All I wanted to do was sit down somewhere and write. I’m back to writing the podcast episodes out blog style because although I thought it would sound more natural just telling stories and saying what was on my mind using bullet points and otherwise flying by the seat of my pants, it still didn’t sound right to me. I’ll get to that later at the end, but for now, just realize that while I intended to make the theme of this one a journey into the back of my mind, through the land of my personal pet peeves, where I keep all the things I want to say, but usually don’t, I didn’t expect to deal with the kind of stress I’m going to talk about in order to get to actually write about it. I hope that makes some kind of sense. So, if you’re saying to yourself, “Dang it, self! I wish he’d find a format and stick with it!”, I promise you’re not alone and like I said, stick around till the end and I’ll explain myself to yourself.
For now, I’m gonna vent for a little bit about Pet Peeves and other things that stress me out. I’ll bet you can relate to a bunch of these things, especially if you suffer from creative diarrhea like I do and need to flush the toilet of your mind from time to time. Maybe that wasn’t such a great way to put it, but you get my meaning. Distractions can stop it up and then you have yourself a big ol’ mess all over your mental floor.
So I’ve listed a few of my worst pet peeves - the ones that can cause a major back up - and as my wife will readily complain ... I don’t handle them well. I'm Michael Blackston and this is Funny Messy Life.
I’ll start with what I consider the worst one. It’s the one that sends me into fits of rage and turns me into a person who thinks things. Scary, violent, un-Christian things. Things that send me to the altar on Sunday morning (as long as somebody else goes first) to repent of my wicked thoughts and send them to HELL! ... Amen. And this particular pet peeve has a fancy scientific name that I will absolutely throw around like an elf with candy in a Christmas parade when I’m explaining why I just said something that made a sailor cry.
MI - Pertaining to Me
SO - Pertaining to the degree it causes anger ... and
PHONIA - Pertaining to telephones somehow, but I don’t know why.
Misophonia as described a little less accurately by the internet’s Your Dictionary is:
A neurological disorder in which negative experiences, such as anger or disgust, are triggered by specific sounds.
In other words, if you smack your gum or chew with your mouth open so that smacking ensues, I’ll want to forcefully close your mouth by putting you in a headlock and make you swallow it. If you continue, I’ll have thoughts. Bad thoughts. Thoughts that make me feel the need to write pretty songs to the Lord later in apology for the pure evil that passed through my head. Maybe I heard you smacking your food like some idiot cow out in a field whose mama never taught it good manners and suddenly wanted to snap my fingers at you like shorter, fatter version of Thanos.
My problems with people chewing with their mouths open and smacking started a long time ago around the breakfast table with my sister. She’d smack her cereal and I yell at her.
“I’m NOT smackin!’”
“Yes you are, you’re SMACKIN’!”
“I am NOT SMACKIN’!”
“MOOOOOOMMMM! Stephanie won’t quit smackin’!”
“MOOOOOOMMMM, tell him I’m not smackin’!”
I could keep going, but I think you get the point.
Since I’ve become an adult, I’ve been able to train my kids to close their mouths when they eat, but it hasn’t been without trial and error. Also, my wife might just be a worse misophoniac than me. She can’t stand the sound of crunching. My poor son has been through a lot over the years.
“Noah, stop crunching those Doritos or I swear, I’m gonna take ‘em from you.”
“Mama, I can’t help it - they’re crunchy!
“Well chew with your mouth closed so I can’t hear it!”
Then here comes me: “NOAH, QUIT SMACKIN’!”
I think the latest problem I’ve had with it is when I’m listening to podcasts and radio shows. I can hear it when people need to wet their mouths and loosen up the gunk in there. When they don’t they make all these little annoying dry mouth sounds that send me through the roof, thinking ... bad things. Luckily for them, all I have to do is not subscribe or turn the channel. But what do I do when I’ve finished a podcast episode of my own and realize when I’m editing that I’m making those sounds? Depends on my mood, but for the most part I understand there are other misophoniacs out there who’d appreciate I edit those verbal hell hounds out so they don’t have to ... well ... think things.
Next on my list is talking during a movie. Any movie, whether I’m at home or at the theater, but mostly in the theater when I’ve paid $437 for a family of four to see and hour and a half of digital animation. That amount of money ought to allow me silence. I have a hard time focusing when there are other things going on around me and especially when there’s a story to try and follow. I don’t want to miss a single line and so when you’re whispering behind me or laughing at un-funny times, I’ll start a volley of unhappy looks in your direction. First, I’ll give you the old quick quarter turn. That’s the one most people use as their out-of-the-gate warning. You snap your head just a quarter of the way around in the direction of the person talking as if to say, “Hey - movie’s started.” If you keep it up, you’ll be subjected to the look I like to call the Are You serious right now?! That’s a good half-turn of the head, except that instead of a quick snap to make sure you see how irritating you are, you get the half turn slow and with a cut of my judgmental eyes in your direction. I’m basically warning you not to make me call you out in front of everybody.
Some people, though, can’t control themselves and have to endure phase three. I’ll turn completely around and address you. You might think you’ll get the “SHHH!”, but no. That’s too easy for you to get over. For me, it’s more effective to use words of my own.
“Good sir (or madam, depending on the situation) ... do you MIND?”
That’ll usually do it, but not always. Sometimes I have to engage phase four and nobody wins.
It’s simple. I’ve lost it and I have to yell at you.
“MOVIE! PEOPLE TRYING TO WATCH! ... MOVIE!”
There are two recent incidents that come to mind when I had evoke the phases. I was just outside of Birmingham, Alabama at the Patton Creek theater at the Galleria. Sounds fancy, I know, but I had to all four phases. I don’t remember what the movie was - probably something that included gunfire because when I see movies alone I tend to see guy movies with gratuitous violence - and for the first few minutes, I was alone. I like it when I get the whole theater to myself. It’s not like I take off my pants and get super comfortable or anything, but just like you, I think about it. After a a couple of previews, though, in walks two teenage boys in ROTC uniforms, giggling loudly about teenage boy stuff as they made their way to the very back.
I allowed that, even though I consider the previews to be part of the movie. They were just teenage boys, after all, enjoying the talk of teenage boy stuff. And then the movie started. But they kept giggling five rows behind me and not trying to be silent about it.
So I gave them phase one. The Quarter Turn. It didn’t phase them. A few minutes later, they found something else funny that had nothing to do with the blood and gun play on the screen and I could hear their unabashed rudeness over the ratta tatta tat of several AK-47s.
I had no choice but to remit their way the fury that burns from phase two - The Half Turn.
I think they understood and for a few more sweet moments of peace, my curmudgeon-in-training ears heard only the soothing sounds of bad action hero dialogue and Glocks aplenty. We had an understanding, these young future leaders and I, but it didn’t last and when I heard them laughing again so loud over the sound effects of the film that it was clear they intended to see what I would do, I’d had more than I could handle.
It was only me and them in the theater, so it bothered no one else that I stood, turned, looked them in the eyes, and became my father, skipping phase three altogether.
I said, “Boys. ENOUGH!”
I’ve never seen young men straighten up and quiet down as quickly and totally as these two did. At the end of the “movie I stood up and told them to have a nice day.
They both said, “Yes, sir.”
Then there I was again at the Patton Creek Fancy Pants Galleria Cinema just outside Birmingham, watching another movie I’d been waiting to see. DUMBO. I wasn’t completely alone when I walked in - there were a few other people who’d gotten there before me, but not many. I found my seat where I normally like it - half way up, dead center - and settled in with the largest size popcorn they had, the bucket, which had been gloriously layered all the way through with oily, butter flavored grease product.
Just as the movie started, a mile long line of 30-something women, each with their own large bucket of popcorn and vat of cola, filed in and thought that the two full rows behind me would be their perfect spot. It wouldn’t have been a problem, except that the woman who sat directly behind my head where my ears tend to be, had a little ritual she performed every time she stuck her fingers in the bucket. She wasn’t content to pick out a few pieces and eat them like a normal person. No. She had to stir the bucket. Every. Single. Time. It probably didn’t bother anybody else, but to me, it was the sound of a tornado bearing down on a trailer park.
I gave her ... Phase One.
I gave her ... Phase Two.
I started to give her Phase Three, but when I turned to address her, I noticed that every one of the thirty-something year old women could have picked me up with one hand, stuffed me in their popcorn buckets and stirred me like just another a greasy little kernel.
The final Pet Peeve happens from time to time and gets under my skin in a personal way. Mouth noises are uncouth. Talking in the movie is rude. But this one takes what I consider a complete disregard for tact and it happened today while I was trying to find a place to write out this piece.
If I’m reading or writing, leave me alone.
I guess that makes me sound like a jerk, but I don’t mean it that way. It seems like I might have talked about this before on the podcast, and if I did, forgive me. The thing is, I think I might have also changed my tune after today because I felt bad later.
I wanted to write out the episode for the first time in a few weeks. I made this big deal about not wanting to sound fake and trying to record by natural, unscripted storytelling. The thing is, I’m not necessarily a natural at that. I am and natural writer, though, and I’ve since realized that I stumble a lot less when I write my thoughts out. They’re still my thoughts, but I can control them better and not go off on tangents or repeat myself so much when I write them down first. So I was all geeked up about getting a new episode out after a several week stumble, but I can’t write at my house. There’s too much going on and I’m not out of town at the moment. So I decided to go to our local diner. It was packed with no seats. Even if I’d waited for one, they wouldn’t have wanted me to take up a booth for a couple of hours only drinking coffee.
So I decided to go to McDonalds and put in earbuds with soothing piano music in the background to drown out the noises around me.
As I ordered my coffee, I noticed a very old man sitting nearby, staring at me. It was unnerving how he stared at me and I also noticed the only seat available in the whole place was the booth next to him. I could see what was coming.
I got my coffee and laid my computer bag, coffee, and iPhone on the table, using big motions like a peacock or something, hoping the old man would take the hint.
I see that this young man obviously has work to do. I’ll not bother the lad with my curiosity and staring. I will, instead, focus my attention on the pretty young girls taking up the rest of the tables as they rest from their travels to some sports competition or other.
I sat down, opened my computer, brought up the writing app I use, and he said nothing. He allowed me the privacy, at least so far, that I wanted. I put my earbuds in my ears, picked up my phone, and selected something called, Easy Listening Piano. I took a delicious sip of my perfectly crafted coffee, sighed for a life giving breath of air, and lifted my fingers to the keyboard to start tapping out this piece. That’s when I heard a voice from my right.
“That a computer?”
It was the old man. He slid over closer to me and I smelled pee.
Now, hang with me here, because I’m about to sound like a total jerk, but I’m trying to be honest and like I said, lessons have been learned.
I didn’t show any outward irritation with him, but inside I was thinking he should be able to see I’m trying to work. Could I, for the love of all that’s holy, not be allowed to work? But I didn’t say any of that. Instead, I smiled at the old man who propped up with an old, hand carved stick for a cane, and said, “Yes it is. Got some work to finish, so I thought I’d have some coffee and while I do.” I smiled a big, toothy grin to let him know he was dealing with a nice guy, but then I turned back to the computer and put in my earbuds. I took another breath and went to type the first words of this piece.
“My son’s got one of them computers. Graduated college to work on ‘em. I don’t nothin’ about ‘em though. I’m eighty-seven years old.”
I took out my earbuds and asked him to repeat himself - it was garbled at first over the Easy Listening Piano. Then I did something I knew would be the end of my working on this piece. I asked, “That so?”
In the south, most of us are taught to be kind and polite, especially to our elders. And while I was kind and polite, I wasn’t feeling having a conversation with this man. I wanted to write, dang it. I wanted to do my thing.
I listened to him tell me things about his life - tiny, bite-sized snippets he was probably used to dolling out in conversation with strangers. He’d graduated from high school sometime in the early 1940’s. He’d served in the Navy. His wife was in a nursing home and it’s cost him everything to take care of her.
I listened and nodded and replied the way I was supposed to, even thanking him for his service, but as soon as I got the chance, I lied and told him I’d only needed to upload something using the free wi-fi and it was already done. Then I loaded up my stuff, told him it was nice to meet him, and walked away to find somewhere I could write this piece.
I sat in my car for a minute, thinking of a place. I wanted quiet and for no one to bother me with their stories because I had my stories to tell. There was the park. Yeah, that’s a good idea. It’s raining pretty good, but no one will be out there, it’ll be cool enough, and I can park myself under one of the covered picnic spots and write at a table where the only interruption might be the patter of rain around me and a critter or two that had taken shelter there. On the way there, I kept thinking about the old man and how sad he looked, but happy when I gave him the time of day. I also thought of how he’d smiled at me when I left and nodded, like he understood that people had better things to do. There was a party going on when I got to the park and all the parking spaces were taken. There was a free table under the shelter, but it was a birthday party for a kid and there would be things that broke my concentration.
The library. Perfect. You’re not allowed to be annoying in the library and they have dedicated work spaces for just this sort of thing. But when I walked in, laid down my stuff, and asked the librarian if it was okay that I’d brought in my coffee, she told me they closed in ten minutes.
I was getting more and more stressed out. My listeners had waited way too long for the next episode and there were those who had told me they liked reading the article and were sad when i stopped. They’d be so happy to get this fresh new one to read. Getting back into the car at the library, I thought about the old man again. He seemed to be content to sit there a while, propped on a cane he probably made himself because men like that have no need for trifles made by others. They can still do it themselves, by thunder! I thought about how he told me he’d been in the navy and had graduated high school in the early 1940’s. He would have probably been in the Navy during D-Day. We’d just recognized the 75th anniversary of that battle and I passed over his service with a cursory thank you when I might have been in the very presence of a real hero.
I was rocked by that thought and turned my car back toward McDonalds. If he’d left, I’d write my article. But if he was there, I’d go to where he was sitting, shake his hand, and ask him his name. Then I’d lay my computer bag at my feet and ask if I could get him some lunch or at least a cup of coffee and I’d honor a man who just wanted a little company. I’d listen to him and I’d nod my head, this time in deep respect and interest. And I’d cherish each word of history he thought valuable enough to tell.
When I walked in, he was gone and I was disappointed. He did tell me he lived in town now and so I’ll look for him when I’m around . I’ll remember his face and he’ll be getting along on that hand made cane of his. I’ll talk to him then and I can assure you, his stories will rise like a titan over anything I could tell. I look forward to that.
Okay, heavy stuff, but it’s how I’m feeling. I’ll be spending some time with my grandmother tomorrow and I’ll try to get her to talk about the things that make her happy. She’s a wellspring of history, that 92 year old woman, and I’ve taken her for granted. She’s in a nursing home and looks forward to every visitor that comes by. I’m gonna make more time from now on for a lot of things. I put a lot of effort into things that can wait and neglect too many of them that can’t. I hope you’ll consider the important things in your life. The elderly who deserve your time, the kids who do too. The people around you who don’t mean to be a bother, but just want to get a chance to talk to somebody. Don’t be like me - too focused on my own stories to see the richness of narrative all around - until it’s maybe too late.
By now, you might have guessed that this is how I think the show will be running. It’s sort of a hybrid between the first several and the last few. I still plan on eventually having some guests come on to talk candidly about their life experiences, but I’ve found it’s hard to get people to find the time.
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