Archive for August, 2011

Striving to be Good

I try to be a peaceful person. I really do. When people cut me off in traffic, I don’t wave my arms around or chase them down and challenge them to do battle – I just mutter under my breath and keep on trucking. When people say things to me that I don’t like, I try to see it from their point of view. Most of all, I strive to keep my temper in an effort to avoid physical confrontations and I always succeed – that is, until an incident the other day.

But, before I tell you about the other day, I feel like I need to explain a bit.

Starting in about the 6th grade, I stopped being a cute little boy and started being a fat kid with braces and an uneven bowl cut. It was not an easy transition. Kids of that age, especially boys, are not yet polite enough to only talk about fat people behind their backs. And, since school boys are overly concerned about dominance and pecking order, I found myself being picked on physically. At first, it was nothing big enough to tell a teacher about – no black eyes, just little threats and intimidations – poking me in the stomach, calling me names, pushing my books onto the floor, that sort of thing. Eventually, when those threats and intimidations went unchecked, they became mixed with some bigger threats and intimidations, and when I didn’t fight back (I’m not proud to admit it, but I was afraid to get beat up) more and more guys found that they could massage their egos by intimidating me.

This continued into the first couple of years of high school. Upper classmen, and even some kids in my own grade, would literally push me around and dare me to fight back, and I didn’t. It is not a part of my life that I look back upon with fondness.

Eventually things got better. For one thing, the upper classmen left (hopefully off to a prison somewhere). I grew up a bit, mentally and physically, lost a good bit of weight, and after graduation joined the Air National Guard. I went to college and experienced all of the social joy that I had missed out on in high school.

Although I think things turned out well for me, I sometimes feel badly that I never just hauled off and popped one of those dirt bags. There’s a chance that it would have only escalated things and made my life worse (weapons in school, anyone?), but I regret not standing up for myself. If I saw one of those guys today, I would have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. But, I like to think that if I were to run into them I would see the bigger picture (my wife, son, and unborn daughter), and just walk away from that part of my past.

Which all brings us to the other day (didn’t think we’d ever get here, did you?). I was playing in charity golf tournament and bumped into an old friend. He’s not a really close friend, but he’s a wise guy (like me) and we’ve always gotten along. The last time I had seen him, however, I was quite a bit thinner than I am now. Unfortunately, since that time I have gone back to my old lifestyle and gained the weight back (I’m not proud of that, but to quote Bill Belichick “it is what it is”).

So, when I saw my friend this year, he was surprised to see that I was heavy again, and he decided to crack a couple of jokes about it. That was fine, really. Friends sometimes give jibes like that as a “funny” non-confrontational way to ask you to change your behavior. I joked right along with him.

But, then he kept going. He began to rub my belly and say condescending things about my weight – probably in an effort to entertain the 5 or 6 other friends we were standing with. I stood quietly for a time, but eventually he began to get on my nerves.

While he continued poking at my belly and talking about how huge it was, I inched closer to him and slid my left foot behind his legs. Then, moving quickly, I pushed him hard in the chest with my right arm. He fell backwards over my legs and onto the ground, and everyone in the group laughed. His eyes flashed with anger, but we helped him up and he said he was fine. The group of people broke up and I didn’t get a chance to talk to him again that day.

At first, I was exultant – it was almost a flashback from my youth. A skinny guy had picked on me – in an eerily similar fashion – and I had taken strong action. Finally!

But then, after the initial euphoria passed, I felt bad. This guy is a friend, not some jerk from my past. I’m old enough (and hopefully mature enough) where I shouldn’t be getting physical with people – especially friends – if I can avoid it. Even though he wasn’t hurt, I didn’t want hard feelings and I didn’t want the guilt to weigh on me (I was raised Catholic, after all). I sent him an email:

“I just want to apologize for pushing you down at the golf tournament. You were annoying me with the fat comments and I should have just told you to stop instead of getting physical. It wasn’t the right thing to do. I’m sorry I did it, and I hope you can forgive me.”

He responded almost immediately (isn’t the digital age great?):

“Bro, I didn’t even think twice about it. I was the jerk, and you called me out. My apologies to you. You have nothing to be sorry about. My fault.”

He’s nice to say that, but he’s wrong – I shouldn’t have pushed him down. The time for that has long passed, and I will just have to strive to do better if the situation presents itself again.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 19 Aug 2011 No Comments

Mr. Fix-It

My wife and I have decided to try to sell our house (Nothing serious, mind you, but we have another little one on the way and just want to have something a bit larger). Part of the selling process is doing all of the little jobs that I’ve been meaning to do, and one of those jobs was patching some concrete on the side of the house. Shouldn’t have been a big deal – buy some cement, mix it up, slap it down – but then, I have a tendency to make small jobs into big, complicated tasks. The jobs get done, but they come in late and over budget and they occasionally involve personal injury.

For example, the first thing I did for this job was to take all of the cement, dump it into the bucket, and mix in the water. I stirred it a few times and then used some of it to begin the patch job. When I reached in for another handful I found, well, a bucket full of hardened concrete.

This was confusing because I had worked with cement before while fixing my front steps, and that cement had remained workable for quite a while as long as it was stirred. Of course, that time I hadn’t purchased “Water Stop” cement. I looked at the directions: “Mix only the amount of cement that can be applied in 2 to 3 minutes.” Oops.

I went back to the local hardware store and bought another bucket of cement. I didn’t have time to continue the job that day, but wanted to have the bucket on hand for when I did have time.

Before I had time, however, trash day came. On trash day I threw out the old bucket of hardened concrete AND the newly purchased, unopened bucket. Why? Because I am an idiot, that’s why – I lost track of which was which and accidentally threw out both. Back to the hardware store. They are always glad to see me at the hardware store.

Bought a new bucket, found some time, and started the job properly. I was cruising along, patching things up, when all of a sudden the fingers on my right hand began to hurt. Throb might be a better term. Ridiculously painful is another term that would fit. But, since the job was almost done, I soldiered on and

Now might be a good time to explain the process I was using: I would grab a few handfuls of cement from the bag, pour in some water, and mix the whole thing up with my bare right hand. No glove. To be fair to the manufacturer, the directions on the cement told me specifically not to do that, but their reasoning was that I might be burned: “This product contains portland cement. Contact with freshly mixed product can cause severe burns. Use gloves. Really.”

But, I knew that the cement didn’t burn me because I had ignored that warning previously and things had been fine. And besides, my hand didn’t burn – it throbbed. Plus, when I used a glove I couldn’t seem to scrape the wet cement up from the bottom of the bucket. Even with bare hands I wasn’t able to get all of it – the cement I didn’t get to formed a thin layer of hardened concrete at the bottom of the bucket.

After I had finished the job and washed off my hands, I saw what had happened. By scraping my fingers against that thin layer of concrete, I had worn the fingernails on my right hand down to the nub. Then, a healthy amount of cement had been forced into the nail bed under what little nail remained. The area was so sore and swollen that I could not pick out the cement.

I have heard that there is a form of torture used in the world where the victim is motivated to speak by having things (in particular, bamboo) shoved under the fingernails. After performing this torture on myself, I spoke in a loud and clear voice (and for the things I said, I would like to apologize to my neighbors), but my fingers did not feel any better.

Luckily for me, nothing got infected; after a few days the nails grew out and my fingers stopped hurting quite so much. In fact, I’m feeling so good that I’m ready to tackle the next project, but my life insurance company called and said that they would prefer it if I didn’t.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 19 Aug 2011 No Comments