Monthly Archives: July 2009

I’m going to start a new feature here on Hit Coffee where each weekend (as defined by any point from noon Friday to noon Monday) I’m going to share a song or video of some sort (today, and often, a video of a song). Today’s song is “Alabama”, by Cross Canadian Ragweed. Cross Canadian Ragweed is an alternative country act that has risen to stardom lately. They might be worth your while if you’re not into country songs about tears in your beer, though this song actually sort of fits into that category (albeit with more of a pop sound). Note that the first video includes a commercial.

Here’s a video of some guy playing the same song:

Here’s another guy (in a cowboy hat, this time):

Category: Theater

The military is looking at banning smoking in the military. I didn’t really have an opinion until I read the explanation:

Jack Smith, head of the Pentagon’s office of clinical and program policy, says he will recommend that Gates adopt proposals by a federal study that cites rising tobacco use and higher costs for the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs as reasons for the ban.

Now smoking is bad for you for all sorts of reasons. And there are reasons I could see it being particularly bad for soldiers. It cuts into stamina, disrupts sleeping patterns, and so on. And the military is a place where the “freedom to be” does not really exist. So there are a number of reasons as to why I could support (or at least decline to oppose) a ban.

Health care costs, however, are not among them. Soldiers are not like senior citizens on Medicare or less fortunate citizens on Medicaid. They don’t get health care out of the goodness of the hearts of the federal government and its taxpaying benefactors. They get it because they served our country. Just as the GI Bill is not a gift, neither is the VA. If we’re going to put them in harms way and in stressful situations and if they need to smoke to cope with that and we’re not worried about the effect it would have on their job performance, then paying for some emphaczema tanks and lung cancer treatments is really not something that we should get huffy about.

Category: Hospital, Newsroom

After I explained about how I broke the door handle on my wife’s car, Sheila said:

I have never, ever had a car door handle break or heard of someone to whom that happened. Until now, Banana-hands.

Neither had I.

However, I was talking to the autoshop guy and asked how much it would cost to replace a door handle on a 1997 Toyota Camry.

He knew the answer off the top of his head.

Why? Cause it happens with 90’s Camrys a lot.

So there, Sheila. 🙂

Category: Road

-{Previously on “My History in Popularity”…}-

I previously discussed my relatively sanguine experiences in elementary school where I was guarded by my parents’ position in the community, some athleticky friends that I played sports with, and so on. Meanwhile, there was an undercurrent of factors that would later come to haunt me. I’d gained weight, become friends with some less popular people, and embraced eccentric parts of my personality that were not conducive to young popularity. I had “graduated” from elementary school with a vague optimism that junior high would be a little better since there would be more people that I would get to know. How very wrong I was.

-{Larkhill Intermediate School}-

Junior high is tough in even the best of circumstances. The onset of puberty, for instance. Your own puberty is actually only a fraction of the problem. By far, the bigger problem is all of the aspiring thugs that suddenly have testosterone gushing through their system. The people that left me alone (or were the reason others left me alone) turned on me as they made new friends that they needed to impress.

Unfortunately, ours was one of the smaller schools to feed into our middle school, so we were absorbed into the social structure of Larkhill Elementary. Larkhill was more of a working class sort of place with a lot of kids raised by uneducated boatsmen, mechanics, and things like that. While very far from an inner city school, it was just a more rough-and-tumble place than was West Oak Elementary and Mayne High School would prove to be. Though only about a quarter or a third of Mayne high school was comprised of people fed into by Larkhill, I would say that well over half of the troublemakers were people I knew from junior high.

Aggravating the problems in junior high was that everything that started getting bad in late elementary school was getting worse. My weight was getting worse, Clint was becoming even more of a social liability, and he and I both would continue to go off and do our own things rather than participate in activities that involved other people. Now added to the mix were other friends, though, that were as bad as or often worse than Clint.

But once again, I had my chance. Joining the football team in the seventh grade didn’t help my popularity, but that was partially my own decision. I wasn’t being invited to parties or anything, but the smart kids on the football team were appreciation that I was a lot smarter than a lot of the other kids on the team. And the contingent of bullies-without-girlfriends (the Crabs and Goyles of the world, who are rarely provoked and often feared) seemed ready to adopt me. But in both cases, there was the issue of the kids that I hung out with.

I don’t want any of this to be read as a complaint that Clint (or anybody else) was dragging me down. Clint did come with a cost, but I can seriously say that my friendship with him was worth just about any price. More than anybody but my parents, he helped shape me into who I have become. Though our friendship was rocky at times (mostly my fault because I was agitated at the opportunities it was costing me), it would lay the groundwork for a great friendship and by the time we reach late high school, he was actually my ambassador to Mayne High School – an invaluable asset.

After football ended, I lost whatever chance I might have had. Clint and I were in offseason athletics together and we brought out the social worst in one another. Worse was the presence of Raleigh, a “friend” who was by far a greater liability than Clint ever was. Worse, while Clint was picked on for stupid reasons, Raleigh deserved his unpopularity. But the three of us (and a German exchange student) would hang out off in our corner while the jocks were all playing a game that sort of a mixture between football and rugby. We might as well have painted targets on our back.

You might think that my size would have made me a less likely target. Or at least my height would. But by and large the worst would-be tormentors actually tended to be the smaller kids. Little Napoleons. The good news was that they were the easiest to deal with. If I stood my ground, they did not genuinely have the confidence they depicted that they would be able to take me out. One Napoleon attempted to push me, but I grabbed his hands, pushing them to the side, and spun him to fall onto the ground. Another case he tried to jack my foot (place his foot under mine while jogging and then pull it up to make me tumble) and actually hurt his knees in the process. The bigger kids were less afraid. Never provoking a fight, but giving pants-pulls, wedgies, and body gloves with some regularity.

My luck with the girls was scantly any better. This was actually an area where Clint had notably more success than I did. I was fat and he was scrawny and I was introverted and he was extroverted so he had a few sorta-relationships while I was rejected over and over again by girls I hadn’t the first clue of how to ask out.

Things improved somewhat by the eighth grade. Not only was I one of the oldest kids in the school, but I was also one of the biggest. And no longer in the worst way. I’d sprouted up to about 6′ and though I weighed more than ever, my dimensions mildly improved. Additionally, they had just build Airfield Intermediate School and the student population of Larkhill dropped considerably into something more manageable. It seems that Larkhill had previously been about the worst possible size. Too small to achieve anonymity, too large with too many nemeses to to ever confront them.

Plus, I got smart. Or rather I used my smarts. I discovered this concept called “bribery” and I found it remarkably effective. It actually started out as a profit-motivated endeavor. Compared to a lot of my friends at the time, I had a pretty good work ethic and was relatively smart. I did my homework when they didn’t. For my friends (the ones I liked) I would give them the answers. For people I didn’t like, I would charge them money. I didn’t even need the money. I just wanted it to cost them something so that they wouldn’t ask me to do every little thing for them. Anyway, one of my bullies wanted in on the action. He asked how much I charged. I said “Buy me a coke at lunch and we’re even” (the average rate was $5 for an assignment I’d already done and $10-$20 for one I hadn’t, so he was getting quite the bargain). The money wasn’t as important as the fact that the coke was the ticket to sitting with him at lunch. The guy who was one of my worst same-grade tormentors in the 6th grade actually signed my yearbook in the 8th. He not only became my friend, but he kept other bullies at bay. He introduced me to his friends. I made my first female friend through him.

The other factor was that I joined the basketball team, which was a mixed bag but mostly on the positive. It reconnected me with a whole lot of people that I played YMCA basketball and, though some were the folks that turned on me in the 6th and 7th grade, we worked out way back up to neutral terms.

Unfortunately, by the 8th grade my head was kept so low that I never noticed things were improving. I remember the relief of not being under the constant weight of bullies, but there was no real sense of optimism. I was oblivious to the opportunities that were starting to open up. And I was still clueless how to get along with these entities called “people”. If one of the big advantages of public education over homeschooling is socialization, it’s possibly a mixed lesson.

-{Next: Mayne High School}-

Category: Ghostland, School


Different people divide the strata in K-12 society differently. Some people say that there is “the popular” and “the unpopular”. I personally divide people into three categories: the popular, the not popular, and the unpopular. The first group is self-explanatory, the second group consisting of people that simply lack popularity, and the third group consisting of people that are aggressively disregarded. I’ve actually shifted between all three of these groups over the course of my K-12 experience.

-{West Oak Elementary}-

When I started out, I was actually in a relatively good social position. I was friends with a neighbor who was a bit of a bully but kept the other bullies at bay for me. My father was known for being a little league coach. My mother was actively involved in PTA and the like and so a lot of people had parents that knew my parents. And I played sports so a lot of kids knew me from that.

It was, alas, not to last. The biggest problem was that I started gaining weight in about the second grade. It was the biggest problem, though oddly it didn’t actually start causing me problems until the others started to surface. The second issue, related to the first, was that I started to sweat a lot. Given that I don’t have a good sense of smell, I didn’t fully appreciate the need to shower and better groom myself.

The third and fourth are also related. I became friends with Clint, who was a social liability. Clint also had an odor problem and was one of the scrawniest kids you ever saw. He also had ADHD (like the serious kind where you jump out of your chair and for no reason start running around the classroom). So there was a little bit of tarnish-by-association involved. But as important as that was that he and I got along so well that we often didn’t need anybody else. So while the other kids were playing kickball or whatever, he and I were off in our own corner doing our own thing. That sort of self-segregation between you and everyone else (except an unpopular cohort) is a pretty poor strategy.

I was really rather oblivious to the whole need to build and maintain relationships. People had always been there and I had my friends and it was never a problem. Until of course it would become one. When I needed people to have my back and realized that there were none there because I hadn’t made the time and effort to try to include myself. This would become a persistent problem, but it was definitely one that started at West Oak Elementary.

I was becoming vaguely aware of it being a problem. By the fifth grade I had noticed some problems occurring and started tut-tutting Clint about getting too animated. “Think of the casual observer,” I’d say. In other words, don’t do anything that someone who happened to be looking in your direction would find inexplicably weird or mock-worthy. Unfortunately, I never took it to the next step which is to get to know people and to maintain those relationships.

In addition to my connections and my parents’ standing in the community, it was also a lot easier where there were fewer students. To know me is, if not to like me, then to at least think that I am an okay guy. In person I am remarkably inoffensive. All of this was enough to carry me through the fifth grade remaining mostly in tact. I wasn’t popular anymore, but I wasn’t unpopular. I wasn’t generally targeted. That would all change when I got to junior high.

-{To Be Continued}-

Category: Ghostland, School

On the weekend before taking my car Crayola in to the shop, I decided to try to best Murphy’s Law by looking for a new car. I wasn’t sure that the damage to Crayola was catastrophic, but with that car even a repair bill of $2,000 made him not worth fixing. And the problems were severe enough that I couldn’t rely on him in the meantime. So I figured that I would look at getting a new (used) car. The more I looked, Murphy’s Law would dictate, the less necessary it would be.

It was a fun experience. I’ve never actually purchased a car before. I’ve always gotten hand-me-downs. Even when I got a car that was new to the family, it was usually some deal that my father arranged. The cheapest car available that met the criteria. What I wanted (justly) did not matter. So I took it and was always grateful. But here we were in a situation where I would actually be able to choose a car. Though we’d have to buy a relatively inexpensive used car, our definition of “inexpensive” wasn’t $2-6k and our definition of “used” was really “barely used”, 10-20k miles.

It’s sort of like when I was a kid, my parents wouldn’t buy me the nicest shows but I at least had the option of getting something in a style that I liked. I’ve always been partial to high-tops, for instance, so I could get cheap high-tops. As my feet got bigger, the selection got smaller. As I turned the corner passed 13 into 14 and later 15, it would become a matter not so much of choosing what I liked but asking, with pleading eyes, what if anything they had in my size. Then online shoe stores became all the rage and suddenly I was a kid again, being able to choose something that I actually wanted.

So here I was, actually looking at different makes and models that I could actually own. It was like being a kid at the shoe store again. Further, all of the models I’ve previously owned and liked (Dodge Colt, Chrysler Lebaron, and Ford Escort) are all long-since discontinued. So I had to leave my comfort zone. Exciting! Even further, I come from a Dodge-Ford family (Dodge up until 98 or so, Ford since, with one aberrant Chevy), but with Detroit in the shape it’s in, I would have to even look at foreign cars. A very {chuckle} foreign concept {sorry, couldn’t resist} to me. I figured that since I had married into a Toyota family that I would become a Toyota person by default (sorta like how a vaguely religious person who marries into a more strictly religious family tends to adopt that faith if they will have them), but a guy could dream, right?

I was mostly interested in a subcompact of some sort. I like cars that get good mileage. Having had round-trip commutes that range from 60 miles to 115 miles in my last three jobs, I’m particularly price-conscious. Beyond that, while I’m not much of an environmentalist, if I can get something more economically friendly that’s one of the things that I can actually do and I’d like to do so. Not enough to get a hybrid or anything (not until there is a solid used market in my price range and my driving habits would be able to take advatange), but something is better than nothing. Oh, and did I mention that mileage makes a pretty big difference on a 90-mile daily commute?

Beyond that, I actually like small cars. My favorite car has always been a Dodge Colt. My least favorite have been the vans I’ve driven and the Land Barge I drove for a while. Despite the fact that my body is not built for a small car, I like a small footprint for parking and maneuverability reasons. I have also become near-phobic of vans since a near accident several years ago. And though we have some money saved up, the less spent the better. All of this pointed to a subcompact.

The only concern about compacts I have is ceiling space. Crayola, my current 2D Ford Escort, is too short. I can deal with my knee inadvertently changing the volume on the radio, but I don’t like to have to slouch in my car. So I wanted something small but with more interior space. That lead me to the Nissan Versa, which has ads that specifically boast interior space. Sure enough, it’s 60″, 8″ taller than Crayola. Come to find out that the Escort is unusually short for a car (52-53″). Even though it’s not a subcompact, most of the subcompacts I looked at were significantly taller, the only big exception being the Hyundai Accent (55″), though even that was 3″ taller. The Toyota Yaris was 57.5″.

So most of my early looking around involved that Nissan Versa and all its glorious height. It had pretty solid reviews, though the gas mileage wasn’t as good as with most of the other subcompacts (it was comparable to the Escort’s mileage, in fact). I also found myself looking at the Kia Rio, which was notably less expensive than the Versa and with solid gas mileage. A little bit shorter (58″), but certainly closer to the Versa than the Escort. Plus, Rios were cheaper despite including features (MP3 player, bluetooth) that Nissan wants extra for. Unfortunately, a glance of the reviews scratch the Rio from consideration. Complaints of breakdowns and of having difficulty getting them serviced. Beyond that, the rental car that Enterprise gave me was a Rio and I was not very impressed by it

The car that I liked the most was the Dodge Caliber. The Caliber was the successor to the Neon which was the successor to my beloved Colt. It was as tall as the Versa, though classified as a compact rather than a subcompact. Besides its tie with the Colt, the biggest attraction to it was entirely superficial. I just love the way it looks. And it’s a Dodge, which pulls me back to its roots. Beyond superficiality, though, it was priced out of what I could justify paying. Besides which, Dodge is a Chrysler brand and there’s a lot going on in their household that I would prefer steer clear of.

The Yaris looked attractive, but it lost on cost points with a slightly higher price than the Versa. Ditto for the Honda Fit, which my ex-roommate Hubert drives and endorses. I kept it in mind, though, if I could get a good deal on it. That was another problem with the Yaris, though. While Nissan makes the Versa rather central to their line, the Yaris seems to be treated something like an ugly step-child within Toyota.

So I’d more-or-less decided on the Versa. I was going to look around to see good deals on the other cars, but the Versa was what I had in mind. But, of course, the purpose of all of this looking was that I wouldn’t have to buy a new car. And that was what happened. The cost of repairs ($1,100) was just outside of what I was comfortable paying, but I needed to make a choice quickly and the overall sense was that the problems were isolated and not indicative of larger problems that would cost more down the road. Beyond that, since we’re going to be moving again soon I figure that it would be better not to buy a car until we know where we’re moving to. The Versa is the perfect choice for the Zaulem Sound area, where parking, maneuverability, and mileage matter a great deal. It makes less sense in the rural place that we’re likely to end up and I should tailor my choice around that. So I got it fixed. I have to confess that a part of me was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be getting something novel and interesting. Further, given the givens about what happens next in terms of cars, it’s unlikely that I will ever own any of these neat cars that I was looking at. It was going to be the Crayola and after the Crayola it was going to be a different kind of car (something more family-friendly and maybe with AWD).

My sense turned out to be wrong, though. Problems with Crayola have already started creeping up again. It’s not throwing tantrums when going uphill, but it’s not happy about it. No problems with high speeds, though, and mileage is good. But since my employment at Mindstorm is coming to an end I have to look at different criteria. Criteria I frankly should have been looking towards when I was trying to tempt Murphy’s Law. Something with All-Wheel Drive and something family friendly. So I’ve since been making my acquaintance with the Subaru family of cars. Subaru apparently specializes in AWD and it’s available on all of their models and pretty standard with them as well. I would like for the Truman family to be a one-make family if at all possible. I found it helpful when all of our cars growing up were made by Dodge and later Ford. That Subarus are almost all built with AWD means that I can do so with the flexibility of AWD cars (Impreza and Legacy) to crossover (Outback and Forester) to {shudder} 3-row minivan (Tribeca) all with AWD. This assumes that we’re going to end up somewhere with snow and the like that AWD is important. If we end up in Estacado, I’ll look elsewhere.

Though so far it’s proven to be nothing but sunk time, I’ve enjoyed looking at all of these cars. It’s something I’ve never really been able to do before. Among other things, I’ve learned the appeal of new cars compared to used. Particularly in the current market when they’re doing everything they can in order to get you to buy new. The price difference is closing, but more than just that I’ve learned that getting a new car may be the only way to get the features that you want that if you decide to tack-on to the price of a used car closes the gap further still. Not completely, though, so I will probably end up with another used car. But I’ll do a lot more comparisons before making that choice official, though. I’ve also learned that I will probably never buy a German car.

The other benefit is that it’s made my commutes more enjoyable. I’ve had a great time looking at all the cars I’m stuck in traffic with. That was what turned me on to Subaru and the Dodge Caliber to begin with. It’s given me something to do when there isn’t much to do. I’m always grateful for that.

Category: Road

Crayola, my 1998 Ford Escort, starting giving me some grief when I pushed it a few months ago. By “pushed it” I mean going over 60mph or at an incline. Since the speed limits around here are rarely above 60mph, I could live with that. The problem was that there are two ways home, one of which is blocked off due to construction and the other involves a pretty steep incline. Plus, nobody likes driving a car that throws periodic temper tantrums in the course of daily use.

So for a little while I swapped cars with my wife since she works a mile away, walks most days, and avoids the inclines or interstate other days. I was actually somewhat excited by the prospect because I almost always drive the worse car in the family. As the youngest son, I was the last in the hand-me-down chain. Then I married Clancy and though her car is slightly older than mine, Toyotas seem to age better than do Escorts. So for once I was going to get to drive the nice car. The very first day I had the car, though, I opened it and the handle snapped off the door. As much as her car is nicer than mine, being able to get in the driver’s door negates all of the other advantages (sans temper tantrums). So while I was driving the better car at the time, my upgrade had in the first day become a downgrade over Crayola’s usual state of being.

This isn’t the first time that I have been unable to get into the driver’s side. Sandstorm, the gold 98 Escort I drove before swapping it out with my father for Crayola after Storm hit 200,000 miles. Sandstorm had a broken lock on the driver’s side, so you had to unlock it from the passenger’s side and reach across to unlock it. Once you were reaching across to unlock it, it was actually easier to just get in from the passenger’s side than to get back out and walk around. So I learned how to spin across and land in the passenger’s bucket. Kind of a hassle, but kind of cool. Unfortunately, I had a tougher time spinning in Clancy’s car despite it’s larger size. My foot kept bumping into the wheel. I later learned that the best thing to do was put the seat in recline and if I did that, I could spin around like in the old days with Sandstorm.

The cool has become less significant than the hassle.

I kept looking for an opening to take Crayola into the shop, but never quite found it. What I had forgotten was Clancy was about to start a new rotation about 20 miles away and she would not be able to use my car. So necessity required my taking Crayola in the first day of that month.

To be continued

Category: Road
A look at The Four Year Itch, the Guard Rails of Marriage, and The Case Against Premarital Cohabitation.

I’ve mentioned before that I am broadly opposed to premarital cohabitation. It’s the product of, among other things, my upbringing. Premarital sex was rarely mentioned because that would have meant talking about sex, but Mom was adamant about premarital cohabitation. Not everything she taught me stuck, but that one did. Her take on the issue was rather simple: If you’re far enough along to move in with someone, you’re far enough to marry them. If you’re not far enough to marry them, you’re not far enough along to move in with them. Breathtakingly simple as Mom has the tendency to be sometimes.

Of my three brothers, I’m the only one that stuck with that counsel. My brothers, though, at least waited until they were engaged and that was enough to pacify Mom. Clancy and I waited until we were actually married. Interestingly enough, Mom sort of reneged in my case, telling me not to let a desire to premaritally cohabitate get in the way of an awesome thing. As it turned out, Clancy was of the same mind on the subject that I was. Dad, who had never really voiced an opinion on the subject, disapproved of Clancy and I moving in together until I pointed out that we were talking about after our wedding. Clancy’s parents always respected her decision, though her sisters and cousins were somewhat derisive on the subject.

Clancy is the only person that I’ve ever dated and discussed the subject that agreed with me. Julie thought it was just one of my “weird things” and Evangeline was adamant about cohabitation being a part of the process that culminates in marriage. Eva lived with her now-husband prior to getting married and Julie lived with Tony for a few years before that fell apart. Though I have views on the subject, I’m not sure that there was ever enough conviction behind them to stick with them while watching someone I loved walk away. Fortunately, it never came to that.

We live in a different world than the one that my mother talked me against. One in which premarital cohabitation is the norm and the more traditional views of Clancy and I cutting somewhat against the grain. At least among our peers. I’ve never been positive that I was right on the subject. It was something that I’d never really had to confront. I used to have some great statistics about the likelihood of a marriage surviving when comparing those that cohabitated prior to marriage and those that did not, but my friend Rick (who has lived with his girlfriend for a long time with no marriage in sight) pointed out that those statistics can be marred by a number of other variables. For instance, premarital cohabitants are more likely to cut from slices of the population more likely to get divorced in general. People too poor to get married at first, for instance, are also often going to be poor enough that money is going to sink the wedding that they do have. Family-minded people are less likely to cohabitate and less likely to divorce. And on and on.

So with the world having changed, and with the possibility that I could be wrong, one thing that I have had to consider is whether or not I will carry the torch and warn my kids against premarital cohabitation. I believing in picking one’s battles and picking battles that you’re doing to lose will often hinder your fighting the battles that might otherwise be winnable. Warning your kids against any premarital sex may convince them not to engage in premarital sex but could also convince them that you are ridiculously out of touch and that they should ignore your advice on other subjects as well. So I haven’t been sure whether to put up a cursory fight on the subject of the appropriateness of premarital cohabitation or to just let that slide in favor of the areas that I might be able to get through. How important is it, really?

I’ve been thinking about that the last couple weeks and have come to the determination that it’s important enough. As with many things where my parents’ advice became wiser with age, I think that this is one of them. It’s more complicated than the picture that Mom laid out about cows and free milk, but it’s still a point worth making even if I (likely) lose on the subject.

The primary problem with premarital cohabitation is, in my view, that it allows couples to put off making decisions that need to be made. It can make things too comfortable to progress. It removes one of the final carrots between dating and marriage. Talk about how if a relationship doesn’t become a marriage because of cohabitation that it won’t become a marriage anyway is at once partially true and utterly beside the point.

I have become extremely suspicious of Sour Grapes arguments over the years. They’re too pat. For instance, the notion that if legalized prostitution is all that stands between a marriage working and falling apart that it can’t be a good marriage to begin with doesn’t ring true. It’s sort of like arguing if you need guard rails to stop you from driving off the cliff that you’re too bad a driver to be driving near cliffs to begin with has an element of truth to it, but it’s not helpful. People will drive near said cliffs and the damage done by a marriage that’s at a weak point with and without a prostitute in the picture can be vastly different. This isn’t an argument that prostitution should be illegal (I’m conflicted on the subject), but that there are tradeoffs on the balance of pros and cons.

The same is true of marriage more generally, where some argue that if you need a piece of paper to validate your bond that it can’t be that strong to begin with. Maybe, maybe not. But for serious-minded people, having that piece of paper changes everything. Four years in, I simply could not have left Clancy the same way that I left Julie. That doesn’t mean that I stayed in an unhappy marriage not worth saving (our marriage has never been like that), but it did force me to confront issues as they arose out of fear that if left unaddressed they could lead to a situation in which leaving might be an attractive option. The difference between being married and not being married is a significant one. That I acknowledge its significance in no way makes my marriage weaker than the next person’s. Rather, it demonstrates a respect for marriage that in my view makes my relationship stronger than an unmarried or married couple that views the institution as a “piece of paper.”

We are vulnerable to our surroundings. Someone in a moderately happy relationship that flirts with danger, so to speak, is more likely to tank than someone in a marriage’s down-period that sees his situation for what it is and denies all temptations. Even well-intentioned people will fall victim to temporary lapses in judgment. One of the tricks to avoiding an explosion is not to dance around in a powder keg with a cigarette lighter in your pocket. Not to allow yourself to get too comfortable with undesirable situations. Best case, you stay uncomfortable. Worst case, in a sudden need to break free you make a tragic mistake.

I spent some time a couple weeks ago counseling a friend getting out of a relationship that lasted four years. My ex-girlfriend Julie lived with a Tony for four years before it broke apart. Julie and I never lived together, but we nonetheless held strong for… four years. I read an article about the Seven Year Itch once that suggested that the pattern is actually four years. For some reason, that’s when relationships that have reached a point of stasis start to crater. I expect that if, during the ebb that often occurs after four years, you don’t have the guard rails of marriage that a lot of relationships that could otherwise make it won’t.

But the real danger is not in sidelining relationships that could evolve into marriage. I am actually willing to concede that most of the time the cohabitation-proponents are right. If a relationship is going to make it, premarital cohabitation probably won’t hurt your chances. Too much, anyway. The bigger danger is not in the relationships that otherwise might make it, but rather in the ones that won’t. The danger being that they still won’t work, but that they will take a lot longer not to work. And this will come to light after a lot more has been invested in the doomed relationship.

One of the benefits that the existence of marriage provides is a gut-check on the long-term viability of a relationship. It’s no mistake that in all three of the above cases, the cratering occurred when the man was wrestling with whether or not to propose. When he (I) decided not to, it meant not only the non-existence of a proposal but the end of the relationship. The perspective of the man being that if this wasn’t permanent, then he needed to find something that was. In the case of Tony and Clint, I believe that premarital cohabitation enabled stalling until they simply could not stall anymore. The women were waiting and getting somewhat impatient, the pressure was on, and they determined what in other circumstances what they would have determined a long time ago: this wasn’t a lifelong relationship. My case with Julie is slightly different because we weren’t living together, but the demands of college and the lack of firm footing in the world provided the same sense of not being forced to confront the unpleasant reality of sunk costs.

The primary danger in premarital cohabitation is that it allows people to put off making the decisions that need to be made. This is the case even when there is absolutely no bad faith on the part of the man. This is the case even when he genuinely loves her and is not particularly unhappy. It’s just that when he looks over the horizon he sees a void. Who wants to look at a void? No wonder he hasn’t been looking. He’s no fool.

But by withholding everything that marriage has to offer except the guard rails, he is allowed to avoid it until he can avoid it no more. But by saying that they will not live as a married couple until they are actually married, it forces potential issues sooner. This can mean that the situation is assessed and it is determined that the two people need to go their separate ways, it can mean that they want to move forward, or it can mean that they want to move forward but there are things that need to be addressed first. I believe that there are scenarios in which Julie and I, Tony and I, and Clint and Margaret could have made it if some of the underlying problems had been addressed before they had calcified with time and habit. Instead, the habits were formed, the issues left unaddressed, and the guard rails to make darn sure that they had to be addressed without consequences considerably more serious than finding a new apartment being accrued. But as it was, by the time they were noticed, it was too late.

So I plan to tell any sons and daughters that I may have to try as hard as they can to avoid that trap. I will particularly focus on my daughters. Not because I believe that women have some moral obligation to be the breaks, but because (a) women seem to be the ones pushing for cohabitation and (b) women far more often appear to be inflicted the most damage when it ends. In the case of (a), I think it’s a misguided belief that cohabitation is progress on the route to marriage (which it may be, but not necessarily) and a cohabitational relationship is more committed than one where separate apartments are kept. And I think that it’s her way of doing what the guy later does: Not ready for marriage yet, but want something now. As far as damage assessments go, I’m not sure if it has to be, but it certainly seems that way. The ones I’ve witnessed (not all of which I am going into here) seem to usually break this way. Further, the cohabitating couples that have not split up seem to be cases where if it did happen that he would much more likely land on his feet than she would. In fact, if I saw a breakup, I see him doing it rather than her. By virtue of the cohabitation and the lack of marital security, the man seems generally to possess more leverage. Indeed, the lack of the piece of paper seems almost uniformly to be his idea. That’s not a good arrangement. It’s probably often the case that if she had insisted that he fish or cut bait earlier that he would cut bait… but again, this is something that I believe is better confronted sooner rather than later.

None of this is to say that there are never cases where it can work out. Clearly it often does. I’m sure that there are even cases where something could have worked out but didn’t because one party or the other chose not to cohabitate. I’m particularly sympathetic to cases where you’re dealing with leases and have couples that are already engaged (especially when there is a planned date). I’m also sympathetic to their being times when one party or the other has to find a place to live rather suddenly and cohabitation makes the most sense. But if a couple is to embark on that path, I think that they really need to do so with an ending in mind. A sort of agreement that after six months or one year that they will make a decision one way or the other. Something in place to avoid getting too comfortable with the status quo to question it either in progress or dissolution.

I recognize that some of this may well be class bias. Most people I know are not financially in a position where they have no other options. So I try not to be too judgmental, though I also figure that with the kids that I may someday lecture on this that will not be the case. I also recognize that I am saying this as someone that squandered four years on a doomed relationship, squandered another two trying to get one off the ground, and knew within two weeks of meeting my wife that I wanted to marry her.

Category: Coffeehouse

The Station Wagon (1978 Chevy Malibu) – This was the vehicle of my childhood. It had what seemed like infinite space in the back seat but what would now probably look tiny. On road trips, we would get to sit back there and watch TV and horseplay around in ways that would be ten kinds of illegal today. But it was awesome. Until the accident. It was replaced by Quakemonster.

The Old Dodge Colt or The Yellow Dodge Colt (1974 Dodge Colt) – I don’t remember much about this car. Pretty much whenever I was taken somewhere, it was in the Station Wagon. However, the one thing I do remember about it was that the window on the driver’s side didn’t work. It was replaced by The Dodge Colt.

The Quakemonster (1987 Dodge Caravan) – The first and last new car my parents would ever buy. It wasn’t quite so bad as a lemon. But it was in the same vicinity. A lime, perhaps. The car shook it like a burlesque dancer. Non-stop. It was the only car I’d ever really driven, so I thought it was great. Besides that, it allowed me to drive lots of people around. Also, at one point, it provided a very special competition between me and this girl for the front seat during a church youth group trip. That’s something I’ll never forget. It was replaced by the Aerostar.

The Colt or The Dodge Colt (1984 Dodge Colt) – This one came into existence right about the time of The Station Wagon accident, so much so that I can’t remember which came first. It was the same basic model as its predecessor, with the exception that this was a hatchback. But I can’t remember what it was. Other than that the window worked. This was the first car that was “mine” and the car that I first learned to drive a stick shift on. To date, it is probably my favorite car, though I would have enjoyed it a lot more if it’d had air conditioning. At some point I ran over a giant pothole and it was never the same again. Unfortunately, I didn’t have it all that long. It was replaced by K.C..

The Aerostar (1994 Ford Aerostar) – The family has this car to this day. It was bought used and never had the problems that Quakemonster did. It was particularly long with three rows and considerable storage space beyond. During long trips Dad would take out the middle seat and we had a lot of room for trips where two of us would take the seat and one of us would sprawl on the floor. So much room! That it was so tall helped see me through Hurricane Adrianne, for which I will always be grateful. That it was so narrow (and I was so stupid) once nearly got me into an accident where I came close to rolling over. I’ve been very anxious and even a little scared of losing control of it ever since. My fear of ever again driving a minivan stems from that event in this car.

The Convertible (1986 Chevrolet Convertible) – Mom always wanted a red convertible and when the time came, he got her a maroon one. Though it was Mom’s, I drove it as much as anybody else due to the car configuration. Driving a convertible always did unconscionable things to my hair and the Colosse heat prevented me enjoying it too much. What I did love to do with it was take late-night drives on the one local street that I could drive a whopping 55mph. I would just drive it up and down that street. I was quite the little rebel in that I would sometimes take my seatbelt off and breathe in the freedom for as long as five minutes in between stop signs and stop lights. This car had what I used to call a “slide and pop” problem. You hit the accelerator and instead of moving you would hear the engine rev and then it would pop and lerch. A couple times it did this it would pop and sit there and I would need to push it off the road. One time it caught on fire when I was going down the Interstate and that was how it died.

K.C. Craterface (1986 Chrysler Lebaron) – This was one of my favorite cars. We got it from my brother Mitch’s then-girlfriend for something like $2,000. In retrospect it was a bit larger than I like cars to be, but it was the first one that I got that hadn’t been handed down to me within the immediately family, so I loved it. And it is the first car I drove with air conditioning, though I was oddly conditioned to avoid using it even when I could (it wasn’t until the unbearable Trawler that I decided I would never go without AC again). The KC is short for Kansas City, a reference to its royal blue color, and Craterface was in reference to some hail damage it had received before I got it. Though it only seated four or maybe five, I managed to get eight people in there once. Ahhh, the memories. This one died when I was in an undesirable part of town. I managed to get it into a local high school football stadium parking lot and then either my brother or father picked me up. A couple days later it was pronounced dead.

Sport (1996 Ford Escort) – The first of our Ford Escorts, this little red car had the word Sport written on the side that enthused Dad to know end. I got Sport after K.C. died, though I think Dad had been driving it before then. Sport was involved in an accident when zoned out at the wheel. He was replaced by Rudat for less than insurance paid out on Sport. I was banished to the Trawler though.

The Trawler (1976 Chevrolet Caprice) – About the time that Sport was taken to the car park in the sky, my grandmother was no longer able to drive. So I got her car, which was older than I was. It was huge with a much wider footprint than any other car or van I’ve ever driven, which is why we named it after a boat. It only had AM radio and had no air conditioning, which was excruciating in the Colosse heat. The pleatherish seats meant that I had to take a change of clothes everywhere because my back would become a wall of sweat. The Trawler was a sort of punishment for wrecking two cars in as many months and it was frankly more than I deserved. Unfortunately, the lack of cruise control (and that it was the smoothest ride of any car I’d owned before or since) lead me to get more than a couple speeding tickets which did not help my safe driver cred any. Further complicating things was that there was no tripometer and the gas gauge didn’t work, so I ran out of fuel more than a few times. I can’t remember how it died, but it got sick enough that Dad felt uncomfortable with me driving it and so I got Rudat.

Rudat (1998 Ford Escort) – This was “my car” in a way that few others were. Dad had it for a little while before I got it, but once I got it I put 120,000 miles on it. It was the car I moved to Deseret in and it survived both Deseret and Estacado in style. It’s still around, actually, though Dad isn’t comfortable driving it far. Because I put so many miles on it, it is partially the standard by which I judge other cars. I consider Clancy’s car to be too wide even though it’s about the same size as K.C., which I loved. I consider Crayola to be too short because it’s an inch shorter than Rudat (both are too short, but I learned how to slouch in Rudat and had to learn how to slouch all over again in Crayola).

Crayola (1998 Ford Escort, 2-Door) – Though the same age as its golden sibling, the car doesn’t have nearly the miles on it. It’s a tad smaller than Rudat, which has caused me a little discomfort. If I pushed it, I could probably get many more miles out of it, but I’m not sure I have as much energy to devote to ushering along a dying car as I did with the everlasting Rudat.

Category: Road
The episode in which Clint pulls a grenade.

Clint and I were sitting in the living room as he unloaded everything that had been going on in the past month. I was surprised and unsurprised at the same time. It was one of those things where you have to sort of re-orient yourself to a new surrounding and a new reality. Eight years earlier, I had been congratulated by a friend on my impending engagement and I had to inform him that not only was no engagement forthcoming but that Julie and I had gone our separate ways. The framework changes from one of a future to a thing of the past. Reality changes and we’re left to re-orient. When we planned this trip, I thought I was going to be helping Clint strategize his proposal. Instead, he was telling me of the destruction of everything and we were sitting there, talking and looking around an apartment that was soon to be entirely dismantled. A strange feeling to be somewhere that soon was no longer going to even exist.

Six months before all this he had told me of his plans to propose. Almost two years before that, he had been expected to propose but had not. It had become a sore point. A weight under which it was extremely difficult to put any of it right without it seeming anything more than an effort to shed a burden. There. I proposed. I did it. Happy? Or was that not what you had in mind? That’s why I can’t propose today. Or tomorrow. Or until this burden lifts. What do you mean this burden won’t lift without a proposal? That puts us in quite the pickle, doesn’t it?

About two weeks before our conference in the condemned apartment, he sent me a somewhat mysterious email telling me that there was a lot going on and that he wished it could be a good thing. A month before that, Margaret had tried to contact Dave and I about the two of us going to Shaston to surprise him. I emailed Dave and told him that we needed to put any plans on ice for now. Though Clint’s relationship with Margaret had previously been reported happy (albeit burdened), I had run through it in my mind and determined taht there was no other “not good thing” he could be referring to. His job already wasn’t very good, but he’d learned to accept that. His financial situation wasn’t very good, but he’d learned to accept that (and it was on an upward tick at any rate). The only good thing that being something other than good would be news was his relationship with Margaret.

About a week before the conference, we made some plans for me to take a trip down there. The timing wasn’t ideal with all that was going on at work, but it was obvious that there were some things he needed to chat about.

The day before we sat talking in the soon-to-be dismantled apartment, he called me three times. I couldn’t answer because my cell phone was in a test harness at work. He called me a fourth time after the phone had been taken out. I could tell by his voice what he was going to say.

“I’m sorry to do this, man, but I’m going to have to cancel our plans this weekend.”

I waited for him to tell me what was going on, but he didn’t. “I’m guessing no explanation is forthcoming?” I asked. Yes, I really talk like that sometimes.

He paused. “No.”

That the plans were cancelled was one thing. That he wouldn’t tell me why was another. But what stood out most was the tone of his voice. Clint does things that trigger drama, for sure, but he is not on the whole a dramatic person. He is actually anti-drama. If he were to find out about a girlfriend cheating on him, his response is “How can I make this go away? This doesn’t mean our relationship is over, does it?” instead of making a big show about the betrayal and his victimhood and how is he ever going to be able to trust her again. That he was so obviously affected told me that something was very, very wrong. And completely out of his control. She was leaving him. Not in the gradual sense that one realizes that a relationship is not going to work out, but rather that she was leaving him right that minute. Or was kicking him out. Something was happening to him that meant that I couldn’t come down to Shaston. I shot him an email telling him that I heard his distress and that if he needed me down there I would go down there even if it meant driving straight back or getting a hotel for the night.

In the late morning of the day of the conference in the pre-dismantled apartment, he called me back and sent me an email telling me that if I could come down he would greatly appreciate it. I told him that I needed four hours and that I would be there. There was some pretty monstrous traffic that made it take longer than expected. When I walked in, he informed me that Margaret had gone to a hotel for the night. He was wearing a Parallax Productions shirt and some pajama pants. When we have something to talk about, we usually small talk for a little bit to oxygenize the atmosphere before getting to the heavy stuff. Not this time. He immediately told me the story of one of the worst days of his life. The previous day when he had called me in distress to tell me not to come down.

It started a month or so prior. He met Kirby. The rest of it unfolded, one aching detail at a time, how I knew it would the second the presence of a third party was mentioned. Infidelity, remorse, the promise never to do it again, repeat loop. But her presence was both on-point and beside the point. Affairs come in two varieties, cause and effect. A causal affair is one that ruins something great. An effectious affair is the crowning acknowledgement of one party of how far from great a relationship is. This was the latter.

Thoughts drifted back to my meeting Evangeline. How even prior to meeting Evangeline I’d had the growing sense of unease with Julie. But Eva had become the point. Meeting her and feeling how I did about her brought everything into focus. It provided the startling contrast between what I was capable of feeling and what I did not feel towards Julie. Evangeline made it impossible for my relationship with Julie to be repaired. Impossible for me to view it the same ever again. Re-orientation.

Kirby did the same for Clint. Kirby embraced those parts of him for which Margaret made him feel ashamed. Kirby brought out those feelings and sensations in him whose absense had made him feel so isolated and the length of said absense so long that he had forgotten that they were missing. Re-orientation.

The main difference being that he had betrayed Margaret physically rather than emotionally. I had managed to end things with Julie in time for that to happen. But the existence of Kirby was secondary. She merely filled a particular void. I regreted how things imploded with Evangeline shortly after I took the leap away from Julie, but even in Evangeline’s absense I never for a moment felt that leaving Julie was the wrong decision. I knew that the same would be true of Clint. You can’t re-forget what has just awoken from a long, sustained sleep.

Regardless of what happened, the apartment was going to be dismantled. Their possessions split. Their lives apart. But what happened was that Margaret realized what was going on and unearthed the proof. She had done so the day before. The long, heartfelt conversation that he had envisioned with him telling her that things were coming to an end were replaced with a never-ending string of expletives hurled at him by a woman scorned. A conversation so deeply unpleasant that you want nothing more than to escape it. Yet a lecture so deserved that you have no choice but to endure it.

And after the explosion she left. He was torn between the feeling that he should tell her not to go and helping her pack her things because he knew that one of them needed to. Why it was her I do not know since these situations usually involve him being kicked out. Into a doghouse, preferably, or an outhouse, ideally. Most likely, her leaving assured her that he would not end up at Kirby’s place.

Though she wasn’t there, Margaret was less than pleased with my presence in their apartment. She had visions of my reassuring Clint that he had done nothing wrong and that everything would be okay. But neither temporary occupant in the apartment whose dismantling was pending pretended that Clint had done nothing wrong or that anything would be okay. My presence there saved her from the much more grotesque reality that if I hadn’t been there, Kirby likely would be. He had no one else to turn to. But that was assuredly of little comfort since while my presence there excluded hers and was not based on forgiveness for his transgressions, it was a cold strategization session for getting him out of that relationship with as much of the remainder of his life in check as possible.

It’s not uncommon in sitcoms for a guest character to become a member of the cast by throwing that person into the main character’s life in some unexpected way. Such as, for instance, getting a job where the main character works. Kirby had gotten a job at the shop where Clint worked and was technically a subordinate since Clint was of managerial status. So we strategized how to prevent him from losing his job. We strategized how to prevent him from losing a weekly gig at a local bar that was one of his few ties to the outside world (and that, despite his having met Kirby there, his resignation from would not help save his relationship with Margaret even if Clint were hopeful of doing so).

There was all manner of havoc that Margaret could wreak and would be largely justified in doing so. But it would be destructive and would not achieve Margaret’s desire for reconciliation nor ultimately make her feel better. So it was planning and strategy in the pre-dismantled apartment on that Saturday afternoon while she laid in a hotel bed and melted across town.

Among Margaret’s other fears of my presence there, she was afraid that he and I would just be laughing it up while she cried. The injustice of that was palpable. There was laughter, but the dark sort that has the main purpose of allowing one to forget about their pain, however temporarily. Clint forgetting the pain, even temporarily, is certainly not what Margaret wanted or deserved. But what she needed was frankly of secondary importance. He couldn’t give her what she wanted and any effort on Clint’s part to sacrifice everything to give her just a little of what she wanted quite simply wasn’t going to happen.

One of the comments she made during the never-ending parade of expletives on the day before that I did not come down was that the Clint she knew would never do what Clint had done. I’m not going to air too much dirty laundry at this point and I am certainly not going to defend Clint’s actions, but put in the situation that he was in (a situation more than partly of his own making), there was really not much else he would have done. That she didn’t know him well enough to know this about him was relevent, both in terms of how well she knew him and how honest he was with her about himself. The impressive part was that he held out as long as he did. The damning part was not that he slept with someone else, but that he did so prior to the inevitable separation. The difference between what Clint did and what most people would have done, in that situation (if they got into it in the first place) was largely one of timing.

It’s human nature, I guess, to look for a sense of justice in times of personal torment. It’s why, though logic would dictate otherwise, being left for someone else is more personally offensive than being left for no one. Because when you’re left for someone else, you know that while you are alone and miserable and crying in a bed that they have rebounded in ways that they do not deserve. Whatever guilt they feel is tempered by the human contact that you lack. In essence, Clint had been rewarded with a pillow to break his fall by his own willingness to partake in infidelity. She had hit the concrete because her moral structure makes infidelity unthinkable. She had suffered for her morality and he had been rewarded for the lapse of his.

It’s the impossibility of fully grasping the injustice of that which makes people avoid it at all costs. When there is no way a wrong can be made right, the inclination is not to try. There is nothing Clint can do to make the situation right. The best thing that he could do is to grovel and try to repair things, but she had him doing that well before any transgression on his part. He can tell her that he realizes that he is not a good enough man for her, but she had him feeling that way before. He can try to repair the relationship to where it was before, but it was already broken. She never forgave him for his failure to propose two years earlier. She was never going to forgive him for this.

There comes a point where you simply have to accept the injustice of the situation. Not so much on the part of the sinner who needs to feel enough pain never to commit that particular sin again, but particularly on the part of the sinned against whose first order of business is to let go of the anger and bitterness as quickly as possible. In both cases, the sharp pains of reality are sufficient to keep the learned lessons learned. This type of two-penny wisdom is always easiest for those that are not in pain to spout.

Margaret was to return the next day at noon. At which point, I was to make a hasty exit. It was obvious that our rally conference was not going to be concluded in time. So much of “What happens now” depended on what kind of mindset she returned with. If she decided that he was the only thing that she had in her life, he would need to find a way to dislodge that notion from her mind. We kept hoping that she would come back and tell him that he needed to leave and that she never wanted to speak to him again. Few sinners are ever so fortunate as to achieve perfect exile.

She arrive half-an-hour ahead of schedule and unfortunately I wasn’t packed yet. She made a beeline to the balcony and just sat there, looking out into oblivion. Clint helped me scramble and gather my things as quickly as possible.

He mouthed to me, “I don’t know if I should go out there and talked to her.”

I shrugged. “Wait until I leave,” I mouthed back, as much for my sake as anybody’s.

For my part, I didn’t know whether to say goodbye to her. I was never going to see her or talk to her again. I knew that much. Given the situation, there was no “right” thing for me to do. There was only the insult of failing to say goodbye after all she’d been through competing against the slight of self-importance of the guy that thinks that I factor into her thoughts worth enough a damn for her to give an excrement that I was leaving.

I decided that I would take self-importance. I told her that I was leaving. She graciously thanked me for stopping by. I left as quickly as I could.

Category: Coffeehouse