Friday, September 25, 2015

I Can Even Use a Power Saw

Erik is traveling this week, and is out of the office. We are reprinting an old column about his old house.

Ever since we moved into our house 11 years ago, I've enjoyed working on it. Building and insulating the walls, putting up drywall, and watching my wife paint.

We finished off the upstairs and the basement with her parents' help, and I learned the manly art of bashing my own thumb with a hammer. In fact, I got so good at it that I find I enjoy working with my hands, beyond just typing on the computer with eight useful fingers.

Some days, I even fancy myself capable of doing this on a daily basis. I can imagine trying to earn a living, doing what I do on the weekends: drinking beer, puttering around in the garage, drinking more beer, and watching football on TV.

Sadly, there is more to being a contractor than that. It's not as much football watching, which is bad, but a lot more beer drinking, which is good, unless you're using a power nailer.

The problem with doing this kind of work is that it really can damage a Guy's hands. Whenever I think, "wouldn't this be fun to do everyday?" I remember what my hands looked like when I was finishing the upstairs of my house six years ago.

Every week brought a new scratch, scrape, scar, or bandage. I began to look like a walking triage unit, and personal injury attorneys followed me in the grocery store.

A hand's scars are a historical road map. They show us where we've been, what we've done, and how poorly we handled sharp objects. There's the scar where I cut myself with my dad's hunting knife, the scar where I cut myself with a kitchen knife, and the scar where I cut myself with a utility knife while cutting some drywall. I have serious problems with knives.

For the past few weeks, my wife and I have been tackling major projects around the house, and my hands look like I've been wrestling a sack of nettles. I have cuts on my fingers from an errant hacksaw, a few poison ivy blisters, and a couple of scratches from God only knows what. And this was a good week.

But Guys wear their scars like badges of honor. Stupid, I-wasn't-paying-attention-and-sliced-my-hand-with-my-utility-knife scars. Big hey-want-to-see-what-a-hot-drill-bit-can-do-to-human-flesh scars. And we parade them around for others to see.

When most non-Guys injure themselves, they will carefully clean the wound with Bactine, put some antibiotic ointment on it, and put a clean bandage on it every day. They also get their wives to "kiss it and make it all better."

Guys, on the other hand, will only put a small Band-Aid on the wound to make sure they don't get blood in their nachos. Afterward, they take it off so people will ask them about it at work the next day.

Concerned co-worker: Eww, gross! What did you do to your hand?

Guy: Oh that? That's just a scratch. I was building a new storage shed out of some pine logs and plywood. I guess one of the pieces got away from me, because it slipped and gashed my hand up pretty good. I just wrapped a little duct tape around it and kept working.

Other Guy: What are you talking about? I was over at your house, and you were cutting little rosettes into some baby redskin potatoes, and you sliced your hand on that little bitty paring knife. You cried like a baby and insisted I take you to the emergency room.

Guy: Yeah? Well, now you can forget about me making that lobster bisque and pasta bolognese for your birthday!

Guys take pride in their scars, because they earned them. They performed the labor, put themselves at risk, and made the gross error that nearly lopped off a finger or severed an artery. These aren't self-inflicted little scratches that we made to look cool. That would be like buying pre-torn jeans.

We'd never intentionally drop lumber on our foot. We'd never try to injure ourselves with a sharp chisel. And we'd never overdramatize a groin injury and then purposely get suspended from training camp as a way to try to leverage a better contract than the 7-year-$49-million contract we signed the year before. (Looking at you, Terrell Owens!)

Not that I'm pointing a finger or anything. It's still too painful to move after I whacked it with a hammer.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A One-Sided Conversation About Moving

"Remember, Buddy, lift with your legs, not with your back."

"That's still not funny."

"Because it wasn't funny the first fifty times it."

"Because you're already lifting with your hands. Saying it 49 more times doesn't make it funnier, it just means I'm making you carry more stuff."

"Because you could injure your back and end up with chronic back pain."

"I wouldn't have to repeat myself if you would just do it right the first time."

"I do not! I lift with my legs just like — blurg! I can't squat down that low."


"I don't care how old he is, Michael Jordan isn't here to help us move, is he?"

"I'll bet he can't squat that low either. The guy's so tall, he probably gets the bends if he stands up too quick."

"What's he going to do, dunk it onto the truck?"

"Just lift it up."

"Turn left. No, left. I want you to go backward."

"Your other left."

"That's your right."

"That's still your right."

"Stop, stop, stop. Set it down."

"Because my back hurts."

"Because I can't squat as low as you can. My knees are worse than my back."

"What? I didn't shout at him. I said stop."

"Because when I wanted him to turn left, he went right."

"Fine. Dude, when we pick up the couch, head toward the front door."

"Just watch your feet and stay on the sidewalk."

"Because the younger lifter always goes backward."

"It's in the rules."

"My rules."

"I, uh, packed them in the truck already."

"Dude, you're just going to go backward. Deal with it."

"Because I always went backward when I was younger. Now that I'm the senior mover, I don't have to go backward."

"Fine. She'll agree with me though."

"Wait, wait. Let's finish moving the couch out before you go tatt— I mean, tell her."

"Yes, backward."

"See, it's not so bad. You get to guide the speed and direction."

"I'm guiding from the back. It's part of your apprenticeship."

"Until you have your own house to move."

"You get to boss your own kids around, that's what."

"No, I'm not helping you then."

"I'll be busy that day."

"A friend's house for dinner. It's on the calendar."

"I'll find some new friends. Bottom line, I'm not helping you move then."

"Because I'll be 60 and I won't feel like it. Besides, if you're thinking about moving in here after college, you've got another think coming."

"Set it down right here, and scoot it in place. Mom will fit it in place just right."

"I can lift heavier things than she can, but she has better spatial skills than I do. It comes from her playing all that Tetris."

"No, 'spatial,' as in being able to perceive things in space."

"We may live in Indiana, but we don't talk like that."

"Short 'e' sound, like bet or feather. As in, 'I bet these boxes would feel as light as a feather if you would lift with your legs and not your back.'"

"Let's just get some boxes. Mom can stack them next to the couch."

"With your legs, Buddy! Your legs."

"Like this. Watch. You just crouch down and — $#&!"

"No, I didn't actually do it, I just said it."

"Dude, quit laughing, it wasn't that funny. Just go get your mother, please."

"What did he tell you?"

"No, I did not do that in my pants."

"I said it because I injured myself."

"Because he's got the humor of a 12 year old. Look at him, he's still laughing."

"What's in there, your anvil collection?"

"Well, it made me hurt my back."

"No, I just need a few minutes. Give me some Motrin and let me sit on the couch, and I'll be fine."

"You go on ahead. I'll be right there. I just need to. . . . *snnnnkkkkk*

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Life Lessons for My Children

As my children get older and enter young adulthood, or as I like to think of it, "*sob* I don't want you to go away to college!! *sniff*," I've tried to impart important life lessons to each of them.

However, since I never pay attention to anything I say — no one else does either — I'm not sure what I've said to which child. So I've compiled it all into one easy-to-lose guide that none of them will actually read.

1) Don't put your money and energy into possessions. You'll spend your money on things you never really needed or wanted, and you'll end up throwing half of them away in three years.

Instead, spend your money on things that make memories, like an HD TV and satellite subscription, with a Major League Baseball game package. Oh, and a nice recliner. I remember the recliner my parents had when I was a kid. It was so comfortable, I could take deep, satisfying naps in it during baseball games.

See, nice memories.

2) The best things in life are free, but only when the other person isn't looking.

3) Author Sherwood Anderson once wrote to his son, "Above all, avoid taking the advice of men who have no brains and do not know what they are talking about." He was referring to small businessmen who had achieved a modicum of success, but as an entrepreneur, I disagree. Instead, avoid the advice from people who work for the government, for large corporations, or start sentences with "I saw on Fox News last night. . ."

4) Do not depend on another person to make you happy or complete. We have repeatedly told my daughters, you do not need to depend on a man, wait for a man, or take directions from a man. Learn to live independently for a while, because if you bring a young man around the house, I plan on frightening the hell out of him.

For my son, find a woman who is strong, independent, and won't wait on you hand and foot. If you're not sure of what that looks like, ask your mother to make you a sandwich.

5) Most importantly, if we do let any of you get married, find someone who makes you laugh. Not a polite little titter, but a great braying ugly laugh that only your family has heard. Your mother has always said she knew I was The One because I made her laugh. And also, because I didn't make her feel like throwing up.

Which, now that I think about it, "I married you because you didn't make me throw up" is not the lovely sentiment I had previously imagined.

6) Find a hobby you love. Something that you can throw yourself into and enjoy. Television is not a suitable hobby. Neither is playing games on your phone. Consider things like cooking for the elderly, dispensing medication to the aged, or maintaining a guest room for long-term guests who come to live with you when they're in their 70s. You have 30 years to get good at these things.

7) Don't openly revel in the misery of others. Do it quietly where they can't see you.

8) Don't worry about being the most popular kid in school. Enjoy being different and not following the crowd. Recent studies have shown that the popular kids often don't live up to their self-expectations later in life. Instead, it's the geeks and weirdos who go on to do amazing things. Celebrity astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson was not a popular kid in high school, Miley Cyrus was.

The big difference? Nowadays, Neil deGrasse Tyson is respected for his intellect and talent, Miley Cyrus is, well, not.

9) Kurt Vonnegut once said, "Go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable."

This is a terrible idea. Go into a sensible profession. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. As a professional writer, I speak from experience. When I'm old, I'll be counting on you and your family to make my life more bearable.

10) On the other hand, make sure you have a job you love. As my father used to say, it's better to have a job you love that doesn't make much money than to make a lot of money at a job you hate.

I'm happy to pass all this advice to you, because I love my job so much, it's pretty much your entire inheritance.

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Peter and the Disembodied Voice

"Do you ever wonder about The Voice?" asked Peter.

"The TV Show?" asked Peter's grandfather.

"No, Grandfather, The Voice," said Peter

"What voice? Is someone talking to you?"

"No, The Voice that tells us what's happening. I can hear him sometimes, when I'm out playing."

"Are you sure it's not one of the neighbors?"

"No, no. It sounds like God. He talks about what I'm doing, as if he's explaining it to someone else."

Peter's grandfather studied him. The boy had never been quite right, not after his parents had died, and Peter had been sent to live with him. Grandfather petted Cat sleeping in his lap. Cat had worn himself out, chasing Duck and Bird again, but hadn't had any luck. He reached across the table for Peter's hand.

"Peter, do these voices tell you to do things?"

Peter pulled his hand away. "Grandfather, I'm not crazy," he huffed. "There aren't any voices telling me to burn down the wood shed. There's just one voice, and he describes what's happening, like a, uh, like a nora-tor."

"Do you mean a narrator?"

"Yes, that. 'Narrator.' It was his voice that told me when Wolf came out of the woods and tried to eat Bird and Duck last summer. That's how I knew what was going on. I heard Narrator talking about how Wolf chased Bird and Duck, and I heard the French horn and flute and oboe. That's when I snuck out the window to save them."

"What does Narrator sound like?" asked Grandfather, leaning forward slightly. Cat raised his head to make sure everything was okay. He didn't hear his clarinet, so he went back to sleep.

"Well, he sounds funny. Like he's British or something. He sounds like someone Very Important."

"Do you still hear him?"

"Sometimes," said Peter. "Not all the time. Usually when I'm outside playing. I started listening to him more, in case he tells me when Wolf is coming out of the woods."

"Not The Wolf, Peter. You marched him right to the zoo in a big parade and rescued Duck from the tree."

"I know that, Grandfather."

"Kitschiest damn ending I'd ever heard," said Grandfather. "God forbid we inject a little real life into a children's story." Grandfather reached for his bottle. "When I was a boy, it was cold. We were always so cold. Some days, we never had enough to eat, and my mother would—"

"Grandfather, you're getting maudlin again. We have fun times here. This isn't an MFA story."

"A what? Emmiff ay?"

"No, M. F. A. It means Masters of Fine Arts. People get them for writing sad stories about their childhoods or wars."

Grandfather set his bottle down. "You're right, Peter." Grandfather rubbed his face with his hands. "So why do you think you hear him?"

"I think he's just lonely. He doesn't have anything to do anymore. Apparently we only had the one wolf in the woods. It's been six months, and we haven't had any more sightings."

"Well, that was pretty exciting, you have to admit. The Hunters with their great guns and drums, carting off The Wolf. You all certainly gave me such a fright when I thought he was going to eat you. I certainly wasn't happy with you, until I saw you leading The Hunters and The Wolf in a parade to the zoo."

"I remember, Grandfather," Peter said, his eyes staring at nothing far away. "When I think of how we almost lost Duck that day, I still get the shivers."

"Now who's getting maudlin? So what else does Narrator talk about?" said Grandfather, changing the subject.

"Well, he talks about Cat, Bird, and Duck a lot. He saw the Hunters off in the distance once, and I heard the kettle drums. Another time, we had a tense moment in the garden when I thought I heard The Wolf, but it was just a trombone."

"Maybe he is lonely, Peter. Now that the villain has been taken to the zoo, there's nothing for him to do."

"Can we invite Narrator to dinner, Grandfather? Maybe he wouldn't be so lonely if he had some friends."

"Oh, I don't know Peter."

"I know you didn't like being portrayed by a bassoon, but maybe he'll even let you pick a new instrument."

"That's not it, Peter. You know what a man like that can become once he gets the drink in him. A darkness comes over him, a cold darkness, and he begins to—"

"Grandfather, you're MFAing again."

You can find my books Branding Yourself (affiliate link), No Bullshit Social Media, and The Owned Media Doctrine on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.