Saturday, January 29, 2011

You Take the Highland, and I'll take the Low Road

        It was July of 2010, and I had recently gotten engaged. My fiance and I had planned a trip to Asheville to visit my uncle and attend the largest North American gathering of Scottish clans. It was the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (or GMHG). It is the granddaddy of all American highland games.
        This was the second time I had attended the GMHG. This time was just about me exposing my new fiance to what she should expect from the remainder of her days as the wife of a proud Scotsman. The GFMG did not dissappoint. There was the standard fare of Highland dancing, red bearded men throwing heavy things, bagpipe bands, and British "cuisine." I put cuisine in quotations because the Brits are known for many things, their food is not one of them. If you want to know how to create an Empire and squander it, call Britain. If you want to know how to cook a fine meal, skip the Brits and move on to the French or Italians.
       After absorbing the full breadth of the festival during a single lap around the field, my fiance and I began our mission to find my clan's tent. Sure enough, we found it within minutes. It was nestled in between the Munro and Bell clan tents. This was funny to me since those were the clans of two of my fellow Scottish friends. I took a quick photo using my Blackberry's camera. I sent it to them directly, and posted it to Facebook with a footnote that read "BFF tents at the GMHG!" I'm not proud of it, I've had more creative moments, but I had already partaken in the beer and whiskey tasting and that was the best I could do in my semi-innebriated state of mind.
        We approached my clan's tent and were immediately surrounded by my fellow clansmen. I had known them for mere minutes, but as far as they were concerned we were family. Such is the the Highland way. We paid a minimal fee of $25 toward our annual membership of the Society, and our benefits were immediate. There was a second tent that bordered the field where all the games were taking place. We could see the sweat fly off the competitors of the Caber Toss as they exerted themselves to flip the 150 pound telephone poles end over end. We could hear the panting of the Border Collies as they wrangled the sheep into the pens at the heed of their master's whistle. We could hear the "click clack" of the patent leather shoes of the Highland Dancers on the make shift dance floor. And we could sample the free finger sandwiches and beverages as we sat and witnessed the glorious sites from the shaded safety of the tent. I will say again, this was July in the valley between the mountains. The wind was blocked by the giant piles of craggy rocks, but the sun was still ever present. Needless to say, it was hot. Also needless to say, beverages were a hot commodity. A bottle of water at any of the vendor's booths was $5.00, but they were free at the clan tent. My $25 fee paid for itself within the hour. The Scots are as cheap as they are proud, so the connection between frugality and pride was not lost on the other people in the tent.
       We were then joined by another couple of new members to the Clan Society. These two were not what I expected to see when I turned around. The guy was skinny and had a brown ponytail, and the girl (I assumed wife or girlfriend) had no interesting attributes worth mentioning. Luckily for us (and this story) another man entered the tent. It turned out it was this man's father. He looked like the quintessential Scotsman. Red beard, whiskey gut, and a certain something in his casual stride that just seemed right. Ponytail's posture perked up immediately. It wasn't a purposeful response, it was instinctual. Whiskey gut dad took Ponytail aside, and they had a very intense conversation. They're volume and tone was subtle, but I could tell the subject matter was intense. The intensity rose when Mrs. Whiskey Gut stumbled into to the tent (refer back to the whiskey and beer tasting). Our attention was drawn to their conversation. Without being nosy, I turned my ears' full attention to picking up as many lines of their dialogue as I could. Alas, I was not able to pick up a single line of sensical data. Until the last one. Ponytail let out a single huff of breath and said simply "So, somebody received an email and that is why I'm in North Carolina."
       What did that mean? I assumed immediately that he was not from around here, which was surprising because Ponytails were a standard haristyle in Appalachain America. How far had he traveled to get to these games? Was his induction into the Clan Society a rite of passage? Did he do so to win the love and approval of Whiskey Gut? I turned to my fiance who was just finishing her 3rd finger sandwich and 2nd bottle of water (about 65% of our membership fee worth of consumeables), and I asked if she was hearing any of this. She chewed and swallowed the last of bit of turkey and replied with a simple "huh?" I turned my attention back to the Ponytail vs Mr and Mrs Whiskey Gut dispute, but they had vanished into the summer air. I chased after them until we were separated by an oncoming pipe band. I retreated to the tent to rejoin my fiance. The bagpipe music filled the air with deafening sounds, and my imagination filled my brain with questions. What did that email say? Why was he in North Carolina? Where is the closest bathroom? My recent consumption of three cold bottles of water caused me to seek the answer to my third question first.
       On my quest to find a pot to piss in, I pondered the answers to my questions and I came up with the only possible scenario. Ponytail (who I refer to as PT for the remainder of this story) was a struggling musician who lived in New Jersey. His father WG (guess what that stands for) was a prominent North Carolina lawyer who owned a nice house in the mountains of Asheville, NC. And Mrs WG was a stay-at-home mom and wife who had devoted every last moment of her life to raising PT during his formative years. It is assumed that the hairstyle for which I have named him is a point of contention in the WG household, but it is not the most weighted point by a long shot. This email that brought him from the stench saturated air of NJ to the clear and crisp air of NC is what was truly interesting.
       One morning, his father must have woke him up to discuss life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But whose happiness were they pursuing? It didn't matter, because WG was a professional negotiator and PT was putty in his hands. Before they knew it, they were on the road with the compass on his Lexus LS300 pointed southward. Their 10 hour 45 minute drive from Trenton, NJ to Asheville, NC was one of little conversation and much conjecture. WG spoke of financial opportunity while PT only wanted to discuss the subtle differences between Whitesnake and Motley Crue. The leather seats stuck to the exposed skin of his upper calves and lower thighs, and PT wished he would have worn a longer pair of cut-off jean shorts. The simple nature of their conversation was broken all of the sudden when WG asked PT where he was all last year. This was a subject that had yet to be broached in the WG household. You see, PT was in college and according to his account he was doing quite well, and according to WG's bank account he hadn't been cashing the checks he was sending for room and board for the last six months.  In an act of appreciation for his upfront request of information rather than the normal passive aggressive comments, PT volunteered the info without further delay.

He said, "Well dad, I dropped out last semester and I've been a roadie for my friend's band ever since. They appreciate me for who I am, and don't expect anymore from me than I expect from them." 

WG responded quickly, "What do you expect from them; room and board, proper compensation, college credits?"

PT says simply, "Nothing dad, I don't expect anything from them."

WG said, "Well then, that explains your comfort in their returned expectations. If you want nothing from them, and they want nothing from you, how could anyone be let down?"

       This conversation made PT tired, and made WG hungry. They were almost to NC by this time, but far be it from WG to ignore his hunger. That gut is 70% whiskey, 20% fried chicken, 5% BBQ pork, and 5% lack of perspiration. Before they could digest their meal (which was 100% BBQ pork) they were approaching Grandfather Mountain. They were greeted by PT's girlfriend and mother. Apparently his girlfriend was flown in to be vetted by his mother and debriefed on his parents' master plan. This plan involved a fake email account opened by his father under his son's name. A resume was created, embellished, and posted on mutiple job search sites. WG was fully aware of his son's roadie status long ago, and now he was also aware that his son had lied about how long this had been going on. You see, PT had stopped cashing the checks his father was sending about 6 months ago, but he was on this tour with his friend's band for that last 18 months. He would soon learn how much 12 months can matter.
       His father parked the car in in front of the gates of the Grandfather Mountain fairgrounds. He got out and walked to PT's side, he smiled to himself, and opened the door. PT got out, turned to get his duffle, turned back to get out of the car, and walked right into a right-cross from his father. Minutes later, he came to with an ice pack on his temple and a throbbing sensation in his brain. He was in the Hamilton Clan Society tent now and in front of him was his girlfriend. They quickly caught one another up on their experiences and explained how they had both come from the same place, yet had taken completely different routes to get there. She led him into the second Hamilton tent that bordered the field. She did so under the guise that they would spend the remainder of the day enjoying the games just as he had done as a child with his parents every year of his childhood. That is when they were greeted by his parents again. This time, they wanted their interaction to be in a public place. They began slowly, each one discussing how he had let them down. His father expressed his dissappointment in his fradulent cashing of the school checks while he was "off galavanting with those rocker hooligans." His mother plucked his heartstrings like a professional harp player. Saying things like "I spent every waking hour of my life trying to mold you into a person who would eventually contribute something great to the world, and this is how you repay me?" And his grilfriend asked him if he would break all the promises he made to her just he had done to his own parents. He choked back tears, because even though he didn't know anyone here he still didn't want to be seen in public weeping like a "wee lass" (as his mother would say).
       That is when his dad laid the "big news" on him. He had been selected to interview for a highly sought after position as a trainee at the biggest accounting firm in all of Asheville. PT was dumbfounded. He asked himself how he he been selected, how had they heard he was graduating, and how did he get an opportunity without ever applying for it. As his questions mounted, he finally spoke up and asked them to his parents directly. At this point he was beginning to think they had some part in his being selected. He was right.
WG explained how he and his mother had created the online profiles and an email address in his name without his permission. He explained how they had submitted his resume to many different accounting firms, and worst of all he admitted to tricking him into coming to NC under false pretenses. But he qualified it all as an attempt to help him. It wasn't malicious, it was just a dad doing his best to provide for his son.
       PT looked back at his father, gathered himself, and responded loudly "So, somebody received an email and that is why I'm in North Carolina?" He continued quietly "thanks dad, it was only a matter of time before 'Rough Macchio' broke up anyway." 
       PT cut his hair and is still working at the accounting firm to this day. He and his girlfriend broke up, and he is now engaged to a young blond with fake tits and a bland personality. Mr and Mrs WG are now divorced, but still live together because it is the fiscally responsible thing to do. Me and my fiance are now married, and plan to attend the Northeast Florida Highland Games in Jacksonville this February. Rough Macchio did not break up. In fact, their debut album just went triple platinum.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fake Spear in the Park

I woke up this morning and the dogs were following me around the house like I had forgotten to feed them. I searched my memory bank for the previous evening's events, and located the one where I did indeed feed them. Their trickery will not work this time! I explained to them in very specific terms that I had fed them, and their shenanigans were not going to produce an additional meal. They continued to follow me until my fortitude melted away. Even the blind and smelly one, a Cocker Spaniel-Poodle mix (or Cock-a-Poo) was able to tug at my heart strings. I proposed we take a walk in the park. That didn't sound too bad to me, my wife agreed, and the wagging canine tails spoke for themselves.

Next thing I know I am filling my backpack with some granola snacks, a water bottle, and a towel to wipe the inevitable slobber from the smelly dog's face. It was official, we were going to the park. We have to bring leashes for two reasons; 1) because this park requires them and 2) beacause our dogs are not trained well enough for such freedom. The other one, a Jack Russel terrier which we lovingly call "favorite" for her affinity to jump from lap to lap every time we have company, has just leapt out of the car as it is coming to a hault and is running aimlessly onto the soccer field ahead of us. I call her once... no response. I yell her name... no response. I whistle loudly, she stops dead in her tracks, and returns to me at an equal speed. I am able to affix her leash, and we are now ready for our suburban journey.

This particular trip was filled with a slew of interesting sights. First, there was a solitary man strumming his acoustic guitar quietly under the cover of a picnic pavilion. It seemed a little out of tune from what I could hear, but he didn't seem to care so why should I. The second interesting sight was a young couple we passed on the trail. Neither of which was much to look at, and that was probably why they seemed so content with one another. He was a simple looking kid who asked to pet our "doggies", and she was a plain looking girl who only had eyes for her "doggie" loving boyfriend. Then we saw an entire family dressed in New England Patriots apparel. The two kids were quickly leaving their parents in their dust on a couple of Razor scooters.  The dad called for the two young boys to stop and circle back. The kids ended up behind us as we approached the clearing out of the forest area of the trail. We reached the clearing just as the parents were entering it. At the same moment our paths intersected, another teenage kid came running past us carrying what looked to be a long PVC pipe and a makeshift shield. All six pairs of human eyes were affixed on this kid as he came to a hault amongst a group of 8-10 other kids who all had their own PVC weapons and makeshift shields in a pile on the ground. The two sets of canine eyes were watching a squirrel run across the path. During our first lap we had seen a couple of those kids carrying heavy stones over their heads as they ran up a giant pile of dirt. My wife and I orginally thought they were high schoolers training for wrestling or some other sport for which that kind of training would be applicable. They were too skinny to be football players or wrestlers I thought, but who was I to call someone skinny. I'm almost six feet tall and I weigh less than 150 lbs. It still hadn't quite hit me what they were doing with their PVC armory. I wasn't alone. As we were leaving the family behind us, I overheard the older of the two Patriot children ask his dad "What are they doing, daddy?" The dad's responce started with "Well son (he paused), do you remember that story I always tell you about?" That was all I could hear, because by the time their rest of their conversation happened, a ruckus amongst the teenage hoard had ensued.

There was a nerd war going on, and the sound of PVC bowstaffs meeting foil-covered wood shields was enough to drown out a police siren. My wife and I both slowed our gait for the sole purpose of elongating our exposure to the geek battle. It was intriguing to watch these pubescents turn into the characters they so dutifully believed they were. The fact that this field of battle was located just 50 yards from a swingset and a port-a-pottie did not make them waiver in those beliefs either. The boy who referred to himself as an Shadow Knight was struck down by a smaller kid who exclaimed his status as a Paladin. Apparently there were also 3 Rangers, 2 Wizards, a Beastmaster, and maybe even a Berzerker or two. It seemed harmless enough, so we continued our pace and passed by them virtually unnoticed. Apparently their powers included the ability to cast spells, heal themselves, and stun others but their power to notice anything around them must have been left at home.

Once the initial shock of what I had just witnessed wore off, I started to think about what the Patriot dad had said when his Patriot son asked him to explain what his young New England eyes were seeing. The dad's response was "Do you remember that story I always tell you about?" I wanted to know about this story. Was it one of the stories from his childhood in the "good old days" when there were only cops and robbers or cowboys and indians and the worst thing one could have brought upon himself was a night in "the clink" or a bad case of being scalped? Or was it a story of a great Warrior and Wizard who defeat an army of Orcs and Goblins with their strength and mastery of the dark arts? Did this father put his children to bed with stories of war and slaughter; where bloodshed was supposed to lead to sweet dreams for his young children. How could he expect them to be well-rounded adults who could become citizens able of contributing to society? I kept thinking that this must be the bedtime memories that a Dahmer, a McVeigh, a Bin Laden or a Pelosi had to share with their respective therapists. I think bedtime stories like this are what keep therapists in a job. It is good to know, because my wife is going back to school to get her Doctorate in Psychology and these kinds of people are our meal ticket. I almost wanted to do an about face and run to catch up to the Patriot family. I needed to know what the story was, and I needed to know even more what life lesson the dad was going to lay on that kid once he had answered yay or nay to his question.

I narrowed the possibilities down to two:

1) The dad and child finally agreed that the story they were both to have in their minds was about the Orc/Goblin defeating Wizard. At that time, the dad would go into gruesome detail as to how the Wizard was to disembowel them with a shockwave spell, or summon the power of the Gods to strike them with a deadly ailment, or call upon his sharp-clawed and Englis-accented giant Eagle gang to rip them limb from limb. Finally, once the child was properly traumatized and in complete agreement about how crazy and unlikely that story is, he would then explain to his child that those boys think it is real. The whole family would feel sorry for them, and go about their merry way. Probably to go to Church to pray for them, then head on down to Hooters to watch the Pats play the Jets. "Praise Jesus, and Go Pats!" they would say. (Update: The Patriots went on to lose to the Jets 28-21)


2) The dad was actually referring to a completely different story altogether. This story was not about Orcs and Wizards or Goblins and Warriors, but rather about birds and bees. At this point, the father would sit his child down on a park bench and clarify some of the comments he had previously told his son. The child would be equally traumatized, and in my opinion was far too young for this conversation to be necessary. He looked as if he were still in the "girls are icky" phase of his development, but I have never been good at telling how old children are. Either way, this proactive father would walk his son through the "when a man loves a woman" discussion. Hopefully there would be no Michael Bolton references in his speech. Not just because it is a ridiculously dated reference, but also because even when it was relevant, it wasn't neccessary. Once the child had fully understood the details of his father's story, he would most certainly ask his original question again, only this time it would be more inquistitive as to how it pertained to the current situation that was taking place on the Parks and Recreation battlefield. The father would then quickly recap his argument, and explain to his son that all those things he just explained were possible and completely natural. But also were something that to these quasi-Warriors and psuedo-Berzerkers would never experience. And as long as they kept meeting here every Sunday with their homemade swords in their hands, they would never find themselves able to sheath their God-given swords in the love-pocket of a woman.

I'm not sure which of the two options make me more sick to my stomach. All I know is that without the option of knowing the true ending to their conversation, I am forced to make up my own. I hope they are happy. For it is their fault that I make such rude, crude and socially unacceptable assumptions about them and the boys in fake battle. I also blame them for making me come up with the line that inlcuded "sheath their God-given swords in the love-pocket of a woman." For shame Patriot Dad, for shame! Go Jets!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fisher Price, my first Blog

       I have a voice, and I have two ears.  My voice is outnumbered two to one, so it is a clear underdog in this fight.  Luckily, I have found a way to take what my two ears take in and add my two cents.  Now the sum has risen to five.  I better stop before this gets beyond ten, because it is cold in this room and I don't want to remove my socks. 

       I have been doing more traveling recently, and one thing I have noticed is that there are a lot of great conversations happening in this country.  Unfortunately, I am only able to pick up a snippet here or an anecdote there.  Things like "so I'm at this girl's house and I'm covered in macaroni and cheese" or "I can not believe I spent $10,000 on nipple rings."  At first I found myself saddened by the lack of a punchline or summation, but later I embraced these slivers of conversation as a window to my own imagination.  It was not until recently that I realized how many times I had been a 3rd party witness to such epic conversations.  I found myself telling other people about these stories to which I had been a momentary witness.  But when they asked me how those stories continued, I looked at them blankly.  And when they prodded me for the conclusions, I was left speechless.  It was either stop telling these stories for fear of being called a liar or a tease, or just make up the additional details myself.  I will never stop telling stories, so I stand here before you (not literally, I'm actually sitting right now) a man on a literary mission.  As God, Allah, Yahweh, and the FSM are my witness I will bring you these stories in all their semi-biographical but mostly fictional glory.

       I have had these one-liners saved on my girlfriend's (and subsequently my wife's) voice mail for over two years now.  I have saved some of them on my Blackberry in voice memos and notepads.  I have Post-It notes from work pressed neatly in a steno pad, and I have even saved a few MySpace blogs and Facebook notes on my Netbook for safe keeping.  I eventually asked myself, why am I saving these?  Well, the answer is this.  I was waiting for the right time and the right arena to release these 3rd person gems.  I finally decided one night (tonight) after contemplating hara-kiri, that I was no longer going to wait for my destiny to pass me by.  Like the great stock tip I received and discounted as nonsense, or the great novelty car accesory idea I had and did not patent.  50 Cent's freewheeling Tweets will not ruin my chance to buy this stock at 5 cents and sell at 45 cents in a week's time, nor will the proprietor of swoop in and market my own idea right under my nose.  No sir (or ma'am), the Diary of a 3rd Person is my idea, and nobody will profit from its mega-success but me.  Except possibly for my friend Karl, as he was a partial inspiration to the name but he will never get more than 5%. My uncle is a very successful lawyer, and despite him being short in stature, he is indeed quite intimidating.

       I hope you all will enjoy reading these fabrications of missing information as much as I plan on enjoying the process of writing them.  You will hear the endings to all those snippets, one-liners, and anecdotes that I have backlogged over the last few years of my travels just as soon as I make them up.  My goal is to post a weekly update.  If you have a chance encounter with one of these morsels of conversation, and think it deserves an ending, send it to me and I will create a story for you.  It will be like one of those "choose your own adventure" books, except it will be better and only I will be making the choices.