Category Archives: Communication

Why My Wife Would Always Be Able to Kill Me in a Knife Fight

Last weekend I yelled at a foreign man for wasting my life. I might have been overreacting, but it didn’t seem that way at the time. Abe Lincoln said that nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. I suspect I didn’t even make it past the adversity test.

My wife bought a new laptop computer on Sunday to replace her seven year-old Dell laptop that weighs 13 pounds and gets as hot as fresh microwave popcorn. She can’t work without her laptop because she’s a court reporter, a job that I couldn’t do if I had a thousand years to prepare. So, she needed a new machine, and I agreed to help.

My sweetie and I are not as different as night and day. We’re as different as night and a total eclipse that can blind you, even if you’re an orphan, because it just doesn’t give a shit. I’m not saying which one of us is which, but she wasn’t the one yelling at the nice foreign man.

In spite of those differences, when hunting for a major purchase we cooperate like lions on the veldt. We made checklists. We researched. We visited electronics stores so she could handle different models while I glanced from the corner of my eye at cameras and giant TVs. We Googled customer reviews for the models she liked, and she selected her target.

Then we didn’t do anything. We waited a week to be sure the smell of blood hadn’t driven us crazy and made us choose the wrong prey. We were both fine with that. That’s how well we work together when on the hunt. It’s what happens after the kill that leads to yelling and snippy comments and walking out of the room with loud steps.

A week later we went to buy her laptop. Once in the store we got distracted. My wife wanted to transfer everything from her old laptop to her new one, including the software, in one simple step. If possible, she wanted to wave her hand like the fairy godmother turning mice into horses, and it would just happen. If it was more complicated and required her to wave both hands, well that would be okay too. We found software that promised amazingly easy transfers, and it had good reviews, so we grabbed it.

When the laptop salesman walked up, my wife pointed at the model she wanted and directed him to bring her one. He had none. He checked with his company’s other stores, and they had none. He could order one, but he had no idea when it would arrive. Apparently the demo model was just there to amuse people, like a little mechanical horse in front of a grocery store.

I didn’t feel too concerned. Other stores might carry it. My wife was nice to the salesman, but as we bought the magic software and walked to the car she muttered and fumed and said some alarming things. This is one of the differences between us.

The next store didn’t have her laptop either, which sucked. But it had the newer model, which also had great reviews, and it cost less. We bought it and carried it home, giggling all the way.

Here’s how the day disintegrated from there.

My wife unpacked her beautiful, lighter, cooler laptop. She read the magic software’s manual, which might have been written by someone who studied English in another country where people who speak English are punished. She called the manual and its writers and their relatives some bad names. Nearby, I assured her that manuals are overrated anyway.

She put the magic software’s disc in her laptop, and it did nothing but make the sound a grasshopper makes when trapped in a cardboard box. But it worked fine with other discs, so maybe the disc was bad. She growled and accused the magic software and her laptop of doing this on purpose. I nodded in sympathy as I got my car keys.

We returned the magic software, but the store refused to take it back because it worked fine in every other computer they tried. The problem must be my wife’s laptop. Both grumbling, we went back to the store where we’d bought the machine. They spent an hour showing us that the laptop played a bunch of other discs just fine. The laptop and the magic software disc were clearly the god damned Romeo and Juliet of information technology, just fated to never be together. The technician suggested we download the magic software from its website and install it that way. My wife nodded and hefted her laptop bag like John Henry hefting his hammer. In the parking lot I spit on the ground and swore never to shop at either store again.

Back home my wife downloaded the magic software, as relentless as if she had twenty acres to plow. I stomped around the room and bitched about having technology more complicated than a sharp stick. At 8:00 p.m. we started the transfer, which would take several hours. My wife sat on the couch to watch True Blood. I sat next to her with my own laptop and ignored True Blood.

An hour later my wife checked her laptop and saw that some transfer catastrophe had occurred. She sighed and examined the manual as if it were a cookbook that might say she’d just forgotten the eggs. I disconnected and reconnected the cable, and each time I jammed a cable back into a port I imagined I was jamming a knife through the lead programmer’s mouse hand.

We kicked off the transfer again, and 40 minutes later it crashed again. My wife set her jaw and narrowed her eyes. She looked like the NASA engineers must have looked when one of the early test rockets had blown up. I thought about having a drink, but instead I ripped out a rope of profanity, cursing Alan Turing and Nikola Tesla, and Bill Gates too while I was at it.

The magic software people offered 24 hour support, so my wife called and put them on speaker. When the rep answered, my wife concisely explained the problem, while I added occasional frustrated and near-hysterical details. It didn’t help that she had to ask him to repeat almost everything he said because he had only slightly better diction than my cat.

The rep was polite, and an hour later he’d accomplished four things: (1) he successfully replicated the scans I’d done before we installed the magic software; (2) he verified all of our power settings; (3) he screwed up our network settings; and (4) he started another transfer. Then he said both the old and the new machines had to be in “perfect condition” for the transfer to work, so that might be our problem. I did not yell at him at that point. My wife rolled her eyes but said nothing.

Then he said that if the problem was too hard for him to solve, we’d need to pay for higher level support. That’s when I yelled at him for wasting my life, or at least the last hour of it. I’m not proud of myself. But at least I didn’t reach 12,000 miles through the phone and tear something off his body that he or his wife might want later. My wife looked at me the way she looks at the cats when they puke on the bed, and then she thanked the nice man before ending the call.

The transfer did not go well, choking after 13 minutes. I almost offered to just load everything myself, but I saw that my wife was determined to make this work. Every other person who had ever touched a computer would have to die before she’d give up. While I sat on the couch watching Duel at Ganryu Island, she tried the transfer twice more, and each failed. At midnight she called a temporary cease fire, since the next morning she had be in court to write everything said by some inept lawyers.

As of this writing the transfer’s still incomplete. My wife is considering whether to pay the magic software people to help us, but I’m arguing it would be faster to hire a chimp to load everything.

When this all started and the problems were small, my wife fretted like a girl with a lost toy. But now, when hope is almost lost, she discusses her next steps like a chess master thinking 20 moves ahead. When this all started I addressed our small problems as calmly as an elephant addressing a ripe watermelon. Now when I think about this mess I behave like a tiger with his nuts caught in a gate. This is one of the ways in which my wife and I are different. It’s not even the most significant. You should see us in the car together.

My sweetie’s new laptop computer, containing nothing but this picture of her that I copied onto it. She looks innocent and harmless holding that cat. Keep telling yourself that.

I’ll Just Be Sitting Over Here Talking to the Blind Dog

I like almost everybody. That’s why I hate to be around people.

I don’t mean that I like everything about everybody. That’s some kind of psychiatric illness, and I’ve already got all of those I need. And there are a few people I’d just like to stab a lot and be done with them. But I can find something to like about almost everyone, even if I just appreciate seeing my own folly in them. For example, at midnight when I’m eating my pancakes at I-HOP, maybe a guy staggers in drunk, knocks over the trash can, screams an apology at the cash register, and passes out in the booth behind me, mumbling in his sleep about some girl named Christie. I think, Yeah, I remember doing that. Hang tough, brother.

So if I like people, why don’t I want to be around them? It’s just exhausting, that’s why. Dinner with a couple of friends is pretty easy, but big herds of people wear me out. First, I’m deaf in my right ear and too vain to get a hearing aid, so I spend a lot of time trying to guess what people are saying. I’m not a good guesser, so my guesses are often a lot more colorful than what was actually said. Someone might say, “Next Saturday is the Jam and Jelly Festival,” and I’d probably guess something like, “Next Saturday is the Fast of Sweaty Genitals.” When I respond to that person, my statement will seem logical to me, but to the 20 people around me at the Chuck E. Cheese birthday party it may seem eccentric.

Second, even when I understand what people say, my immediate response tends disrupt the conversation because I say weird things. I know that will shock my friends. For example, a person may say, “My neighbor’s tree is growing over my backyard. It’s getting to be a problem.”

Then I might say, “You have sort of a Sudetenland problem. You have to hold the line with these guys, or before you know it they’re on your patio, and then they’re dive bombing your garage, and then they’re sitting around the pool with all the cute French girls drinking your wine and invading the shit out of Russia. Then you’ll have to bomb them into rubble, and then you’ll have to rebuild their house and station troops there for 50 years. So just cut the damn thing down in the middle of the night and blame it on raccoons.”

At that point everyone stops and looks at me for five or ten seconds. They’re all really uncomfortable, and then they go back to eating and drinking and talking about assassinating the president of their homeowner’s association as if I’d never spoken. All right, I just made up the assassination part, but that emphasizes the problem.

That sucks. I don’t want all those people to be uncomfortable. After all, I like them. So I try to instead say something like, “Bummer. Have you asked them to trim it? Maybe bring them a pie?” That’s an okay response, but the effort required to not talk about the Sudetenland and to instead talk about pie is fatiguing. When I come home I’m exhausted, and I have to hibernate in my cave for a few hours to recharge.

This causes problems for my wife. She likes people, too. At least she likes me, which proves she’s forgiving enough to like just about anybody. But she loves being around people. It charges her up. I suspect it’s because she’s not expending much energy to stop herself from saying whatever she’s thinking, because she isn’t thinking about the damned Sudetenland. That must be nice. But she wants to go to every let’s-drink-wine party and jam and jelly festival that comes along, and I only want to go to the birthdays of my less popular friends, attended by three guests and a blind dog. After 20 years of this she’s comfortable going to big parties by herself, which I appreciate. But it can still be awkward when she walks out of the house looking like a kid who expected a bicycle and instead got a scratchy wool hat with pom-poms and pink bunnies crucified all over it.

I do better when I have a job. When I can cut slices of cake, or hand out name tags, or calculate way too big a tip, I’m a lot happier. I don’t have to sit there guessing what people are saying. I don’t have to hold back from explaining the parallels between the shell casing ejection mechanism in automatic rifles and my dinner partner’s hemorrhoid problem.

Alas, not many social invitations specify a job. “Please join Sherri and Bob at their Baby Shower to help them celebrate the joyous upcoming birth of their daughter. You’ll be washing the dishes. Bring gloves.” That sort of invitation is sadly uncommon. So, if I don’t show up at your birthday party, please don’t be offended. It’s only because I like you.

What about you? Do you avoid public gatherings like you’d avoid syphilis, or do you hit every party as long as the guests are conscious and there’s at least one dirty glass to drink from?

The last party I went to felt kind of like this.

Photo by Ant Mulligan, from Mala Mala Game Reserve.

 

 

 

The Apricot-Honeysuckle War

My cat dragged my boxer shorts under the bed this morning. I failed to retrieve them because she defended them like a Kodiak bear protecting her cubs, and because my shorts had already been smothered by the herd of dust rhinos that roams under our bed, migrating as the air conditioner blows them around. We graduated from dust bunnies in 2005, and by now we’re unsure what we stored under the bed all those years ago. When we move I expect it will be like a grisly birthday surprise.

My shorts were vulnerable because they fell off the bathroom vanity. Today I leave on a business trip, and I generally pack enough shorts, socks, shirts, and other clothing so that I can wander around Baltimore or wherever in a non-filthy state. I otherwise might find myself unwelcome to return, and I’d never see Baltimore again. Do not laugh. That would be more distressing than it sounds, because there’s a great bar downtown that serves pomegranate martinis and cheese fries. But I require a spot to lay out all these travelling clothes, so I can make sure I haven’t packed too many handkerchiefs and not enough undershorts, which we all agree would be bad.

I lacked the counter space I required. I lost my skull and crossbones boxer shorts, which I wanted to wear on my trip so I could be extra mean to people. I now have to be mean to people while laboring under a handicap. I am vexed. Our bathroom provides two sinks and a sizable vanity, so why is all that space, apart from an area the size of a skillet, occupied? I don’t know, but I suspect that it has something to do with the blinding array of mysterious bottles and tubes my wife has arranged on all of the flat surfaces in the bathroom.

Seriously, on the vanity alone these bottles require a space the size of a Toyota Corolla’s fender. They’ve even crept up the walls. I can’t complain that they’re untidy. She’s arranged them vertically by size and horizontally by alphabet, a feat worthy of any ancient Greek mathematician. I just don’t know what the damn things are and why we have to have them. I asked her once, but she just gave me a Renaissance smile, lifted a red bottle, and rubbed a dab behind her ear. I forgot about the problem for a few hours, but then it returned like a car warranty telemarketer.

I possess half a dozen containers to cover my personal grooming needs: soap, shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, and an unopened bottle of English Leather my mom gave me for Christmas in 1998. Combined they take up an area the size of a softball. Any second grader can understand what those things are. One day when my wife was off having her eyelashes dyed, I poked through her collection of bottles, tubes, and boxes. I tried to understand them, but their labels said things like “Juniper Mango Hydrated Skin Revitalizer and Elemental Body Essence.” It was like deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls. Was this some kind of soap? Shampoo? The name included the word “body,” but that didn’t help—everything is part of your body. Maybe it was a toenail cleaner. It also said “revitalizer” and “essence,” so perhaps the stuff raises people from the dead, in which case I’m happy to devote vanity space to it. I put the bottle down and wandered back to the den, hoping that some Bruce Willis movie was on TV.

I could purge the bathroom of these space-consuming, odd-smelling vessels of mystery while my wife is away, but I fear that might end badly. She’s built this collection from the time we met, and she might feel sad if it just disappeared. Plus, I doubt I could blame the deed on anyone else. Apart from that fact that I lack the ability to fool her about anything, no one else but the cats lives in our house. They can and do knock over bottles, particularly in the early morning when we’re asleep, but she’d never accept the premise that the cats stole her bottles or perhaps ate them.

When I get home I’ve decided to buy some plywood and build my own vanity in my closet. I feel a bit like Neville Chamberlain giving up the Sudetenland by surrendering this way, but my wife has strategically outmaneuvered me, and I might as well admit it. I may choose to move this struggle to another front, just to save my pride. I mean, when did our kitchen cabinets fill up with so many shelves full of fancy mugs and teacups?

My lovely wife retrieved the skull and crossbones boxer shorts and left them for me here on the vanity. How nice. This means war. Again.

 

 

How to Get Stabbed In Your Sleep By a Woman

When something says, “All Guys Need to Read This,” I pay attention. I figure it may be critical information about prostate health, or maybe a TV show where they blow stuff up. So when I read a post titled “All Guys Need to Read This” and found it full of advice on dealing with women, I felt perplexed. I was pretty sure that guys who prefer other guys don’t need to read it. But beyond that, it’s full of lousy advice written by some well meaning fool.

The post laid down 14 points regarding manly devotion to a woman, and I am not making any of them up. I don’t want to dismiss all of them. A few seem solid, whether you’re dealing with a woman or a man. Some even seem solid when you’re dealing with a child, or a cocker spaniel. The solid ones include:

  • “When she says that she loves you she really does mean it”
  • “When she tells you a secret keep it safe and untold”
  • “When you see her start crying just hold her and don’t say a word”
  • “Kiss her in the pouring rain”
  • “When she steals your favorite hoodie let her wear it”

I support every one of these. For example, if she says she loves you, and you think she’s lying about it, why are you even talking to her? Send her to the movies and change the locks while she’s gone. If you intend to share someone else’s secrets, you’re just a jerk. When someone you love starts crying, don’t try talking them out of it. That’s like walking into a fire and tossing around a few nuclear bombs. Kissing in the rain is always good in movies, so we know it has to be good in real life. And if someone you love wants to wear your hoodie, are you going to fight her for it? Hit her in the knee with a golf club?

The problem with all of that wisdom is that the only advice here worth uttering is the warning about shutting up when someone cries. I wasted 15 seconds of my life reading the others, and that’s time I could have used to eat one of those little bags of potato chips.

Let’s look at the rest of this instruction manual for people with penises.

  • “When she pulls away pull her back”

Maybe this guy intends to express his love, but he’s expressing assault in my book. When a woman pulls back, she probably wants to get away from your annoying words, behavior, or smell. Let go already.

  • “When you see her walking sneak up and hug her waist from behind”

This one seems problematic. I can see it being romantic under certain circumstances, like walking around the house with nothing much going on. But if she’s doing something interesting or important to her, snatching her around the waist is kind of like saying that what she’s doing doesn’t mean crap compared to your interest in a quick grope. Use with discretion.

  • “When she’s scared protect her”

What are you protecting her from—a jaguar that jumped through your living room window all of a sudden? You may get disemboweled in a pretty snappy fashion then, but okay. However, fear can be good. It tells us we’d better do something, and that thing is usually good for us. Don’t prevent her from doing that good stuff for herself because you were protecting the hell out of her.

  • “When she grabs at your hands hold hers and play with her fingers”

If that’s what she likes, sure, but as general advice this is just weird.

  • “When she looks at you in your eyes don’t look away until she does”

Maybe this is supposed to be romantic, but it sounds like a prelude to a gunfight to me. So you hung in there and stared her down until she looked away first. Is that a good thing, or is it like trying to establish dominance with a Rottweiler?

  • “When she’s mad hug her tight and don’t let go”

I’m sorry, but this is the stupidest advice ever. When she gets mad, it’s for a reason, and being restrained like that guy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest will solve the problem in only a tiny percentage of the cases. I don’t advocate doing this unless you want to get bitten on the face.

  • “When she says she’s ok don’t believe it”

I was wrong, this is the stupidest advice ever. If you both want to go insane trying to figure who’s sending what secret signals and who’s playing what game today, this is the ideal thing to do. If you’d prefer not to sit in divorce court arguing over who gets the chipped plates from JC Penny, then cut this crap out.

  • “Treat her like she’s all that matters to you”

She’s the only thing that matters to you, huh? I guess that means she’s responsible for your entire happiness then. That’s no pressure on her, though. After a few years she’ll leave you or stab you in your sleep.

  • “When she runs up to you crying, the first thing you say is, ‘Whose butt am I kicking baby?’”

Because when she’s upset the most important thing to do is threaten violence. That will make her feel better right away. Bonus points for using the word “baby” in the context of a felony.

Thanks for hearing me out on this. These are just my opinions, but I think there’s a chance that I’m right, and the possibility of it approaches 100%. Now I’m going to spend the evening with my wife, without assuming that she doesn’t mean what she’s saying, without treating her like a kid I need to take care of, and without the risk of my nose being bitten off.

This young lady is practicing the facial expression that precedes leaving a man forever, or possibly stabbing him in his sleep. You were warned. Photo from photobucket.com.

 

Sorry, My LOL Smashed Your SUV

I have friends who text one another while sitting in the same room. I am not kidding. Now I admit that I text like a maniac. The texting plague infected me pretty early, considering that I’m an old guy. It happened when I figured out if I didn’t start texting I’d become as irrelevant as a traffic light in Juarez. I haven’t reached my friends’ level of text addiction, but without texting I would have missed a lot of critical messages. Here are some of the ones I’ve received in the recent past:

Chillin’

Chk-chk

: – )

Do you need some quick cash for bills and expenses? You can get up to $1500 tomorrow!

That’s awesome!

Just kidding!

Do you feel like you have had a major ass whipping?

We’ll bring pie

Missing any one of those communications might have smashed my life to tragic splinters like a tornado ripping through Santa’s Toyland. Instead, I have been spared idiotic blunders and hollow uncertainty because somebody invented texting and somebody else sold me a phone plan with unlimited texting, because I sure wouldn’t pay a nickel apiece for the damn things.

However, now that we text as habitually as chimps pick lice, the wicked side of texting has manifested. We not only text while cooking, listening to our bosses, and sitting on the toilet, we also text while driving. We look down to be sure our thumbs hit ROTFL instead of EEYOR, and then we’re barreling through the Applebee’s parking lot.

The solution is obvious. No, we should not pass laws banning texting while driving. That would keep us from texting, which is insanity. Instead, I challenge those who invented texting to employ their powerful technical brains and create cell phones that let us just speak into our phones, which would turn the speech into text and then send the text message. That would let us keep one hand on the wheel and one hand on our caramel macchiato. Problem solved.

Or, I guess it’s mostly solved. When we receive a text we have to look at our phone and punch a button or two. That presents a lesser danger, but we still might smack a careless bicyclist or something. We need to apply the same technology in reverse, rendering an incoming text into speech and allowing us to look at the road, the obscene gas prices at 7-11, and the jogger who’s wearing not much more than a string bikini. Problem solved. Again.

But I sense an opportunity here. Since we’ve gone so far as to employ speech on both ends of the message, let’s push it to the logical endpoint. Skip the text altogether and just let us speak at the cell phone, enabling the recipient to hear us as we say the words. We could say, “JSU B4 U CMMT CS,” while dodging SUVs, and our friend could immediately say, “BMOTA U ID10T,” in response. In fact, this could be made to work almost in real time and could approximate live verbal communication. That would of course be the ultimate logical extension of safe texting technology.

Isn’t this a wonderful age in which to be alive?

Too good not to use...

Only the Dead Can’t Text

For two days I have been a ghost. I saw the world through a veil, and the world could not see me at all. I think it was less fun than any essay test or surgical procedure or first date I’ve ever experienced. Don’t let anyone fool you about being a ghost and watching people shower or listening in on private conversations, because it’s not like that at all. It’s like being divorced from the spirit of humanity. It’s like being set on an ice flow by your family to freeze or be eaten by the beasts of the sea. It’s like leaving your laptop, iPhone, and iPad behind in Lubbock because you’re a moron.

I can’t blame anyone but myself. I chose to drive to Lubbock to celebrate my niece, Wendy’s seventeenth birthday. We had fun. We ate fried chicken and birthday cake, and we went out to hear her boyfriend’s band, which I’m told was pretty good although I thought they sounded like gears grinding on a ’76 Chevelle. I gave Wendy an iTunes gift card and some earrings she probably didn’t like, although she said she did. I left on Saturday and didn’t realize until I got home that I left my computer bag leaning against the pot of begonias on the front porch. I said quite a few bad words.

I couldn’t do much right away, since it takes about a week and a half to drive from Lubbock to Dallas. That’s an exaggeration. It takes less than a week and a half, but I can’t say for sure how long it does take since half-way home I always fall into a meditative trance fueled by Cheetos and Diet Coke. But I got home at midnight, which was far too late to call my kinfolk in Lubbock unless someone in the family has died. My wife was in Illinois for a brief family reunion, so I crawled into my empty bed, full of disquieting ignorance about what was happening in the world.

The next morning at 6:01 AM I called Lubbock. I don’t think they understood the razor blade of panic in my voice, but they promised to Fed-Ex my bag right away. I began breathing almost normally. I debated just buying a new iPhone. Since it was Sunday the stores would be open by noon, and I thought I could hold out that long. But my Lubbock trip had cost me as much as an electricity bill and a bag of groceries. My cats were out of food, and when I’d woken up they had all been hovering over me like I was a buffet. I decided that buying cat food and more Cheetos was the wisest course.

I needed to attend a rehearsal Sunday afternoon for a show that might be entertaining if we rehearsed a whole lot more. I walked into the theater, which was cold enough to freeze marshmallows solid. Really, Mr. Wizard could do science experiments in there. I looked at my bundled buddies while goose bumps the size of Chicklets rose on my arms, and one said, “The air conditioner’s stuck. Didn’t you get my text?” I felt myself begin to fade out of the chain of human discourse, which was good because it distracted me from my body’s spastic shaking as it battled hypothermia.

After rehearsal I emerged into the grateful 60 degree sunshine. I looked around for my car, which was gone. Well, it might not have been gone. Gnomes might have shrunk it to the size of a June bug, just for fun. Barring that possibility, it was gone. I looked at my buddies, and one said, “We have to park around back today. I posted it on the e-group. You probably got towed.” I borrowed his phone and called the towing company. They gave me their address and told me I could get my car back for approximately the cost of two iPhones. I asked one of my friends to drive me, and I thanked providence that he had a phone with mapping capabilities. I could see myself walking into a gas station to buy a city map, and the clerk looking at me as if I’d asked for a flint knife.

I rescued my poor Accord and drove home. The phone handset in the kitchen was blinking with fervor, and I checked five messages, one from the drug store and four from my wife wondering what the hell was wrong. I called her, and she explained her concerns. Had I been in an accident? Had I dropped my phone in the toilet? Had the refrigerator fallen on me? She’d left three voice mails and then texted five times. She had checked Facebook and sent me a Google chat. Nothing. What was wrong with me? I felt myself drop further out of existence as I explained abandoning my electronic links to the world in Lubbock, as if they were worn out tires. She said she understood, but I could tell that she’d been shaken.

I stayed home the rest of the evening, tethered to my land line as if it were my only link to reality. That security was of course illusionary. Why would anyone else but telemarketers ever think to call me on my home phone? It would be like looking for me under a stone in Thailand.

This morning I drove to work to find that I’d missed an unscheduled 7:00 AM meeting with a new customer. They wanted to give us $10 million to fix something that they’d paid someone else $20 million to screw up. “I sent you an email last night!” my boss said before turning away to find a responsible person to fix this mess. I felt myself falter and slide into complete insubstantiality. I no longer had any significance in the daily lives of other people. I drifted out of the office, not even making excuses, and I let my car bring me home by vague, meandering paths. I spent the rest of the day resisting full entropy by using my land line to call friends, but none of them recognized my home number so they didn’t pick up.

At twilight, as I sprawled on a chair in the lightless den, someone knocked on my front door. After floating uninterested to entryway, I scanned through the peephole and unsurprisingly found no one there. I opened the door anyway, and a shiny FedEx box squatted on the porch like a toad of mercy. Had I been a South Pacific castaway, I’d have watched that box as if it were a parachute bringing me water, SPAM, and M&Ms.

Two minutes later I held my iPhone in my hand. I was about to reenter the great river that is humanity, and I wanted to make it meaningful. With shaking hands (which is easy, because my hands shake anyway), I sent my wife a message, since she was the most important person to tell about my return. I sent, “I text, therefore I am!”

Forty-five seconds later she replied, “Did you scoop the cat litter?”

I have rejoined the human race.

You should have tweeted more, Casper.

Casper the Friendly Ghost owned by Classic Media (http://www.classicmedia.tv/). It sounds kind of like ghost slavery, but I think it’s a lot nicer than that.

The Rebirth of the Nice Guy

Books have changed my life. “Trout Fishing in America” taught me that there are people weirder than me. “Breakfast of Champions” taught me that if I do something really stupid, nobody will care that I intended to do something really smart. “The Silmarillion” made me so mad that I forced myself to read the son of a bitch three times so I could at least keep all the elves straight in my head. And now I find my life again changed by a book.

Last weekend my wife and I attended a huge street festival. On Saturday, 50,000 people shoved their way through eight square blocks of downtown Galveston, shopping for cheap silver earrings and lining up to buy shrimp on a stick as if they were lining up to be healed by the Shroud of Turin. But on Sunday the winter rain fell. We joined seven other people wandering the streets, watching vendors pack their trailers and go home to their TVs and beer. We didn’t walk those streets because we’re stupid. We did it because we’ve been conditioned to walk around festivals in the rain, as if there were a bell at the end of the street and Pavlov was our master.

At noon we dodged into a restaurant, but it turned out to be a store disguised as a restaurant, trapping unwary, hungry people in aisles of glass beads and cheap purses. We perused. In the back corner, between some tasteful scarves and some cocktail napkins with pithy sayings, sat a book, and the title snatched my attention. It was called “Assholology.” I don’t think anyone could resist picking it up to browse. I wanted to know what the assholes among us look like, how they live, and how to avoid them.

I read a few paragraphs and snickered. I looked at some chapter titles and became thoughtful. I scanned a bunch of pages and swallowed real hard. My wife was poking through some signs with pithy sayings. I said, “Sweetie, I do 75% of the stuff in this book. I must be an asshole!”

She raised an eyebrow at me. It made me feel like I’d just told her I was a vertebrate, something that would be instantly known by anyone who saw me walking around.

I looked at the book again. The authors were Steven B. Green, Dennis LaValle, and Chris Illuminati. I realized that I don’t want to be an asshole. I don’t want everybody to hate me, and I thanked these men for stopping me in time.

I internalized the book’s main premise. Assholes get what they want, and they get away with it. That made sense. Everybody hates someone who gets what he wants and gets away with it. You’re not supposed to get what you want, or else you should get caught and punished. I absorbed the mantra, “Don’t get what you want. Don’t get what you want. Don’t get what you want.” I whispered goodbye to that dream of a flat screen TV. But hell, I’d have to find someplace to hang the thing anyway, and I can spend the money on lottery tickets and caramel frappucinos instead.

I rushed on to specific asshole behaviors like, Always tip and tip well, Become the bartender’s best friend, and Treat your boss like he’s not your boss. Okay, from now on I’ll only tip exactly 15%, and only if I get good service. I’ll help that waitress understand how it feels to not get what you want. If I don’t get good service, that’s okay. At least I’m not being an asshole. And I’ll work to be a non-entity to the bartender so I can wait an extra 10 minutes for my whiskey sour. And I’ve got a lot of work to do in order to begin treating my boss like a divine potentate whose presence I’m not fit to contaminate with my tawdry self. These were going to be tough, but I could do it.

Finally, I faced the three essential qualities of an asshole. These things I must expunge from my being so I won’t be reviled by my fellow man. A thick skin. This makes sense. If I’m not an asshole anymore, no one will have a reason to hate me. I won’t need a thick skin. I can accept being devastated when someone tells me I sing like a mule with strep throat, or that my taste sucks because I like the movie “Frankenhooker.” That one’s easy.

The ability to say no to anyone. Perfect! I hate saying no to people anyway. Now when my co-worker wants me to work Christmas Day for her, or when my visiting niece wants to go to an un-chaperoned party at a lake house next door to a meth lab, I can just say yes. My life is about to get a lot less stressful.

Confidence coming out of, well, your ass. From now on I must endeavor to be too insecure to make a statement like that, even if I were talking about somebody else. I’ll have to rephrase it as: Confidence coming from a place we shouldn’t really be talking about, and you shouldn’t be having so much confidence anyway since it might make you look like a bad person, and people might not like you. If I say that, no one will hate me for being an asshole.

World, I am done with being an asshole. Prepare yourself to like me a whole lot more. I owe a profound debt to the brothers Green, LaValle, and Illuminati. They’re like the Three Wise Men riding Harleys instead of camels, and bringing bribes instead of frankincense. Their book stands as a magnificent signpost telling us how not to live. And it doesn’t have any damned elves.

Written by my new reverse-life coaches - available at Amazon, and at Barnes and Noble

In Which We Make Ignorant Statements About Love

Most of the common wisdom about love is garbage. I know that’s a bold statement, especially since I admit that I don’t really know how love works. Well, I may not know how it works, but I can identify dumb statements about love. That’s just the same as me not knowing how an electron microscope works, but still being able to tell that someone is stupid when they say it’s powered by cotton candy and middle class guilt.

I present a few famous nuggets of “love wisdom.”

Love means never having to say you’re sorry. Unless love turns you into a saint who doesn’t care whether your spouse rolls over onto your hair in bed, this is just flat wrong.

All you need is love. Try getting five gallons of premium out of a gas pump by reading your impassioned love poetry to it.

It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. What if your first love was a strung-out street hustler who burned down your house before smuggling dope in your suitcase, stealing your credit cards, and leaving you stranded in Las Cruces, New Mexico? Wouldn’t it have been better never to have loved that son of a bitch at all?

Love is when you see a person’s flaws as perfection. I don’t care how much you love someone, you will never see toenail-picking and eating the last chocolate chip cookie as anything other than flaws.

If he loved me, he’d know what I want. Stop. Just stop already. Do I even have to explain why this is the stupidest thing anyone in love has ever said?

However, I admit that one piece of love folklore may be true. “Opposites attract” could be a true statement. In fact, if opposites do attract, my wife and I should be fused at the molecular level.

My wife and I aren’t opposite in any important ways, other than the entirety of how we interact with the universe. For example, my wife is more organized than me. I could write that sentence another thousand times and still not adequately emphasize how true it is. She’s the most organized person I know. Actually, she’s the most organized person I’ve ever heard of. She molds her world into an orderly existence. On the other hand, my existence resembles the inside of a clown car.

To illustrate how my wife approaches organization, we know that occasionally flipping a mattress is good for it. I know that. I owned a mattress for years before I met my wife, and I’m pretty certain I flipped it at least once. In my wife’s world, you flip the mattress when you change the sheets. You might skip it once if you have malaria or something, but otherwise it’s non-negotiable. Yet for my lovely wife, flipping a mattress is not enough. It has to be flipped end to end one time and side to side the next. And that’s still not enough. To insure that the mattress is flipped the right way each time, she ties ribbons to the mattress handles upon each flipping as a guide for which way the mattress must be flipped next time. No molecule of my being would have ever conceived that such a system was needful, nor even possible.

I’m not complaining. Our mattress is now ancient, yet it sags just moderately. Were it left to me, sleeping on our mattress would now be like sleeping in two foxholes. My wife has served us magnificently, but it shows how emphatically opposite we are.

In my wife’s world, secrets do not exist unless they are stamped “SECRET” in red block letters, and possibly given a code word like “Flapping Mudslide.” It’s okay if everybody knows everything, and all knowledge is shared indiscriminately. Things are far easier that way. I agree that secrets complicate matters, but sometimes I don’t want every single person we meet to know every fact, opinion, theory, and squiggly little detail about our lives. All right, I admit that I want hardly anyone in the world to know any of that stuff. It’s all right with me if three of our friends and a couple of family members know a few things, but even that makes me light-headed. Again, opposites attract.

Similarly, I tend to consider what I say to people before I say it. I don’t ponder my words, but I do pause to consider whether I’m about to say the most insulting thing ever spoken since Agamemnon called Achilles a “pancreas with pubic hair.” My wife dismisses such ridiculous delays in the flow of ideas, and her statements sometimes come across as blunt, rather like the Matterhorn falling on your foot. While this disconcerts some people, her friends value this quality. They’ve been known to ask each other something like “How do I look in this dress?” then be told, “You look great,” and then ask, “No, what would you say if you were Kathy?” That’s a level of frankness that few can claim. I know I can’t. Once again, opposites.

Over the years we’ve found that our opposite qualities often complement one another and sometimes drive us insane. I think the most fundamental way in which we’re opposite is our general approach to life. My wife strives to live a modest and wise life. She chooses things that will make her happy, and she works towards them by slow and relentless steps. I choose things that I think I’ll want, and that often have nothing to do with making me happy, and then I blast my way towards them. My wife embraces modest ambition and always succeeds. I expect I can accomplish anything. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I crash directly onto my face, leaving a trail of skin and teeth behind me in the gravel. I have never seen my wife fail when she committed herself to achieving something. She is incapable of quitting. I am eminently capable of quitting.

I’m not sure why opposites attract, and I’m not sure why that bit of love lore applies to us. But I’m glad it does. If it didn’t apply to us, then we’d both be developing intricate mattress-flipping schemes, rather than one of us standing by with his mouth open in astounded appreciation.

When Dealing With Stupid People, Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Accessorizing

I think that a Rolex watch is a foolish thing to own, so I guess it says something that I own one. In my defense, I didn’t buy it. Some nice people gave it to me as a gesture of appreciation. But now I own it, and I have to figure out the proper way to use it. I can’t bring myself to slap the thing on every morning and wear it to the gas station and Tom Thumb and the donut shop. That seems massively ostentatious, right? But I don’t want to wait until that date where I try to seduce some exotic, European babe and assume that flashing the Rolex at the critical moment will clinch the deal.

Over time I’ve figured out that the only way I can use my Rolex is to distract people while in the process of intimidating them. I know that sounds stupid as hell. It sounds stupid as hell to me. In fact, I was shocked and a little horrified when I discovered that my Rolex can be used in this manner. But it seems to work.

I have to be wearing my intimidation suit to properly employ the Rolex. If I’m wearing jeans and my Hoops and YoYo t-shirt, intimidation is pretty much out of the question. But I will put the intimidation suit on when I anticipate I’ll need to intimidate someone. It works equally well on surly mechanics and corporate executives. This also sounds stupid, I know. But it works as well as an alligator chained to my wrist. My intimidation suit is a non-flashy gray suit, light gray shirt, and plain tie running from light gray at the top to black at the bottom, plus some expensive Italian shoes. Who the hell knows why this works? I do know that a pop of color, like a Jerry Garcia tie, makes you seem human. And if you wear all black, then people think you’re from a bad gangster TV show and ignore you. Maybe this gray get-up says, “I’m not trying to make an impression on you, so you’d better be impressed by the fact that I’m not fucking around.” I just have no idea.

This morning I put on my intimidation suit and my Rolex. My mom broke her femur a month ago. Her femur, like the rest of her, is 75 years old. It broke kind of like a handful of dry spaghetti. So her past month has been hospital, surgery, hospital, rehabilitation center, nursing facility, home like a god damn moron, same hospital, different nursing facility. The place she’s at now is far nicer than most of the places I’ve lived. It has a phalanx of nurses, hot and cold running physical therapy, breakfast areas, reading nooks, wireless internet, a hair salon, and a damned player piano in the lobby. My mom of course refers to it as a “place of horrors.”

Despite the grandeur of the amenities, I had some insurance questions to ask on my mom’s behalf. I needed the answers pretty quickly. I was there last Thursday, so I went to the receptionist and said, “Hi, who can answer some insurance questions for me?” She said that the Business Director was out, but she’d pass on a message and the Business Director would call me back. No sweat. As the receptionist bent over the message book, revealing her Brown #7 dyed hair pulled into a bun tighter than my rectum, I began spelling out my name for her. She broke in, “There is no need to spell it. I am an excellent speller.”

Well, my name has often been mangled, but what the heck. It looked like she was getting it right, and we were all friendly. Hell, the piano was playing Rachmaninoff in the background, so who could get upset? She proceeded to explain how to properly underline the small “C” in my last name, evidently assuming that I needed help writing my own name. She began to remind me of my worst English teachers crushed together into a size 16 rectangle with arms and a head bolted on. But, I was being nice, so I thanked her and left.

Yes, I received no call that day.

I called back the next day, and I again spoke to Frankenstein’s English Teacher. I asked for the Business Director, and she told me that said person was on vacation that day. This was the second day of my efforts, and I was being nice. I politely asked whether anyone else in the building knew enough about insurance to help me. She told me, in an equally polite tone, that she’d pass the message on to someone else in the office.

You guessed it, no call that day. I called in the afternoon, and Frankenstein’s English Teacher told me that everyone was in the staff meeting, but she’d pass on the message. An hour later I called back, and Frankenstein’s English Teacher told me everyone had gone home, and that no one from the Business Office would be there on the weekend, but they’d be back Monday and she’d pass on the message. I refrained from saying that clearly no one from the Business Office was there on business days either.

Clearly I needed to change tactics. I needed the intimidation suit.

This morning at 9:00 am I was standing at the reception desk, clad in the intimidation suit and sporting my Rolex. In my most business-like, cordial, and “you should in no way consider me your friend” manner, I asked for the Business Director. Frankenstein’s English Teacher looked at me with doubt and asked who I was. This is common when wearing the intimidation suit. People think you’re there to audit them, or sue them, or maybe give them an unpleasant medical examination.  I explained who I was, and she relaxed, telling me that everyone was in the staff meeting. It would end at 9:30 and she’d pass my message on to the Business Director. I said that would be fine, and I thanked her in the tone that a lion would use to thank a wildebeest for wandering around on the veldt.

You may wonder why I wasn’t yet actively intimidating, or maybe screaming and throwing things. That’s a great question. I’ll answer it in a moment.

By 10:00 am I had received no phone call from the Business Director. I asked my mom to excuse me, and I walked to the reception desk. I picked up speed as I got closer, so that by the time I arrived my Italian shoes sounded like Joe Frazier punching the heavy bag. I interrupted Frankenstein’s English Teacher in the middle of whatever bullshit she was doing and said in a crushed gravel voice, “I’d like to speak to the Business Director.”

She said, “Oh, she’s on the phone dealing with a resident issue right now, but I did pass on the message.”

This was the most delicate time in the intimidation process. I had to handle it just right. I had to show that I’d had enough of this shit and wasn’t going to put up with any more. But I also had to show that I was not out of control in any way, so that if I possessed the means to hurt them I would have no problem employing those means with dispassion and efficiency. But most of all, I had to make it evident to them that THEY HAD DONE WRONG.

I leaned on the desk, subtly flashing my Rolex, and raised my voice somewhere between speaking and shouting. I said, “I do not intend to wait for her. I’ve been put off since last Thursday, and I am not happy about it!”

I know that sounds weak. But consider that I was leaning forward and looming above her, I had pulled a moderately furious expression, and my tone of voice sounded the way a shark must sound when its eyes roll back. It was important that I speak no words that were improper in any way, while I put serious threat into my body language and tone.

Frankenstein’s English Teacher’s eyes flicked to my Rolex. I swear they did. She sure as hell didn’t want to look me in the eye, because I was mad and she knew I was mad for a good reason. And if she wasn’t looking at my eyes, she had to look somewhere, and my watch was the sparkliest thing around.

She began explaining and apologizing at the same time. I turned my back to her as she was babbling and stalked away to a chair across the lobby. I sat in the chair, pulled out my phone to check messages, and pretended that she didn’t exist.

Forty-five seconds later she scurried over to me and said the Business Director would be with me in just a minute. Thirty seconds after that she invited me into the back office to meet with the Business Director. As she did so, I smiled at her and thanked her with all the sincerity in my being.

What the fuck? Why did I do that?

I was walking the fine line of intimidation. When people are doing wrong, and they know it, that’s when I have to give them negative feedback. If they don’t know they’re doing wrong, raising my voice and so forth will do no good. But once they start doing what they should do (such as finally letting me speak to the god damn Business Director), that’s when I need to give them positive feedback. Then they’ll want to start doing the things I want them to do.

Is it sneaky? You bet. We’re talking about intimidation here, not the three-legged race with your sweetie on Fourth of July.

The Business Director was a harried young woman sharing a tiny office with two other people. I immediately felt sorry for her. Then I metaphorically slapped myself around and focused on intimidating her. Apparently Frankenstein’s English Teacher had started the job by telling her about me—she looked terrified of me already. So I gave her a business-like smile that promised to smash her into splinters if she disappointed me, and I shook her hand. As we shook, she addressed me by something that was absolutely not my name. This thing and my name didn’t even have any letters in common. I corrected her, and she said that Frankenstein’s English Teacher must have written it down wrong.

“Really? I’m surprised since she’s such an excellent speller,” I said. I couldn’t resist, and the Business Director tried a smile that made her look as if her husband had just bought an emu farm.

Over the next five minutes she answered all my insurance questions. With each answer I became more polite and understanding. By the end of the conversation I had my answers, and we were both smiling and relaxed. I saw her about to stand and get me the hell out of her minuscule space, so I said, “Just a moment. I have a couple of other questions.” I swear to God, she glanced at my watch. Is it an expensive watch? Or is it a cheap knock-off of an expensive watch? As if it matters one damned bit.

I asked her who to talk to about food. I asked who was in charge of medication. I asked about therapy, diet, and transportation. Over the next couple of hours I talked to all of those folks, and I was as nice to them as I could possibly be. They had never done anything wrong by me. They were doing exactly what I wanted—they were talking to me and giving me answers. But I got the sense that they all expected to see me coming. By afternoon, I suspect the people running that facility knew I had been there.

So, this was all great. I got to intimidate, and I got to flash my watch. It was a fantastic distraction from the fact that I didn’t accomplish a fucking thing this morning. My mom’s hardly eaten in a month, she only gets out of bed when threatened, she’s not much stronger now than she was just after her surgery, and the whiny twit doesn’t want to do a damned thing to help herself if it causes her the least discomfort. The doctors and therapists are on the edge of giving up on her. I can intimidate answers out of people all day, and I still won’t have the answer to that problem.

Your Father’s Technology Sucks

I have an addiction, as dirty as they come, and I expect it will destroy me eventually. This addiction writhes at my left hand every day like a surly viper. It lurks behind my desktop computer, to the left of my secondary monitor, in the shadow of my laptop, and beneath my iPad. In that spot I keep a notebook. I mean the kind with dead trees in it. And, God forgive me, a pen. There’s nothing digital about the damn things. They are as analog as a rock.

This wouldn’t be so bad if I just kept them out of some misplaced sentimentality, like my mother keeps her wind-up Victrola phonograph. But I actually take them out and use them where people can see me. When I show up at a meeting, the others sit focused on their laptops, their faces drawing nearer and nearer as if they plan to French kiss the screen. I glance around holding my notebook thinking about all the emails I don’t currently have to answer. When the meeting starts, my buddies attend 10% of it and spend 90% answering emails, checking auctions, and flaming people on Facebook. I attend 50% of the meeting and spend 50% doodling. I’m five times as effective as those guys and a hell of a lot more relaxed. But I know it’s wrong.

Doodling is becoming a lost art, by the way. A person’s doodles reveal a lot about him, and it’s pretty therapeutic. I like cross-hatch doodling myself, but flower doodles, airplane doodles, and penguin doodles each have their charms. If you try to doodle on a laptop though, you just get smudges and odd looks.

I don’t hate technology. I love it. Around my workplace I’m the guy to go to when any of those Microsoft products is kicking your ass. I can make them sing like Beverly Sills. But I can’t get over one thing, despite my shame. Technology is really, really good at doing stuff with ideas once you get them into the document, or spreadsheet, or whatever. But technology sucks at helping you come up with ideas in the first place. I’m a little afraid to say that, in case Microsoft hears me and changes all the keyboard shortcuts just to make me throw myself off a bridge in despair.

I’ll try to explain what I mean. Last week I asked my assistant, Flex, to solve a hard, creative problem for me while I sat around thinking up ways to intimidate people who annoy me. Flex works hard and is a smart young guy, so I felt confident he’d knock this out in an hour or so. I strolled down the hall to see Flex after an hour and said, “Is your solution perfect yet?”

“Almost,” Flex said, although he was thinking so hard his face was wrinkled like a Shar Pei. “I just need to work out a couple of things…”

I leaned over his shoulder and saw a screen full of bullet points so disorganized that each might have come from a different country, or maybe a different reality.

Flex pushed his blond surfer hair out of his eyes and said, “I’m trying to get these dumb boxes to line up and be the same color, and the font looks worse than my prom date.” He squinted and flailed at the mouse like it was a live rodent. “Aw, man! That’s even crappier!”

I sat down beside Flex and leaned over to switch off his monitor’s power. He looked at me as if I’d just given him a lobotomy. I said, “Flex, swear not tell anybody I said this, but the software is in your way. Every time you start thinking about the problem, the software distracts you with details that only it gives a shit about. We don’t care whether the text is red or orange, or whether the font looks like it’s passed through a moose intestine. We just want a good, creative solution. We can address any moose intestine issues later.”

Flex narrowed his eyes and curled his lip at me as much as he could and still seem respectful. I knew what he needed. He needed a hit of the non-digital hard stuff. But I wasn’t sure Flex had ever touched a pen. He might recognize one from an old movie, but then again he might think it was a chopstick.

I stifled a sigh and said, “New assignment, Flex. Tomorrow is my anniversary. Yeah, I’ve been married longer than you’ve been alive, so just shut up. I want you to come up with a love letter for me to give my wife. If you do a good job, you can have the rest of the day off.”

“That’s pretty weird,” Flex said.

“Wait until you’re my age. It’ll seem as tame as ‘See Jane Run.’ Don’t make it sound too romantic. It’s got to sound like an old guy wrote it. You’ve got an hour.” I shoved down the feeling that maybe I’d done something wrong, and I walked back to the Cave of Vengeance and Woe, which is what people call my office.

One hour later Flex poked his head through my office door. He smiled the smile he normally uses when telling me about the latest girl he’d like to sleep with. “Here’s your letter!” he said, and he set his laptop on the corner of my desk. He tossed himself into a chair in that way only fit, young people who’ve never been to the chiropractor can do. The screen read:

  • Significant “I love you” challenge
    –   Previously sounded good
            >   Positive impact on self and others
            >   Extremely high ease of use
            >   Overall satisfaction at highest levels
  • Current “I love you” has diminished in quality
    –   Satisfaction dropping on several dimensions
    –   Root cause of quality problems identified
            >   Partial mitigation achieved, but quality still lacking
    –   “I love you” still operational
            >   Reduced functionality may be acceptable

I leaned back and looked at Flex’s eyes, which were full of mischievous glitter. “You know I like to start with positive feedback,” I said, and Flex nodded. “Well, this is appalling. This is probably the worst love letter in history. I’m sure chimpanzees do better all the time. It’s repugnant to anyone with a brain, and if I were to show it around I think every woman on Earth would want to murder you, and quite rightly so.”

Flex mumbled, “That’s the positive feedback?”

I nodded and said, “Yep. The constructive feedback is that this may be salvageable, and if you want to avoid spending the next three weekends revising labor projections, I’ll give you another chance. I’ll bet you used Powerpoint for this, right?”

Flex nodded.

“I can help you with that,” I said, standing and towering over Flex with the majesty of the Statue of Liberty, if the statue was a little more butch. “Shut off your god damn computer and use this!” I didn’t quite hurl the notebook and pen at Flex, but I think he did get a paper cut on his chin.

He looked like he wanted to question me, or maybe slap me. I stared from my vantage point of confidence and authority that was partly false. I knew I was right, but to the rest of the world I was just a near-extinct organism scratching on stone tablets in the primordial ooze. Then Flex’s shoulders dropped and he stood to drag himself back down the hall. “You have two hours!” I called after him.

Later that day Flex shuffled into my office, and he held out the notebook. He showed all the confidence of a schoolboy handing in a three-page assignment with big letters, lots of spaces, and liberal use of the phrase, “And then the next thing that happened was…” I accepted the notebook and read the page:

My “I love you” is not what it was. It once rang like a polished chime, and yours made a harmony. We split the air, and we laughed at how we sounded, and people smiled when they heard us. I poured myself into the way we sounded, and you held all that music with no strain. No one could convince me that we weren’t the biggest celebration, that I wasn’t the luckiest, that no sound could touch us.

Not what it was. I clash sometimes, and you make sour notes, on occasion. Where is that harmony that felt like the best holiday, that was the most fun, and the one that would last forever? We’ve made music that no one ever makes if they can avoid it, although everyone plays it before the end. It was hard, but at least it wasn’t silence. We held hands and said no to silence. My “I love you” is not what it was, but it’s my chime against the stillness. It rings if you listen hard, and you make a harmony sometimes. We laugh at how we sound, and once in a great while people smile when they hear us.

I looked hard at Flex and said, “Holy shit! This is just what I need. Good job, man!” Flex offered a crust of a smile. “Do you see what you can do when you think about the ideas instead of the software and all its formatting and bullet points and crap?”

He breathed, probably for the first time in two hours, and he gave me a bigger smile. “Yeah, that helped,” he said.

“This will work great,” I said. “Take Friday afternoon off, son. And by the way, where’d you find this? Some romance site? Google+? What? I want to tell my wife where it came from.”

Flex looked surprised and said, “You said write you a letter. Do you mean I could have just copied something off the internet?” Flex turned a little red under his tan. “Well, at least if you do this kind of junk at Christmas I know I can just rip off a song or the Bible or something.”

“You wrote this, Flex? Damn, you’re like the Muhammad Ali of romance.” He stared at me, and I realized he had no idea who Muhammad Ali is. “Take all day Friday off. Back to work for now though.”

Flex grinned at that, and he bounced out of his chair. That’s when I did it. I know it was wrong, but I did it anyway. I said, “Hey, keep writing love letters, and I bet every girl in town will want to sleep with you.”

Flex paused, and then he smiled as if I’d given him a chocolate Corvette full of bourbon and Superbowl tickets. He walked out of the Cave, swaggering a little, and I thought, “That’s right, son, it’s like crack. The first hit is free.”