Posted in comedy, writing

Momma Wanted us Babies to Grow up to be Cowboys.

Previously Published in the February Edition of the Caldwell Perspective.

I slid the derringer up my sleeve and patted my breast pocket. The miniature deck of playing cards was inconspicuous. I brushed the wrinkles off of my polyester shirt, smoothed my hair back one more time, and gave myself an approving nod in the mirror. It was Sunday, and I was going to church dressed as an Old West gambler. I was eight years old. This childhood obsession with Westerns was not out of rebellion, nor was it in any way an idea of my own. Since my birth, my parents had manipulated my every taste in music, books, and television so that I would find tales of the American West attractive. Before I could even read on my own, my mother was reading Louis L’Amour to me and my brothers, and before I turned seven years old, I watched John Wayne toss his reins between his teeth, and race towards Robert Duvall with a six-shooter in one hand, and a rifle in the other, calling him a “Son of a–”. This moment was always muted for our little ears, and it wasn’t until I hit puberty that I found out the end of that phrase.

No, I didn’t choose to become infatuated with the Wild West. I was trained for it. My brothers had a rodeo-themed birthday party. For Christmas, we got a set of rodeo rider action figures. We listened to cassette tapes of Baxter Black in the van, and to this very day my brother can recite verbatim “A Vegetarian’s Nightmare.” We made meals from a “Cowboy cookbook.” We had bouncy horses, and when we got older, stick ponies to ride around our backyard—catching stray cattle, and keeping them imaginary heifers away from imaginary harm’s way. When it came to basketball, we rooted for the San Antonio Spurs. If, dear reader, you are finding a common thread, raise your hand. By the time I came into this world, my manifest destiny had already been chosen. I was going to love all things cowboy, and my parents were going to make darn sure the boot did, in fact, fit.

Because I was homeschooled and rarely hung out with kids who weren’t, my family’s obsession didn’t strike any of my pardners as odd. In fact, all homeschoolers are big fans of the Western genre. The girls read “Little House on the Prairie” and the boys read “Hank the Cowdog.” Show me a homeschooler who has never seen a Roy Rogers film, and I will seriously question their parent’s capability. While some may strive to instill in their children a love of classical music, or a dedication to the study of science, my parents made sure I knew the difference between John Wayne and John Wesley Hardin. Parents often want their children to be doctors, and lawyers, and such. But not my parents. They wanted us to be sons of the pioneers. But I never understood why. That is until my family went on a vacation to Cody, Wyoming.

My family and I had never been on a vacation before. Oh sure, we had made day trips to Silver City, and we had done the annual three-day camping trip, but never a vacation. So you can imagine our shock, and excitement when my brothers and I were told that we were headed to the Disneyland for Western fans: Cody, Wyoming! We gleefully loaded up our fifth-wheel trailer with as much food as it would carry, my father borrowed a portable DVD player and a ten-inch black and white television set to make our trip more enjoyable, and we headed out west! Well…East to Wyoming. As the landscape began to change from thick, mountainous forest green, into the great plains, my brothers and I watched episodes of “Stories of the Century” an old TV show about two railroad detectives who tracked down the most ruthless outlaws the West had ever seen. By the time we stepped out of the truck into the streets of Cody, Wyoming, we were saddle sore!

Named after Buffalo Bill himself, my brother Cody was the ultimate suburban cowboy. He immediately wanted to go through all the museums and read. Every. Single. Sign. My brother Michael on the other hand was the only one in the family who didn’t fully embrace the code of the West. Unlike the rest of us, he did not wish he was born in the 1800s. In fact, he wished he was born in the year 2050! Obsessed with all things technology, Michael’s favorite western became Cowboys & Aliens. But even this tech-savvy brother found himself forgetting computers even existed when he saw his first herd of wild American Bison roaming the Great Plains. He cheered just as loud as the rest of us when we watched a live performance on the streets of Cody, complete with actors and real working guns filled with blanks!

The town was close enough that my mother’s parents came to visit. It was here, seeing my grandparents in their element that I began to realize the true reason my parents loved this genre. My mother immersed us in the Western Fandom not just because she grew up on Johnny Cash and John Wayne. After listening to the stories from my Grandpa about his adventures raising sheep and cattle, how much he loved horses, and how my uncles had ridden in the rodeos, it dawned on me: my Grandpa was a cowboy. A living, breathing, relic from the Old West. He could rope and ride. He wore boots, a cowboy hat, and a bolo tie. The cuss words that my mother muted on the television, would fly out of his mouth when he forgot we were within earshot. He carried a small Gideon’s Bible in his breast pocket where a pack of cigarettes used to be. He was rough on the outside, and tender on the inside. Full of the wisdom of uncomplicated men. His eyes held a twinkle brighter than Santa Claus himself.

My mother didn’t listen to Willie or Waylon. She instilled in all of us a love of the West not because it was escapism from our suburban lives. But because she wanted us to see a different side of our family tree. She wanted us to become cowboys just like her father. This was her way of showing us a side of our heritage that we rarely got to see. My Grandpa stood six foot tall, weighed over two hundred pounds, and had big sausage fingers. Here in Cody, Wyoming, my brothers and I didn’t just get to see animatronic cowboys in museums or hear stories of a breed of men who had ridden off into the sunset. For those days with family, we got to see something else: Grandpa in his natural habitat. While I didn’t get to see it on this trip, I later saw my Grandpa deliver a sermon in a Cowboy Church one Sunday. He brought the same wit and wisdom to his sermons that he did in everyday conversation. He was a man of great character. Kim Darby may have even called him a man of “True Grit.”

As I walked into my church that Sunday, dressed as a gambler, I felt proud. And a little sneaky. I pocketed the cap-gun derringer that I had bought in Wyoming, showed my friends the deck of playing cards, and never told a soul that I was pretending to be the great Bret Maverick: gentleman gambler. Apart from the covert piece of self-defensery up my sleeve, and the Baptist cardinal sin of bringing a deck of cards into a house of worship, I looked like every other well-dressed kid. But in my king of hearts, I knew that when I got home, my bunkbed would become a riverboat or a dimly lit saloon where a deadly game of cards was being played. I would set myself down, and ante up. Because life was a game to be won, and I knew I had an ace up my sleeve—I came from a long line of cowboys. My Grandpa’s legacy of his gentlemanly character was what my mother always wanted to brand into our hearts. Why she loved stories of men standing up for justice when no one else would. Of men protecting innocent women and children, and riding off into the sunset. We, in our three-bedroom suburb house, were cowboys.

Posted in comedy

“Snakes. Why’d it Have to be Snakes?”

Previously Published in the March Issue of the Caldwell Perspective.

Snakes. They’ve been causing trouble since the beginning of time. Eve wasn’t scared of the snake, and look where that got us! No, I say when it comes to snakes, you need a healthy dose of fear. But my great-grandmother Viola Morgan may have taken this fear to an unhealthy level. To say that she feared snakes would be like saying someone with a fear of heights would get mildly nervous when skydiving, or calling someone with agoraphobia a “homebody.” I don’t think the English language, or any language for that matter can properly express the sheer amount of terror she felt towards this suborder of reptiles. She was deathly afraid of snakes. She wasn’t afraid of death, taxes, or even public speaking, which occasionally ranks higher on lists of fear than death itself. No, for my great-grandmother, nothing in this world was scarier than snakes. In her eyes, every snake was the devil incarnate. This was doubly true for snakes who were in Georgia.

This was fitting, since her birthday was the 17th of March, better known to the Irish, and anyone guilty of Celtic cultural appropriation as St. Patrick’s Day. While my great-grandmother was of Irish descent, I regret to inform you that she wasn’t particularly good at being Irish. She didn’t drink beer, she wasn’t a Catholic, and while it pains me to say this, she was what you would call today, a “leprechaun denier.” However, even with these strikes against her heritage, Viola still celebrated this day with her Irish eyes a smilin’. She wore green, liked to eat corned beef, and most of all gave praise to God for that saving grace St. Patrick told the Irish all those years ago. But while she was grateful to St. Patrick for his missionary work, I think the story she liked best, was the apocryphal tale about how St. Patrick got rid of all the snakes in Ireland. Oh sure, saving the Irish people from the eternal flames of Hell was rather good, but I think secretly she viewed St. Patrick getting rid of all the snakes as his greatest achievement.

Talking about snakes around great-grandma was a forbidden topic. More forbidden than sex or Democrats! This was pretty easy for most of us since snakes rarely slithered across our minds. Except for my brother Cody. You see, Cody was one of those kids who knew more animal facts than David Attenborough, The Crocodile Hunter, and Jack Hannah combined! He never heard an animal fact that didn’t bear repeating to the family. Or friends. Or the poor, unsuspecting mailman. Would you believe me if I told you we went through ten mailmen in seven months? All because turtles can breathe through their butt! Cody knew all about snakes; their eating habits, how they shed their skin, and most importantly, how you could tell which ones were venomous based solely on the colors of their skin. He made us all memorize the mantra “Red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow. Red touches black, you’re okay Jack.” Apparently, this Jack fellow kept getting bit by snakes and he could never tell if he was going to live or die. I imagine poor Jack getting bit again and, as he lay there, with his life flashing before his eyes, he desperately attempts to remember the rhyme.

“Red touches yellow, you’re an okay fellow. Or is it dead fellow? Or is it if it’s yellow let it mellow, and brown flush it down? How do you flush a snake down the toilet?! And what about red touching black? I die from a heart attack? I have to eat a snack? Can I get an autograph from Shaq?” He deliriously continues until he realizes that it was actually, just an old garden hose that had brushed against his skin, and he remembers he is in Ireland post-St. Patrick and there are no snakes. Then, he advises me to leave him alone, and return to my great-grandmother. Which I will in the next paragraph.

Because the point I am trying to make here is that she hated snakes. Hated them! We are talking a step above Indiana Jones level here! She said they were “the eels of the land.” Whatever that meant. Legend has it, that she once threw a book across the room when she turned the page to find an illustration of a snake. And once when I was searching in her dictionary to find the definition of “snad” while we were playing scrabble, I found a square strip of duct tape covering the picture of the snake. I never did find the word “snad” and quickly lost the game. In case you’re wondering, “snad” means “to sneeze when you are sad.” You don’t have to Google it, just trust me. To her, there was no animal quite as frightening as a snake. I don’t mean to brag, but if my great-grandmother had been the first woman God created, we would still be living in paradise. So, in honor of St. Patrick, who rid Ireland of all the snakes, and to honor the message that Christ had crushed the great serpent’s head, my family and I would wear green, bring corned beef, and challenge her to a good old-fashioned game of scrabble. Just as long as no one tried to play the word “snake.” It was a birthday worth celebrating.

However, as the years went by, there grew a distinctly melancholy tone to St. Patrick’s day for her. It was another birthday, another trip around the sun, and at times she was disappointed to still be making this trip. Because, in reality, Viola wished she were dead. Not in a darkly depressed way, but with an attitude that she had run her race well and was awaiting her Heavenly reward. In fact, she and God had been in a disagreement for quite some time over where the finish line was. In her mind, she had crossed that finish line years before, but now she found herself on a Heavenly waiting list with frustrating hold music blaring in her ears. I can just see her opening her eyes every morning with a little excitement, only to find herself still stuck in her home, and not in the ever presence of the Lord. She had been a faithful servant. She had been a widow for decades. She had raised her kids, loved her grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She had been an old church lady for close to fifty years. God did eventually call her home where she now enjoys scrabble games with the apostles, eats corned beef with St. Patrick and C.S. Lewis, and takes long walks on the golden streets with the Lord—where there’s not a snake in sight.

Posted in comedy, writing

No Brainer

Previously Published in the 2022 December Issue of Caldwell Perspective.

My mother once told me, “Don’t say you’re stupid, or you’ll realize it.” Okay, that’s not what she meant, but it is what she said. What she meant was, “Stop saying you’re stupid or one day you’ll believe it.” Well, the problem is, now I believe it! I’m an idiot. And when I think back to my childhood, I should have seen it coming. There were signs. For example, I loved staring at the sun. No, not enjoying a bright sunny day. I’m talking about planting your feet on the ground, craning your neck, holding back your eyelids, and just staring at that big ol’ ball in the sky. I soon discovered that if you stare at the sun long enough, you can see a little disc in the center…spinning. That thing was awesome. Kept me entertained for seconds! But then I would get a headache for no reason and have to take a short break. Now, in hindsight, that spinning circle was likely my pupils burning right before my very eyes. My parents should have seen this coming as well. When I was a baby, I was stricken with Orange Baby Trump disease, or in non-medical terms: jaundice. I was strapped down against my will and forced to be exposed under a special lamp that required me to wear these tiny infant sunglasses. I hated wearing those things and tried every chance I could get to rip those suckers off. Perhaps it was then that I saw the light.

Another sign that I weren’t too bright, was that I was never an inquisitive child. Whenever I heard someone say, “look away!” I obeyed without question. Whether it was because something inappropriate was on TV, or that someone was singing the lyrics to “I Wish I Was in Dixie” was immaterial: I obeyed without question. For years I assumed that if you touched any part of an electrical breaker, you would get electrocuted, I thought extraterrestrials were coming across the Mexican border, and I thought the moon was made out of honey, and that couples rode there on spaceships after they got married. I had heard the phrase “curiosity killed the cat” and thought anything powerful enough to kill something with nine lives deserved to be avoided. At. All. Costs. So I never asked my parents about anything (I still have no idea where babies come from). I was homeschooled, so I was blissfully ignorant of my ignorance. I got straight A’s, was at the top of my class, and even gave my valedictorian speech in my bedroom in front of my stuffed animals. I don’t mean to brag, but I got a standing ovation on that one. Which is no small feat given the fact that stuffed animals can neither stand nor clap on their own!

When I got to college, I was given a personality test because my professor didn’t believe I had one. But a shocking result came back from that test: I scored 0% on thinking, and 100% on feeling. Let me say that again for emphasis: ZERO percent on thinking, and ONE HUNDRED percent on feeling. How did that make me feel you might ask? Not the least bit curious. You see, I’ve never been a mechanical-minded person. I am not what you would call a “thinker.” In fact, if you ask me if I’m a thinker I don’t even have to think about it for a nanosecond. The answer is a lightning-speed “no.”

This has caused friction between me and my two logical brothers. Working in computers and the legal field, my brothers test the limits of the human brain every day. My oldest brother took apart a computer and reassembled it to celebrate his 12th birthday. My other brother has read every volume of the 1967 Encyclopedia Britannica at my Grandparent’s house. Cover to cover. The only thing I have ever been curious about, is how on earth my brothers could find this stuff fun? When I ask them why they like math, they tell me it’s because math makes sense. It is consistent. No matter how many times they do one problem, it always comes out the same way. I know this is a flat-out lie because I can do the same math problem five times and come up with six different solutions.

Now you may think that because I am 100% on the feeling side, my life is one big melodrama and that I cry at the drop of a hat. But that is simply not true. Unless you’re referring to the time I dropped my prized Boise Hawks baseball hat into the Grand Canyon. There were tears then! Sure, I get a little choked up during the occasional movie, but so would you if you watched a story about a kindhearted bear in London searching for the perfect gift for his Aunt’s birthday! But the truth is, I am a thinker, just not in your typical, intellectual sense. When my brother told me about the famous philosophy “trolley problem” where you must decide logically which group of people to save, I had questions. “Who put the people there? Why didn’t someone stop him? Why is the choice up to me and me alone when I have never even been on a train before, let alone operated one?”

You see, I have questions about people, not cold hard facts. Tell me there was a car wreck on the freeway and I don’t care about whether or not I’ll be late for work, I want to know how many people were injured? Were there any children involved? Have you checked the trolley tracks lately for people tied to them? It happens more than you think. Humans have always fascinated me. What makes them tick? Why do they do stupid things? Like staring at the sun for an absurd amount of time, or strapping helpless strangers to the rails of a trolley. Seriously, I know it’s just hypothetical, but have we checked in on the person who came up with that? Because I think they need some intense therapy! This is why most of the personality tests I have taken suggest that I go into the medical field, or become a counselor, or a dancer. Personality tests can’t tell if you have two left feet. I’ve gotten pretty good at learning human behavior. I can even predict my family’s actions with 98% accuracy. But if you ask me to use the Pythagorean Theorem, when the U.S.S.R. collapsed, or what Java Script is, my mind will plead the 5th. I’m no artist, but I can draw a complete blank just like that! So, if you are wondering what is going on in that funny little head of mine? Let me assure you: it’s a no-brainer.

Posted in comedy, writing

How to be the Funcle.

You stand there, staring at the ultrasound pictures in your hands. No, you’re not pregnant and no, you’re not the father. One of your siblings has just made you an uncle. Without even asking for your permission to further populate this planet. Now, you’re faced with the question every uncle in history has been faced with: what kind of an uncle am I going to be? Because, like it or not, there are only three options: the fun uncle, the crazy uncle, and the boring uncle. And if you don’t choose for yourself, your niece or nephew will for you. There’s a three, maybe four year window to solidify your reputation as uncle number 1, 2, or 3. Your first choice may be to choose the “crazy uncle” title. After all, who doesn’t love their crazy uncle? Well, take it from me, that the crazy uncle is not as glamourous as it sounds. Sure, crazy uncles are good for the funny stories of how they got their first DUI, or how they almost married a Shania Twain impersonator, but when you take away the uncle part, all you’re left with is a man who makes Thanksgiving interesting, and weddings embarrassing. You can go with the “boring uncle” if you want. It requires less questionable behavior, no criminal record required, and the least amount of time spent with the young’uns. But if you’re reading this, chances are you want the coveted title of the “fun uncle” or “Funcle” as I like to call it. This title sounds much cooler than the counterpart of the fun aunt. No one wants to be called a “Faunt.” So how do you get to be the Funcle everyone knows and loves? I’m gonna be completely honest with you: it takes work. Lots of it. I’m talking about being there for everything. Starting with the baby shower. Who cares if you’re the only dude there? Prove to the women in your family that you can change a diaper if need be. Just make sure you mess it up in a humorous way so that you’ll get an “E” for effort but will never be called off the bench to deal with whatever toxic waste that diaper is filled with. In my almost five years of experience, I have yet to change a diaper. I’ve been asked by my niece, but all the adults just laugh it off. “Remember when Kyle put the diaper on inside out on the doll? Classic.” Classic, sure. But also devious. I’m risking everything by revealing my secrets. But if I can help just a few, unprepared men to rise up to the challenge and be involved in their niece/nephew’s lives, then this will all be worth it.

A common misconception is that you have to be rich to be the Funcle. This is not the case. I don’t have a penny to my name, and one of my nieces has told me that I am her “favorite boy.” The truth is children are excellent judges of character. Have you ever watched an adult who normally doesn’t care for children, try to win them over? It’s painful. Children can tell immediately whether you are a phony, or the real deal. This is why I think they should be on juries, and confirmation hearings. You can impress adults with your fancy words, and impressive records, but will you sit on a hardwood floor with your niece and drink from an empty plastic teacup like you’re at a wine tasting? “I detect certain hints of Tupperware, with a nice acrylic finish.” What I’m trying to say, is that being the fun uncle takes time. Invest in the smallest of moments. Be a complete fool. If the ground is lava, and your toe touches the carpet, you better scream in pain like you’re Anakin Skywalker in episode III. Never discipline. That’s the parents, and grandparent’s jobs. Children get told all the time what they can and cannot do. Make sure your niece/nephew knows that they can pick their nose with one hand and scratch their butt with the other, and all you’ll tell them is, “Way to be ambidextrous!” But never teach them bad habits. Don’t teach them naughty words, or tell them to recite dirty jokes, because this isn’t about you. It’s about being the best darn Funcle you can be for them.

Make memories. Not ones that you remember, but ones that they remember. I couldn’t care less about feeding my cats then watching them eat every single kibble and bit. But just like how their parents make them clean their plate, your niece/nephew will want to make sure the kitties eat all of their food. And now, my niece can’t visit me without wanting to give the cats their nighttime feeding. Throw rocks into the mud. Play games with rules that change every 30 seconds. Don’t question them, don’t challenge them. Sure, the first one to the end of the hallway was going to be the winner when you started, but they tripped, and you ended up crossing the finish line first. So now, it is whoever got both hands on the ground first (which happened to be them when they fell). Just go with it. Put your phone down. Remove distractions. Give them your undivided attention. If you’re going to be the ultimate Funcle, you have to use your greatest asset of all: time. Every adult in their life seems too busy to play with them or read them stories. Time doesn’t fly as a kid. Five minutes to them is a lifetime!

Also, be sure to stretch. I cannot emphasize this enough. Get in on the ground floor. By that, I mean actually get down on the floor and play with them. Tables are too tall, and it really isn’t fun to play a game with a grownup while they recline in their chair, half watching the football game. I remember asking grownups to play with me, and every time they got down on the ground, they made a funny grunting noise. I never understood it. I could hop onto a tile floor and land on my kneecaps, but these giant humans could barely sit crisscross-applesauce without a host of unpleasant sounds coming from a variety of places. But now? I get it. My knees aren’t made of rubber anymore, and my legs burn for days after every playdate with my niece.

If you apply just a few of these rules, you’ll be on your way to becoming the coolest adult in their little lives. And when you see the look they give you and feel the way they hug your neck and say, “Fank you for playing with me!” You’ll know that it was all worth it.

Just don’t skip leg day!