In the presence of enemies.

Got a call from an old friend this evening. Brad told me he would call this weekend, but I was surprised by his call because I’d dozed on the couch and was less than fully conscious when I answered the phone. His number didn’t display on the caller ID. He’s currently stationed in Guam, and I’m not sure I have his number, so that may have also influenced the surprise.

That his number, or really his name, didn’t populate the phones display was actually a good thing as I usually dread talking to him. Not because our conversations aren’t anything but fantastic. If anything it’s because our conversations are fantastic, and usually rather lengthy. And usually I end up learning something about myself and that leaves me terrified. It’s stupid, and I know it. Whenever he and I get together I initially just want to get it over with to quell my fear and nervousness. Amidst the palaver the fear and nervousness work it out amongst themselves and I begin to feel sorry that our conversation will have to cease. This evening was no different.

Anther of the things that makes me uncomfortable whenever we talk is the fact that I knew him in elementary school, and I hated him. And I let him know it. Everyone in our class, save a very few, made him a target. I can’t fathom the amount of pain we put him through and would equate it to the bullying that is used as an excuse for school shootings. Don’t worry though, he let me know this evening that I’m no longer on his “list.”

None of us are the same as we were in elementary school. However, I make it a point every time he and I speak to apologize for my conduct. Not just a little either. He may, in fact, be getting tired of hearing it. So now he can read it as I truly am sorry for what I did to, essentially, torture him for fourth, fifth, and sixth grade.

He and I were in an experimental class those three years in which our class had 1 “computer” for every two students. In my opinion it was a complete failure and am glad that it has not become the standard. To have the same core classmates for three years at that age seems to stunt social growth. We were not treated well by the other classes leaving us pretty isolated and were left to hope to find a friend amongst the twenty or so kids on our island.

I didn’t start in the class until halfway through fourth grade and was not immediately welcomed. These other kids had a few months head start on typing and those shitacular computers and they let me know it. If it weren’t for the sense of humor I’d developed as a result of coping with numerous prior moves I probably would’ve been in the same boat as Brad. The S.S. Outcast. I’m not sure I would have fared as well as he did, nor am I sure I would have survived if I were exposed to similar treatment.

I could list the excuses we used for hating him, but they don’t matter. Not even a little bit. Nobody deserves to be made such an outcast that even our teacher, in another hallway session with Brad, told him that he’d better change his personality or he’d never have any friends. Geez, thanks person who is supposed to be taking a guiding and nurturing role in my life.

The number of successful students to emerge from that class are few, and fewer still for males. I’m not going to detail the bias present in the class as that is not what this post is about. Brad told me this evening that he only knows one other person from our experiment that graduated high school on time. That he is one of them is truly a testament to his resilience.

I remember a particular instance in which the class had been split into groups to complete a project of some sort. I don’t remember if was a Lego Logo project or something else, but my group included Brad and everyone, except Brad, of course, didn’t want him in the group. I remember him being a bit goofy and making ridiculous suggestions then laughing about it, and that may or may not have happened, I can’t clearly recall. At recess it was decided, by our group, that after school I would track down Brad and beat him up. “If you listen to fools, the mob rules.”

I remember stalking him on his way home that evening, and am not convinced he didn’t know I was coming. He completely outran me and I never had a chance to come within a hundred yards. I was, however, close enough to make out the smile on his face and the digits, or digit, which he extended every time I stopped running to catch my breath. Had I eventually caught up to him I’m sure he could have pushed me over with a single finger in my state of exhaustion. With all the pent up rage I’m sure he was harboring at the time he probably would’ve beat the living shit out of me even at my most rested. I’m not sure how beating him up would’ve removed him from our group, or made him more affable in the group, but I guess we were kids thinking kid-ly and he didn’t go anywhere.

Despite our best efforts Brad has grown into a man for which I have a great deal of admiration. Of all the kids, male or female, from that class I fell Brad is certainly the most successful. And I mean that in all facets of life. Socially, emotionally, financially, etc. I am truly amazed by the fact that he is who and where he is in life, not because I feel he has some sort of deficiency that would render him incapable of success, but because he weathered our abuse. He also weathered the abuse of a less than helpful teacher, and also the abuse from other schoolmates post-experiment. Perhaps he even left some of us feeling the way we wanted him to feel. Perhaps we felt that way all along.

To borrow from one of my favorite films, The Shawshank Redemption… Brad truly “crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.” I’m ashamed of the way I’ve treated him. I’m proud, however, to call Brad a friend, and am thankful, indeed, that he finds the grace and forgiveness I would think is required to call me his friend.

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Fried mashed potato sticks.

My dad was having an issue placing an order at an online retailer and called me for help. I told him I’d swing by after work expecting, as he did, that the issue was something simple and he was just missing a minute detail. What I found was the most profoundly poorly written webpage I’d ever encountered.

“So here’s what I want, and I click ‘Buy Now’ and this is what happens,” he explained as the screen changed from the item page to a page that informed us that his shopping cart was empty. “What the hell am I missing?” I informed him that I didn’t think he was missing anything. I took a seat in front of the computer and had a go. Same result. So I switched browsers. Same result. So I remotely connected to my PC at home and tried a third browser. Same result.

“This is the dumbest fucking website I have ever encountered and I don’t think the cocksuckers on the other end deserve your money.” Clearly I was more than slightly frustrated.

We found what dad was after on another website, one that actually functioned, and dad asked if he could take me to dinner. Never one to turn down free food we climbed in my FJ and headed to Red Lobster.

How can a meal be both mediocre and extrodinary at the me time? Easy. I’m not sure which coast lies closest to this establishment, and I’m not sure the seafood placed before me would know either. This seafood had certainly not seen the sea for a great length of time. That pretty much sums up the mediocre.

The extraordinary section began upon our arrival. An older gentleman approached the hostess station and gave advise on where to seat my father and I. When our name was called we walked toward the station and the old gentleman stretched out his hand toward my dad. They exchanged pleasantries and my father asked how “your boy” was doing. Dad later explained that the son of the older gentleman had just returned from Walter Reed after suffering major injuries as a result of an IED attack. Apparently most of both of his legs were damaged and he had recently had a foot amputated.

We followed our hostess, but only momentarily as the older gentleman directed my father around the corner where his nephew and family were eating. I worked with the nephew when I was a bitch worker at the airport and my father works with him still, although not as a bitch worker, depending on whom you query.

“I swear we can’t go anywhere where dad doesn’t know someone,” I say to the hostess. She explains that her mother is the same way. Apparently a trip to WalMart with her mom must have an additional hour planned for socializing with random people with whom her mother is acquainted.

It seemed the three of us would never reach our seat as no more than twenty feet further into the restaurant another gentleman greets my dad. I smile and roll my eyes and the hostess laughs aloud.

So the extraordinary part of the evening… What? You thought dad knowing everyone was the extraordinary part? Nah. That happens everywhere and has become quite ordinary.

The extraordinary part of dinner was just sitting and talking with my dad. Not arguing about anything, not complaining that he wasn’t doing something I wanted or whatever. Just hanging out and talking about stuff. Which brings me to the fried mashed potato sticks.

My dad was given orders to Bremerhaven Germany, at that time West Germany, and mom and I couldn’t accompany him until the following year. In that time he’d seen the sites and made a bit of a list of places to take my mom and I. One of those places was the Barque Seute Deern.

Dad wasn’t sure where I was while he and mom went to have seafood, and that plays into the story at no level whatsoever, on the Seute Deern and was expecting a dinner similar to the dinner he and his buddies had while mom and I were still stateside. In that dinner the guys had a few courses of varying sea dishes with a main course of halibut. The halibut steak, my father remembered, was about ten inches long, five or so inches wide and an inch or two thick.

One of the dishes served before the halibut was what my dad described as a four inch tater-tot filled with mashed potatoes. He remember being served six, or so, on a plate and he and his buddies thought they were simply amazing. When the dish showed up again with my mom she too found them delectable. This time, however, instead of the halibut steak a much smaller, but thicker steak was presented. Dad recalled it was about four inches square and “super” thick.

Mom and dad enjoyed the dishes they’d been served finishing the six fried mashed potato sticks quickly and a beautiful sea shell filled with a small shrimp covered with a cream sauce presented a la The Birth of Venus sans Venus. When he was delivering the smaller-than-remembered fish steak the server asked if there was anything else he could bring. My father asked if the server would be kind enough to bring more of the FMPS and when he did he brought a dozen or more in a bowl. Keep in mind that my dad is a world class exaggerator so the “dozen” may have not been 12.

The fish steak was dispatched quickly and mom and dad were stuffing their faces with FMPS when the server came wheeling out his serving cart. Confused, mom and dad looked at each other in disbelief as the server placed another fish steak on the table. Apparently it was the second half of the fish dinner. Having not anticipated a second half both my mom and dad had filled themselves with everything else and were suddenly filled with a great deal of embarrassment as they now had a large hunk of fish and more tater sticks than they should’ve asked requested.

As soon as the server left the table mom and dad both launched into “Operation: Hide The Tater Sticks.” Employing lettuce, napkins, and the aforementioned Venus-ish shrimpy sea shell to disguise the fact that they’d asked for more food than they could eat, which at the time was a carnal sin in my household. “You asked for it, you eat it,” etc.

I sure it would be much more entertaining if you were there to hear the way my father spun this yarn but, again, it wasn’t the story so much as that it was a story. Most of my life was spent at odds with my dad. We didn’t have a lot of time, like this dinner, to just sit and tell stories and pal around. He wasn’t always around because of the Air Force, and it seemed like when he was around, he was playing the part of the disciplinarian. Many, many, many people told me that our relationship would get better once I wasn’t living with the guy. “Yeah, I bet,” I would reply in disbelief. They were right. Sorry for not believing you all.

I wish I would’ve listened but, more than that, I wish he would have taken me to have some of those fried mashed potato sticks. Jerk.

Afterstorm

The above is, perhaps, a meteorological representation of mine and my fathers relationship. The clouds are moving left to right, of course.