Tag Archives: family

This time, we’ll get it right

Bob Seger Roll Me Away quotePretty much every Bob Seger song is him reminiscing about his youth.

That’s not to knock Bob Seger. I’m a huge fan. But if you listen to his lyrics, you start to notice a pattern.

“Night Moves.” “Like a Rock.” “Main Street.” “Against the Wind.” Each song is about an older man looking back on his youthful self.

Seger’s all about nostalgia. That’s his thing.

And I suppose I’m a fan because nostalgia is my thing, too.

I think all of us reminisce about the past to some degree. We think back to bygone days – to roads not taken, missed opportunities, relationships never pursued.

It’s only natural to daydream about what could have been – to ponder what never was.

In a lifetime composed of divergent paths, we can’t help but muse about routes not traveled.

But at what point does nostalgia transform to living in the past? When does innocent remembrance turn into wistful reminiscence?

If I’m honest with myself, my glory days weren’t that glorious. That’s not to say they were unpleasant, but I don’t look back on them with sepia-colored lenses and bask in my youthful exuberance.

They were a time in my life that’s passed. They helped forge me into who I am, but I can’t go back to relive them.

Nor would I want to. I don’t want to be like Napoleon Dynamite’s uncle, buying a mail-order time machine to get back to 1982. (Quick aside: If you ever do buy a time machine, make sure it has at least a two-year warranty. And make sure you don’t travel more than two years into the future, because that will void the warranty. Trust me; I’ve thought this one through.)

Yet I have a definite penchant for the past. I love looking at photos and home movies. I often think back to 10 years before, wishing I could relive certain moments and do-over others.

But reminiscence can quickly take over your life. And every moment you spend reflecting on the past is a moment you’re missing in the present.

Now more than ever, I’m dedicated to embracing the present.

Instead of lamenting missed opportunities, I’m looking forward to new ones.

Rather than pondering what could have been, I’m dreaming more about what could be.

Instead of gazing backward, I’ll set my focus on the horizon.

It’s easier to grieve for the past than it is to live for the moment. Grieving for what never was gives you an excuse not to change what is.

Embracing the here and now means taking responsibility for your life – and that’s scary. There are so many options and innumerable ways to fail.

But the past isn’t coming back. And that’s OK. We don’t need to go back in time to turn it all around. Second chances aren’t exclusive to 1982.

We have this moment, today, to make our lives what we want. We can choose our own destinies. We can blaze our own trails.

Interestingly, my favorite Bob Seger song is “Roll Me Away.”

And unlike his other tunes, it has nothing to do with reminiscing about the past.

Instead, it’s all about embracing the now.

It’s about a guy who climbs on his motorcycle one day and takes off for adventures unknown.

He cherishes the moment. He savors life.

I can’t think of a better anthem to embody my newfound penchant for the present.

And like Seger says in the song: “This time, we’ll get it right.”

Advertisements

Where I was from

Dogs playing in river

My three dogs swimming in the Carson River, circa 1988. This photo was taken when I was about 6. The dog on the left, Timmy, lived until I was a freshman in college.

“I am always drawn back to the places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods.” — Truman Capote

“There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.” — Joan Didion

My childhood home is destroyed. Abandoned. Most of the back fence has blown down, and where a gazebo once stood sits a pile of garbage. A foreclosure notice is taped to the door, and peering through the grimy front window, I can see an array of junk lying on the ripped-up carpet. Where the couch should be is — quite inexplicably — a canoe left behind by the previous owners.

The surrounding homes are gorgeous, with fresh coats of paint and well-trimmed yards. The sad irony is that growing up, I always thought my house was the most beautiful. My parents landscaped both the front and back yards themselves, molding the tough clay dirt into our own little oasis in the desert.

Now that oasis has vanished, and the desert is reaching in through the loose fence boards to reclaim the yard. Weeds and sagebrush are scattered about, as if there was never a lush yard here — and, by extension, never a happy home, and never a young family.

I’ve always had a penchant for the past — a yearning for the way things used to be. I’m not sure if it’s healthy. For me, innocent nostalgia often transforms into wistful reminiscence, as I think about the way things were and how much simpler life seemed to be.

As I drive through my hometown, all I can see are the buildings that no longer stand, the boarded-up storefronts where nobody shops. The small town I grew up in is mutating into an impersonal hodgepodge of parking lots and gas stations — yet to the well-trained eye, it’s brimming with memories and the outlines of ghosts. Driving past a concrete pad in a vacant lot, I can still see the pizza place that burned down nearly 20 years ago. I used to play Paperboy in the arcade there, feeding quarters into the slot, the controllers slathered with grease.

child haunting Easter eggs.

Me hunting Easter eggs in 1988. Our house and yard were brand-new. My three puppies are in the background, along with the dog house my father built.

overgrown yard

The yard as it looks in 2016. The dog run is gone, and the dog house was dragged to a different corner. The lawn is dead, almost as if it never existed.

Seeing my childhood home in this condition, I wish I’d never come back. It’s hard to see past the dirt to the warm memories of my youth. The lawn where I kicked my soccer ball around is gone. The gazebo where I splashed in my wading pool is gone. The sign marking my pet turtle’s grave is gone; the combination swing set and slide that my grandparents bought me, gone.

It’s not as if another family has moved in to live their own lives and make their own memories. It’s worse. It’s as if all that warmth, joy and love never existed. Of course, I have my photographs and memories, where the warmth will forever remain alive, but seeing the trampled-on ground with the overgrown weeds and the gnarled sagebrush, it’s as if an aching emptiness is trying to gnaw away at the core of my being, grasping for my happiness the way the desert is reaching for — and reclaiming — the once-beautiful yard.

So many things are running through my mind as I step over a broken fence post, ambling through the litter-strewn lot. I think of that scene in Annie Hall, when Woody Allen takes Diane Keaton and Tony Robbins to his childhood apartment, and the present-day adults watch and comment on Allen’s long-ago family. In the same way, gazing past the dilapidated house, I can almost see my 8-year-old self bounding down the back stairs to try out the pogo stick Santa Claus brought him for Christmas.

A friend is with me, and through the weeds I point to the spot where one of my dogs is buried, and where the neighbor across the street once shot a firecracker over the house and set the sagebrush on fire. (Needless to say, he wasn’t the most responsible adult.)

Of course, my friend can’t see what I’m seeing in my head. I wish I could walk her through time — the way Woody Allen did with Diane Keaton — to take her beyond the trash and the dirt to the whimsical impressions unspooling in my mind. Every nook and cranny I look at brings back another memory.

To me, the yard is like one of those 3-D Magic Eye posters, where if you let your eyes unfocus, images from the past will come tumbling into shape. But once you shake yourself away, the past dissolves like a fleck of water evaporating off a hot sidewalk. It’s here one moment, and the next — just like that — it’s gone.

For the most part, I’m able to keep my composure. Sure, seeing the home in its present state roils up a list of emotions, but I’m not so nostalgic or connected to the past that I’m feeling overly sentimental. The past is the past, I remind myself. It was a part of my life that I enjoyed at the time, but now it’s time to leave the old behind and to embrace the new. You can never reclaim what you once had because life not only moves forward — it progresses and evolves. That’s why high-school reunions are always so awkward and disappointing (not that I’ve ever been to one). It was a time and a place that made sense at the time, but now it no longer does.

So, despite this trying trudge down memory lane, I’m not feeling wistful or overly emotional. Like I said, I’m keeping my composure … at least, that is, until I see the dog house my dad built tucked away in a corner, crammed against the front gate.

a brand-new dog house

My dad built this state-of-the-art dog house in 1988 for our three new puppies. I never imaged that it would still exist in 2016, nearly 30 years later.

A weather-beaten dog house

The dog house in 2016, stained by weather and time. I think that’s my old swing set in the foreground.

That’s what sets me off: the dog house. Although I don’t cry, an overwhelming sense of sadness drapes over my heart, and my intestines knot with a deep-seated aching for days gone by.

My dad built that dog house in the 1980s, and more than 25 years later it’s still here, though stained by weather and scarred by time. When I was a child, I wanted a dog so much. We took a camping trip in the hills, and out of nowhere seven puppies scampered into our camp, their little bellies concave from starvation. Someone had dumped them for dead, and we happened to be there to find them.

We kept three of the dogs and gave away the other four to happy families. One died at age 2 (it was the runt), another when I was in high school, and the third saw me through my freshman year at college. When they were puppies, my dad built them an insulated dog house with a window for ventilation and a doorway covered by a flap.

Seeing it here in the yard, abandoned with my childhood home, I’m flooded with memories of walking the dogs, rubbing their bellies, throwing sticks in the river for them to fetch. (Or not — sometimes the current carried the sticks away too quickly, so the dogs clambered onto shore and shook off next to me, so that I was flecked with dirt and smelled like wet fur.)

It occurs to me that unlike my family and I, that dog house has never left my childhood yard. When I graduated from high school, it was here. When I graduated from college, it was here. When I got my first professional job, it was here. While I grew up and carried on with my life, that dog house never left.

But what does it matter? I tell myself. It’s not a living thing. It doesn’t care. It’s not like the dog house misses me or was waiting with hope for me to return. It’s not The Brave Little Toaster. It’s a bunch of lumber hammered together with nails — that’s all.

Yet looking at it, I can’t see the wood or the shingles or the general structure. All I can see is the past in its water-color clarity, and all I can hear is the patter of paws clicking excitedly across the wooden floor.

“Come on,” someone says, tugging my sleeve. “It’s time to go.”

I look up, startled. It’s not my friend summoning me. Rather, it’s the present, with its harshly defined edges framing the dreary lot that used to be my backyard.

Used to be. It’s not anymore. I don’t belong here. Although I have many happy memories here, those moments can’t be rekindled into reality, no matter how tightly I close my eyes against the onslaught of tears.

I realize that I don’t want to forgo the present by living in the past. Life is a natural progression. Like a river carrying a stick, it flows toward unseen curves and bends. And although it’s murkier and choppy in some places, so many of the stretches are serene and beautiful, and the entire ride is worth taking.

So I take one last look at the dog house, as if saying a formal goodbye, and then I turn and leave, stepping over weeds and empty bottles of Crown Royal, to return to the car. I walk down the driveway where I used to ride my bike, stepping past the corner where the neighborhood kids once waited for the bus (perhaps they still do).

And I leave then, my chest feeling taut, my heart heavy and sad. Memories of my dogs replay in my mind, as well as birthdays parties gone by, and lazy summer days on the swing set.

I turn for one last glimpse, and looking past the torn-down fence and the brush-scattered sand, I can still see that oasis in the desert … as well as three exhausted dogs lying atop a lush carpet of lawn, resting and panting from their walk to the river.

’Tis the season to be seething

Christmas Card Colane Conundrum

Yeah, up yours too, Santa.

A relative last week mailed me a Christmas card. On the front it said, “Here’s wishing you the happiest of holidays!”

How rude, I thought. Why would he want this particular holiday — Christmas 2016 — to be my happiest? What about next year? Does he not want me to be happy then?

I don’t want this particular holiday to be my happiest. Why does this Christmas have to be the highlight of my life?

Does that mean all subsequent Christmases are going to be less happy? I’d have no reason to look forward to Christmas, knowing my “happiest” took place in 2016, and that all the rest went downhill from there.

Instead of wishing me the “happiest” of holidays, why not wish me a “happy” holiday, instead? Why put so much emphasis and expectation on this particular holiday season? I can’t handle that kind of pressure. And why should any one Christmas be happier than the other, anyway?

My relative might as well have said, “Have the happiest of holidays now, because life’s only going to get worse from here. Your future is going to be dismal and hopeless. Maybe you’ll lose your job, or the world will end in a nuclear holocaust. Or worse, maybe the Taco Bell down the street will run out of ingredients just as you’re pulling up to the window. You never know. There are so many ways life can stick it to you. So be sure to enjoy this holiday season, because you may not have anything to celebrate next year. Love you, and God bless!”

Relatives can be thoughtless sometimes. Luckily, I only see them once a year — around Christmas.

I tried to help out my aunt on Thanksgiving, but I ended up being the turkey

Turkey with dog face

Thanksgivings with Aunt Elvira are always interesting. Instead of listing the things I’m thankful for, I just write down all the insults she hurls at me. (But at least Thanksgiving happens only once each year, so I’m very thankful for that.)

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I went to my elderly great aunt’s house to clean up the debris in her front yard. I pulled weeds, trimmed hedges and pruned branches, then mowed the front lawn and shoveled off the poop deposited by the neighboring dogs.

Only I guess I should have shoveled off the poop first, and then mowed the lawn, as I discovered to my dismay when I went to clean the lawnmower blade afterwards.

“At least he’s a well-fed dog,” I said to myself. “Clearly.”

As I raked the debris into a pile, an old man hobbled onto the front porch.

“Hey!” he screamed. “The hell you doing in my yard?”

I leaned on my rake, wiping some sweat from my brow. “Isn’t this Elvira Colane’s house?”

“No,” he said, holding his gut. “Her house is across the street.”

I turned to look at the house across the street. Its yard was choked with a dense collage of overgrown bushes, trees and a lawn that looked like a cornfield.

“Oh,” I said.

The man glared at me, frowning. “Why are there dog-poop footprints all over my front lawn?”

I grabbed my shovel, rake, and other implements of destruction, then dragged them across the street.

“Hey!” the man said, calling from his front porch. “You forgot to deadhead my tulips!”

As I unloaded all my tools across the street, my great aunt hobbled out of the house and bopped me on the head with a rolling pin. “The hell have you been?”

“Easy, Aunt Elvira!” I said. “I forgot what house you lived in.”

She put her hands on her hips. “If you visited me more often, Turkey Brain, you wouldn’t forget! Now get working, you lazy bum! If you want your turkey roll, you’re going to have to earn it. I’m not going to tolerate no freeloading comic-book writer ransacking my pantry unless he puts in an honest day’s work.”

“I’m a comedy writer, Aunt Elvira, not a comic-book writer,” I said.

“The hell you are. The only comedy around here is your pathetic work ethic, you useless sack of turkey giblets.” She bopped me on the head again with the rolling pin. “Now get moving!” Keep reading…

The catnip candy cane and the unimpressed cat

a cat rolling on floorSo I’m on the phone with my friend, Brenda. And she says, “You have a cat, don’t you? I thought I remembered you saying you have a cat.”

“Yep,” I say, laughing. “I sure do. I am indeed the proud owner of a cat.”

“Hey!”

I look up to see my cat staring at me from across the room. He motions to me with his claw. “Get over here.”

I can’t, I mouth, cupping my hand over the receiver. I’m on the phone.

“Hang up the damn phone and get your ass over here,” my cat says. “Now! I want to talk to you.”

And meanwhile, Brenda’s babbling about some dog she owned in 1986. I think she said its name was Salt, or something.

“Brenda, I’m so sorry,” I say, interrupting her, “but I’ve got to go.”

“Right now?” Brenda asks. “We’re right in the middle of a conversation. I was just telling you about the time that Pepper lifted his leg on Mama’s toupee. She kept smelling doggy pee, and she couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. She thought it might be her armpits, and she kept burying her nose under both her arms to sniff them, but all she could smell was regular old-lady B.O., and not pee. It was driving her crazy!”

“I thought your dog’s name was Salt?” I ask.

“My dog’s name is Salt,” Brenda says.

“But you just said your dog’s name is Pepper?”

“Pepper is the dog I had in 1986,” Brenda says. “You know that. My goodness, it’s like you’re not listening to a word I’m saying.”

“Huh? What’s that?” I ask, looking at my cat and swallowing. His eyes are narrowed, and I can tell my delay is making him livid.

“I said it’s like you’re not listening to a word I’m saying!” Now it’s Brenda who sounds livid.

“Hang up the phone,” my cat says, his voice eerily calm. “Now.”

“Bye, Brenda,” I say, as I hang up the phone. I can her her screaming violent, rage-fueled obscenities as I set down the receiver. That woman does not like to be cut off when she’s talking about her pets.

“Get over here,” my cat says, motioning me over to the couch.

I take a deep, uncertain breath. Then, I stand up and saunter over to the couch.

“Have a seat.”

I sit down on one end of the couch while my cats sits on the other, his tail twitching manically.

“Now,” my cat says, “remind me what you said a moment ago. You know, the part about you being a proud pet owner?”

I swallow again. Suddenly, my throat feels dry.

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” I say, my voice cracking. “I swear. All I said was that I was the proud owner of a cat.”

“And therein lies the problem.” My cat closes his eyes, taking a deep breath. My chest tightens as I await his next syllable. Already, I can feel a line of cold sweat beading across my brow.

“Let’s get something straight,” my cat says. “Right here and right now. And I’m only going to tell you once, so you listen good. You don’t own me. You understand? I own you. You got that, you miserable bag of puke? I own you!”

“I’m sorry,” I try to say, stammering. “I didn’t mean–”

“Shut up!” my cat says, raising his paw. “I’m not through with you. You’re nothing. You’re the rancid scum that pools at the bottom of my milk dish when it’s left sitting out for too long. You’re the flimsy guts of a disemboweled mouse that I left sitting on the back porch. You’re more useless than that cheap-ass catnip candy cane you bought me for Christmas from the $1 store. And what a joke that was, by the way. What kind of a tightwad, scumbag bastard buys Christmas gifts from the $1 store?”

“Cat, please,” I say, my voice taking on a higher pitch. My body’s trembling, and my throat constricts as I talk, which cuts off my words. Either I’m really getting worked up, or my cat allergies are kicking in.

I’m not sure why I have a cat when I’m allergic to him, but he’s never appreciated any of the sacrifices I’ve made. I made a special trip to buy him that catnip candy cane, and it pains me to learn that he hated it.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” my cat says. “Don’t you ever go around telling people you own me. You got it? You will never own me. I would never condescend to call you my owner, or even my friend. You’re nothing to me. You’re just the sniveling coward who fills my food dish and cleans out the litter box. You’re nothing to me but a manservant. All you’re good for is fluffing my pillows and maybe running a comb through my fur when I’m starting to shed. But beyond that, you’re a withered, pathetic excuse for a man.”

“Cat, I’m sorry!” I say, tears springing to my eyes. It hurts to hear him speak so callously. I thought our relationship was stronger than this.

“Silence!” my cat says. “I ought to drag you outside right now and break your stupid kneecaps with a tire iron, you miserable pipsqueak. Or maybe I’ll just slice you up with my claws so that you look like shredded cheese. You’ll look like you’ve been dropped through a helicopter rotor by the time I’m finished with you, you classless bum.”

“I’m so sorry, Cat,” I say, wiping snot on the back on my sleeve. Whether it’s emotions or allergies, my nose is gushing. “I didn’t mean to insinuate that I owned you, or that you’re somehow beneath me. Sometimes I just blurt things without thinking.”

“Damn right you weren’t thinking, you gutless turd! And you’ll never make the same mistake again, will you?”

“I promise,” I say, sniffing. “You’re the most important feline in my life, Cat. I don’t want us to fight.”

“Quit sniveling,” my cat says, glaring. “You’re making me sick. It’s despicable.”

“Cat,” I say, “can I ask you a question?”

“Must you?”

“You’re always so mad at me lately. You hiss at me for even the slightest perceived offense.”

My cat’s eyes widen. “That’s because you deserve it, you wretched fool!”

I swallow. “I know I’ve apologized for this before, but Cat … will you ever forgive me for having you neutered?”

My cat sucks in a quick breath. “I said I never want to discuss it,” he says, his eyes burning like branding irons into the depths of my soul.

“I know,” I say. “But clearly, you’re still very resentful. I just wondered–”

My cat holds up a paw, with his blood-stained claws protruding like Wolverine’s terrifying blades. “Not another word, you imbecile, or I’ll slice you up into human confetti. Your guts will be raining upon guests at a New Year’s Eve party when I get through with you.”

“OK. All right.” I rise from the couch and take a cautious step backward. “I’m so sorry, Cat. I swear. I’ll get you some milk now. Does kitty want some milk?”

“You’re goddamn right kitty wants some milk, you insufferable dumb ass! And bring me a handful of those crunchy treats while you’re at it. They help me fight tartar and bad breath.”

“You got it.” Though I’m still shaken, I cross the room to the kitchen to retrieve the milk and treats.

As I leave him alone in the living room, my cat stares blankly at the wall. Ever so slowly, the rage recedes from his eyes, and a dull, glassy stare takes its place.

Although he thinks he’s alone, he’s not aware that I’m watching him. Even through all of our trials and escalated conversations, I have nothing but fondness for him in my heart.

And as he extends his hind leg to lick it, a remorseful pang of guilt surges through me … because as he licks he gently nuzzles that place near the base of his tail — that now-vacant spot where his family jewels used to be.

Uncertainty and panic at the bank drive-through

$10 bill

Thanks for the $10 birthday check, Grandma. It was *so* worth waiting in line for 20 minutes at the bank.

The drive-through window at the bank is a problem. Once I slip my deposit into the transparent plastic tube and press the “send” button to make it whoosh away, I’m not sure what to do with myself.

I don’t want to face the bank window, because then the teller will think I’m scrutinizing her performance … as if I don’t trust her with the $10 check my grandmother gave me for my birthday. (And yes, Grandma’s a cheap old bag. That’s why I sent her to a home. You don’t earn a coveted spot in your grandson’s heart by writing $10 birthday checks each year.)

I don’t want the teller to think I don’t trust her, because that’s not the case at all. I always love to watch a professional at work … especially if she’s a gorgeous blonde with a Marilyn Monroe-like mole near her upper lip. Mmm. I love that.

It’s just at the bank, there’s nothing much to look at, because the window overlooking the drive-through lanes is tinted. So I can’t even see the teller unless I get out of my car and press my face against the glass.

Only it’s inadvisable to step outside of your car at the drive-through, because then you might leave the gearshift in “drive,” and the car will rumble through the parking lot and into the highway, causing a tanker truck sloshing with sewage to spew all sorts of unspeakable foulness upon passing pedestrians. And because it’s sunny, none of them will have an umbrella to shield them … unless, of course, they’re the type of person who carries an umbrella in warm weather, to protect themselves from sunburn. But that’s what they invented sunscreen for, and if you’ve slathered yourself appropriately prior to venturing outdoors, then an umbrella on a sunny day is rather superfluous.

So no, you shouldn’t leave your car at the bank drive-through. Besides, the teller tends to freak out if you press your face against the window. I think it’s because she doesn’t want nose prints on the clean glass. I can understand that. It’s not cheap to run a bank and to keep the windows clean. The big banks on Wall Street can afford clean windows, because they get all sorts of taxpayer bailouts and Congressional favors. It’s the smaller community banks that have to be on the lookout for indiscriminate smudges, because if they cleaned their windows each week, then they wouldn’t be able to provide their customers with free checking. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer financial perks to spot-free glass.

But back to the drive-through. I don’t want to face the window, but I don’t want to face forward with my hands on the wheel, either. If I’m staring into space, then the teller might not think I’m interested in the transaction. And I want her to know that I’m an equally committed partner in this all-too-fleeting interaction. I have just as much emotional investment in the outcome of this exchange as she does, and I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m apathetic and uncaring.

If she suspects I’m uninterested, then she might wait on somebody else — setting aside my transaction to give preference to the guy in the car next to me — and who knows what kind of painstaking transaction he came here to perform. With my luck, he’s probably trying to withdraw $1,000 in loose pennies, or something. The jerk.

At first, the teller might think this is all strictly business … but when she turns over the deposit slip that I’ve stuck in the plastic tube, she’ll see the eloquent love letter I wrote. You see, I scrawled it while I was waiting in line behind a behemoth RV belching smog. (Yes, I choked on putrid exhaust, but I did so in the name of love. That’s the kind of romantic tender-heart I am.)

In the note, I’ll map out our future together — the way I envision it with my adoring eyes and hopeful heart — listing the neighborhood in which we’ll live and picking names for our four unborn children.

Unfortunately, one has to print small to fit one’s future on the back of a typical deposit slip. I hope the teller can read my microscopic script. Or worse yet, I hope she doesn’t smudge the ink with her thumb. I poured my heart and soul into that epic haiku, and it would be a momental tragedy if the teller couldn’t read it. Our wandering hearts would never find each other, and we’d be left wandering in the desolate, stormy sea of loneliness … adrift without paddles … floating without hope … with no horizon or compass or painted drive-through lanes to guide us toward a loving embrace.

So yeah, the drive-through window at the bank is a problem. The tinted window separates me from the object of my affection, and when I look at the one-way glass, all I can see is my pathetic, pallid face staring back at me, forlorn and alone.

Oh sure, I could venture inside the bank and perform my transaction there, but it’s my lunch hour, and the drive-through is quicker. Besides, you never know who you’ll get stuck behind in line. The world’s most plodding, dawdling imbeciles are always ahead of me, shuffling forward with no sense of urgency and conducting transactions that last longer than the Ice Age. It’s like they live in the bank, setting up tents and sleeping bags as if they’re nerds at the premiere of a superhero movie.

Don’t they know that I’m in love with the teller? Can’t they see the desperate, anguished yearning in my eyes? Do they not realize that they’re preventing two hopeless, passionate dreamers from forging a bond?

I pull away from the drive-through with my $10 and a receipt. If the teller saw my love note, she chose to ignore it. I imagine the deposit slip was carelessly discarded, its loving words to be shredded … its idolizing message destroyed.

Ten dollars. What solace can a young man seek with such a mockable pittance? To what secluded destination can this lonely heart abscond?

If only Grandma had given me a better birthday gift, then I might not be in this predicament. The cheap old bag.

Hallmark moments that go on too long

Home video Christmas

Christmas home movies are always fun to watch … as long as they eventually come to an end.

A few years ago, I purchased an analog-to-digital converter so I could import all of my family’s VHS home movies into the computer.

Capturing the video required playing it in real time, so I watched as milestones from my childhood unspooled before my eyes. It was like reliving the long-ago moments of a cobwebbed memory … except with a timestamp on the screen and tracking that needed adjusting.

Unfortunately, I fell asleep and drooled on the keyboard, which shorted out the light on the “caps lock” key. (So now when I’m typing, I have to express my anger in italics.)

The thing was, I’d forgotten how boring home movies were in the 1990s. (Note: I wasn’t being angry there; I was just placing emphasis.)

It was a different era back then. The economy was strong, the Cold War had officially ended, and new episodes of Saved By The Bell were still being made.

But when it came to cutting-edge technology, we weren’t quite there — as evidenced by  the lack of Internet and the elephantine cell phone Zack Morris carried.

Speaking of cell phones, they’re the camcorder of choice nowadays. They’re small and portable, and they encourage us to film from various angles.

But in the ’90s, camcorders were large and bulky, and they looked more like a shoulder-mounted cannon than a consumer electronic. So instead of lugging the things around, we’d set them on a tripod, press “record,” and walk away.

Hence the boringness. Most of my home videos are shot from a single vantage point, and they play out for at least an hour. The whole time, I’m begging for somebody to pick up the camcorder and change the perspective. (Unfortunately, my counterpart from 20 years ago was more concerned with playing Nintendo than manning the camera.)

In one example of immoderate reminiscence, the tape labeled “Christmas Eve 1993” is 40 minutes of my cousins and I tearing open presents — all shot from a single, never-ending angle.

That’s it. Nothing else happens. It’s not a Hallmark moment — it’s a Hallmark epoch. And not an interesting one, at that.

What was the point of preserving this spellbinding footage? As a historical study, it’s not that interesting. What doe-eyed archivist is going to care that I got a pair of socks in the waning years of the 20th century?

Besides, all that crap Santa Claus brought has since been hauled to Goodwill and the local landfill. (Except for the socks, which not surprisingly rotted. They didn’t stand a chance.)

These days, we’re conditioned to film in abbreviated takes, to accommodate social media such as YouTube, Vine, and Vimeo. We’ve learned to preserve our memories in seven-second snippets.

But we didn’t do that with VHS. The incentive back then was always to fill the tape — as if any blank space was an unforgivable wastage tantamount to tossing out food during the Great Depression.

“I need to fill the tape.”

“Do something interesting, will you? There’s only 5 minutes of tape left.”

“No, don’t turn it off! Let it keep going till it runs out of tape.”

The result is hours of footage of people sitting around, stealing glimpses at the camera.

“Did it shut itself off, yet?”

“Did it run out of tape?”

“What should we be saying?”

“Should somebody juggle oranges, or something?”

“Allen, see how much tape it’s got left.”

If my old VHS movies offer a window to the past, then I’d rather draw the blinds.

Actually, I’m just kidding. I’m glad I have all those VHS tapes — especially during the holidays, when I can watch them together with family. Sure, we fast-forward through some of the drawn-out, stationary shots — but at least the footage exists.

What I really regret are the times when we didn’t take video or pictures. Those moments live only in my memory, and they’re susceptible to time (especially if I drink a lot of eggnog during the holidays).

I treasure all of the photos and video I have. Although not all moments are worth reliving, most are worth preserving — especially if you intend to share them later with loved ones.

And that’s the thing. When it comes to family and friends and all the joyous moments they bring, you can never make too many memories.

‘I could write these things!’

The Statue of Liberty

My relative has an annoying habit of predicting the outcome of every movie he watches — often with hilarious results. In his prediction for “Titanic,” for example, Jack and Rose sail to America and go their separate ways. “I could have written the script for the son of a bitch!” he exclaimed. 

I have a relative who likes to forecast the outcome of every movie he watches.

“It’s so predictable!” he’ll blurt, standing and screaming at the TV. “I could write these things!”

The problem is, he’s always 100 percent wrong.

Take Titanic, for example. Years ago, we rented it on VHS and watched it as a family.

“I know exactly what’s going to happen,” my relative said, pausing the tape so he could rise and make a speech. “They’re going to sail to America, and Jack and Rose are going to go their separate ways. And then Rose will divorce Billy Zane and take all his money, and then her and Jack will get back together later in life, when they’re both old.

“Am I right, or am I right?” he said. “What a formulaic, paint-by-numbers script. I could write these things!”

And then we all watched as the Titanic sank and Jack froze to death in the freezing-cold Atlantic.

“Hmm,” my relative said.

Keep reading…

‘Bat jet! Oh — Bat copter’

Batman helicopter toy

A shot of the infamous Batman helicopter — which, unlike the Bat Jet, did not make an appearance in the 1989 movie for which the toy was marketed. The confusion this created for me on Christmas morning of 1990 was unparalleled. I didn’t know at the time that you were “allowed” to sell a toy based on a movie if it didn’t actually appear in the movie. (To confuse things further, that’s a Chuck Norris action figure piloting the helicopter. I had temporarily misplaced my Batman action figure, so I figured Chuck was an acceptable substitute.)

It’s one of my Mom and Dad’s favorite stories:

Christmas morning, 1990. I tear open one of my presents and exclaim, “Wow! Bat jet!”

Then, upon a closer look, I mutter, “Oh. Bat copter.”

On the surface, it seems like an epic tale of colossal disappointment. Kid opens a present expecting his dream gift, then pouts when he learns it’s something else.

It’s sort of like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, in that scene where he’s opened all his presents, but didn’t get the BB gun he really wanted. (We later find out that his dad really did buy it for him and has it hidden behind the desk.)

Unfortunately, my moment of glory is preserved forever on home video. There’s no way for me to pretend it never happened.

The thing, though — which I patiently explain to my family each time we watch the tape — is that I wasn’t disappointed with my gift.

I was bewildered. Keep reading…