Life Lessons

My father has always been under the impression that everyone else in the world is getting older except him.  That he is invincible and will live forever.  He runs everyday, swims in the summer, drinks like a fish, travels the world and lives life to its fullest.  I want nothing more than to feel the same way throughout my life.  He is approaching his 80th birthday and old age is finally beginning to rear its ugly, age spotted, gray haired bald head.  Nothing really horrible, just forgetfulness from time to time, the occasional unsteadiness on his feet, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, old people smell…you know, old people shit.

He’s had a few health problems as of late and went in for a check up a week or so ago.  The doctor took a blood test and told him to lay off  “the alcohol” for a week until the test came back.  Well, everything is looking hunky dory, and the doctor gave him the go ahead to “go back on the alcohol.”  However, he suggested he cut back his evening drinks from 3 shots of alcohol per drink to 2 shots per drink.  Btw, one drink for my dad is the equivalent of 4 for any normal person- if you’ve read this blog before, you’ll remember- he’s a professional.

So, after he told me the doctor’s “suggestions” regarding his alcohol intake I asked him if he was having a drink.  It was almost 9pm- an absolutely acceptable time.  Remember, he’s a professional, he doesn’t drink during the day- he has rules (alcoholics do not have rules, professionals do), 9pm is the magic hour- and then he only has TWO drinks.  Ahem- like I said two is the equivalent of four.  Anyhoo, when I asked if he was drinking he said, “Well, yeah.” (as if I’m an idiot) “But, its just wine- not whiskey or anything.  Wine is like juice.  It doesn’t do anything.  I’m only having 3 or 4 glasses.”  I love it- “WINE IS LIKE JUICE.”  Technically, he’s right- its grape juice- only fermented.  And isn’t 4 glasses the whole bottle?  But, who am I to tell an 80 year old man to part with his best friend?  Hell hath no fury like an 80 year old (or a toddler) who’s had his JUICE taken away.

This got me thinking of all the wise advice my parents have given me throughout the years.  Drugs are pretty much straight forward, don’t do them.  After all, my mother told me, “Marijuana killed Judy Garland.”  Well, if Mary Jane is what killed Dorothy then I definitely wanted to stay as far from that as possible.  My parents pretty much missed the 60’s entirely, being busy raising little ones of their own at that time.  So I don’t think she ever understood the difference between a joint and, I don’t know, shit like heroine, cocaine, prescription drug abuse…but whatevs.

She would also remind me every time I left the house on a foggy night, “Be careful, remember how Jayne Mansfield died.”  WTF?  First of all, Jayne Mansfield was a star about a million years before I was born and how the hell am I supposed to know how she died???  I’m pretty sure most of you are unaware as well.  So fyi, in case you’re ever on Jeopardy or something, on a foggy night her car went under a truck and she was decapitated.  Got it, Mom.  (Btw, I haven’t fact checked that- I’m just trusting that she knows her shit.)  Now, every time I see fog all I can think of is Jayne Mansfield’s decapitated corpse- yay- happy thoughts!  But, I digress.

Of course, my Dad was the expert on advice for alcohol or more like friendly suggestions.  I remember very vividly when Tylenol began coming in child proof bottles, I was about 8 and his “go to” for opening that shit.  One time in particular, as I popped the bottle for him, he told me (again I’m 8), “if you ever drink too much, just take two Tylenol before you go to bed and you won’t have a hangover.”  Good to know, Dad.  I followed this sage advice all throughout college.  That is until they figured out that- oopsy daisy- you could die of sudden liver damage by combining those two things.  Thanks, Dad!

My other favorite piece of advice from dear old dad is regarding drinking and driving.  Now to his credit, his story has changed as he has aged and he will NEVER drive after even one drink now and will not allow me to either.  But, as a kid, I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t have to kick beer cans out of the way to climb in the back seat of his mid-life crisis sports car. One time we were weaving down the road and were pulled over by our local Barney Fife and he asked him, “Sir, have you been drinking?”  Always the honest man, he said yes.  There my sister and I were, bouncing around the back seat, no seat belts and surrounded by empty beer cans and all the officer said was, “Well, I suggest you be careful and get those girls home right away.”  Thanks, officer!  For you youngins, it was the 70’s and they didn’t really take all that shit seriously.

In high school he told me a full proof way of getting out of a drunken driving arrest.  No matter that the legal drinking age was 21 and I was in high school- he is a realist so I guess he was trying to be helpful.  His advice went something like this, “Act real innocent and just tell the officer, ‘Oh my!  I never drink.  I just left the company party and they must’ve had something in the punch!'”  Yeah, I know you’re shaking your head, so am I.

A really great piece of advice they both gave me, and I mean this in all seriousness, was to major in something I loved in college- because once you get into the real world, unless you’re going to be a doctor or rocket scientist or something- nobody is going to give a shit what you studied or how well you did.  You should study hard but have fun, because the real world is a bitch.  I’ve been quite successful in my career and it wasn’t until just the past couple of years that the folks I work for figured out I majored in Theatre.  See, people don’t even read that little “education” part on your resume- its all the other bullshit you put at the beginning that matters.  Having majored in Theatre and had no jobs related to my field of study, I know, my friends, that this is advice you can take to the bank!

Watching them both, I learned that you have to let shit go, NOT CARE WHAT ANYONE ELSE THINKS, and go for it no matter what.  They didn’t always demonstrate these qualities, sometimes they did- but they showed me in their joy and their sorrows that life is meant to be lived….the best lesson of all.

And fuck, I just read that last paragraph- it sounds like they’re dead.  No…rest assured, they are alive and well and still giving me “awesome” advice all the time.  I’ll be sure to share it with you another time.

We’re Not the Rockefellers

My dad grew up poor, dirt poor, poorer than dirt, maybe middle of the earth molten lava type poor.  He was born during the Great Depression, the son of a plumber and a nurse in Charleston, SC.  The Holy City, as locals call it, had still not recovered from the “Late Unpleasantness.”  For you Yankees or foreigners, that’s Southern speak for the Civil War.  There was little money to be had and even less opportunity for any kind of advancement.

My Papa, (pronounced paa paa- like what a sheep says except with a p; that’s Charlestonese for grandpa), was not a very good plumber.  In fact, I think he hated every minute of it.  My father was his right hand man on most jobs and Papa dubbed him “Colonel Brokem” because apparently all he did was break shit.  They didn’t always have enough to eat and sometimes my dad would sneak over to the Star Gospel Mission (run by those heathen Prodestants) for a free meal.  He was poor, but he wasn’t stupid.  Well, apparently, that never sat well with my Irish Catholic Papa because if he found out, Dad would get an ass whooping like nobody’s business.

My Mama (again pronounced like what a sheep says; Charlestonese for grandma), hated being a nurse.  She graduated first in her class from nursing school, despite the fact that she had smacked the head nun in the face at some point, according to family lore.  I think Mama (not yo’ mama- remember like baa baa) and I must have had a lot in common, because I often find myself wanting to smack people across the face.  To date, I can report I’ve been mostly successful at refraining from doing so, mostly.  Anyway, my Papa used to say that the only part Mama liked about being a nurse was pulling the sheet up over a person’s face.  That means they were dead and she could go home.  I always like getting off work early too.

So like I said, they were poor and like all parents Papa wanted a better life for his children.  He knew the way to a better life for my father was to go to college.  At that time, all you needed to get into the local municipal college was a recommendation from your high school principal.  Being good Catholics, my father had spent his entire educational career in the parochial system;  being beat up by nuns and told how he was going to hell for even thinking about anything at all.

On a side note, he has always insisted that that was the main reason he made sure we did not go to Catholic school.  Although, I’m pretty sure it was more the fact that you actually had to pay for it when we were coming up, and the man was thrifty.  Okay, thrifty is too nice a word, let’s just tell it like it is, he was cheap.

Anyway, as senior year came to a close my Papa marched my father over to Father Manning’s office to request a recommendation for college.  Apparently, not only was my father good at breaking shit at home, but he also had a reputation for being down right stupid at school.  Father Manning told my Papa that he would not write a recommendation for my dear old dad because he was too stupid for college and suggested Papa continue training him in the plumbing trade.  God bless my Papa, because he insisted on the recommendation on the grounds that my father had to go to college because he was too stupid to be a plumber.  Remember this was  the early 1950’s and really nobody gave a shit about your self esteem or crap like that.  Sometimes, I think we all need to be a little more frank about shit like this- honestly, telling people the truth can be all the motivation they need to stop acting like a complete asshole.

In my dad’s defense, he went on to be a commissioned officer in the Navy, a high ranking government official and traveled the world has a high paid bullshit consultant.  So, for being so “stupid”, he did pretty good for himself.

My father made all of us painfully aware of his poor upbringing to make sure that we were thankful for every single cent he ever spent on us.  He never understood the fact that teenage girl’s needed to have the “right clothes” and try to “fit in” for their mental wellbeing.  All he could see were dollar signs.  He constantly behaved as if we were two pennies away from the poor house and as he said about EVERYTHING…”if we buy that we’re going to lose the house!”  Really, we’re going to LOSE THE HOUSE, because you won’t buck up an extra $20??

I remember one time I needed a pair of sneakers, so he decided Sam’s Club would be the perfect place to go buy my new kicks.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been shoe shopping at Sam’s, but shoe selection is not their strong suit.  If you’re in the market for giant industrial tubs of peanut butter or huge bags of rice that could feed all the people in China then they’ve got your back, but shoes, not so much.

I ended up with the dorkiest, ugliest, off brand sneaks you’ve ever laid your eyes on and I cried in the line to pay for them, I cried on the way home and I cried every time I had to wear those stupid sneakers.   And did my father care that I didn’t like these shoes?  Not one iota.

In college, cell phones were in their infancy.  My very best friend and roommate was the daughter of a highly successful urologist.  And therefore in my opinion- RICH!!  She had one of those fancy cell phones.  Now for those of you that are under the age of 30- you may not know this….but cell phones didn’t always fit in your pocket.  No, hers was in a giant leather bag that you had to carry around with you and plug into the car every time you wanted to use.  Have you ever seen those old war movies, where the army guys in the heat of battle would call into their COs on the giant wind up phone?  Yep, it was pretty much like that.  Oh, how I envied that bag phone.  I vowed then and there that I knew I would be successful in life when I was able to buy my very own bag phone!  Even though, I’ve now got my nice little smartphone that lets me do a billion more things than that bag phone, I’m still yearning a bit for the posh notoriety that came with carrying that giant bag.

Anyhoo, I decided I couldn’t wait until I could buy one for myself.  So I put together the pitch to my father on why it was so important for me to have a “car phone”.  Yes, back in the olden days we didn’t even call them “cell phones”, they were “car phones” because of course the only time you’d need to use it was inside your car.

The pitch included all the important talking points: safety, safety and of course safety.  I didn’t dare mention the word “cool” in the pitch at all.  I knew very well that my father did not give a shit whether we were cool or not.  But, as you can guess, the pitch went no where.  It started out, “Dad I’ve been thinking I need to get a car phone…..” end of conversation.  He just completely freaked out and said, his favorite retort for everything I’ve ever asked for, “No! What do you need that for?  We’re not the fucking Rockefellers!”

So, no, I did not get my car phone and am fully aware that I am in no way or will ever be a Rockefeller.