Friday, November 13, 2015

I am a Liar

             Yes, you read that correctly.  I’m a liar.  And, no I’m not a pathological liar.  I'm no Tommy Flanagan.

            This is difficult for me.  I’ve grown a lot over the years, and have to admit that I’ve also told a lot of untruths.   Many of us have, and no, I’m not saying that to make an excuse for my behavior.  Most of us at least tell some little white lies to protect someone’s feelings.  People do that. 

Sometimes, we lie to avoid conflict.  I’ve done that a lot.  For a long time, I was very conflict-avoidant.  The intense emotions of conflict brought me to a place emotionally that I didn’t understand and didn’t like.  I would lie about stupid things when I was married.  When asked simple things, like whether or not I’d paid the electric bill, I’d say that I had done so in order to avoid any potential conflict over why I hadn’t, even if I was planning to do the bills, which weren’t late, that evening.   Had I said that I was going to do them that evening, it would have been fine.  I was just incredibly insecure and afraid of where conflict would take me.  The great irony of those lies is that they caused a great deal more conflict than I was trying to avoid in the first place. 

I worked through this with a therapist, and I understand where the conflicts brought me.  I’ve made peace with this.  It doesn’t change the damage that those lies did, but I was able to move forward.  In subsequent relationships I’ve been able to be honest about stupid little shit like that. 

We may also say things that aren’t true in order to save someone’s feelings.  We may say that someone looks great in a new shirt because that person feels confident and beautiful in it, even though we wouldn’t let our dog have puppies on that shirt because we think it’s so grossly ugly that adding puppy afterbirth to it would just be more than we could bear.  We don’t want to hurt that person’s feelings.   It’s not my shirt, and I don’t have to wear it.  Along the same lines a teacher or parent may say that a child’s art is wonderful, even though the kid hasn’t heard of foreshortening and has absolutely no concept of the atmospheric perspective.   People tell that kid it’s great because we want to encourage her to explore her creativity, and hopefully, she’ll learn about depth.

And sometimes, people lie to hide their shame and embarrassment.  I’m never all that shocked when a politician or celebrity is exposed for a lie.  Of course politicians want to hide things that might be politically damaging, and of course celebrities hide things that may embarrass them or damage their reputations.  Of course President Clinton didn’t inhale, and of course he didn’t receive the historic Oval Office hummer.  Of course Larry Craig had a wide stance.  Of course Lance Armstrong and Aaron Rodriguez didn’t use performance enhancing drugs.  Of course Tiger Woods was a faithful husband.  Of course [insert female celebrity’s name here] has real boobs.   Of course [insert male celebrity’s name here] didn’t cheat on his smoking hot wife with the beautiful nanny.  Those are all damn lies!

People do things that hurt their careers and reputations and relationships, and they don’t want that truth out.  The truth hurts relationships and legacies.  The truth costs people their careers.  The truth can just be embarrassing.  I completely understand why people lie about this stuff.  I also completely understand the consequences.  If we don’t want to be embarrassed or have our marriages or careers ruined, then we should just do the right thing from the beginning.  We often don’t, and we pay the price. 

There are things I’ve done that are very embarrassing.  I’m glad no one knows about them.  I’ve lied about some of them.  Some I’ve told the truth about.  If TMZ were to get some embarrassing video of me, I’d own my behavior and try to move forward.  I don’t think there are any unrevealed lies out there that would hurt anyone who’s currently in my life.  There may be some things that would cause me some embarrassment.  I’d have to deal with that.  This piece isn’t really about those lies.  I’ve made peace with them, and I try to think about the consequences of what I do before I put myself in situations where I may be embarrassed by what happens.

There are still other lies that are harder to understand for most people.  These are lies that people use to create a back story.  Now, I’m not going to go after Ben Carson here.  That’s too easy.  But people create back stories to make themselves look better or to feel connected with something.  Comedian Steve Rannazzisi was working in New York in 2001.  After he moved to LA he started telling people that he had been working for Merrill Lynch in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  I don’t know why he did this.  I’m not sure he does, but he’s paid quite a price professionally.   He’s pretty funny, and I hope, for his sake,that he can overcome some of the damage to his career.   There’s no excusing what he did, but he’s really only guilty of being an asshole and offending millions of people. 

And there are darker lies that create back stories.  Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and plans to attack out country and our allies.  Al Quaeda is in Iraq, and Iraq was involved in 9-11.  These lies get people killed.  They’re shameful.  I would only be avoiding telling my own truth if I delved into this, so I’ll move on.

My greatest lie is one of these.  No, I did not get anyone killed or start a war.  I did create a back story, to my shame, and my conscience can’t seem to shake it.  I have to process through this, and no mere discussion with my therapist will allow me to let it go.

But first, let’s briefly consider what a lie is.  A lie is something that someone says that is untrue.  And we have to know it’s untrue for it to be a lie.  Otherwise, it’s just a mistake.  If I say that the universe is about 10 billion years old, but I later find out that it’s really around 12 billion years old.  I didn’t lie.  I was just ignorant of the truth. 

   Now, let’s dig deeper.  What is truth?  Can we call it observable reality?  It’s more complicated than we think.  Can we say that something is true if it is observable, something that happened, without the filter of emotion or of judgment?  I believe this will work.  The sky is blue.  The earth revolves around the sun.  Ice cream is cold.  I have a maple tree in my yard.  These are all things that different people can observe and agree on. 

We also have to consider perception.  Our perceptions tend to influence our understanding of reality.   Is it partly cloudy or mostly sunny?  As a color blind man, I often have to check with others to confirm the colors of objects.  I may have purchased a nice, blue shirt last weekend, but the first time I wear it, someone compliments me on my nice, purple shirt.  But now I know the truth.  The shirt is purple, and I trust others’ perceptions of it.  That’s a very simple example.  Here’s another.  The city of Augusta, Maine, where I used to work, has a few traffic circles.  Some people perceive them as a pain in the ass, and try to avoid them.  Some people perceive presence of traffic circles as just how things are, and they perceive the idiots who do not know how to drive in traffic circles as the pain in the ass. 

Indeed, whether or not something is a pain in the ass is subjective.  People can objectively agree that there are traffic circles in Augusta.  This is factually observable and is, therefore, true.   The things that make the traffic circles a pain in the ass are matters of opinion, affected by an individual’s perception and experience.  While they are true for the individual, they are not something that everyone sees the same, so they can’t be accepted as a general truth. 

There are some things that may seem to be subjective, but they are, in fact absolutely true.  I have a great ass.  You’d think that using “great” makes it subjective.  Nope, it’s universally accepted that I have a great ass.  It’s one of those things like, “Angelina Jolie is beautiful” or “Peyton Manning is the best actor in the NFL,” that everyone universally agrees upon.

And I won’t get into the belief versus truth issue with religion versus science.  That’s a bigger issue, and, quite frankly, that would be another way for me to put off writing about my big, big lie, the reason for this piece. 

When I was younger and didn’t know myself well, I often probably didn’t know what truth really was.  I lied about things to protect others’ feelings or to preserve the idea that I’m a sweet and nice guy or to avoid conflicts.  Those lies hurt people and damaged my relationships.  There are days when I still kick myself for some of those lies.  But those lies are in the past.  I’ve made peace with them and learned from them.  I know myself better, and I know I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone with untruths anymore.  I’ve tried to become a truth teller, and I can honestly say that I’m proud of the progress I’ve made.

Except for one pretty significant lie. 

While I was in the army and army reserve I was over the army’s weight limit for my age and height for most of my career.  Whenever we had a weigh-in, I’d have to be given the body fat tape test even when I was in the best shape of my life.  I was often 15 to 25 pounds over the weight limit, but I always passed the tape test.  But the 50-ish pounds of pure masculine glory that I put on from the time I was 18 to the time I retired from the army reserve at 43 started to get to me along the way.  I made something up to try to explain it away. 

I guess I was embarrassed.  I don’t know.  I guess I wanted to make myself feel better about having to be taped because I was overweight.  I mean, I still don’t know why I did this.  I’ve never
Does this guy look like he
has any reason to be
ashamed of his body?
considered myself a Fatty McFatterson.  I’m kind of stocky, so I’m going to carry more pounds than I think it may look like I’m carrying.  I may have reverse body dysmorphic disorder, or something, but I’ve never thought that I was all that big.  Seriously, I carry it well, I think.

And pretty much everyone agrees how desirable and awesome I am.  A recent Gallup poll showed the 89 percent of single women wanted to be with me and 99 percent of men wanted to be me (3.5 percent margin of error).   Hell, a lot of the men wanted to be with me, and a significant percentage of the women wanted to be me.   And there I was lying about stuff for all those years of my military service.  What is wrong with me?

I may never understand why, and I may never be able to make anyone understand.  I just had to make up a story, a story, incidentally, that could pass no test of the truth.  It was objectively and subjectively false.  No one, and I mean no one, would be able to objectively observe me and concur that what I had been saying was even remotely true.  I couldn’t even make a subjective argument that it was true in my perception.  I fully acknowledge that it was a lie, and I own this.

I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to post this.  I may just delete this file.  Here’s what I did.  Here’s my lie.  I implied that my, ahem, “masculinity” was the reason I was overweight.  Hell, who am I kidding?  Not you.  Not America.  I was a soldier with a security clearance, and I couldn’t say a basic truth about myself. 

And for crying out loud, I didn’t imply anything.  I just lied.  I’ll spare you the indelicate language I used, but I said that it was all “junk" weight.  That was why I didn’t meet the army’s weight standards.  Seriously, 25 pounds?  That’s a hell of a lie.  I’m sorry.  I know.  I’m a bad person.  I failed to live up to the army values, and I failed my country.  I failed you all.

I’m a bad person, and I hope that someday, I will be able to regain your trust.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Ted Makes Some New Rules for the Lexicon, Part I

I saw this thing on the internets yesterday.  It sets a truly high bar for political correctness.  Here's the video. . .

Now I may not agree with Paul Ryan that much, but I have to agree that he works hard, presumably not on any productive legislation given the do nothing nature of recent Congresses.  However, he does work hard.  Between meeting with constituents, fellow caucus members, and attending various committees on Capitol Hill, I’m sure his schedule is rather hectic.  I know he is a dedicated family man who—famously—wants to spend as much time as possible with his wife and kids in his home state of Wisconsin.  Now, I’m not going to go down the paid family leave road right now.  This is going to be a discussion of the lexicon and how it’s changing.  I just want to state, for the record, that Paul Ryan does work hard.

But he doesn’t work slave hard, and that’s an important distinction.  He’s never had to dress in rags and sleep in a hovel or wear chains when casting votes or be whipped when he’s gone against the party line.  None of that.  Henceforth, “hard working” can only be applied to victims of American slavery.  “Diligent” is a good substitute, and so is “productive.”  You can say that someone “does a lot of stuff” or that she “gets a lot done in a little bit of time.”  You can say that someone “achieves a lot of things that his boss wanted him to get done” and that someone “did some challenging things at the office on many occasions.” I guess the only exception would be for the possible occasion when someone literally worked slave hard, but we should be very careful when applying the label “hard working” to someone. 

And don’t let allegedly “more reasonable” people say things like, “Wow, that is really stupid.  It’s more than a bit absurd to use the experience of African American slaves as the only reference point for something as common as ‘hard work.’  People work hard.  Period.  It doesn’t matter if we agree with them or like what they do.  Jobs look different.  Some are physical.  Some are intellectually challenging.  Some are highly stressful.  The degree to which someone applies herself to the work she does can stand on its own merits.  If she accomplishes a great deal, then she’s probably a hard worker.  Saying that does not, in any way, lessen the atrocity of our history of slavery, nor does it impugn the work performed by African American slaves. “  Wow, that is some insensitive bullshit, man.

As for me, this clearly shows that I’ve never worked hard in my life, and I’m not ashamed of that.  I have done a lot of stuff in relatively short periods of time on a number of occasions, not recently, of course, but on a number of occasions.

And this reminds me of something else.  We shouldn’t use the word “whipped,” either.   And we should absolutely not say “Cool Whip.”  Whipping is definitely not cool.  From now on, call it “cream dessert topping that has been stirred vigorously.”  That sounds delicious, and it doesn’t invoke any images of any violent act or any beatings of any kind. 

And look, don’t get all “reasonable” on me and say that “whip” has a variety of meanings and connotations or that one of those meanings is to beat or stir vigorously.  That doesn’t matter.  It’s insensitive for Christ’s sake.  Just click on this link to sign my petition demanding that Cool Whip change its name to “Cool Cream Dessert Topping That Has Been Stirred Vigorously.” 

Well, you know what, “beating” needs to go as well.  I’ll let my use of it in the last paragraph stand, but that’s it.  Cooking shows should stop using it, and sportscasters should absolutely stop using it.  When someone on ESPN says that [insert team name here] beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, that doesn’t just make Jacksonville fans sad.  It could be a trigger for anyone who’s experienced abuse.  I don’t want to trigger that. 

Hell, as a kid I got in some fights, and I was beaten up a few times.  When [insert team name here] beats the Charlotte Hornets, it’s not a trigger for me, but what about the subsequently weaker kids that I happened to beat up?  And the even weaker kids that those weaker kids beat up and on down the line?  There’s probably a trigger for someone in there somewhere.  I feel bad about participating in the downward cycle of beatings, and I want to make up for it.

Therefore, no longer use the term “beating.”  Sportscasters must now say that [insert team name here] scored more points than the Detroit Lions.  However, I will allow the use of it in reference to masturbation.  I mean “beating off” just fits the activity so Goddamn well. 

Look, language changes.  Do you remember when shit that Geoffrey Chaucer wrote made a lot of sense?  Me neither.  I mean, what the fuck is this, “Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote. . .”  Nobody knows. 

Yes, the language changes, and we not only have an understanding of its tendency to change, we can have power over.  Me, I’m wielding that power, man.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

These Damned Internet Criminals

          So, yesterday I was on the Facebooks, and I received a friend request from someone I thought I was already friends with.  I’ll call him “Bill.”  Well, I know Bill.  We used to work together, and he’s a good guy.  I’m not sure why we weren’t friends anymore, but sure, I’ll be friends with Bill.  I accepted his request.

          A little while later Bill sent me a message.  “How’s it going?” or something like that.  “Not bad, Bill. Yourself?” I replied.  Now, I’m not sure what Bill said next because all of the messages have been “. . . temporarily removed because the sender's account requires verification,” but the tone of the message was odd.  It didn’t seem like Bill.  For starters, he said that he was feeling “blessed.”  Now, Bill may feel blessed from time to time, but he never struck me as the guy who goes around saying that he feels blessed.  He may have changed, though.  I haven’t seen him in quite a while.

          Then he asked me if I’d ever heard of some National Program something or other.  I said I’d never heard of it.  This didn’t really raise much of a suspicion because Bill is a federal employee.  We worked together at the Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Augusta, Maine for a few years.  He also said that he received $50,000 through the program that day, and he gave me a number to text for information.  It was a great opportunity, he added.

          Okay, my suspicions were aroused, but I congratulated him.  Then I looked and saw that I now had two Bill friends with the same last name.  I warned Real Bill and the three other friends that fake Bill had become friends with, too.  I looked up the number, and indicated that the number isn't safe.  I told him that, but I also decided to have some fun.  I told him that I was suspicious, but I might check it out. 

          I asked him why he had two Facebook accounts, and he said that the other one had been infected with a Trojan horse.   I’m pretty sure that’s not how Trojan Horses work, but I could be wrong.  I pressed him further.

          “What's the nickname you gave me in Philadelphia?” I asked.  Bill and I had taught two parts of a VA new bureaucrat training at the VA Regional Office in Philadelphia.  We overlapped a week or so, and before I got there, he had given everyone a nickname.  He told everyone that I was “Uncle Ted.” 

          “Tedwardicio,” Fake Bill replied.  That’s on my public profile, and it was wrong.  My parents gave me that nickname, not Bill.  So, I was absolutely, 100% sure that this wasn’t Real Bill.  He said a few more things about how blessed he was and about how I could get $50,000 if I texted that bullshit number.  I wasn’t about to deal with this crap.

          “But, of course, Bill,” I said.  I decided to keep having fun with him.  He said to make sure I followed up to get my $50,000, but I went in a new direction.

          “Do you remember the night we shared at the hotel?” I asked him.  Bill and I never shared a night at the hotel.  “I'll never forget it. I miss you so much. . .”  He said that he remembered, so I continued, “Your strong hands and gentle touch.  The way you always know the right thing to say. I wish we could be together again. . . But you needed someone younger.  Look, I'm glad you've made some money, and thank you for sharing your news with me. I just want to know if you're happy with Trevor.”  Now, I’ve never delved into Real Bill’s personal life, but I’m pretty sure that—along with never having had a relationship with me—he never left me for a relationship with any Trevor.

          Fake Bill said that we could still be together.  Whoa. . . I didn’t want to take it that far, so I had to go into another new direction, “After you sucked Mike's cock at the office?  Mike?  Seriously!  I've done a lot of work on myself, and I'm feeling good about me?  I do not need you back.  I miss you, yes.  But I must also let you go. . .” I can only speculate about Bill and Mike at the office.  Any part of this that’s true is merely a coincidence.  I made it up.  Well, except for missing Bill.  He was a cool guy to work with.

          Fake Bill was off the hook for the relationship, but I wasn’t finished.  “Besides, you know how I feel about your gender reassignment surgery.  If you and Trevor want to be lesbians, that's your business.  By the way, your profile picture is totally butch.”  Again, I don’t know what’s been going on with Bill.  He probably isn’t a transgendered lesbian.  I made this stuff up.  If he is, then bless him.  Bill is a good friend.  Period.

          “Okay, goodbye then,” Fake Bill said.

          “Have a good life, Bill,” I said.  “Have a good life.”  And not wanting to leave things on a warm note, I added, “If this is some kind of scam, I'm going to track you down, sew your penis back on you, and then rip it off and shove it down your throat.”

          I may have crossed the line with that one, but in all honesty, I’m neither vengeful nor violent.  It is some kind of scam, and Fake Bill has no reason to fear me tracking him down, reattaching his penis, and then ripping it off again.  I’m just not that guy.  What I'm thinking about doing is finding the number in my Google search history and then sending them a picture of my junk.

          I also may have a bunch of bullshit-ass viruses on my phone and computer now.  Time to scan.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Here’s How We Get Past the Whole Planned Parenthood Funding Thing

                As more states move to defund Planned Parenthood, now is a good time to look at some ideas to get past this funding thing.  And, I’m not here to be pro choice or pro life.  I just want to provide reasonable solutions so the two sides can find some common ground.  I’m here to solve problems.  You’re welcome.   Abortion is legal, and so is fetal tissue research.  These are facts.  Both of these things are going to continue to happen, and I don’t really want to get too deeply into those issues today.

                PlannedParenthood does provide abortion services.  They’re going to continue offering that service, and if the patient wants to donate the aborted fetus for research, Planned Parenthood is going to continue facilitating those donations.  These things are not really up for debate.  They are legal, and they will happen.

And because of the Hyde Amendment, the Federal Government cannot pay for an abortion, unless certain criteria are met—such as if there is a life-threatening condition caused by the pregnancy or if the pregnancy is the result of a rape.  And I don’t want to get too far down the road about federal funding for Planned Parenthood, but the argument over federal money going to Planned Parenthood is a red herring.  Yes, they do receive Medicaid funds, but that money isn’t for abortions.  It’s Medicaid reimbursement for medical services, none of which can be abortion.   The Centers for Medicare and MedicaidServices (CMS) would not reimburse a Planned Parenthood clinic if an abortion were inadvertently billed.  So, it’s kind of a moot point.  Or is it?

Well, one might say that they get this money from CMS to pay for some lady’s birth control pills, and that’s okay.  But what if some of that money goes toward the purchase of surgical gloves used during an abortion?  Well, what if some of that money goes to the purchase of Commodore 64 computers for the accounting department?  Look, I have to concede that there is a direct financial relationship in Medicaid reimbursement.  If a Planned Parenthood clinic provides an annual exam for the woman who lives catty-corner from the bike repair shop down the road from my house, they aren’t going to wait until after they bill CMS and are ultimately reimbursed before they pay for the gloves and tests, or the physician and receptionist’s time, are they?  No, they are not.  Indeed, essentially, CMS is reimbursing them for money they already spent to provide the service. 

And while we’re talking about illogical arguments against Planned Parenthood, can we just let go of the whole “why don’t they offer mammograms” and “why don’t they offer fertility treatments” pile of garbage?  I mean, seriously, those are specialized procedures.  Virtually any primary care physician or OB/GYN would have to refer a patient elsewhere for either of those.  Planned Parenthood isn’t any different.  Hell, I’ve had to have ultrasounds done on my balls a couple times.  Nobody was up in arms because my primary care physicians and urologists couldn’t perform those services in their offices.  And those savage, ball-crushing experiences by heavy-handed ultrasound techs didn’t lead to any protests or anti VA Healthcare or anti Troop Medical Clinic memes.   Nuthin'.  And yes, my balls were brutalized on the taxpayer’s dime, yielding zero congressional hearings.

Anyway, it seems self-evident—tome, anyway—that the federal Medicaid money paying for a woman’s Pap smear isn’t federal Medicaid money paying for an abortion.  How, one might ask, do we know that the money from Medicaid reimbursement isn’t just going to pay for those abortions?  Planned Parenthood and their adversaries can pull up all the charts and graphs they want, but, apparently, no one is going to agree about them. 

Now, let’s pause for a moment.  Planned Parenthood is a polarizing institution, and abortion is a polarizing issue.  While abortion is legal, many people are against it and want to make sure that no tax money goes to providing abortions.  People aren’t going to agree on how to deal with this.  But what if there were a way to ensure that no federal money went toward abortion?  What if there was a way to show that they were separately funded?  I have a plan.

I proposed that Planned Parenthood start a “Sponsor an Abortion” campaign.  You read that correctly.  This will provide all the transparency that everyone wants.  Abortions will be funded but not by tax dollars.

This could go a couple of different ways.  One way is that there could be a “GoFundMe” type campaign prior to each appointment for an abortion.   GoFundMe has helped finance some pretty amazing projects, and I'm proud to have participated in a few of them.  I think it’s a great way to provide transparency for Planned Parenthood’s finances. 

And here’s another idea.  Have you ever been asked to donate to charity when you’re checking out at a convenience store or supermarket?  I have, lots of times.  It’s usually something like the Children’sMiracle Network or the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  You’ll have a buck or so added to your total, and then they’ll give you a little paper balloon or something like that to put your name on.  They’ll cover all the walls and windows with the balloon things, so everyone can feel good about what a great thing the store and its customers are doing.

Instead of balloons, they can use little paper wombs or paper fetuses.  And Planned Parenthood clinics should also have them up on the walls.  That way, when a pro-life group comes in to make secret videos, they’ll see all the little paper wombs or fetuses on the walls with the names of the donors on them, clearly showing that their abortions aren’t funded by taxpayer money.

Everybody wins.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

I Just Couldn’t Even

                Have you ever been all, like, I just can’t even?  Me, too.

                What’s that?  Some of you don’t know what being all, like, I just can’t even means?  Well, it’s a fun way that the kids nowadays have of saying, essentially, that they’re apoplectic.   Of course, some might say that they’re literally apoplectic, but what they mean is that they’re figuratively apoplectic.  If they were literally apoplectic, then they wouldn’t be able to come up with the words to indicate their apoplexy, or, as they say, that they just can’t even.   And, seriously, the word “apoplexy” isn’t about to make a return to buzz-worthiness again, any time soon, like “selfie” or “synergy” or “buzzword.”  So, the kids just say, “I can’t even.”

                And that’s what happened when I decided to quit my job at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  I just couldn’t even, anymore.  And that’s a phrase I’ll use right now.  I just can’t even.  I’ll use this because it will help me depersonalize this.  I don’t want to call anyone out, right now. 
This is what your tax dollars got
you for nearly eight years.
Saying “I just can’t even” won’t really help that, but I just want to tell the story of why I quit my job.   And I think “I just can’t even” is going to be a funny way to tell this.  Besides, this was a very emotional decision for me.  I, both literally and figuratively, just couldn’t even anymore, and this is my story.

                A few months before the end, I had completed a very technical bureaucratic analysis of minutia for the Togus VA Regional Office in Augusta, Maine.  Rather than bore you with all the bureaucratic minutia and bullshit, I’ll just call this a bullshit report, and in the interest of providing a little background, I will say that there are dozens of these bullshit reports completed each year at the regional office.  For the last few years at Togus, I’d completed one or two bullshit reports every fiscal year.  I’d also helped a number of people edit the passive sentences out of their bullshit reports. 

                Passive sentences are bad.  When passive sentences are used in a bullshit report, it is very bad.  Bullshit reports are very, very important.  They can’t have passive sentences used in them, even though every single fucking award and denial notification letter sent to veterans by the VA about their disability compensation decisions is chock fucking full of the passive voice.  Internal bullshit reports are much more important than the letters sent to veterans.

                And I liked writing and editing bullshit reports.  I have an analytical mind, and as you can clearly see, I write good.

                One of my favorite memories of working on a bullshit report was when I helped my friend, Lee, edit the passive sentences out of his bullshit report.  When one of us submitted a bullshit report, a bean-counter would use the Microsoft Word review tool for a spelling and grammar check.  The percentage of passive sentences is also shown by the tool, and if there were passive sentences, the bullshit report would be returned to the author for correction.  When I got together with Lee, he said something along the lines of, “What the hell is a passive sentence?  Will it help if I end more of them with ‘comma damnit?’”  Bean counters don’t like passive sentences, so I showed Lee how his passive sentences could be changed to good ones.

                Anyway, I had completed my last bullshit report at the end of April, and I submitted it to the bean counter.  I had no passive sentences because I was a good bullshit reporter.  This bullshit report included a formal recommendation that we start reviewing some of the bullshit data from this bullshit VA intranet website.   My rationale was that we could review that bullshit data and identify bullshit training needs, hopefully helping us reduce errors and potentially speeding up the process for some claims.

                Brilliant idea, you say?  I know, right!  You have my wholehearted agreement on that one.  However, the bean counter—possibly not of his own decision—called to ask me if he could remove my recommendation, not because of something terrible like the passive voice being used, but, essentially, because it made another person’s bullshit report look bad.  The other report recommended a very round-about way of obtaining access to the intranet site that I had referenced in my recommendation.

                Now, I explained to this bean counter that I had nary a fuck to give about the other recommendation, for I had actually resolved the problem of getting access to the site.   All I had to do was ask for access and then get local management’s approval.  It was very simple.

                Furthermore, I explained that my recommendation could have a very real impact on the quality and timeliness of completing the VA disability compensation claims we processed.  I told this bean counter, in no uncertain terms, that if he removed my recommendation, I quite simply would not even be able to, anymore.

                Indeed, I wouldn’t even fucking be able to.

                “Okay,” he said.

                Flash forward to early July.  I was looking at the information that needed to be gathered for my next bullshit report, due at the end of July.  (This second bullshit report of the year for me did not happen, because—spoiler alert—I could not even.)   I decided to look at the saved copy of my previous bullshit report on the shared drive.  My recommendation had been removed.

                I could not, fucking, even, nor would I any longer, fucking, even be able to.

                So, I went home and shut down for a day or so.  I had been feeling trapped in this job for a while, and this was the proverbial last straw.   Not only was I no longer intellectually or creatively challenged or stimulated, but now I could not even.  I had to leave.  I went in, and gave my notice.

                It was actually a pretty easy decision.   Being no longer even able to in a job makes leaving the only thing to do.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Few Thoughts on the Anniversary of Moving into my Home (Also the Anniversary of the Disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, Which is Unrelated and not Mentioned)

So, here’s a flashback for your Friday.  A year ago, right now, I was at my old apartment in Portland, Maine, getting the last of my stuff from TedPlace and bringing it to TedHouse, my home in Hallowell.  I had moved because I was tired of the one-hour commute, each way, to my job at the Togus VA Regional Office in Augusta.  And now, this evening, I’m going to go out and have a nice, but simple dinner to observe both the anniversary of moving and the final paycheck from that job.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of regret.  I like to process through the reason things happen and move forward.  And, indeed, things do happen for a reason.  In my life, most things—the things I have control over—have happened because I decided to do them.  It’s quite simple.  I’m not much of a spiritual man.  I moved to Hallowell to save myself ten hours of commuting each week.  Now, I’ve also dropped 40 hours of working from my schedule, at least temporarily. 

No regrets, though.  Hallowell is a wonderful little town, and I love TedHouse.  But there’s something about this that has made me reflect on the last two moves I’ve made.  I moved to Portland, in 2011 to be with the woman I loved.  One year after moving in together, she was moving out.  We had a difference that we could not reconcile.  It wouldn’t work.  Again, no regrets.  Our relationship was wonderful, while it lasted, and I loved living in Portland.  I stayed for two years after she moved out of our apartment.  It was my choice to move and to stay. 

Then, after three years of commuting from Portland paired with mandatory overtime, I was approaching burnout.  I had been dating someone, and after breaking up, I felt that there was nothing keeping me in Portland.  So, I moved to have more time to myself away from the job that I once really enjoyed.  My commute was down to 15 minutes, but I very soon fell into a pretty significant depression.  It happens.  I have mental problems.

I look around my home and see the remnants of that depression in the form of projects that never happened.  My home is quite habitable without having completed them.  I had just hoped to at least move the floor lamp from my kitchen back to the living room and fix the wiring to install my awesome new—well, now year-old—pendant lights over my Tedmade butcher block table.

Again, do I regret anything?  No.  My depression and that job were on a collision course that I could not avoid.  I just may have to start thinking things through a little more thoroughly before I make any major changes.  I hope to start the grad school in a month.  But at the end of that, will I be able to stay here at TedHouse in Hallowell?  I don’t know.

I do know that I’ll have to be sure about any job that may require me to move from TedHouse.  The last two parts of my life that inspired me to move—a romance and a job—both ended within a year of those moves.

Just something for me to think about before I do something regrettable.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Some People Have to Learn the Hard Way

                My son, Adam, once initiated a freestyle lesson in Spanish.  He was about six, so the lesson consisted of him asking me to translate various words from Spanish into English for him. A big problem with the lesson—indeed a major flaw in this whole thing—was that he didn’t exactly “know” any words in the Spanish.  He knew quite a bit of gibberish, but I still tried to help him as best as I could.

                “What does ‘fasololo’ mean in Spanish?” he asked.  Now, let me be honest for a moment, I don’t remember the exact words in gibberish that he wanted translated from Spanish to English—or the translations I provided him—but that shit isn’t important.  I was laying down some classic, dad-level bullshit.

“’Fasololo?’ That means ‘table’ in Spanish.”

He asked me a couple others, like “dongo” and “wakookie.”  I gave him answers.  “That means ‘coat rack,’” and “That’s how you tell a girl she’s pretty.”  There was a bunch of stuff like that.

Now, I’m not sure why he thought I knew Spanish.  I had just graduated from college with a minor concentration in French, and he knew that I’d been doing French homework for a while.  I had probably told him that I’d taken some Spanish in high school, but I certainly don’t remember much of that.  I could have taught him how to say, “Como se dice ‘fankobabi’ en EspaƱol?”  But I didn’t.  I really failed that kid on the whole Spanish thing.

But, anyway, as our little Spanish lesson was running its course, he asked me what “kobubo”—or something like that—meant in Spanish.  I replied, “Oh, my goodness! Don’t ever say that again!  That’s a really bad word.”

“What does it mean?” he asked.  I really had his attention.  Adam has always had an affinity for foul language, and this was quite a tease for him.  I did not relent, so he never found out what it meant, because it was gibberish, of course, and I was making this stuff up as the conversation progressed.

However, for context, let’s just say that “kobubo” means “fuck your mother” in the Spanish I was making up for Adam.  See what I’m saying?  That’s a really bad thing to say.  I did the right thing not teaching that to a six-year-old.  I stand by this.

Now, when I first thought of writing about this impromptu Spanish lesson, I wanted to tie it in with the time Adam learned to use the proverbial “C-word.”  Don’t worry.  It was pretty funny, and, heads-up, I’m going to be dropping the “C-word” on you in a bit.  But I wanted to tie the two episodes together by using the Spanish lesson as an example of a time when I told Adam not to use a word because it was bad, but he didn’t learn to follow my advice.

But that wasn’t the lesson at all.  Indeed, if Adam learned anything from the Spanish lesson, it was that I’m not 100% trustworthy.  I mean, now, as an adult, he has an appreciation for the fine art of bullshitry, but when he was a few months shy of eleven—at the time of the C-word incident—so he was still a pretty concrete thinker.  And my word, perhaps, was rather dubious.

Now, about that C-word.

For about six years during my marriage, we lived a couple blocks from the high school in Old Town, Maine.  During the summer, the high school pool was open to the public.  The kids, especially Adam, were huge fans of going to the pool.

He loved to swim, and he pushed himself to master the skills he needed to have access to the deep end and the diving boards.  He would have spent his entire day there if he could some days.  For a while, my ex-wife, Kathy, and I wouldn’t let him go without his older sisters.  We didn’t necessarily expect them to “supervise” him, but we did expect a full report.  Now, we realized that his older sisters weren’t going to tell us everything.  Kathy and I had both been kids before, but looking back, we at least subconsciously knew that Krystal and Kasi, our older two daughters, had a relatively low threshold for embarrassment, and we’d at least hear about a lot of Adam’s actions that embarrassed them, if not everything he did.

Ultimately, he was able to go alone.  We may have caved in a little for him.  He was so, so consistently persistent about wanting to go to the pool on his own, and the girls didn’t always want to go.  They were about thirteen and fourteen at the time, and they had lives to live.  We felt that this was safe for Adam to do there in small town, Maine.  Besides—and now that I think of it, as this was the summer before he turned eleven, the summer when I was unemployed and trying to focus on the ol’ job search—I could always go up and check on him, and I often did. 

I’d usually walk up to the pool, oh, every other time or so, and I’d see how he was doing.  The lifeguards liked him, because he was—and still is—really funny.  I’d check in with them and make my presence known to him, and I’d walk home.  What an idyllic life we led in those days, kids going swimming while mom worked and ol’ Ted desperately searched for worked before the unemployment ran out.  Ah, yes, these were pretty good days, indeed, the unemployment notwithstanding.

Until. . .

One Friday evening, Adam had gone to the pool for the couple hours it was open after dinner, and I went to check on him.  His older sisters certainly weren’t going to watch over and report on him, for they were having a sleepover with a couple of their friends.  And young Amber was home tagging along with her older sisters.  The girls were probably planning a fashion or talent show—as they often did.  What a glorious, fun-filled evening of family time we had ahead of us.

Now, I’m not sure exactly what prompted me to go see what Adam was up to, but I’m willing to bet that it was Kathy.  She always had—and still has—a pretty amazing intuition when it comes to the kids.  She and I have been divorced for five years, but if she tells me that she has a gut-feeling that something may be going amiss with the kids, I believe her.  Still.  She probably just said something like, “Why don’t you go check on Adam,”  while she was in the living room with the girls as they planned their talent show or painted each other’s nails or whatever girl stuff they had planned.  I don’t really remember what they were all doing.  I just remember that their lives were about to change. 

So, I walked up to the high school, a very short walk from what we all refer to as the “white house,” a reference not just to where we lived but to a period in our time together as a family.  From our driveway we could see part of the high school parking lot, and I walked the hundred-or-so yards there.

I had made it to the parking lot when I first heard it.  “Ice cream cunt!”  I recognized the voice immediately.  Adam has a pretty distinctive voice, and I could pick it out of the crowd of boys on the patio area outside the pool.  Oh, but I could hear him.  Adam can, shall we say, project.  I heard “Ice cream cunt!” a few more times as I sped up my approach.  And, yes, those were the exact words.

The Old Town High School pool has been the home of a number of state championship swim teams over the years.  The banners were proudly displayed in the gym, and the school records were displayed above the bleachers by the pool.   And just outside, on a fenced-in patio area, my son shouted, “Ice cream cunt!” so close to where so many champions had so nobly represented good ol’ Old Town High.

“Ice cream cunt!” Adam yelled.

I had cut across the grass in the most direct route, as soon as I’d recognized the voice.  I could see him surrounded by teenagers, who, for their own amusement, were clearly prompting him.  When I got close enough that he noticed me—and perhaps my expression—he stopped.  “Adam,” I said, “Get your stuff.”

He stopped yelling it, and the peckerhead teenage boys who had been just moments prior encouraging him, well, I don’t remember too clearly what they did next, besides disperse.  I vaguely remember what was probably a few “uh-oh” looks on their faces along with a few smirks.  I don’t remember saying anything to them, but I may have.  I do remember staring daggers at them. 

And Adam and I walked home.  Our conversation was rather cyclical.

“I don’t know what ‘cunt’ means!” Adam would say, pleading with me.  And, retrospectively, I must give him credit for his honesty.  He did not, at that time, know what ‘cunt’ means.

“Look,” I’d reply, “You can’t say that.  It’s a bad word.”

“But I don’t know what ‘cunt’ means!”

And that was no lie.  The kid had integrity, and I’d like to give him credit for that now, for I could not, then.  “It’s just a really bad word. You don’t ever want to say it, especially in front of your mom or sisters.  Just don’t”

“But I don’t know what ‘cunt’ means!”

And around we went, for all those couple-hundred yards that we walked home.  And Adam has what you might call “voice modulation issues.”  That kid’s voice carried.  He is and always has been an animated and gregarious presence, and he’s always fun to be around.  He’s really funny.  But as I think about him and his lively presence, I can’t help but think about how that conversation played in the neighborhood.   I mean, sure, Adam has heard me yell, a lot, maybe more than anyone else in the world, but I usually tried not to broadcast my displeasure all that publicly.  So, on that summer night, these many years ago, I imagine that anyone in their living rooms or sitting on their back decks or even anywhere near an open window along that street, I imagine they heard that succession of Adam yelling, “But I don’t know what ‘cunt’ means!” with pauses in between when I would quietly plead with him not to say that word.

That word.  The “C-word.”  Cunt.  Let’s talk about “cunt” for a moment.  “Cunt,” that most profane and dreaded synecdoche.  Most people, especially the women-folk, aren’t big fans of it.  Some people just don’t care.  Some people just use it to push a button.  Like any profanity, it carries a certain amount of weight—“fuck it” expresses so much more frustration than “damn it.”  “Cunt” is a heavy one, indeed.    Motherfucker, bitch, cocksucker, cunt, asshole, these words are not meant for polite society or for my gentlemanly conversations.

I do use these words, though.  I don’t really use cunt so much but it has come up in conversations of mine recently, most recently by a woman who was doing some serious venting.  There’s nothing like a nice string of profanities, punctuated with a “cunt,” to let some steam off.  I do it all the time—again, not punctuated with a “cunt”—and often at work.  I mean, I mostly do it under my breath at work, but many times, I’m sure, it can be heard in neighboring cubicles.

And where did I learn this foul language?  A few, I learned when my parents let them slip in front of me.  Most of us learn a few of them that way.  Some, I learned in movies.  I was eleven-or-so when my family first got HBO.  “Cunt”, along with a few others, I learned from my dear brothers.  They were three and eight years older than I, and I often tagged along with them around the house.  I learned a lot from my brothers, a lot of “what not to do” kind of stuff.  If nothing else, I learned the value of discretion.  This lesson served me well in my high school years. 

Early on, I thought “cunt” was merely a naughty way to refer to a lady’s vagina.  As the years passed, I learned that a lady might not like the use of the word “cunt,” especially when it is used metonymously.  I did not have to learn this first hand, but I’m not sure where I learned it, probably the movies.  That’s where normal people learn dirty stuff.  Isn’t it?  I also may have learned it by watching friends make the mistake the mistake of using it.  Lesson learned.

Adam, on the other hand, didn’t always learn from the examples set by others or from a parent telling him not to do something.  Perhaps it’s part of his charm, but Adam, unfortunately, had to learn the hard way.  Ah, the perils of being an almost purely experiential learner.  I tried to tell him.  I honestly did.  That “I don’t know what ‘cunt’ means” conversation, that happened.  Just don’t say that word!  Not good enough for my Adam.

Could I have just told him that “cunt” is what “kobubo” means in English?  Perhaps, but for starters, I’m pretty sure Adam wouldn’t have remembered any of the words from the informal Spanish lesson.  Also, that would have been a lie.  We’ve established that “kobubo” means “fuck your mother,” not “cunt.”  And after the whole gibberish from Spanish to English lesson situation, I couldn’t risk another blow to my integrity with Adam.

Now, should I have told him that “cunt” is a slang term for “vagina” that we just shouldn’t use?  In the moment, that seemed like the worst idea, ever, but perhaps just telling Adam what a cunt is might have prevented what I now recall as the most embarrassing part of the whole “Adam learns the word ‘cunt’” episode.  He may have learned the dirty secret of what the word means, but the spread of the word may have been limited, at least on my watch.

And there we were, Adam and me, back from the pool.  Our “I don’t know what ‘cunt’ means” conversation had not, exactly, come to a resolution, other than me hoping, desperately, that he wouldn’t use the word again.

We got to the house, where the girls were probably in the middle of their fashion show.  My memory of what Adam and I walked into isn’t really clear.  I just know that Kathy could easily tell that something had happened, partly because she just knows stuff like that—it can be creepy—and partly, obviously, because Adam was home with me well before the pool closed.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Some teenagers were egging Adam on to shout something he shouldn’t be saying when I walked up there,” I replied.  “I’ve been trying to talk to him about it on the walk home.”

“What did he say?”

“He was using the ‘C-word,” I said.

“But I don’t know what ‘cunt’ means!” Adam blurted out.

And again, he did not.  Indeed, he did not.

Kathy, for her part, was not exactly pleased with this turn of events, and she was in Adam’s face with a very loud, “Don’t you ever say that again!”  Adam may just get his voice modulation
Adam and Amber, a couple years
 after the "episode."
issues from his mother.

Looking back, I now have to assume that this is when my daughter’s learned the word “cunt,” along with their two friends.  I don’t remember a conversation with their parents the next day about my son introducing their daughters to the word “cunt.”  The aftermath of the “cunt” episode hasn’t really seared itself into my memory the same way the event, itself, did.

One thing I do know is that as I’ve been thinking about this situation, I felt like I had let Adam down.  Could I have prevented this incident by explaining to him that those weren’t Spanish words that he wanted me to translate into English?  Probably not.   And I surely would have regretted not making up English translation to his gibberish terms.  That was an opportunity of a lifetime.

On the other hand, could I have just been a little more understanding with him?  I could have just stopped on the walk home, gone to one knee to be on his level, and looked him in the eyes with my hands on his shoulders and said, “Adam, please don’t use that word.  I can’t tell you what it means right now.  It’s just a bad word.  I never say it, and those guys were jerks for teaching it to you.  Let’s just leave it behind us.”  I sure could have said that.

Hindsight being what it is, I could have done a lot of things different, but the question remains.  Would anything I might have done stopped Adam from using that word in front of my daughters and their friends?  Probably not.  Adam, he learns from experience.

When we first moved into the white house, after having been on the first floor of a duplex for a while, Adam tried a little experiment with the stairs.  He was living full time in a house with stairs, and even though he’d been in plenty of houses with stairs, he had to try something.   On a quiet afternoon soon after our move, Kathy and I were sitting in the living room when we heard a crash and an “Ugh, that hurt.”  We rushed into the hall to see Adam at the bottom of the stairs.  He had jumped from the top to see what it was like.  He was okay, but he’d learned his lesson. 

Now, let me ask you, do you think that there’s anything I could have said to prevent the kid who jumped down a flight of stairs “to see what it was like” from saying “cunt” in front of his sisters and their friends?  Me neither.  You see, Adam, Ol’ Adam, he had to learn things the hard way