Archive for the 'Shyness and weirdness' Category

Group appetizer binge

January 22, 2011

Andrew Hicks

EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post was also written twelve hours after the midnight cutoff, while Silas slept and Sarah ate yogurt and watched “Caillou” in her highchair. Two things Andrew has learned about “Caillou” so far — 1) It’s not pronounced “Kaloo,” and 2) The dad on the show cuts his lawn with an electric mower. Andrew’s grandpa had an electric lawnmower when Andrew was growing up, and Andrew was surprised to learn the cord didn’t always seem to be in danger of being run over and chopped up by a giant, rapidly rotating blade. Electric lawnmowers do just seem vaguely uncool, though, like when you see a kid wear a helmet while riding his bike at 8 miles per hour.

Tonight, Tiffany made an impulse stop into the supermarket. She was in the mood to fire up the oven, shove in a continuous stream of frozen appetizers and make a night of eating them and having fun. This wasn’t a couple boxes of wings, either; it was a Noah’s Ark affair — two of everything. Potato skins, jalapeno poppers, toasted ravioli with meat sauce, popcorn chicken, spinach dip, chicken fries and four Red Baron pizzas.

Our abundance of unhealthy food led us to consider doing the impossible: having people over. In 2007, we arrived in Springfield broke, living in a tiny apartment and not knowing anyone. Just as quickly, we were pregnant. Then we had a baby. Then we were pregnant again. Then we had another baby. Along the line, we moved into a house twice as big as the old place, and just recently we got our layout and setup the way we want it, based on the humble quantity and quality of furniture we do have.

Only now, in early 2011, does it seem natural to invite a friend or two or maybe four over to hang out. But we don’t usually actually do it. We arrived at the decision tonight sometime between 8:30 and 9, and we found a pair of couple friends available and willing to come over with their 7-year-old daughter.

In the period between realizing people were coming over and people actually coming over, we force-cleaned the neglected areas of the house. This provided a missing degree of accountability; the house would not have gotten cleaned otherwise.

The bringing of the 7-year-old daughter was key to our plan. Tiffany and I get pockets of time to ourselves — some time individually, less time as a couple. Sarah plays with us, and she plays by herself, but she rarely gets to play with another kid. This turned out to be good for everyone. Kid time for the kids, adult time for the adults, and oven-warmed appetizers for all. Silas even had a fortuitously gracious sense of timing and decided to sleep through almost the entire affair.

Sarah and her new little friend played well together, and the rest of us hung out and cracked jokes and played Guitar Hero. I haven’t done Guitar Hero in a couple years (at the peak of my abilities, I did an alright job playing songs of average difficulty, which makes me perfectly mediocre), but I enjoyed making fun of the entire Rush 2112” track* and its pretentious Spinal Tap/Stonehenge spoken-word nonsense breaks.

The friends we had over went to high school with my next-door neighbor, who bundles and buddies up with me almost daily for outdoor cigarette breaks, so we went as a group to retrieve her. She’s a single lady with four small kids, and it was going on midnight by this time. But through the magic of a double baby monitor, we brought the neighbor over, and sounds of peaceful kid slumber from next door filled the monitor**.

I happened into an unexpectedly poignant moment amidst all this. Sarah had already gone to bed***, and I went upstairs to check on our friends’ daughter, who had been lying on a blanket in Silas’s bedroom, watching The Swan Princess. I peeked in the doorway and saw the little girl holding a large white rectangle with medical-blue borders.

“Know what this is?” she asked me.

I didn’t. I thought maybe she’d found it in the back of a low dresser drawer, with all the stuff we’ve been given and never use. “Where’d you get that?” I asked.

She said, “It’s my pee pad. I pee all the time when I sleep.”

I had instant flashbacks to the bunk beds I shared with my younger brother. He was in the top bunk, with a rubber mattress cover. Sometimes, when he’d wake up and shift position to where his lower leg hung off the side of the bed, his body weight would depress the mattress and cause dribbles of his overnight urine to splash down in my direction.

“It’s no big deal,” I told the little girl. “A lot of people do it. My brother did it until he was like ten.”

“They say it’s disgusting,” she said back, “they” being the other kids, I imagined.

I wanted to give an impassioned speech about how it’s not disgusting, it’s a common problem, and screw those other kids. Having just written the “Rejector or rejectee?” blog post, memories of feeling like an insecure weird kid are still floating around freshly in my brain. I’m siding big with the underdog right now.

Letting other people’s jokes, opinions and snide comments hold you back is counterproductive and criminal, although I have to admit I’ve cracked plenty of jokes and snide comments over the years when I should’ve just kept my mouth shut.

Little moments like the above just provide quick reminders that I’m one of the grownups now, and any support, encouragement and rational thought I can provide for those younger than myself can only help. And beyond those things, I can also provide skins, poppers, toasted ravioli, popcorn chicken, spinach dip and pizza. Which makes the process of getting people to spend time at your house that much easier.

*I mean, this song lasts a ridiculously long time. “2112” is both the title and the duration of the song. It is two thousand, one hundred and twelve minutes long.

**The neighbor had to leave abruptly, and Tiffany and I realized later that we still have her monitor base, and she has ours. Theoretically, either one of us would be provided with daily opportunities to eavesdrop. If nothing else, though, we could coordinate our smoke breaks this way by speaking into the air. We wouldn’t even have to reach for our phones. The Information Age is so pathetically astounding.

***Sarah acted like she was going to fall asleep for about two minutes before remembering she had a new play pal who was still in the house. It was all crying from that moment until we relented and let our wide-awake toddler get up to play some more.

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Rejector or rejectee?

January 20, 2011

Andrew Hicks

I was returning a phone call to a close friend of ten years, and I remembered during the early days of our friendship being hung up on the fact that she was six years younger than I was. I insisted I was not hung up on it, but I forced jokes into the conversation that revealed otherwise. It was just interesting to flash back to that detail, considering now that we’re married adults who are 26 and 32, I see us as being the same age.

I don’t have this hangup anymore, but I am age-conscious and will pretty much always use it as a descriptor of a person. The good friend in question always talked and thought on my level; the hangup was all me.

I think it stems from being bumped from kindergarten to first grade after being in school for a month. I’ve been joking since like fourth grade that the academic authorities must’ve noticed I was finger painting and taking naps on an entire other level than the other kids.

I struggled in first grade, academically and socially. By second grade, I was one of the really smart kids again, though I did feel different from most everybody just by virtue of being younger than they were.

Fourth grade was when I first got the notion that I might be one of the unpopular, weird kids. The teacher one day decided the class was going to play a game called Rejector or Rejectee, in which we would focus on everyone individually and, as a group, label each person one or the other. I thought I was going to be labeled a Rejector because I wouldn’t let Nick Ruminowsky* borrow my crayons the day before. Kid never had his own crayons. I was pretty much unanimously labeled a Rejectee, though, and it was brought to my attention that I shouldn’t wear a yellow-and-green striped shirt with green pants to school.

Being age-conscious was the main excuse I hid behind when I rationalized that it would be okay to take a year off the career path right after graduating college. I was barely 21, I was living in an apartment with two buddies, I was finally starting to open up and be social and feel normal and party a bunch. I wanted to write my book, but I also wanted to taste what the TV Batman called “the deceptive lure of easy living.” I don’t regret much of how I’ve spent my time, but I’d love to have some of those years back now.

It’s interesting to flash back to more immature attitudes about not fitting in because I was younger and therefore different, or feeling self-conscious about having friends who were younger or older than I was, even though I preached a philosophy of “everyone is an individual with something interesting and unique to contribute.”

Last night was the monthly open mic at Donnie B’s comedy club. I felt privileged to be at a large, round table with three pockets of friends I’ve made from different corners of my life. I love watching the interaction between people I know who don’t know each other. I wasn’t drinking, and I didn’t feel self-conscious. I enjoyed the flow of conversation and the different points of view. I’m still a weird dude, long story short, but I like to hang out sometimes.

*Name changed. My mom later clipped Nick’s obituary from the paper and mailed it to me. 26 years old. Drug overdose. I should’ve let him borrow the crayons.