Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fear Not The Odd Outcast in The New Year

              This story may challenge you with a resolution for you to entertain for the new year.         


            For years now, we've had this guy in our neighborhood.


            My daughter, who's gone and married now, first noticed him when she was in the ninth grade. And as kids are wont to do, she gave him a name.


            The Shibby Shabba Man.


            Shibby Shabba talks to no one and never drives a car or rides a bus.


            He walks everywhere. Past our house.  Going to the store.  Going to work.


            Oh yes, going to work.  He has a tool belt that implies carpenter.


            But when he walks, he does so oddly.


            Sometimes he walks backwards.  When he does so he does it perfectly and smoothly like it was  the most natural thing in the world.


            Sometimes he kind of bounces and jives, a white guy doin' the boogie down the sidewalk.


            Other times he seems lost in an animated conversation—with himself.


            He is clean cut, trim,  about  five  foot ten, around 45 years old with graying and thinning sandy blond hair.


            In a suit, he could usher at our church.


            But… he's  Mr. Shibby Shabba.  Something is a bit off with him but he's been a harmless part of our landscape for years.


            A few weeks ago, I broke the rules.  The rules that say the odd and different should be allowed to stay in their own world without our interference.


            It was about 8 a.m. and Shibby was  off to work, a strange extra long stride punctuating each step.  It was pouring rain, a real soaker.


            Driving to work, I slowed to match his pace, rolling down the window.


            I offered him a ride so he could escape the  monsoon engulfing him.


            Immediately I knew I had made a mistake.  His eyes espressed fear, almost panic as he stuttered that he was fine.


            Very heavy rain.  One more try.  "Are you sure?", I asked.  He was sure.  He wanted to be left alone, I could tell.  This human contact was scaring him.


            So I drove on and  Shibby Shabba retreated into his own  universe once again.


            Lately he's developed a really cool shtick.  Carrying drumsticks down the avenue,  he beats out riffs on the occasional oak tree or garbage can.  Pied Piper and  Ringo  Starr all rolled into one.


            Everybody talks about him and laughs.  Life goes on.


            These days when I see him I wonder about that time I tried to pierce the veil that covers his world.


            Is there a Shibby Shabba in your neighborhood?  At work?  At the bus stop?


            Look around and maybe even try to make some kind of connection. 


            Sure, it might turn out like my encounter but  at least  you'll feel better for trying.


            Here's to the Shibby Shabba's everywhere.  They are testing our compassion and our nerve.  They don't all have to be like a utility pole we pass and never notice.


            You never know. 


            I might even try it again.  There is something special about the Shibby Shabba shuffle. Maybe I'll learn something.   And I'm not talking about dancing.




Thursday, December 23, 2010

Memory Of A Father's Hug Best Ever

    Some memories warm these cold days.
    It was a long time ago.  I was probably in the second grade.
    I'd been invited to Charlie Bates' birthday party.      Mrs. Bates (crazy woman!) was going to take 13 boys to the movies to celebrate Charlie's big day.
    The movies!   I was invited to this big bash and a trip to the Cedar-Lee Theater was part of the deal!
    I had one chore to do before I left for the coolest event of the year.
    I had to wash a load of laundry.  My Dad's.
    The pile of clothes seemed simple enough.  I knew the routine even at that age.
    Throw in the clothes, throw in the soap.  Hit the wash button.  Into the dryer and a few minutes later done.  Modern appliance meets second grader.  A perfect team.
    I was just about finished as I took the white undershirts and shorts from the Maytag dryer.
    Something wasn't right.  My Dad's tidy whities had a distinct pinkish hue.  In fact, the whole load of whites were pink throughout:  Looked more like Liberace's underwear.
    And there was the culprit.  A dark burgundy sock waited until then to peek out from under that cotton candy.
    Do you know what happens when all white cotton washes in Hot water with a dark burgundy sock?  It's not pretty.  Well, actually, it is pretty.  But "pretty" is not the way Dad likes to wear his underwear.
    I was still in the basement laundry room when Dad came down to inspect my work.
    He exploded.  Krakatoa style.
    The yelling was bad.  Fortunately Dad was not a swatter.  His punishments were more in the loss of privileges category.
    And then he said it.  No party.  No movies.  Sit home and think about what I had done.  The clothes I ruined.  My carelessness.
    Dad marched up the steps to the kitchen.  I stayed below in that dark musty basement, my head buried in pink undershirts, my wails muffled by the soft fabric still warm from the dryer.
    I felt like my life had just ended.  Eight year olds are like that.  I agonized over the joy my friends would experience while I languished alone at home, the guilty launderer.
    I don't know how many minutes passed like that, I in my solitude.
    But before I realized it, I looked up and there before me again was Dad.
    Now Dad was a loving and generous type but he was no hugger.  He'd reserve hugs for big events like weddings or funerals.  With Dad you just understrood that he loved you and like so many of his generation, physical affection wasn't shown.
    However, I must have seemed pathetic.  The sadness in my eyes must have been too much.  The tears and the moaning.
    Dad got closer and before I knew it, he'd gathered me up and gave me a huge bear hug, holding me as my spindly legs dangled in the air.
    I could smell the Old Spice aftershave and his bristly whiskers scratched my face.  Dad held me tight for what seemed like forever.  Never before or since have I felt such a sense of warmth and love that passed between us in the silence of that dingy laundry room.
    When he finally released me and set me down, I told him I was sorry.
    He told me to forget it and one more thing, he said.  Better hurry or I'd be late for the party.
    Well, there have been a lot of parties since then and a lot of life lived.
    Dad's gone now, passed away about three years ago.
    Every now and then I dust off the memory of that moment and relive it in my mind and in my heart.
    The Best Hug Ever.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mickey Mouse Proves To Be Less Than Perfect

Mickey Mouse's little world got rocked recently.


You see, the Disney Corporation built their own little town in Florida a few years ago.


Celebration, Florida. No kidding.  That's the name of the town. Celebration.


Complete with music piped into the town square through speakers hidden in perfectly manicured hedges.


  They even have a little choo-choo train to move people around town.  Cute commute.


Homes sold quickly as Americans found a perfect patch of the idealized family life.


It was like having Mayberry where every woman was Aunt Bee and every man was Andy Taylor.


In Celebration, no town drunk, no crime, just happy happy with no problems.


Until a couple of weeks ago.


It seems that Mickey may not be the morale icon we thought he was.


Recently a Celebrant, Matteo Giovanditto, turned up murdered in his own Condo.


A few days later, a homeowner shot himself dead in this perfect patch.


The citizens have been less celebratory as a result.  It must have been  like walking into a bar and finding Donald Duck necking with a hooker.


 Some things ain't right, I tell you.


A movie from a few years back described a town called Pleasantville where life on the surface was as peaceful as a 1950's sitcom.  The colorless makeup of the city wears off to reveal the truth of human passion and compassion.  The citizens feel more alive and even therefore, discover inspiration in their flaws.


Of course, the recent mayhem in Florida is not a good thing.


However, maybe these Celebration folks might get the message most of us already know:  you can't escape our own imperfect hearts.


Despite our most ambitious efforts,  Minnie somewhere will call 911 to report a rodenticide.  Even in Celebration.


So welcome, Celebration, to our world.  It's not perfect, but truth is, perfection can't be found.


The Magic Kingdom is a fantasy.


After all, I just saw Snow White and Sneezy taking hits off a bong in the parking lot at the mall.


 Hi Ho Hi Ho.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

This Horror Story Features The Dreaded Lippy

Let's face it.  The "Greeting Kiss" is here to stay.


It's completely platonic,  and  involves a simple  peck on the cheek.  The Greeting Kiss can be exchanged between women or between  a man and a woman.


The Greeting  Kiss  is a handy substitute for the cold handshake when something more seems to be called for.  It can  be given to a relative or   as  a sign of  friendship.


Take Dan and Louise.  They've been great friends for me and my wife for years. Dan and I shake hands while Louise and I exchange a brief hug and a peck on the cheek. I call the  Greeting Kiss  "The Cheeky".


Saying hello to Aunt  Lucy at a  wedding?  The Cheeky is the perfect way to show you care.


The other day I ran into Rita.  Years ago we worked together.  She is such a gem and she took such good care of me.  A Cheeky was definitely in order.  It felt right.


So we all know the Cheeky and we all do  The  Cheeky.


Enter the evil one, The Lippy.


The Lippy is the peck on the cheek that ends up being a peck on the lips.  Right on the  lips!


My wife's Grandma Nanna used to do that. I'll never forget that first  horrifying experience.


Hi Nanna, I said.   We moved closer for that first encounter half-hug to be  followed by the expected Cheeky.


Everything went into slow motion.  Her face grew larger in the lens of my eye like the close-up on the villain in a Hitchcock film.


And before I knew it, she was softly kissing me not on the cheek but on my lips!  It was such a weird feeling.


 I remember each disturbing detail, all the way down to the soft bristles of the mustache Nanna was working on.


The Lippy.  It's just wrong I tell you.


My wife told me its just an old family custom and don't worry.  I accepted that explanation and kind of  buried the scary   memory after Nanna died a few years ago.


But then my wife told me about a friend while we were at a party recently.   Apparently Ed does the Lippy too.  Nothing improper intended says my wife but Ed's family carries on the idea of the Lippy instead of the Cheeky.


So to the Ed's of the world and the families who prolong this strange tradition,  I want you to know that no one appreciates it.  We want  you to know that it makes the rest of us uncomfortable.


Please stop.  Long live The Cheeky.  Stamp out  The Lippy. 


Especially The Lippy from Hairy lipped Octogenarians.











Thursday, December 2, 2010

Disgusting Personal Habits Just Gross Me Out

I am not a Germophobe, that is, a person with an irrational fear of Germs.


Nope, I'm just grossed out.


At the risk of being grouped with Felix Unger of Odd Couple fame, he of the over-fastidious habits, or Detective Monk, who keeps hand sanitizer in his pocket, I will tell you what grosses me out.


I am at church and you are sitting behind me.  You are coughing and  sneezing and maybe even occasionally blowing your nose  into some overused tissue or worse into a handkerchief that doesn't have any unused  mucosal parking  spots left.


At the "offer each other a sign of peace" part of the service you turn expectantly  to shake my hand. Really? No. I'm grossed out.


By the way,  those of you who still carry the old hanky the way Grandpa used to, when you are done blowing your nose,  you don't have to pause to look at it, like some lab technician checking for pathology.


Here's another one.  I can deal with the busy waitress at the diner whose thumb occasionally tickles my omelet  as she carries a heavy plate to my table.


Just don't touch my food when you are handling money.  Money is filthy.  It's gone from the hands of hookers to addicts to proctologists to who knows where.


A certain bagel store near my home features a guy who wears little cellophane gloves to handle the food and then wears the same gloves to handle the money and then back to the food in the same plastic gloves. Gross.  The only human being protected is him.


Here is the worst one. Studies show that one-third of Americans   use   public restroom toilets without washing their hands afterward.


When I use public facilities, I won't grab the door handle to exit with my hands that I've just washed.  I will use a paper towel or a sleeve or anything but I won't touch that handle.   The studies tell us that handle is covered with….well…just use your most disgusting imagination.


By the way,  MEMO TO THE WORLD HAND DRYER CORPORATION ( you know, you folks who  manufacture those blowers to dry our hands because the building owner is too cheap to spring for paper towels?):  NO ONE HAS TIME TO REALLY DRY THEIR HANDS USING THESE DUMB THINGS EVEN IF THEY ARE WORKING.


In conclusion, I am not a Germpohobe.  I am acting prudently.


I am just GROSSED OUT.