Archive for the 'Back story' Category

Embellished memory

March 11, 2011

Andrew Hicks

Upon noticing I picked it as my top blog post so far, my wife finally read the account of the night I met her. And pronounced it entirely inaccurate. I guess I got the basic facts right — we were each at Ameristar Casino by ourselves, I went over to talk to her after finding out she’d gotten a quarter jammed in the player card slot, we bonded over Phil Hartman, she came back to my place after as “just friends hanging out.”

But apparently, my entire account was based on the fallacy of me saying I’d already noticed her down there and determined she had some unique form of beautiful insanity. In my version, I was some kind of hawk-eyed lothario who had a premonition of destiny. In her version, I didn’t notice her until she flagged down the bartender.

And, you know, it’s been almost four years now. Every time I tell a friend, acquaintance or customer the story of meeting my wife, it’s based on the version I told the time before, all the way back to the original time I told it. And every time until I wrote and published it on the Internet, Tiffany wasn’t there to say, “That part’s not true,” “He never said that,” or, “Lemme tell you how it REALLY happened.”

So how much is an actual memory, and how much is a personal urban legend, tweaked in a compounded fashion over the years? I honestly don’t know. There are those romantic occasions where she’s in my arms, and she’s like, “Tell me what you remember about this or that momentous event,” and my memory is a vague blur beyond the most basic details.

Nothing kills a romantic mood like, “The first time I kissed you? Well, let’s see, I was drunk. I remember that.” Then I go off on an intricately detailed tangent about the dive bar we were in the first time we kissed and how amazing the jukebox was there, complete with a list of about 50 favorite songs. Way more details about the jukebox than the kiss, and then I get to sleep on the couch for a week.

I have an account of the night I met Tiffany that was written in 2007, a few months after the fact. Tiffany says that version is way better than my new, incorrect version. I can’t really remember much about the original account. It’s on a plastic floppy disc (remember those?), and I’ll get it uploaded to my hard drive before too long. Then I can share that version, put the two side by side, and let readers decide which is better.

Meantime, I’ve challenged Tiffany to write a rebuttal account titled “The Night I Met My Husband, The Liar.”

BABY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Silas wearing his invisible frumpy frock.

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Things I don’t miss about drinking

March 6, 2011

Andrew Hicks

1. Waking up with a hangover.

2. Not remembering everything I said or did.

3. Taking care of babies with a hangover.

4. Having to apologize for things I said or did.

5. Working all day with a hangover.

6. Paying four bucks a pop to drink beer in public.

7. Driving with a hangover.

8. Driving drunk.

9. Having to talk to anyone while I have a hangover.

10. Having to listen to drunk idiot monologues in bars.

11. Losing a day’s productivity to a hangover.

12. Having people not listen to my drunk idiot monologues in bars.

13. Staying in bed way too long with a hangover.

14. Messing around with fat chicks. (This also appears on my list of things I don’t miss about being single.)

15. Not being able to get rid of a hangover.

16. Giving over the majority of my free time to alcohol.

17. Anything hangover-related.

18. The erectile dysfunction that sets in somewhere between drinks number seven and twelve. The alcoholic ED factor kept #14 on this list from having far worse repercussions.

19. See #17. Hangovers are that bad.

20. The panicked Encyclopedia Brown feeling of having to identify where I am, how I got here, what day and time it is, and whether I’m supposed to be at work or not, then mentally tracking down the location of my wallet, keys, phone and car.

BABY PICTURE OF THE DAY

"Silas, Bacteria. Bacteria, Silas."

End of the world

February 18, 2011

Andrew Hicks

When I was 10, I checked a movie out of the Grace Christian Bookstore. It was a 1970s evangelistic thriller from Mark IV Productions, a Christian filmmaking company that aimed to make Des Moines, Iowa, into a Branson Hollywood. Their most famous movie, A Thief in the Night, was the one I checked out that day.

I watched it by myself in the afternoon. It was Martin Luther King Day, so I was off school and hanging out in the office area of the church my mom worked in. There was a little upstairs reception waiting area no one ever actually waited in, so I’d plop down on the scratchy love seat and watch VHS while my mom worked. Occasionally, my mom’s coworkers would come through on their way to somewhere else and comment. A few asked what the movie was and seemed unfamiliar with it. A couple others said the movie scared the crap out of them when they were younger.

What was so scary? Not much, I thought the first time through. A Thief in the Night is a 70-minute Rapture movie where the Rapture doesn’t take place until 50 minutes in. The Christians disappear up to heaven, and the nonbelievers are left behind to live through a seven-year apocalyptic period that includes wars, plagues, the Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast.

This brand of premillenialist Rapture theology is a pastiche of seemingly unrelated passages from all over the Old and New Testament, not just the Book of Revelation. The Rapture idea wasn’t even really formulated until the 19th century. I didn’t know any of this at the time, but I was just the right age to identify with a little girl character in A Thief in the Night who comes home, can’t find mommy, sees her untended dinner burning up on the stove and thinks she missed the Rapture.

The cheesy chase scenes where one-world government stooges prepare to guillotine Patty, the protagonist, because she won’t take the MOTB — those kind of shook me up the second time through, after I’d gotten home that night. What jacked me up most, though, was the idea that I’d lose all my loved ones and then have to face the end of the world, the events of which were foretold, unstoppable and just around the corner.

I read all the end-times prophecy books I could get my hands on, and I watched the three sequels to A Thief in the Night, all of which scared me for different reasons. There were entire nights I could never fall asleep because I was obsessively terrified of the end of the world. I spent months sleeping on the couch in my mom’s bedroom, so I could be sure she was still here on earth and not snatched up to heaven at the holy trumpet’s call. I had a dream that I couldn’t sell sixth-grade camp fundraiser candy bars because I didn’t have the MOTB.

I remember getting ready for school one morning and overhearing Deborah Norville say, “1988 was not a good year for the ozone layer,” as part of a story intro. It ruined my entire day, because it was another sign the end was near. I was never going to grow up, I was going to miss the Rapture, UNITE agents were gonna capture and torture me. These kinds of things can distract a young kid from regular school subjects.

These, for an adolescent, were truly dark, living-in-fear moments of the soul. I’d pray for peace and comfort, and it wouldn’t come. I didn’t tell anybody what was bothering me. And it went on for years, with varying intensity. I imagine it’s not too dissimilar from the worst reactions to the “duck and cover” feeling of being a kid during the Cold War. There’s a lot of irrational fear going up my family tree on my mom’s side, and I’ve certainly dealt with my share of it in areas other than this.

It seems surreal and almost unfathomable to me now that I could lose entire happy years to a fear of missing the Rapture, but it most certainly happened to me. My tale is nuttier than most, assuredly, but talk to some Christian school kids my age sometime. I’m not the only one.

The baby name game

February 17, 2011

Andrew Hicks

Choosing baby names is tough. Luckily, I didn’t have to do it with either kid. Oh, I had my own name suggestions, but I ran into the same problem I always did when I looked through tattoo catalogs and stuff: There were ones I was fond of, ones I was ambivalent about and ones I knew I didn’t like, but none of them seemed good enough to commit to for life.

When we found out we were having a girl*, Tiffany came up with the name Sarah Grace. I was sold on Grace immediately — it’s an old name up Tiffany’s family tree, and it’s the name of the church and private school I grew up attending. And the name Sarah has always been a beautiful one to me. I thought it common but not too common, traditional but not too traditional.

Our only debate was whether to include the “H” on the end. I lobbied for Sara with no H, but in the end, we (“we” meaning Tiffany, in this case) decided to go with the classic spelling. And, almost immediately, I was glad we did. It seems weird to say, but even from a newborn, my Sarah was a Sarah with an “H,” not a Sara with no “H.”

Had Sarah been a boy, Tiffany wanted to name him Andrew Justin, after me, and call him A.J. (My mom tells me my grandpa tried to get everyone to call me A.J., but it never really caught on.) I wasn’t completely comfortable with the idea of having my own Junior. Naming a kid after yourself has always seemed to me like an obnoxious form of egomania. Besides, having two people in the house with the same name would just lead to confusion.

I think we were about six months into the second pregnancy when Tiffany gave up on the idea of naming the baby Andrew Justin. She came out of left field with the name Silas**. We watch the show “Weeds” together, and one of its main characters is named Silas. And I knew there was a Silas in the New Testament somewhere. Otherwise, I’d never met or heard of anyone with that name.

Each of our mothers initially thought it a poor name choice — I can’t remember if it was my mom or Tiffany’s mom who said the name Silas for her conjured up the mental image of a fat, leather-skinned, middle-aged dude sitting on a rusty chair in the gravel parking lot of a nowhere Southern gas station. One of my own friends, when I told her we were going with Silas for a name, asked, “Why? Is he from the Old Country?”

But when Tiffany and I mentioned the name Silas to the younger generation (my then-17-year-old stepson Josh and his friends, some high school kids I used to work with, et al), they pretty much universally agreed it was a cool name.

I wasn’t fully sold on Silas, but I had nothing better to counter with. I liked it, but I didn’t like it. It was a cool name, but it was a weird name. I had the thought in the back of my head that we would change his name at the very last second to something more mainstream. But they cut my wife open, pulled out that screaming male newborn, and we named him Silas. The second the name was in ink and official, I was sure it was the right name for my youngest child. And hindsight has only further 20/20’d that.

She’s a Sarah, he’s a Silas. I love them and their names.

* Actually, it was never a sure thing, because Sarah was always in very modest positions during the sonograms, but after getting the clearest view of the junk area that she could, one of our sonogram technicians told us she was 80 percent sure our baby was a girl.

** We had already decided the middle name would be David, which is my dad and my brother’s middle name. There was no existing tradition of that name being passed down the Hicks line — my mom says she thought of it for my brother completely independently of it being my dad’s middle name — but I guess there is now.

BABY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Sarah plays with crayons that were in much better shape before she got hold of them.

Lawn care

February 16, 2011

Andrew Hicks

EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post for Wednesday is also being written on Thursday.

By some sort of groundhog non-shadow-seeing fluke, the weather was absolutely beautiful today. We went outside, and Silas stayed in the stroller the whole time, but Sarah took full advantage of the back yard amenities. She climbed the narrow embankment stairs, threw washers in the bucket and lined 13 chunky rocks up in a row. I wonder sometimes if my daughter will develop OCD, because I can tell it bothers her if items aren’t properly lined up.

The couple who lived in our house before we did was in their sixties. They enjoyed gardening as a hobby, clearly, because every spring, beautiful flowers come popping up all over. Then get choked out by weeds and neglect. The rocks Sarah was playing with came from a medium-sized, circular in-ground planter in the backyard. We’ve been dismantling the rocks off and on — mostly off — for the past year. It is our systematic plan to undo all the beauty the last people created and have the plainest-looking yard on the block. Crap, this’ll be our third summer here, and we don’t even have a trimmer yet.

Any lawn-care talk causes me to flash back to my grandpa on Mom’s side. He and Grandma would come up to our house a couple days a week while my mom was at work to watch us kids and help out around the house. My grandma would do our laundry all day. She was notorious for pulling clothes from the dryer way before they were dry. If my brother or I would try to protest (“But Grandma, these pants are still dripping”), she’d always say, “Oh, they’re just a little damp.”

Grandpa and I would spend our day fixing whatever was broken (he’d fix, I’d assist, mainly) and cutting the grass. Cutting was easy — we had a nice riding lawnmower — but raking and trimming were a pain. The back yard was big, and the grass grew superthick.

Grandpa would always pack us each a lunch — bologna sandwiches, Ruffles and Chip’s Ahoy, with a can of Coke Classic. His sandwiches had mayonnaise, while I was still years away from discovering the sinful glee of extra-heavy duty mayo. And, at the end of the day, he’d pay me for helping him. It averaged out to something like a dollar an hour, but it was the first paid work I ever did. I had a fantastic set of grandparents, and I wish they could have met my wife and kids.

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Sarah and Daddy on Valentine's Day.

Valentine’s

February 14, 2011

Andrew Hicks

I don’t know if it was coincidence in 2003 that I broke up with* my girlfriend of like three months right before Valentine’s Day. I dodged the bullet. And, up until Tiffany came along, I was single every other Valentine’s in my twenties. I was a service industry guy, too, so Valentine’s meant a busy, busy day where the restaurant was fully staffed to deal with all the people who only go out to eat on Hallmark holidays and annual Jesus-related occasions. I was too busy making money to mourn my single status.

In fact, if you’d talked to me at the time, depending on my Blood Alcohol Content, you might’ve heard my speech about how being single and loving yourself was the most simple, sure, enjoyable life imaginable. You had the freedom to do whatever whenever with whoever. I was also big on advocating regular masturbation to any dude who altered his behavior or stressed out over women and sex. The way I saw it, masturbation was just good maintenance, like changing the oil in your car. If your car needed an oil change every 15 miles.

Of course, I changed my tune when I met my wife. Tiffany and I are evenly matched when it comes to not placing a great deal of importance on holiday ritual; we both get more stressed out than gratified by the demands of holiday gift giving. Not to mention, we’ve pretty much been broke at every point in our relationship to date. So I pour my heart into writing a short novel on the inside flap of a card, and I try my hardest to be the nicest, best guy I can be. We have some married-people sex and occasionally share a ton of chocolate, and you know that makes me happy.

My new favorite thing to do when these Hallmark and Jesus holidays come around is to send all the grandparents and extended family a homemade Smilebox card. Valentine’s is only the second occasion I’ve uploaded a ton of cute, digital baby pictures and customized them into cards for family, but it’s easier, better and way cheaper than walking to the dirty Mom and Pop grocery store up the street and choosing from their supply of cards from 1991. (SAMPLE CARD TEXT: I Hope You Return Soon From The Desert Storm Ground War, Child Or Spouse.)

The cards are only a dollar, so I do like to use them as ironic, kitschy examples of living in a small town, but that kind of novelty only gets you so far.

TOP TEN NERD VALENTINE’S DAY ACTIVITIES
(from A Year in the Life of a Nerd, 2/14/1995)

10. Decide whether to spend day with Shelia or Debbie (my pet squid and iguana).
9. Drown sorrows in plate of “cheez fries.”
8. Pose as 12-year-old girl on Internet.
7. Wear pink heart-shaped glasses and matching pocket protector.
6. Make out with photograph of Heather Locklear.
5. Buy giant box of chocolates. Devour.
4. Drag out “Polka Love Serenade” CD.
3. Burn Barbie doll at stake.
2. Ignore phone calls from Jocelyn Elders saying it’s perfectly okay to spend Valentine’s Day by yourself.
1. Three words: “Love Boat” marathon.

*The whole affair was an appallingly juvenile exercise by the both of us. The breakup happened over email. She was all, “I’m taking all these classes right now, and I’m working a lot, and I’m soooo busy. I wonder if I even have time in my life for a boyfriend. Maybe we should just be friends.” And I was all, “Hey, that sounds like a great idea, because I don’t really have fun when I’m with you, and I definitely don’t have fun when you’re not around because it’s always hanging over my head that you’re jealous of anyone and everyone I party with.” I had an out, and I jumped right on it, but we both insisted we’d remain friends. As if we were friends before. As if we could ever have stood each other’s company if we weren’t playing the dating game for our own different selfish reasons.

Fat Andrew: The Third Decade

February 4, 2011

Andrew Hicks

When I got to college, I was in the heart of my isolated-loner stage. I had all kinds of free time and a 20-a-week meal plan at the dining hall. The only restriction was that I could only get two entrees per trip through the line. I could live with that. I ate my ass off. I wore sweatpants for like three years. No belts, no stepping on scales and a personal appearance and demeanor that cried out “purposefully unlayable.”

Red Flag #1 was when I realized I was too big to fit on the Batman ride at Six Flags. I’d waited with a buddy in hot summer weather for almost an hour for the front car, and when we finally got on, I couldn’t get the shoulder harness in reach of the seatbelt clasp. A grunting, straining employee threw her weight into trying to wedge me for almost a full minute while the next train behind us was stopped on the track, riders waiting while swinging their feet. The acne-faced ride operator had to press the button that released everyone’s restraints so I could do the Lardass Walk of Shame. That sucked.

Red Flag #2 was when I finally did step on a scale and saw it tip 300 pounds. I was already not happy with myself in general, which brought me shame and despair. Well, there’s no temporary cure for shame and despair quite like a few Big Macs. One night, after binging on something I don’t remember, a switch turned on in my brain, and I knew I was done eating bad food.

The next day, I cut out red meat, fried foods and processed desserts and made sure to walk at least a half-hour per day. I even remember ordering the fresh fruit platter when out with some friends one night at a Mexican restaurant. It cost the same as everyone else’s dinner, but it arrived on a side plate garnished with leaf lettuce and a plastic flag sticking up that said, “Hey, fatty! I ain’t NEVER gonna fill yo’ ass up!”

My resolve stuck with me long enough to lose almost 50 pounds, then I started to slip. And it was around this time, age 19 and 20, that I really realized I didn’t just have to write down what I thought was funny. I could say it, too, and people would laugh. Some people even liked it when I talked serious.

I got a little self-esteem on my shoulders, made some enjoyable friendships and partied my ass off. Alcohol is chock full of empty calories, but I also lived in a college town that delivered pizza until 3 am. The Texaco was right up the street, offering chocolate pies and as much nacho cheese as you could fit on a plastic tray. Oh, and Mountain Dew slushees. Those were incredible.

I’d put every ounce of those 50 pounds back on by the time I joined Bally’s Total Fitness in February, 2001. My package came with two free personal-training sessions. Kurt, the personal trainer, looked like The Rock if he was white, 5’8″ and couldn’t raise the one eyebrow. What Kurt could raise was the entire stack of weights on the pectoral fly, and he’d make a show out of inviting the nearest hot girl in the gym to push against the top of the stack of weights with all her might, throw all her weight into it, then he’d lift all that. While he was keeping a half-eye on me incorrectly doing lunges across the exercise floor.

Kurt used to put me on this stairmaster/lunge combo machine, crank the resistance up to 20, then walk away while I surreptiously pushed the down button to get the resistance back to 1. And this was like seven years after my last gym class. I wished you could get the free personal trainer sessions after you’d been going to the gym for a few months and had built up a little tolerance and strength.

I kept going to the gym and working out for the next seven years, off and on. More on than off. I dropped an easy 30 pounds at firsst, even though I was eating whatever I wanted to and chasing it with gallons of beer. I’d go to the gym, lose a little weight, stop going and gain it back, but I never got close to hitting 300 again.

On two later occasions — the fall of 2004 and the late-summer of 2005 — I went back to the no red meat/fried food/desserts lifestyle. Each time, I thought it was a permanent change that would stick with me. Each time, I was wrong. In spring 2009, I dropped a bunch of weight because I lost my appetite for months due to depression. People would compliment me on the weight loss, and I’d tell them I wasn’t on a diet or working out. They’d say, “Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it.” I didn’t usually tell them what I was doing was hating myself and hating life in general.

These days, I’m happy, I eat healthy sometimes, I eat crappy most of the time, and I’ve been recovering from a broken ankle since September. I’m ready to be physical. I’m itching for nice weather and talking walks and playing outside with kids. The best news is, I don’t drink anymore, and I have a beautiful wife who thinks I’m beautiful. I’ve got a handful of lingering problems with self-image, but they don’t seem tied into a weird food-based shame cycle.

Enough of this. I’m gonna go make dinner now. Probably nothing healthy.

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

My fat, lazy childhood

February 3, 2011

Andrew Hicks

I was ahead of the curve, a major trendsetter. By which I mean, I was fat before America was.

I spent my first handful of years as a skinny kid, but there’s a picture of little school-age me looking all groggy and sugar-shocked, with a sucker in his mouth and the cookie jar to his left freshly raided. Early episodes like this formed the genesis of an addictive personality with an only marginal sense of moderation.

By fifth grade or so, I was a little husky kid. I think my first attempt at a diet was the summer I was 11. I was raised by a single mom who worked, so my brother Matt and I spent all our weekdays at a summer day camp. I remember packing my lunches and counting calories on my baggies of Teddy Grahams and pretzels and lunchmeat sandwiches. I was already one of those fat kids who’d pig out on diet soda, too.

The diets I’d go on were pretty much starvation diets like that — a thousand calories a day until I’d go crazy and binge out. I never lost more than 15 pounds. I’d spend more time off diets than on, and both parents would indulge me and Matt (who was skinny as a rail until well past his teenage years) in the inexpensive excesses of drive-thru fast food, delivery pizza and buffets.

My childhood involved a lot of trips to the park and Six Flags, baseball in the backyard and bike riding through the neighborhood. When adolescence set in, and self-esteem problems and worry problems, my lifestyle got more reclusive and lethargic. We had a small family, three people, and we kept to ourselves. Lots of movie watching and mom working at home and me crudely drawing comic strips and writing “Batman” fanfic stories (a good decade before I ever heard the word “fanfic”).

Once I reached my mid-teen years, I was physically so far out of the loop that gym class was often humiliating. I liked that the teacher would put us through a strict ritual of stretches, jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups and laps, though I often hated it at the time. I really hated the Presidential Fitness Test, because all I could ever really qualify on was the stretching stuff. I’ve never done a pull-up in my life; I hope to before I die.

I didn’t want to join any sports teams because the jocky kids seemed so much more bold and put-together than I did. And because I was lazy and afraid of everything. Also, I knew you had to take group showers, and there was no way in hell I would’ve let all the buff kids see me naked, soaping up.

So, more pizza nights at home, compulsive TV watching, homework and personal writing. I did manage to drop something like 25 pounds before my junior year, which brought me back under the 200 mark and saw me accomplishing the previously unattainable feat of running the mile in under ten minutes. I beat the kid with the baboon heart by, like, a full lap.

But then my small Christian school closed down, and I spent senior year in public school with the misguided notion that I should keep my head down, write down all my funny stuff instead of sharing it with people, and basically stay at home as much as possible. For one glorious quarter, I got to school early for A-period honors world history and was then done with classes by like 11:30.

Every day, I’d walk past the guard at the gate, continue walking a mile home, and spend my afternoon watching sitcom reruns on cable and binging on Doritos and day-old Hostess products. I had the house to myself for hours, I could take naps at will, and I didn’t have to endure the humiliation of voluntarily excluding myself from social activity in the lunchroom.

Oh boy, that’s when I truly got fat. In another year and a half, I weighed myself on some pseudo-classy novelty scale at Sharper Image and saw the scale tip 300 pounds. It depressed me more than ever at a time when I felt like a super-freak isolated from my peers. But after wallowing for a few strange months, I finally got motivated to do something.

TO BE CONTINUED

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Silas is awake, and he's grabbin'.

My quiet neighborhood

January 30, 2011

Andrew Hicks

As I mentioned many, many blog posts ago, Tiffany and I rent a four-bedroom house with a decent-sized backyard and an old driveway whose tectonic plates are constantly shifting. When we first moved here in 2007, when it was just me, my wife and 14-year-old Josh, we lived in the double duplex next door. It’s two garages, four units and two garages. Us moving next door two years ago has been the complex’s only change in residence since we moved here.

In our old unit are a single mom and adolescent daughter. Next door, my friend and smoke break buddy I’ve written about here and there with the four small kids. In the third unit, a long-bearded old man living solo with no apparent friends or family. Even door-to-door salesmen have the sixth sense to avoid knocking on that door. The guy in the third unit is usually only spotted way after dark, when he occasionally wanders out to his front patio and takes a leak all over the concrete. The fourth unit is also occupied by a single old man, but this guy has kids and grandkids that stop by once a season or so. I did notice his Christmas tree stayed up well into January, but otherwise I’ve got nothing bad to say about the dude.

The house next door to us on the opposite side is vacant. It’s tiny and dilapidated, and it looks like it hasn’t been lived in for at least a decade. Still, during the nice-weather months, whoever owns it shows up promptly every Saturday morning to cut the grass and edge the yard. He cuts it with a diagonal crisscross pattern and everything, and it always irks me that the abandoned crack house next door continually has a nicer lawn than mine. Although, I will add, it doesn’t irk me enough to do any extra work on my yard.

Across the street is a two-story U-shape of rentals. During the nice-weather months, these neighbors can be spotted in lawn chairs, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes from shortly after dawn until the middle of the night. They quit their jobs so they could party more, which — from the standpoint of this former hardcore partier — is a truly ballsy move that speaks major dedication to the craft of alcoholism.

Next to this U-shape of apartments is a small-town bank whose employees offer the most consistently rude customer service I’ve ever experienced. Not to mention, when we opened an account, I got a box of 500 checks that said my name was Andrew S. Hicks. My middle name is Justin. Fail.

A couple houses down from the old four-unit lives a 90-year-old woman whose daughter and son-in-law come to walk the dog and take care of basic maintenance. This couple were regulars of mine at the last serving/bartending gig I had. They’d make a three-hour occasion out of dinner, each generally downing a handful of Old Fashioneds before ordering entrees.*

Down the block in the other direction is the day care where Tiffany worked when we first moved here. Her coworkers at the day care were a bunch of women and a single guy named Mr. Dick who had been working there for decades. Stepson Josh and I used to get big, immature laughs out of the idea of generations’ worth of parents leaving their small children in the care of Mr. Dick.

The junior high and high school are close enough that I can hear their intercom announcements from my bed. I’m way more attuned to school-announcement gossip than I rightfully should be. For instance, I know little Tommy Johnson got called to the principal’s office three times in the same week earlier this month. And, seriously, it was the week of MLK Day* AND there was a snow day. Tommy Johnson needs to clean up his act.

Just beyond our backyard is an assisted-living complex that houses mostly elderly people. The most visible resident, though, is a middle-aged fella who looks like a larger, longer-haired version of Vincent D’Onofrio in Men in Black. He walks his dog past our house probably six times a day when the weather’s nice, and whenever the dog stops to sniff or pee on something, Fat Vince looks around with his crazy eyes. I don’t like to draw the blinds, but sometimes I can’t help it.

I picture Fat Vince as living alone and probably speaking most of his words to that dog. He’s probably on the Internet a lot, too. He might read blogs. He might like comedy. He might recognize that I’m writing about him now. He might have thought this was a great blog until about a paragraph and a half ago. I might be in trouble the next time he takes Fido for a walk.

*Before I quit drinking, I used to fantasize that I’d be walking Sarah by their elderly mom’s house in the stroller, and they’d be there, having some kind of afternoon whiskey party. In this fantasy, I get toasted in the daytime and entertain a bunch of older folk. I can’t possibly be considered a deadbeat dad either, because in the fantasy, the actual Teletubbies are there to keep Sarah occupied while dad drifts away.

**Whether it’s whole, 2%, chocolate or soy, there’s no wrong way to celebrate MLK Day.

The night I met her

January 24, 2011

Andrew Hicks

Wednesday, April 19, 2007
2:07 a.m.

I’m at the top corner bar at Ameristar Casino, by myself. Al is bartending. Al and I have a friendly relationship built on combined decades of music geekdom. When the casino Muzak is tuned to the ’80s or ’90s channels, we race to see who can first successfully identify the title, artist and year of release.

On a dead night at the bar, it keeps us both entertained. Right now, though, almost every seat at his bar is filled, so I plan to get a Budweiser draft and keep on walking. There are three other bars in the casino, and odds are, I’ll stop and talk to someone I know or quickly make a new friend.

I try to get Al’s attention up at the service entrance to the bar. He’s headed over to me when a female voice yells out, “Al! Al!” He turns his head. Six seats down, a striking woman I’d peg to be about my age is pointing down at the video poker machine in front of her. “Al! Do you have any gum? This thing ate my quarter!”

I hear that, and I meander down the bar to see the situation firsthand. Ordinarily, I’m not incredibly bold socially, but since I moved into my bachelor pad four months ago, I’ve been the indisputable life of the party again. I have the ironclad conviction that everything out of my mouth is borne of some form of comic genius. Whether I am right about this, I cannot objectively say, but people usually seem to enjoy the crazy talk that comes out of my mouth.

“Where did you put your quarter?” I ask the stranger. “There’s definitely no coin slot on a bar video poker machine.”

She points down at the slot next to the video screen where you’re supposed to insert your players’ card. It’s the size of a credit card or hotel keycard and definitely not the size of any American coin. I decide I should make fun of this girl in a jovial sorta fashion. So I do, and she tells me this is her first time in the casino since like 1997, a year in which there apparently still were coin slots attached to video poker machines.

“I’ve been watching you,” I tell her. “You’re crazy.”

This offends her for some reason. In my delusional, bloated head, this one-line gem of brilliance should only get a huge, warm laugh. I explain to her that crazy’s a good thing, that normal is boring, that I’m a lunatic, and that everyone who’s ever been close to me is crazy, too. And I was watching her earlier, out of the corner of my eye. I could tell from a distance that this girl had a magnetic personality, a natural beauty and just something different. Something crazy.

She tells me she’s at the casino by herself, too. I tell her we should take the escalator down to the ground floor and cruise the tables. I overheard a cocktail waitress say “American Idol” star Chris Daughtry, who played a concert earlier tonight in the casino showroom, is playing blackjack on Table 7 and is way shorter and uglier than you’d think from TV. But we don’t go anywhere. We stay at the bar and talk and laugh, and my Budweiser draft disappears with a quickness. One more, and I’m out of money.

I explain my cashlessness to my new friend, and she buys me a beer, but only after she determines that I really don’t have any money and am not trying to take advantage of the potential kindness of a stranger. She pulls out a Ziploc bag full of quarters, dimes and nickels — the odds and ends of tips she made from restaurant customers — and she buys me a beer with a pile of change.

She tells me her name is Tiffany, and later she tells me that she’s 35 years old. I don’t believe her, so I ask for her ID. The ID confirms it, and we start talking about my perceived generational differences between the cultural reference points of someone my age, 29, and someone six years older. She quickly reveals herself to be a great pop culture sparring partner, awash in information from before my time straight up to now.

All too soon, it’s last call. I wage a campaign to get Tiffany to come back to the bachelor pad with me. There’s something electric about this girl — instantly appealing, intriguing and comforting to me — and I really just want to hang out with her some more. She already gets me in a way that far surpasses that of the other casino bar strangers-turned-temporary-drinking-buddies I’ve met.

She resists, of course. She doesn’t ever go out in the first place, and she’s not the one-night-stand type. I’m not either. “We’re just friends hanging out,” I keep telling her. I run through my other selling points — I have roommates living with me, so I can’t be a psycho killer. I’m the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. I can show you some of those hilarious old Saturday Night Live sketches we’ve been rhapsodizing about. And I’ve got beer.

5:57 a.m.

My roommate Tim just left for work. He’s one of my oldest and best friends. Our bedrooms are connected by a bathroom, so once I heard his alarm go off a couple times, I brought Tiffany through the bathroom so she could meet him. This was late-night, manic drunk logic, but I wanted to introduce them. I figured Tim would recognize immediately that I stumbled into something special.

The DVD player is in Tim’s room. My bedroom is huge, and it’s set up for some good hanging out, but all I have audiovisually is a Bose iPod dock and a 13″ TV/VCR combo given to me by a guy from work. So when Tim leaves, I show Tiffany some of the highlights of the Best of Chris Farley SNL DVD.

We watch, but we talk about our lives — me preaching the philosophy of self-love and keeping things emotionally uncomplicated, and her telling me about her first husband and the abusive boyfriend she just broke up with. She’s kind, she’s thoughtful, she’s loving. This is someone I value immediately, and I have a hard time picturing the kind of man who would mistreat her.

There’s a gentle nervousness within me, but I’m most filled with an air of excitement. I’ve been truly coming back to life since I moved in here, and now I feel like I’ve met the other side of me that’s been missing all this time. And, best of all, I don’t have any of the accompanying obsessiveness, self-loathing and hesitance that have plagued me the other couple of times I thought I’d met the right girl. I know that, if I never see Tiffany again, I still had an unexpectedly amazing night.

Tiffany leaves. She has to work at 11, and she has precious little time to sleep off the abundance of Grolsch beer that went from my fridge to our bellies these past few hours. I watch a little more SNL while stretching across Tim’s bed, and I call my mom as the sun comes up. I tell her I met the woman I’m going to marry, but I tell her I’m going to play it cool and let it move at a natural, comfortable pace.

I call two other friends and tell them this was the night I met my Yoko Ono. “But Yoko broke up the band,” one of them pouts back to me. At this point, I have no idea that love’s going to crash down hard on my head in a matter of weeks, and that before the summer is out, I’ll be married and living in another state. And, for all intents and purposes, the old band will be broken up.

Right now, all I know is, I found her. She’s really real. She exists, she’s beautiful, and I found her.

FAMILY PICTURE OF THE DAY

Tiffany: a self-portrait she doesn't know I'm posting yet.