Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bidding On The Farm (Part 1)

Last Friday was one of the first truly beautiful days of the year here in Southeastern Michigan. The temperature was in the mid-70s, it was sunny and there was an awesome breeze that made driving with the windows down a true pleasure. Not that I was driving anywhere fast. In fact, at a quarter to five in the late afternoon, I was not moving at all. I was stuck in the right lane of Interstate 75 in Detroit waiting to get onto the westbound lanes of I-94 at a complete stop.

I-75 was completely closed down a couple of exits down from where I was leaving it so the traffic passing me on the left was so sparse it barely existed. The cars in front of me however, were not moving at all and that was going to make me late. Usually, that would irritate me to no end but this time I was actually all right with it. I was on my way to make my brother for a quick beer at The Eagles Aerie in Lincoln Park and after that, we were both going to the funeral of a close family friend. Though I was looking forward to having the beer with my brother, I was not looking forward to the funeral so if I had to spend a few extra minutes soaking up some extra sunshine on the way there, well, that was just fine. There was still a couple of hours before it started so I was in no danger of missing it. At least that is what I thought before the explosion.

There was no warning at all. One second I was looking out at my fellow commuters through my Pontiac Vibe’s windshield, which thanks to the quality of Michigan’s roads was already cracked completely in half despite having just been replaced just over a month before. The next instant, my ears were ringing and my head was laying in the passenger seat, which should have been a physical impossibility considering the fact that I had my seat belt on and there was a console separating where my head and butt were planted. I would have had to have been bent over like a rainbow sideways and let me assure you that because of my attempts to master the positions outlined in the ancient texts of the Kuma Sutra, I am intimately aware of the fact that I am nowhere near that damn limber.

Still, somehow that’s where I was. It was where I watched my glove box open up to vomit out the bag of lemon drops I now use to sooth the occasional nicotine cravings I get while driving. Behind those came a pair of winter gloves, my Tom Tom GPS device, a couple of maps, a few pennies and the Mega Millions lottery slips I used when I go to the liquor store every week to pay my tax on the mathematically challenged. I also watched every piece of trim fall off of the dashboard as the instrument panel disintegrated, fragments of it mixing with the flying lemon drops and pieces of broken glass that now filled the air. At that point it kind of felt like being in a snow globe being shaken by an exceptionally strong six-year-old. Mainly because it would have been happening in complete silence if not for the ringing in my ears.

That silence did not last for long. Inexplicably my radio, which had been turned off, suddenly went on at full volume. Appropriately enough, the song that began blaring out of my speakers was REM’s, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” thanks to the CD I was listening to on the way to work. The music was punctuated by sounds of twisting metal, horns, squealing tires and terrified screaming coming from both inside and outside of my own personal vehicle. It was about then that I realized that I was moving and even though I could not see a thing, I grabbed the steering wheel with my left hand to guide it somewhere safer. I had no idea where in the hell that could possible be but I guessed that anywhere other than where I was would be an improvement over where I was at that particular moment. Eventually, my car came to a stop on its own and I suddenly realized that no matter how hard I tried, I could not breathe. I tried to set myself up in the hope that that would help but was struck by an excruciating bolt of pain in my lower back along with the awareness that I could not move either. That was when I started to panic.

I remember flailing my arms around violently and aimlessly. I think I did that out of instinct more than anything else because there was nothing I was trying accomplish with it as far as I could recall. I tried to scream, but nothing would come out which made me feel even more helpless. It was as if I was drowning and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Eventually though, one of my hands found the steering wheel and I pulled myself back upright. When I did that, the pain in my back shot through the rest of my body as if I had just been impaled. I let another soul wrenching, yet silent, scream as I writhed about the driver’s seat with my eyes clenched shut. After the “scream” subsided, I somehow managed to draw a little air into my lungs. It made my stomach and my ribs hurt, but I got some air into my lungs. My second attempt to breathe hurt worse, but I got a little more air inside. With more air came more pain, but considering how absolutely horrifying the sensation of suffocation is, I would take it.

After I took my first full breath of air, I opened my eyes and immediately regretted it. I had started off at a complete stop in the far-right lane of a four-lane interstate. My car had been thrown two full lanes from there and had turned 180° so that I was now facing oncoming traffic and the first vision to greet me when I tried to take in my surroundings was that of an eighteen wheeled tractor trailer bearing down directly at me at full speed.

My situation at that point was pretty grave. There just was not enough room for the truck to stop in time before it hit me and even if my car was capable of going anywhere at that point, there was not enough time for me to get out of the way. The only option open to me was to open my door up and try to jump clear. An unattractive option from the outset since my legs were not working right, it became an impossible one once I realized that my door was stuck shut. The only thing I could do at that point that point was pray.

Now, I have never been a very religious person and have no history of regular church attendance. As a result, I lack the spiritual discipline to instinctively resort to prayer when things look particularly dire. I imagine that a good Catholic in my position, with a lifetime’s indoctrination into religious ritual and ceremony could just serenely close his eyes and move his lips to form the words, “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee…” My eyes on the other hand, surely opened up as wide as dinner plates and as I prepared to kiss the grill of that truck like some Freightliner version of the Blarney Stone, the only discernible utterance coming out of my lips was, “ohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuck ohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuck...”

Fortunately for me, God does not appear to be much of a stickler in regards to getting all of the words to His prayers right and He decided to spare me anyway. The truck swerved into the only lane of traffic still open and missed me completely. After that, the wall of cars coming at me started slowing down and the risk of me being pulverized by more tractor-trailers dissipated.

Once the danger was gone, I looked around to try to piece together what happened. My rear view mirror was gone so I had to turn around to find out that the back of my car had disappeared. There was a Hyundai Sonata smashed into the overpass two lanes to my left and a bunch of other vehicles all pulled over to the shoulder from which people were emerging to assist the person in the Sonata. It did not take long for me to figure out that the Sonata had barreled into me from behind at full speed and judging by the condition of the Hyundai, never even tried to hit the brakes.

A Picture of my Car from This Morning
At first, nobody was coming over to try to help me at all. I was going to try to call out to someone but initially decided against it. I felt myself starting to break down and really did not want anybody to see me until I regained my composure. It was not the incredible pain in my back, the anxiety I had about my legs not working right or the fear about the whole situation in general that was causing me to lose control, it was just that after the near-miss I had with that truck, I just really missed my kids at that exact moment.

(Author’s Note: I have to break as the pain meds are putting me to sleep. Will continue this in parts until its finished. Those of you with my cell phone number, don’t bother calling it. My phone got lost during the accident and I won’t have a replacement until at least Tuesday.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tyke Fibbing

I will be the first to admit that before I got married and had children, I was not the most responsible person. An incorrigible libertine, my first priority was always the pursuit of a good time and I have done things in my past that I am now a bit reluctant to admit to, especially if I am not completely certain about whether or not the statute of limitations regarding such acts have run out yet.

Now that I am older, wiser and forced to serve as a role model to four little people who take their behavior cues from me, I know I have to set a better example and try to live my life as I would like them to live theirs. In order to teach them the value of hard work, they will never see me call in sick just to take advantage of a beautiful spring day. To teach them that stealing is not acceptable behavior, they will never see me pocket money that is not mine when a cashier gives me too much change back. To teach my kids the value of honesty they will never…well…they…well… OK, what can I say? I struggle with this one and I would guess any parent who does not wish to raise a con-artist struggles with it too.

On the surface, telling the truth should be a black-and-white issue but all too often that just is not the case. For example, there are millions of men out there who have had a woman confront them with the question, “Honey, do these pants make my butt look big?” This question only has one correct answer and it is not, “No, the pants don’t have anything to do with it.” When a woman asks a man a question like that, she is not looking for the truth and since I also intend to instill a strong sense of self-preservation into my two boys, you can rest assured that I will be teaching them to respond to such an inquiry with an immediate and unrepentant bold-faced distortion of the facts.

Do not misunderstand me. I would like to be just as honest around my children as I am around my boss, my friends or my wife but truth be told, I just can not bring myself to do it. Sometimes I lie to my kids for nothing more than fun. For instance, one time my son came home from his church-based day care a little unclear on the “Our Father” portion of the Lord’s Prayer. Over dinner, he looked up at me and asked me if I was God.

Obviously, my own parents must have woefully neglected my own religious upbringing because without even hesitating to consider the blasphemous implications of my answer I said, “Yup.”

My son’s eyes then grew to the size of dinner-plates as he asked, “Really? Did you create man?”

“Sure did.”


“Well, first you need some molasses, some mustard, a car battery, some kitty litter, a couple of matches….” After giving him the recipe for Creation I then spent the week ordering him to clean his room unless he wanted to me to “smite thee like the wicked realms of Saddam and Tora Bora”. He finally called me on it when I proved incapable of turning water into orange flavored Kool Aid.

Another scenario when the truth becomes rather inappropriate is when children ask their parents about their own past, especially when the parents in question did not always make the best of choices while growing up. This is particularly true when the parents are actually a bit unrepentant about some of the worst choices that they might have made and can not convincingly portray any sense of regret about having made them.

For instance after watching a television show about cops and robbers, a child may ask their father if he had ever been in jail. The correct answer to this question is not, “No because Daddy was stationed in a lot of Third World countries when he was young and every time he got into enough fun for the police to get involved, he always had enough bribe money in his sock to keep him out of handcuffs. There was the one time in Thailand though where I wrecked the elephant but that was not Daddy’s fault. The police made a mistake and accused Daddy of driving the elephant while he was drunk. Daddy was not driving the elephant though, that #$%!@ thing was going wherever it wanted to no matter what your father tried to get it to do.”

However accurate that statement may be, it is too much for a young child’s ears to comprehend. Still, a parent will likely not want to just come out and tell an outright lie to his kids either. Fortunately, unlike in Thai traffic courts, children can not compel a parent to tell the whole truth so selective portions of the story can be left out. Tell the tykes that their father was too busy performing services for the community to go to jail. Just leave out the fact that this community service was court mandated and you are pretty much golden.
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