 

Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin to the rescue

In a matter of a couple of blocks, we ran into a life-sized Woody and Buzz from “Toy Story,” twin zombies with blood dripping down their clothes, maniacal-looking clowns similar to the one featured in the movie “It,” and a woman straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale, the TV show envisioning a totalitarian future state.

We visited our daughter in Northern Virginia over the weekend and I half worried about what we might find around the next darkened corner. It didn’t help, that the street lights seemed especially dim. When I gripped my wife’s hand especially tight, she reminded me that it was all make-believe.

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Fortunately for us, we saw earlier in the day a little kid dressed up with his dad as the Super Mario brothers, two other kids as Spiderman and Ironman prepared to save the day and, of course, a cuddly little Elmo.

Everywhere I looked this weekend I found kids and adults dressed to the nines for Halloween. My wife and I made most of our kid’s costumes over the years, these looked like they came right off a television or movie set. In a word, they looked “professional,” they were certainly out of the league of any we ever had ourselves or got for our kids.

We also found store after store peddling huge bags of candy, that will be marked down 50% off on November 1, and bars packed to the gills with partiers. I must admit a part of me looked back to a simpler time.

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I drove home Sunday mulling where Halloween had gone over the edge, where the fun had been taken away. Fortunately for me, I stumbled across “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” on television. I was reminded of Linus waiting up all night for the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown trick-or-treating and getting a rock, and Snoopy as the brave World War I flying ace, fighting heroically against the Red Baron.

When I was a kid, my friends and I used to look forward every Fall to the Great Pumpkin coming on TV. I was reminded once again of the joy of dressing up for a few hours to play make believe and the joy of hanging with friends. I was reminded that Halloween is for the kid in us all. Of course, I’m no fool, I’m still running the other way if any zombies come knocking on my door Halloween night.

Lost and confused

I seem to be getting confused lately about the smallest things. Somewhere along the line without me noticing, A turned into B, X turned into Y, and 2 + 2, started equaling 5. I think it could just be me, maybe I haven’t kept up with the times. You tell me.

Here’s what I mean:

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Thou shalt judge

I saw a meme the other day that nailed me to a “t.”

It read:

Things I will not judge you for: Sexuality, religion or race.

The meme then included three things that I will judge you for: Not signaling, while driving; how you treat wait staff; and which way you place the toilet paper.

The first one — judging people who fail to properly signal — sums me up perfectly. If you’re respectful to me, if you’re nice to me, I really could care less about your sex, religion or race. I would probably throw age and politics in there too.

Forget to use your turn signal though and I’ll make broad, sweeping generalizations about you, your family, and your long-forgotten ancestors. The meme got me thinking about other seemingly silly actions that I most certainly judge others:

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Funny, I don’t feel old

A marketing manager told the Wall Street Journal recently for a story the newspaper ran on age that he felt old when a Starbucks barista called him “Sir.” A college professor who studies age still found herself taken aback when she got a mailing saying she was eligible for senior discounts.

Hello AARP.

I’ve written before that I don’t pay much attention to age — it’s a number, you can do a few things to slow it down, but there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it — but there have been a couple of incidents lately where I’ve felt my age. Here’s what I’m talking about:

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—When some of the great athletes that I grew up watching in my youth — Magic Johnson, Dan Marino, Wayne Gretzky, and Cal Ripken Jr. to name a few — are considered not just old, but downright ancient.

—When I realize that if I were to run for President, Senator or even or even Representative, no one would be pointing a finger at me and calling me “that young upstart.”

—When I get together with other coworkers for a project kick-off and realize that I’m one of the older members in the room (and I’m not even that old.)

—When I read my phone and notice that I’m looking over my glasses. My daughter does the same thing, but she does it because she’s picked up a bad habit. I do it because I’m getting older, my eyesight is getting worse, and I need new glasses.

—When my coworkers mention some new, trendy app they’ve downloaded on their smartphone and they ask me what new apps I’ve downloaded. Yea, I don’t think Instagram or Facebook are what they had in mind.

So yes, sometimes I feel old, but then there are times when I still feel young, including:

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—When I stop at the wine and spirits store on my way home from work to surprise my wife with a nice bottle of wine and I see the store owner — out of the corner of my eye — watching me. I’m pretty sure no one would confuse me as underaged and, dressed in a suit jacket, I doubt he considers me a shoplifting threat. No, it’s all in my mind. All these years later, when I enter a bar or liquor store, I still feel like a little kid sheepishly sneaking into a place I don’t necessarily belong.

—When I’m talking with an intern at my company and he or she asks for career advice: how I got to where I’m at today; my educational background; how I overcame specific challenges, etc. When that happens, I always want to stop the interview to tell them that I’m just like them and have no idea what I want to do with my life or what I want to do when I grow-up.

—When our eight-year-old dog Nittany licks my hand when I come home for the evening, excited and happy to see me. It’s hard to feel old when your dog adores you just for being you.

In the end, I come back to my belief that you’re only as old as you think you are.

Making a connection at 65 mph

When my daughter was in high school several years ago, I had the job of driving her to school. I would use the miles to list out in my head all the things that I needed to get done that day. My to-do list always seemed to outnumber the number of hours in the day.

I spent most of my time though shaking my head at the carelessness of the other drivers and worrying about getting into work on time. A fender bender here, a garbage truck there, and I could automatically count on another five to ten minutes tacked onto my commute.

My daughter would sleep or chill for much of the drive, but she’d usually wake up a few minutes before we got to the school and talk about her schedule, what tests she had coming up, how her friends were doing, and her worries and concerns. I have my flaws and can be thick-headed with the best, but I was somehow smart enough to shut up and just listen. I learned a ton by just listening.

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I came to count on the last five minutes of the drive. And in a way, I think she did too. Soon, without any prompting, she was asking for my thoughts on college and her future. She came to trust me so much that she even let me go prom dress shopping with her. We connected in ways that I never would have expected.

Despite the hassle, I came to miss the drive.

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When all else fails, there’s always Netflix

I’ve been swamped lately. During the week, I’ve been running from meeting to meeting for hours on end, and then on the weekend, I’ve been busy with family obligations. Fortunately, my wife and I will be going away for a long weekend in a few weeks.

Besides the weekend away, I scheduled an extra day off for myself. I’ve been thinking about the best way to use the day. Some people like to spend their free time at the movie theater. I have a good friend who likes to go hunting. Others like to go shopping.

The choices are endless, but I’m down to my top ten:

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