War of the Worlds…in a Minivan

I hadn’t watched Steven Spielberg’s take on H.G. Wells novel The War of the Worlds since it came out in theaters eight years ago. I vaguely remember liking it, but it came on a few nights ago and I was able to enjoy it in an entirely new way.

With the wonder of the special effects gone, and whatever element of fear I may or may not have had on my initial viewing removed, I was able to focus on the story and acting this time around. Not sure why I never noticed it before, seems obvious now, but Tom Cruise does the same thing in every movie. Facial expressions, speech patterns, the obligatory scene where he has to run really fast are stock Cruise. The young Dakota Fanning was really good in her role as Cruise’s high strung daughter; she was incredibly cute, dynamic and great to watch.

But who cares about that? The real star of the movie was the late model Plymouth Voayger minivan with wood siding. The game got real when the cars all stopped and the aliens started vaporizing everyone/thing in sight, but what vehicle stood tall in the alien apocalypse? The minivan. Two bench seats for comfortable seating, dual sliding doors for quick ingress/egress (necessary when escaping alien annihilation), plenty of rear storage space for firearms, ammunition, food and other sundries necessary to survive the end of the world. Peep the clip and watch in awe as Cruise navigates the rough family dynamics of a screaming child, a mouthy teenager and a highway littered with obstacles.

Death of A Minivan

It was doomed as soon as we signed the finance papers; the youngest daughter at the time was able to walk around the back without stooping in order to not bump her head. Over the course of time, I broke one of the sliding doors, the mechanic broke the other sliding door (long story), I busted a mirror, I broke a tail light, and the wife was sideswiped by a van full of unidentified hooligans who obviously lack the courtesy and skill necessary to drive on the road.

The abuse and neglect we’ve heaped on our minivan is shameful; and still we depend on it to shuttle us back and forth to obligations formal and informal. I guess it was giving us signs that it was done fighting the good fight a few years ago when using the left turn signal would make the right turn signal blink and vice versa. Still the minivan showed up and showed out for another year or two. It wasn’t until late last year that more serious signs of wear and tear began to show. All manner of liquid leaks and burns from the engine, and we’ve put several months worth of car notes into repairs that have barely prolonged the inevitable. The end is nigh, and all I can hope for is that the minivan goes peacefully. The scenario I prefer at the moment, is that I walk out Monday morning, turn the key and nothing. I drop my head, shake it just enough to let the disappointment fall from my forehead, and mutter to myself that’ll do pig, that’ll do.

Mutton Chop the Yard Man

The crack of dawn is the jump off point. Somewhere between 6:00am, but closer to 7:00am, they arrive with little fanfare. The leader, and his partner (typically a different guy everytime) prepare to begin their day. The engines couldn’t be more than 5 – 10 horsepower, but what they lack in horsepower they make up for in noise.

My neighbor’s landscapers are a ragtag crew of two. The leader, and when I say leader, I mean the guy who arrives on a ten speed bike and brings the equipment, wears salt and pepper mutton chop sideburns, no hair on his top lip, and a trucker hat. He’s one of those old string bean built cats, arms roped with muscles, waist still thin, and if it weren’t for old age, could probably handle a good percentage of guys who wanted to go a round or two. His partner is rarely the same, he seems to rotate about two or three of the local cats that hang out at the liquor store up the street for the job.

It typically takes them about 90 minutes to get the job done. I assume they get in another yard before 10’o clock before the heat of Houston makes it unbearable to do yard work at an advanced age. If they’re industrious, I assume Mutton Chop man gets one or two more yards in before dusk. If he wanted to, he could clear $100/day easy, but something tells me this nothing more than a beer money gig.

Oak Tree

Hi, i’m having the big live oak at the front right of your house cut down on mon morning starting around 9. Am worried it could hurt the foundation.

That was the text my landlord sent me about the oak tree that stood less than four feet from our front door. The live oak grew up and away from the house and shaded everything from the front step to the street corner. As far as I knew the foundation got destroyed when we had that drought two years ago. Almost every door in house couldn’t close when the ground dried out and hardened that summer. The oak stood strong though, and the front door closed like it always did.

Now, there are no limbs to duck under when you walk down the sidewalk, or any shade to stand in when the sun hangs high in the afternoon. The house stands taller now in the tree’s absence, but it does not carry itself with casual coolness of the live oak that once stood there. The wood shavings and mulch are scattered where the tree was, and the sun comes to my door unobstructed in the morning, like a neighbor bearing gifts for the new arrivals.

On Diet Coke

There was a point in my life when I would have placed people who drank Diet Coke into one of two categories; one would have been incompetent calorie counters and the other would have been old people. It was the concept of Diet Coke that offended me, its selling point was great taste AND fewer calories, and at that point in time the saccharine sweetness was beyond my understanding. As far as the fewer calories were concerned, I didn’t see how that mattered when everyone I knew who drank Diet Coke consumed it in liter quantities daily.

However, I’ve grown to appreciate things I used to ridicule as a child; things like, quiet evenings, jazz music, foreign film, a nice salad, light beer, and Diet Cokes.

Without any pretense, Sold Out flashed when I pushed the button for Coke on the vending machine. The machine belched out my consolation prize, a watered down version of The Real Thing masquerading as something more in a silver can. But the taste didn’t offend me like it used to, something like a fully carbonated flat soda, Diet Coke was speaking a language my more mature, greying palate understood. Not really sure what was being said, but I liked it.

A Dream Deferred

If the day goes as I believe it to be, then it could be one of those long drawn out affairs that saps your energy with each tick of the clock. Sure, I woke up at 4:00 this morning and I may or may not have sleepwalked through the front door of my job, but that’s not really important here.

Sleepwalking might be an exaggeration since I was vaguely aware of my surroundings, able to speak in semi-coherent sentences and still able to walk at an acceptable pace. Nevertheless, my head feels as light and as connected to my shoulders as a helium balloon tethered to a chair by a piece of string. The morning activities have a dull cinematic feel, like watching the landscape streak by while you stare blankly out the window of a train. I am in the world, moving about even, but I am not yet of it.

I do as I do every morning; put my things on my desk, take my wallet and keys out of my pockets, grab my water cup and coffee mug, and head for the break room. I try and refrain from making this walk look as laborious as it feels, but the weight of the sleep interrupted hangs on my feet like ankle weights. I feel like I look like I feel, which today, feels and looks like refried crap.

I fill my cup with ice and water. I fill my mug with the generic brand of coffee they keep stocked here. I’m double fisting coffee and water and hoping something good happens on the way back to my desk.

Then it happens, my feet start to feel like I’m pulling them through several feet of snow, and my legs are no longer able to move. I had a brief, but real vertigo spell a few years ago, and I feel the world spin as I notice the pattern in our office flooring come rushing toward my face. I hear my coffee mug bounce once before my face hits the floor and everything goes dark. It’s hard to say what happens after that for two reasons: 1) I never passed out and did a faceplant at work. 2) I haven’t worked out that part of the fantasy.

What I have worked out, is that when my face hits the floor, I fall into some deep Van Winklian kind of sleep. The kind of deep sleep that surpasses the standard eight hour requirement and moves into a mild bear-like hibernation. Nevermind the passing out at work and the (or quite possibly the lack of) confusion that follows; the purpose of that sequence of events is simply a path to the sleep. The sleep I supposedly don’t want, the sleep I definitely don’t get, but the sleep I so desperately need.

My wife was telling me something about something Joel Olsteen said about speaking good things into existence, and I wondered whether or not speaking on (or in this case daydreaming about) sleeping fell into that bucket of speaking good things into existence. A recurring dream about literally falling asleep has to mean something more than being tired right?


Catch My Wave

When I was younger, my father used to take us to Natchitoches, Louisiana on a regular basis. On a plot of land next to a cotton field, my uncle built a modest country styled home complete with a porch and a bench swing out back right on Cane River. My uncle and his family eventually moved to New Orleans a few years before Katrina hit, and it was a few years before that since I last visited them in Natchitoches. What I remember about my last visit was driving along the two lane roads, that cut through the pecan trees and crossed the occasional house where people would be out front and just wave to you as you passed by.

I liked that, being waved to. A total stranger seeing a strange car winding down the road and hitting them a spontaneous salutation. I used to do it myself when I first got my driver’s license. For whatever reason, when I drove through my neighborhood, I would honk and then wave at people who happened to be in their front yards. Houston isn’t exactly a country, so while most people waved back, others just looked confused.

The habit that kind of stuck, the waving I mean. I use it more times than not:

– Driver sees my signal to get over and slows down and lets me in the lane, I respond with the appreciative courtesy wave

– I accidentally cut off another driver due to negligence, absent mindedness, or looking at twitter, I hit them with a mimicked duck and the oops I’m sorry apologetic courtesy wave.

– I purposely cut off some fool off for speeding up when I’m signalling to get over, I hit them with the substitute middle finger courtesy wave.

– I see someone peddling melted chocolates or hot ass water from sitting in the sun all day at a stop light, I hit ’em with the pursed lipped slash nah b courtesy wave.

– I see an attractive woman standing at a bus stop, minding her own business, I pull over, let down the window, toot the horn, offer her a ride which is quickly rejected and then I hit her with the creepy guy courtesy wave. *actually, I don’t do this one at all ladies, unlike LL Cool J, I’m not that kind of guy

I can tell you this as well, it feels good to be on the recieving end of a courtesy wave. When another driver eases into that big fat space you just opened up by tapping the brakes a bit to let them in, who then hits you with a wave of the hand? Priceless. Nevermind the thought “Better had waved” being uttered as you acknowledge their acknowledgment of your kindness. That untold connection between the driver in front of you and yourself lasts long enough to think: maybe we could hit the happy hour later on and talk about how the world would be a better place if more people drove minivans and allowed others to merge into lanes with peace and patience over a potent pitcher of well made margaritas? So do yourself a favor, and give that rare individual who allowed you to pull in front of them that wave of appreciation they deserve.

Radio Raheem’s Revenge

Ask anyone of a certain age, and they will tell you the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Nothing illustrates this point more than the mass infiltration of cell phones into our daily lives. Considering how connected we are to this piece of technology, one would think that a set of ground rules regarding its usage would have taken root in polite society. But alas, the Council on Proper Cell Phone Usage in Public was never formed, and people like you and I are left on our own, hoping to never cross paths with one of the Inconsiderates.

Cut to me, walking around a store (in this case Target) minding my own business, keeping an accurate count of dollars I’m not spending. The Mrs. was with, so any dollars that were being spent were at her discretion. Still, I was enjoying myself in Target, drinking a Cherry Icee and shoveling the heavily buttered popcorn into my mouth while I perused Target’s mildly amusing assortment of graphic tees. While chuckling at a Facebook inspired ‘Like A Boss’ t-shirt, my ears catch the triumphant sounds of horns and accordions coming my way. I figure it’s one of those horrid ringtones, and hope that who ever this person is answers their phone quick.

The music continued, and the gentleman (term used loosely) who was playing this music, was coming my way. He had a basket, and his hair was gelled into one those short semi-styled spikes which indicated a level of care and carelessness that baffled me.

The tinny reproduction of whatever song this was, was offensive on several levels; (we’ll set aside the limitations of cell phone speakers that stop it from reproducing the artists musical vision accurately and therefore should never be used for anything other than equally horribly rendered speakerphone occasions) but the main offense was that this man was playing this song with no regard for his fellow shoppers. Ear buds were invented so that whatever crap you want to listen to, can be pumped directly into your ears with minimal irritation of anyone else.

I went into Radio Raheem mode, and pulled out the iPhone and pressed play on the loudest most obnoxious I had. It was a duel in the new millenium, I was playing Nas “Summer On Smash”, and dude was playing some unknown tejano song. As the profanity began to fly from my phone, I began to question this endeavor and considered conceding. I stood tall though, and played my music as loudly and proudly as a man could while simultaneously embarrassing himself.

The wife rushed over and tried to get me to stop, but I would not be deterred, and neither would my spiky haired nemesis. He continued pushing his basket, looking at t-shirts, and playing his music, unconcerned about my feeble attempts to shame him into turning his music off.

He went away though, with his music and ignorance to the rules of cell phone radio battle still in tact. He learned nothing, and me, in all of my passive-aggressive glory learned the power of clich├ęs, especially this one: Never argue with an idiot. They will bring you down to your level and beat you with experience.

I Heart Haters

His t-shirt was purple and had the phrase ‘I (Heart) Haters’. I watched this slightly pudgy, unstylish oaf lumber towards me with this declarative statement plastered across his undefined chest, and I wondered; what about this person made him think that people would ‘hate’ or be jealous of him?

None of the typical adornments of money, success, or even general self-assuredness decorated his body; no gold watch, no $300 sneakers, no foreign manufactured automobile keys jingling in his hands, no beautiful woman hanging on his arm, no visible swagger in his step, no nothing. He was just some dude, proclaiming to the world his love for haters via his t-shirt.

It bothered me, that this man of no real distinction, had the nerve to think enough of himself that someone else would ‘hate’ him. The level of delusion it took to: 1) look at that t-shirt and think that it was cool 2) look at that t-shirt and think it applied to this person 3) look at that t-shirt and pay money for it 4) look at that t-shirt and wear it in public triggered a dull Pavlovian hate for some implied stupidity. It bothered me even further, that my reaction to this innocuous shirt, was to in fact ‘hate’ him. Furthermore, my hate towards him, made him (if I believed what his t-shirt said) actually love me.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; – Matthew 5:44

Who was this guy in a purple t-shirt spreading love to his enemies (this mysterious group of ‘haters’ that I found myself suddenly aligned with) in this post-millenial WWJD aesthetic? I wasn’t necessarily his enemy, but on the surface of things, literally the surface of his t-shirt, the sight of him in his self-centered delusional shirt, had put him in a place where we were not on the same team. I was indeed a hater, a hater of him, and because I was a hater of him, he loved me.

I felt tricked by this dude and his t-shirt. This dude totally flipped the negative energy I was sending his way, and turned it into a positive. I had been given a sermon on love in reverse, I was getting Diddy mindfucked right there in public and all I could do was take it. And despite whether or not this guy was intentionally or unintentionally teaching me something about judging books by their covers, or sending out negative energy, or that we should love everyone despite how they feel about us, I still hate that guy and his stupid shirt.

Socks + Shoes

“I’m ready, all I have to do is put on my shoes and socks”. It’s a reasonable enough statement for people who already know where their shoes and socks are. For my wife and daughter, it’s more of an estimator of readiness than an actual declaration.

Based on this non-scientific observation, I would have thought that this was something gender specific; but one morning while my daughter and I were ignoring each other, thumbing through our respective Instagram feeds in the car, she noticed a kid get dropped off at the bus stop with a pair of shoes and socks in his hand.

“Is he holding his shoes and socks in his hand?” she says. In my head, I begin to tick off reasons why a goofy high school kid that looked like he slept in his t-shirt and jeans would be carrying a pair of shoes and socks as opposed to wearing them: 1) maybe those are his gym shoes 2) maybe he plays baseball and those are his baseball cleats 3) maybe he’s selling a pair to someone else at school.

Only two of those reasons could make sense, and the third one wouldn’t explain the pair of (hard to tell from our vantage point from across the street but based on the rest of his appearance we’ll go with..) dusty socks he was now snapping straight in order to slip his naked (pure speculation here, but most likely ashy) foot into his sock. The thought came out verbally, “This fool walked out the house with no shoes on.”, I said.

My daughter and I giggled at this kid putting on his shoes and socks while he waited on his school bus. It started to make sense to me, why this kid would get out of his car with no shoes and socks on. Again my mind pieced together a quick scenario of how it all went down.

– Mom yells from upstairs: Son, are you ready? It’s time to go!

– Son, in front of large bowl of half-eaten Frosted Flakes: Yeah Mom. *smack smack* I’m ready.

– Mother comes downstairs, with purse on shoulder, keys in hand and shoes on feet, spots barefooted son in front of a large bowl of half-eaten Frosted Flakes and goes: Let’s go!

– Son makes attempt to explain he needs to put on his shoes.

– Mom: Go get your shoes and socks and lets go!

– Boy runs upstairs and runs back down with his shoes and socks in his hand and then sits down on the bottom step to try and put them on.

– Mom: Boy get yo’ ass up and get in the car! Let’s go!

– Cut to some old dude and his daughter sitting in a beater spying on this kid who just stepped out of car barefoot, with his shoes and sock in his hand. Old dude screws face and thinks aloud, “This fool walked out the house with no shoes on.”