Today we have a lot of discussions about how people “identify”. Some dude with a beard identifies as a little girl in pig tails, some little girl in pig tails has decided she identifies as a middle aged oil rig worker from Texas and her parents support that. Which is weird because nine times out of ten, a parent who would be okay with that would fall way to the left on the political rainbow and hate anything to do with oil. Even a few people in government leadership positions - over the whole spectrum, I might add - identify as decent people. Which is weird because nine times out of ten government leaders fall way to the scumbag side of the political rainbow. I know! But you won’t have to worry about me ruffling any feathers in these three stories. They’re about how I identify and unless you’re one of those people who needs a safe space from anybody that disagrees with you, we should be good.
I’m Michael Blackston and this right here is a virtual canon ball into the very chlorinated pool of my Funny, Messy Life.
As I compile these stories from an earlier blog into something that resembles entertainment, I’m sitting in a restaurant again. It’s a little unassuming place in Carbon Hill, Alabama called, Lacy’s Pizza Bar and it’s been around since Spot was a pup. (Since Spot was a pup is a charming southern phrase I either learned from my Grandma or the old people that gather every morning in McDonalds.) Lacy’s, God love ‘em, has served me one of the most delicious burgers I’ve ever eaten. It’s a mainstay for me when I visit Carbon Hill in my travels and they don’t need to worry about me giving them a bad review - not when they serve a burger that tastes just like mama used to make. Never frozen and not fast, Lacy’s gets both of my funky shaped thumbs up, which matters because ...
Apparently, I look Like A Critic
This was written in a restaurant that has not been around since Spot was a pup.. Come to think of it, I was sitting in a restaurant the last three or four times I banged out something on my keyboard, so either I’ve developed a pattern or an eating problem that needs to be addressed.
Actually, a restaurant is an ideal place for me to write. Lots of authors need something going on in the background while they create. Some writers keep a radio or TV blaring while they work, while some stay-at-home bloggers write to the soothing sounds of screaming children and if that works for them, fantastic!
I like the ambiance of the world around me, even if I resort to plugging my ears with those little spongy do-dads - earplugs, I think they’re called - to keep from being bothered by the sounds of the old man behind me who keeps sucking something out of his teeth. You might think that sounds silly, but when I’m alone, I have to get up and walk somewhere to fill my tea glass. So being in the unfortunate situation known to some as, "Around people", is a must if I don't want to see to my own drink refillery.
There’s something I’ve noticed when I go to certain restaurants and whip out my laptop to write … sometimes they think I’m a food critic and I get exceptional service. They do things like making sure I don't worry about my drink refillery and periodically asking how I'm doing or if they can get me anything. It doesn’t happen everywhere, as some places don’t consider themselves the type that a critic would bother to review, or they think the same way about critics that I do. I have a strong distaste for professional critics and I have a saying I believe with all my heart … “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t do or teach are professional critics!” I also tend to make a face that looks like somebody just walked by who ate bad tacos when I hear the word critic.
I do feel the need to tear away the blanket of that statement by admitting that I know plenty of teachers who can do. Some of them are great friends of mine, but as far as critics go - creatures who fell into evil along with the thirty-three percent of angels that followed Satan into hell and thrive in the negative, I’ve never met one I didn’t want to point at and laugh just to embarrass them or shoot in the back of the head with spit balls.
I also have to admit that it’s nice to get the kind of service that comes with people desperately wanting to please you so that you won’t say something nasty about them and hurt their business. After a few times of noticing this, I think I’ve figured out how to recognize the ones that think I’m a critic and what it is about me that leads them to that conclusion.
For one, I’ve noticed that the nicer the establishment, the more they want your positive feedback if they think you’ve got a little clout stuck between your teeth. A local dive that serves your beverage in a foam cup doesn’t care what you think. They don’t care that someone in California is condemning them to eco-hell (not as bad as the real hell where critics live, but still ...) even as they pull the tap on the fountain that dispenses your drink. So why would they care that somebody might write that their onion rings don’t have the proper “chew”?
A reputable restaurant that might entertain a critic will quench your thirst in a receptacle made of glass, or at least a red, rippled plastic container with the vendor’s logo printed on it. They would also savor the thought that I should use a fancy-pants word like receptacle in conjuction with their beverages ... or a fancy-pants word like conjunction.
They won’t worry that you could be a Negative Nancy if their food delivery system is a trough in the middle of the restaurant with plates piled up at one end and the cutlery at the other. If slices of cake have been sitting out for more than two hours, you can bet they probably won’t worry about you. Their skin is as tough as the skin on top of the cheesecake.
I’m treated differently depending on the way I’m dressed, too. Most of the time I’m wearing blue jeans in one of various stages of decay. At those times, I don’t bother to try and fool them into thinking I’ll have an opinion on the quality of their mashed potatoes. It’s when I’m sporting emo hair and wearing a black turtle neck and round glasses that people approach me with caution. This ensemble doesn’t necessarily promote phenomenal service, but it gets me weird looks. Upon further thought, I can see how that look along with the skin cancer scar I sport on my temple could also make them think I might be Harry Potter.
Then there’s the entrance. If I’m tired and just want to be left alone, I’ll probably order a #3 meal and type quietly at my table in the corner next to the indoor playground with the ear pluggy do-dad thingies crammed way up in my hear-holes. But if I need that special pampering, I’ll sometimes enter and declare, “Serve meh!”
A good trick to remember if you have your computer out on the table and want the staff to wonder if you’re judging them is to sit back from time to time and make it obvious that you’re observing someone from the staff. It helps to cock an eyebrow and curl a finger around your chin as well, nodding your head every now and again in approval or shaking it scoldingly from side to side. Then when you’ve been noticed, raise your eyebrows and begin to type furiously as if you’ve discovered something interesting during your observation.
You can further the ruse by making faces when you take bites of your food. The more your face distorts into a pinch that says, “That bite of your fare was detestable! I should hope the next bite will offer a fonder air of grace to my palette,” the harder they’ll work to make you happy. Take a bite of fettuccini ... make a face that looks like you’re traveling down a Georgia back road during planting season. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Drive down a Georgia back road during planting season and see if you don’t make a face that looks like you’re traveling down a South Carolina back road during planting season.
There are other things you can do to lend credence to your portrayal, such as carefully investigating your silverware and making sure to wipe it down, even if it’s so clean it could be used in some crack-head kind of surgery that involves forks.
Adding the accent of a British dignitary helps too, but beginning all of your correspondence between you and your server with, “I SAY,” is also a plus.
As I started writing this piece, it was lunchtime and I was in Walterboro, SC at my favorite restaurant there, Olde House Cafe. Now as I finish it, I’m in a Myrtle Beach Denny’s. Neither of these places would expect a hoity-toity snob of a food critic to darken their doors, although maybe one should hit up Olde House. I’ve never had anything from their menu because as soon as I walk in, angels from heaven begin to sing and golden light hits me from the direction of the buffet bar. And it delivers. But while I’m not dressed in my dusty work britches at the moment, … THAAAAT’S RIGHT, BRITCHES! … I am dressed in a nice, casual shorts and t-shirt combo, complete with sandals. (No socks! You’ll never catch me committing the heresy of wearing sandals with socks.) So it’s possible my waitress could think I’m a food critic in town for a little holiday and dropping a literary elbow on one of the nation’s top tier 24-hour-breakfast-or-dinner-the-choice-is-yours-it’s-all-gonna-clog-your-arteries-anyway diners to boot.
I wonder how you critique nachos in the first place. Ehh, I’ll figure it out.
“Oh, waitress … I say! These fried chips of pressed corn flour covered in greasy meat and processed cheese spread are simply delightful. Would you be so kind as to compliment the chef when he returns from his smoke break?”
I get tons of curious looks from people when I break out the old laptop and start pounding away at some genius piece of literary broo-haha. They’re even more curious when it’s a composition notebook I’m attacking with my sweet handwriting skills only an elementary school teacher could read. Rarely does anybody actually say anything, though. They probably understand this simple truth ...
Writers Write. It’s What We Do.
NOTE: Once again, the following was originally a blog post, so it will mention writing type stuff several times. Ignore that. Now it’s a blog post AAAANNND part of this podcast episode.
I don’t feel good today and I don’t want to write. My daughter woke up with a cheerful exuberance that seemed to scream, “Hello world! Let’s make this a day to remember!” In actuality, it was a lot of screaming, but more along the lines of, “Daddy where’s mommy I want cheese balls no I don’t want those cheese balls I want pancakes no take those pancakes away I want peanut butter on a spoon and Mickey and Elsa no I don’t want Elsa I want Tyrone no that dragon scares me turn it off I want cheese balls WAAAAAAHHHHH!”
Days like today are the norm for people to whom God gave the gift of child rearing, so I do hear the playing of the tiny violin in your sarcastic minds and I accept it as I salute and take my hat off to you. But as much as I adore my little precious, pink bundle of fireworks, she can make it difficult to find the energy to write an article at the end of the day, especially if I haven’t felt well to begin with. It’s hard to be constructive when all of your senses have been numbed and you’ve been reduced to a shivering mass of flesh whose only translatable words turn out to be the lyrics to that dang Clubhouse theme song.
But I’ve got to write when I have the opportunity, so I’ve committed to it. Because that’s what you do when you’re a writer. You write when you don’t feel like it. You write when others are doing other stuff in other places with other people. When I decided to begin seriously writing on a consistent basis, the first thing I did was sit down at a table in a restaurant whose name is also the title to a catchy song about a man who tap-danced in worn out shoes. I pulled out my computer and started a document, listing as many topics as I could that I thought might be interesting.
I was going for 50. I got 46.
I wanted to always have something handy to write about if I needed to, but had no inspiration. I could add to that list as the ideas came and I’d have a solid foundation for topics. One of the topics was When I Don’t Feel Like Writing, I Write Anyway.
Via my well-sculpted writer’s mind-muscles, I can nearly hear your audible retort:
How could a word-slinger like yourself ever not be ready to write?
Well pardner, even the finest of us can end up stepping into a puddle of squishy prose-poor quicksand only to sink there surrounded by some sour stench, never to be heard from again if we don’t tie some rope to a tree nearby so we can pull our dang selves out. That tree is my laptop, the rope is my list of topics, and the quicksand is my current funk. And the sour stench? Well pardner, that’s the milk in the sippy cup next to me that I forgot to put in the fridge.
Yep. It’s a wasteland, writing. There are lots of us walkin’ round totin’ keyboard revolvers on our hips, always challengin’ the cowboy or cowgirl next to us to a duel out in the middle of the information super highway in front of a bunch of gawkers. The shots fired can be heard ‘round the world, but there are only a few true Word Slingers left.
Do you believe yourself to be one of those few, you ask?
I think to stay ready, a man oughta believe the best in hisself, so I reckon I do. It ain’t like I believe thar’s only room in this digital town fer a few of us. Thar’s lotsa room. It’s jest that most folks who wave around a blog fer ev’rybody to take a gander at are showin’ pitchers instead of writin’ words. The art of the article is gittin’ lost and thar ain’t that many what writes words anymore.
It occurs to me that in my exhausted state, my own words have become less the charming John Wayne stereotype and closer to the hillbillies from Deliverance, so maybe the western themed allegory has run its course.
As you can see, there’s always something rattling around in my head, it just doesn’t always make sense.
So why force it if you’re uninspired?
It’s the same reason you still go to the gym once you’ve dedicated to a workout even if you’re too tired. The muscle needs to be stretched and toned. It’s about learning to push through. Every article can’t be the best thing I’ve ever written, but each one can be written with the best of my ability. My current ability happens to be nonsense, but that’s okay. I’m still writing!
Where would we be if Alexander Graham Bell had been too tired to talk to anyone? What if Michael Jordan had said "Basketball, Shmasketball" and decided that baseball was good enough for him? What if God had said, “Y’know, I don’t really feel like making people today,” or just “People Schmeeple!”? (I just giggled at People Schmeeple. It needs to be a tee-shirt.)
The world continues to turn because people push on and do things they don’t necessarily feel like doing right then and there.
Am I equating myself to Bell, Jordan, and God? Nooooooooooooooooo. And now that I think about it, I might say my prayers tonight a little extra sweetly.
I’m just saying that to do things right, sometimes we have to do them even when it doesn’t feel right. And we should prepare ahead of time for bumps in the road, like I did with my topic list. I’ve gotten up out of the quicksand. Sure, I’m dirty. I’m even more tired than I was when I started. Fine. I still smell sour milk, … okay that’s got to go in the trash. There’s no saving that sippy cup.
Writers write. It doesn’t have to be a Nobel Prize winning piece - just ideas brought to life.
It’s after midnight and I’m still up. I’m over-tired and just rambling. That’s what people say when their child is screaming bloody murder, trying out that new word they hoped she didn’t hear, and embarrassing them in front of the whole church.
She’s just over-tired.
Thanks, Mrs. Helpful. Is that why your child is kicking the old man next to him in the groin? How about you take care of that? I’ll take my banshee to the restroom while you go get the preacher and some holy water.
Looking toward the weeks ahead, I can see that I’m going to get very busy at my day job and I want to make sure I keep the flow of ideas and writing going. I don’t want to get so crazy with the world around me that I totally lose focus and forget about writing these blog/podcast things.
So I’m writing anyway and that’s my advice to anyone else who doesn’t feel the groove settin’ down on they bad self.
If you’re a writer, write. You don’t want to? Do it any way.
You’ll find, like I have, that once you get going, it’s easy for the words to flow. They might not make much sense to anyone other than you, but they’re still your words and what a wonderful way to look back after years have gone by and say, “What was I smoking?”
I don’t take addiction lightly. The ugly head of addiction has poked through the protective bubble I created around me more than once, so I know all too well the effects a dern-tootin’, real hum-dinger of a dependancy can have on not just the addicted person, but everybody that cares for them. I also know that the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. That’s why this final inclusion is an attempt to clear the air, to make my admittance, and seek wisdom the best way I know how.
My Name Is Michael And I'm A Socks Addict
There are socks and then there are SOCKS.
Imagine my day has been difficult because I’ve been on my feet for most of it and I’ve worked hard to keep my composure though a lot of stuff I didn’t want to have to deal with. If you’ve been a person who slogs through the daily grind for very long, you’ve had those days too. So you’ll know what I mean when I say that the bath or the shower at the end is a Utopian experience that can serve to make everything at least a little better as you settle in for the night.
For me, part of that freshening up experience is putting on clean socks. It’s a bliss that’s, in my mind, akin to that feeling you get when you dip in a cool swimming pool on a scorching summer afternoon or bite into a Cadbury Creme egg when it's not the Easter season. It’s a sense of immediate, ahhh-inspiring relief.
I know that for some of you, that satisfaction comes from kicking off your shoes and your socks and running around barefoot like some Neanderthal or a redneck’s child at Walmart, but not for me. As far back as I can remember, I’ve insisted on keeping socks on my feet at all times with the exceptions of swimming, bathing or showering, walking on the beach, and dressing as a hippie for Halloween. Okay, there’s one other time. I didn’t want to bring it up, but you gutter-minded people are thinking it anyway, so ...
Anyway, I absolutely detest the feeling of my feet touching anything else other than in the situations I just mentioned. There was no trigger moment from my childhood that I can remember; I’ve just always had to have my feet covered and if I don’t, I look like a cat when you put Scotch tape on its paws.
Until recently, I’ve considered socks to have only two categories:
New, Untainted Socks that have never known man intimately, worthy of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and ...
Used Socks that have been defiled by having embraced the naked skin of a body part that I believe only came into being after Adam and Eve took a bite of that dang apple and brought all manner of hell to the human person, namely something we now call the foot.
Thank goodness, now another type of sock has come into the picture – the Sweet Mercy They’re Comfortable Sock - and it’s a game changer. Let’s just call them SMTCs.
Let me give you a little back story to bring us to my first experience with SMTCs.
It’s been a long observed tradition, starting when I first met my wife and spent a Christmas with her family, that we receive a new pack of socks as a present under the tree.
Let me give you a little bit of backstory to bring us to the tradition that’ll bring us to the back story of how I came to learn of the existence of SMTCs.
My wife had an aunt that lived with her who always, every year without fail, supplied the family with fresh socks during the gift giving/meal eating/trying to kill each other with balled up wrapping paper war celebration. The aunt tended to plead that it was all she could afford and that was probably so, however, she was fully aware that because it was such an integral part of their family tradition, anyone who did not receive the gift of socks may consider their holiday utterly ruined and a curse might actually be placed upon the face of the family.
So everybody got socks.
Now, over 20 years later, the aunt having passed, my mother has made sure that the tradition lives on and usually gives socks of some sort.
But last Christmas, it was my sister providing them in the form of a little something extra. She was trying to gift me with items she knew I could use when I work because she knows that I work in environments that often have me extremely cold, extremely hot, slightly cold, slightly hot, a little chilly, a tad toasty, or suitably temperaturated. That’s a new word and I claim it - all rights reserved property of Michael Blackston for the love of all that’s holy so now you have to fight God to take it from me.
Not only did she provide a very much appreciated electric blanket and some wool gloves, but also a couple of pairs of socks that were woven by the hands of baby angel babies while humming soft lullabies and then skewering the fluffy music notes out of the air with their golden knitting needles. Hence, my feet are enfolded by a heavenly, melodious cloud of love and baby angel baby kisses.
I think Walmart calls them work socks or something and I’m surprised they don’t push them more with all them barefoot redneck chillun runnin’ ‘round.
On the outside, you might think they were any old thick socks. The fabric is deceptively normal. But on the inside, Sweet Mercy, They’re Comfortable! The material is the same as those really soft blankets that are usually too small to cover your entire body, but you scruntch up into a ball and pretend you’re swaddled in the arms of your mother anyway.
The first night I wore them to bed, I didn’t take immediate notice of the hidden luxury of the socks. It was only once I’d gotten under the covers and settled in that I began what I can only describe as making the music of ecstasy.
“What’s going on over there?!” My wife was concerned that I might be looking at something naked on my iPad.
“It’s these SOCKS!”
“These new socks my sister gave me. They’re like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”
“From the sound of things, I don’t know that I want you to ever feel it again.”
“It’s okay, it’s just ... it’s just socks. It means nothing.”
“It better not.”
“Do we have any cigarettes?”
I’ve determined that I’ll systematically replace all of my used, slutty socks for this more sophisticated, more appealing sock. They’re not cheap. The good ones never are. As they say in Vegas where I’m told you can have any kind of socks you want, ya get what ya pay for.
It’s hard, though, to get used to the fact that after 20 plus years of marriage and never having to pay for socks, I’ll be handing out cash now and not only that, but only to the high-class providers.
And before you judge me and tell me the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the drawer, you need to know that I believe people were created with needs and I believe I ought to have the best. Yes, I’ll still have regular socks when they’re given and probably even provide socks for myself when I can’t get them anywhere else.
I know I can’t be the only one. There have to be more like me all over the place and should they find themselves enticed and pulled into the world of obsessive and unabashed socks, embrace it. Don’t try to climb out. Stay away from meetings that see you introducing yourself with, “Hello. My name is (insert your name) and I'm a socks addict.”
Some desires are natural and there’s nothing in the bible that warns even the saltiest Christian against having socks. Darnication is not even mentioned, I can promise you. Another new word and I claim that one too.
So I’ll continue to enjoy the pleasures of good socks. I don’t need the approval of anyone but my wife. She may not understand why, being one of the barefoot hippie, flip-flop wearing sort, but she allows it because she loves me.
No, we don’t have one of those crazy “open” relationships,k especially not “open-toed”.
All that’s left is me thanking audionautix.com for the great underscore music (in the podcast, obviously - duh) and thanking you again for giving a few moments of your time and diving into the secret realm of my Funny, Messy Life.
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