In Homage to My Mom

My mother visited us this past Christmas. It’s great, I love it when she visits because she’s always so incredibly helpful at pointing out all the things that I can improve. It’s like having a permanent free life coach. You know, like one year I’m too skinny, another year I’m too fat; last year I needed to change my hairstyle, this year I need to shave. Like many, I would be totally lost without my mom’s constant advice and “constructive” criticism. Now I’m the perfect weight with flawless hair and skin, just ask my wife.

Besides her impeccable tastes, however, I love when my mom visits us because she is famous for bringing exotic gifts.

For example, a few Decembers ago, my mom brought a super useful set of items that I didn’t realize we so desperately needed. When I picked up her luggage I was taken aback and sarcastically asked, “Mom, what do you have in these bags, rocks‽” Well, I came home from work the next day to find the floor in our largest room completely covered with chestnuts. So, not rocks this time. It looked like some kind of weird Home Alone booby-trap scenario. My mom said that she was drying them out. Of course, how foolish of me to be confused. It makes perfect sense to fill an entire suitcase with 50 pounds worth of chestnuts, fly them across the country, and then lay them out to dry in your son’s sunroom.

Back to this last visit. This time…

It was rocks.

My mom brought a valise filled with rocks, ceramics, and bamboo. Because, as you know, we don’t have rocks here in Florida so it’s only natural that she would think it prudent to pack enough rocks for us to complete our interior home garden.

When I was a kid, I was sort of annoyed/embarrassed by these eccentric gifts. Shocking I know. But now: I love it. And I can hardly wait to see what she brings next.

So, thank you, mom. You’re the best, and I love you. I only hope that one day I can repay you in some small measure with equally pragmatic portmanteau products.

Also, remember children, never leave your mothers at home alone unless you want your entire living area turned into a makeshift hydroponics system.

My Delightful Joyride Trailblazing John Denver’s Country Road

So, we saw the new Marvel movie this weekend: Avengers Endgame. And it got me thinking… Wow, what an accomplishment for all those involved—this whole interconnected, cinematic phenomenon all started elevenish years ago. What was I doing eleven years ago? What do I have to show for the past decade?

Well, I was in college. And I suppose that when I wasn’t goofing off, I was probably in a class or something. But more specifically, for some odd reason, superheroes punching aliens made me recall a particular incident from a particular adventure that I went on during my Freshman year.

A friend from my dorm and I decided to go on a road trip during a school break: up through the Midwest to Canada and then back down through New England. We were driving my car, and I didn’t own a GPS. This is also before the whole smartphone revolution. So we were doing old school MapQuest printouts and even older school actual road maps to navigate our way across the northeastern region of the United States.

One night, late—like approaching midnight—we were lost. Well, I won’t say lost. I’ll say we simply didn’t know where we were or where we were going. Anyways, somehow we ended up on this backroad in the middle of must have been nowhere, driving through the thick, dark mountain forest of a state that perhaps doesn’t always have the best reputation for being a safe place to get lost in. But so as not to offend anyone, let’s use an alias and call it the Back Woods of the Smaller Skintag Version of Virginia Located Westerly.

All of a sudden, a dim light appeared in the distance: a partially lit motel sign with forbidding dead branches hanging around the property like a cloud of spikes and splinters. Yes, whatever you’re imagining right now, that’s about right. This was the Bates Motel, the Hotel California, the opposite of the light at the end of the tunnel. Look, I cannot possibly express how eerie the atmosphere and just plain creepy the building was.

The parking lot was absent of cars, but the open sign was flickering on. I looked at my friend. He was known as a military, survivor-type on our hall. He wore an army-issued jacket, combat boots, and in his pockets were knives. Why someone needed to carry so many knives with them, I’ll never know (actually, in retrospect, perhaps the greater danger was sitting beside me the whole time). But as I parked, I looked at my friend with bewilderment and trepidation, and he spoke up first, “I’m not going in there.”

As I stood in front of the door, I weighed my options: is it better to die from exposure, lost in the woods, or to be murdered by some motel manager maniac? Before I could really think it through, I was turning the doorknob. The door creaked open, and inside I could see shadows crawling on the walls as just the vaguest sense of any light source penetrated through the bleak darkness. Seriously, no lights were turned on. Sitting by a bar counter, a gruff voice behind a burning cigarette asked if he could help me. I thought, “probably not, I’m just fine, thank you and good day sir, I’ll be going now…”

I could go on, but not to make things overly dramatic, I did eventually get some semblance of directions to navigate back to the highway. Obviously, I’m still alive. Anticlimactic much?

I guess the point of me telling this story is that sometimes the journey of life can take unexpected turns. Sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes we’re surrounded by what seems like infinite darkness. Sometimes, we come face to face with our nightmares.

But don’t let those realities stop you from taking the journey, from living life. We can never prevent all dangers and disasters. Trouble is inevitable. Safety is never guaranteed. But if we let fear consume and control us, then what’s the point of being alive at all? Don’t just exist. Live. And maybe carry a pocketknife or two.

The movie was pretty good by the way (especially for fans). You should go see it—and think about where the last eleven years have brought you.