So as the title may suggest, I’m in good ol’ Mexico on vacation and on a little personal business as well. Actually the fiancé and I are both down here.
Last night the fiancé and I are at the local bar, having some drinks and shooting some pool. A little friendly, yet competitive game, only we both suck at it. So the only interesting thing about the game is the shit talking every forth or so shot that we actually get to go in.
Her: That’s right, sucker.
Me: That’s how I do.
Back and forth, in one variation or another, one extended game after another of pure shit. But we’re having fun. So we keep at it.
Then in the middle of one of the games I find myself having flash backs to memories of my old man and time we spent shooting pool when I was a kid.
Things like him teaching me how to “put some English on the ball” and “the last pocket rule” and, what I realize triggered all of it as I find myself trying to make a shot and not being able to find a descent angle, the “sissy stick.”
Now I’ve written about my old man’s unusual style of parenting. Whether it was his twisted sense of humor or his equally twisted style of teaching his sons to swim. My pop’s way of teaching his boys how to shoot pool was just as harsh yet loving and full of the same sense of don’t-take-yourself-too-seriously-it’s-just-a-game-but-I’m-your-father-and-I’ll-whip-your-butt approach.
To this day I don’t even know what the proper term is for the pool cue stick with the attachment at the end that improves your chances of making a shot at a bad angle, usually beyond what you’d normally be able to reach with a normal cue.
The sissy stick, guys….
It’d go somethings like this: ‘Dad I can’t reach.’
‘Figure out the angle.’
‘I can’t. It’s too far.’
‘Let me see. Oh, yeah you can reach it.’
‘We’re shooting pool here, son. It’s all math. You can. Just figure it out.’
‘But I can’t.’
‘Oh, ok, just use the sissy stick then.’
I remember not knowing what the “sissy stick” was and knowing it wasn’t a personal attack on me, but I knew it wasn’t something I was going to use by the tone in his voice.
He’d place the stick on the table and say, “Go ‘head. Use it.”
Looking back it wasn’t a challenge to my manhood(actually boyhood at the time) my old man wasnt calling me a sissy if I used something to aide my shot, he was using terminology he’d picked up growing up in the 70’s in some of the roughest Puerto Rican neighborhoods in Chicago to motivate me to try harder.
To figure it out. There’s always an angle. Some times you just got to work harder to find it.
It’s helped me in life, unfortunately it hasn’t helped my pool game. I still suck.
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I was a bizarre kid with a lot of weird ideas when I was growing up. And lately for some odd reason, I’ve been revisiting a lot of memories from my childhood and having a good laugh in the process.
I mean, the crazy shit that I used to think up. Most of it was based almost entirely on my own imagination, some of it was based on observations my young mind would make, but almost all of it–now that I look back as an adult–was hilarious.
Take, for example, my take on some of the differences between white folks and brown folks. I can remember clearly, at the age of seven or eight, believing that white people did not feel cold the same way brown people felt it.
I was convinced that white people didn’t feel cold on their legs or arms.
How did I come to this conclusion? Well, it was simple, really. We’d be in my dad’s car, driving down the street, and I’d see a white person, jogging, with shorts, a t-shirt and gloves and a skull cap on. In the middle of winter. Just bare arms and bare legs.
I saw this repeatedly. So I formed an opinion: White people’s arms and legs don’t get cold.
Or take for example my belief that, as a young, nine-year-old little league baseball player, if I were transported back to the twenties or thirties, I would be as good, if not better than the pro ball players of that era.
The Babe and all those old timers? I’d show them how to knock it out of the park. I’d run faster, hit harder, throw missiles from any position on the field–they’d have to rewrite the history books about this young Puerto Rican kid phenom who was killing the league.
How would I be able to do these things at the tender age of nine? Well clearly (in my mind) the human body had progressed so much in the intervening six or so decades, that a nine-year-old in the early nineties, was much stronger and a more capable athlete than someone from the twenties or thirties.
If only I could’ve gotten a fully-functioning time machine. I would’ve been a star.
The funny thing about all this is that I don’t remember at what age I stop believing these things or what it was that finally made me understand that things didn’t quite work that way.
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-Did you sleep last night?
-What do you mean did I sleep last night?
-I mean did you sleep alright?
-I woke up in the middle of the night, in the country side of Ireland, to an aggressive ass sheep, bahing like motherfucker.
-I didn’t hear anything.
-You didn’t hear the sheep, bahing like a belligerent asshole?
-No, I guess I slept through it.
-Slept through it… I’m pretty sure that sheep was being fucked last night and you slept through that?
-There are sheep across the road, they make noise at night.
-Well, there aren’t any sheep in Chicago, or Puerto Rico, so no, I didn’t sleep through the sheep getting fucked last night. That’s the type of thing that’ll wake me up.
-Alright, alright, so you didn’t sleep, stop being a baby about it. And, yes, you’re in Ireland, and there are sheep in the country side, deal with it. You’re here for the next week.
-I know I am. Doesn’t mean it isn’t weird for me.
-You flew all the way to Ireland to propose to me, don’t be an ass and freak out about a couple sheep out in the country. Embrace it.
-I’m good here, I’m just saying, it’s a little weird.
-It’s green and beautiful and we’re here together with my family, isn’t that what you wanted?
-Good. So tomorrow night, when you hear the sheep fucking, do like the rest of us country side Irish, and mind your own business and go to sleep.
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-Hey, you Rolando?
-Yeah, you Mike?
-You got it, man. Hop in.
-Skokie Yellow Line?
-Yeah. I’m trying to catch the last train.
-That’s cool. That’s cool, bro. I got you.
-Thanks. It leaves in 10 minutes.
-Ok, let me just get this GPS cooking here…
-Nah, man. I’ll tell you how to get there. It’s a five minute drive.
-Turn left here and keep straight for a mile.
-Nice. Got my own human GPS. Barry White option with that deep ass voice. “Turn left here, baby. ”
-Yeah. Glad you like it.
-So why are you coming from the police station? You a cop or something?
-I’m not a cop.
-Ok, Ok. Super secretive job at the police station. Can’t talk about it. I get it.
-Dude, I’m not a cop.
-That’s what cops usually say when they are a cop, you know, ‘hey, man, it’s cool, I’m not a cop.’
-No, I’m actually not a cop.
-Alright, officer. No need to break your cover. We don’t have to talk about it anymore.
-Why would I be undercover taking an Uber to the train stop? Maybe I just want to catch the last train home and want you focused on driving and not talking about my job.
-Whoa, bro, easy. I’ll get you there. I got you.
-I don’t want to be a dick, but I don’t want to talk and you aren’t driving with enough sense of urgency.
-Hey, bro, just because you’re some top secret cop, doesn’t mean I can go barreling down the road endangering human lives, and shit.
-I’m not a cop. I just don’t want to miss my train.
-Whatever, man. I’m just trying to be a civil fucking human being.
-My bad, man. I just want to get home. It’s been a long day.
-And you don’t think I don’t? I’ve been on these streets for 10 hours, bro. Hustling.
-I get you. Again, my bad. I wasn’t trying to be a dick.
-Whatever, bro. It’s all good.
-Thanks. Take a right at the light, train stop is six blocks up on the left.
-There goes Barry again, “Take a right at the light, baby.” Awesome.
-Yeah, I should look into getting a voice over job for a GPS company.
-Yeah you should, bro. Yeah you should.
-I’ll jump out here. It’s up on the left. Thanks, man. And sorry about the whole thing.
-No problem, super top secret officer. Stay safe out there, or frosty, or keep your head on a swivel, or whatever super top secret officers do.
-I’m not a cop!
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A couple of my buddies and I had been trying to plan a camping/canoe trip for years.
At the beginning of every summer we’d get all pumped up talking about the trip. We’d talk about certain details, like who had what gear and what we’d cook for meals. And above all, we’d talk about how awesome it was going to be.
Then as early summer progressed into mid summer, and then into late summer, and then finally into fall, all the talks and excitement faded and the trip would fall through.
So when talks started up again this year, I think it’s safe the say everyone was a little skeptical.
But this year we actually made it happen.
And it was great. Everything we had imagined it would be.
Seven dudes messing around on the Wisconsin River. We paddled, we drifted, we drank beers.
And of course there was the requisite shit talking that occurs whenever two or more guys get together on a camping trip.
At some point, some one had the genius idea to rope the three canoes together, so we would travel down river at the same pace.
That first night, we set up camp on a large sand bar that sat in the middle of the river and got a fire going.
We sat around the fire eating burgers and drinking beer as the sun set off in the horizon, the river reflecting the different hues of pink, blue and orange from the sky.
After a few more hours of general fuckery–drinking, smoking cigars and more shit talking–we all stumbled into our tents and called it a night.
A few hours later, I got up to use the bathroom. When i was done, I looked up at the night sky and felt like I was having an out of body experience.
The sky was filled with stars. I mean, hundreds of thousands of them. Now I’ve been camping before and I’ve seen my fair share of beautiful night skies, but there was something particularly beautiful about that one. It left me in awe.
The next day was more of the same, with the only exception of note being that one of the guys managed to rig up a small propane grill on his canoe and cook dogs and burgers as we paddled.
He would then line up the dogs or burgers on his paddle and serve everyone individually. Real classy shit.
That night, setting camp followed the same pattern from the night before.
Only, as the sun began to set, shit got a little weird.
In a matter of seconds, we were swarmed by mosquitoes. Then flocks of geese an other birds would start making all this noise in the trees around us and then they would take off flying like lunatics.
I turned to one of my guys–a more experienced outdoors guy than me–and asked him what he thought was going on.
He said he thought a storm was coming. A quick check of a radar weather app confirmed it. And not only was a storm coming in, it was a freaking STORM. We’re talking driving rain with 30 mph winds with lightening and thunderstorms.
In short, we were fucked with nothing to protect us other than our tents.
We were a four-hour paddle from my buddy’s cabin and the storm appeared set to hit in just under five hours. It was going to be a tight one. But that wasn’t the only problem. It was pitch black with almost no moon light.
Paddling on the river at night was not ideal. But neither was sitting out the storm. So we loaded up and paddled our asses off.
I’m not going to lie, it was nerve wracking. We almost tipped over a couple times. But we made it to the launch, unpacked, loaded up our gear and got back to the cabin before the storm hit.
Fortunately for us because when that damn storm hit, it was terrifying. Like curl up into a ball in a corner of the tent and pray to the almighty for mercy terrifying.
But what a great adventure.
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I grew up in a very conservative, Christian household. My parents follow a sect of Christianity known as Pentecostalism that adheres to a strict interpretation of the bible.
Now I know what most of you may be thinking. That must have sucked.
But actually, it was a good childhood. It kept me out of trouble.
Overall, I have no complaints about my childhood or being brought up in the church.
But even as a child as young as seven or eight, I noticed things about some of the church’s practices that seemed odd to me.
Take for example the belief in the ability to “speak in tongues”. That’s when a practitioner is overcome with the “holy spirit” and acts as a vessel through which a message from God is transmitted.
It almost always happened during a period of musical “praise” where strings and synths were being played and the congregation was deep in a meditative state.
What resulted was a person speaking in some out-of-this-world language, to which, after a brief pause, either that person, or another chosen practitioner in the congregation would translate into English, or, in the case of my church, Spanish.
Not going to lie. At first that shit freaked me out as a kid. It also struck me as something that was a bit forced.
But like everything else weird and unusual, after seeing it several times, it became normal for me. It was far-fetched in my mind, but it was just something that happened.
For some odd reason one person spoke this martian language, and after a few seconds, someone else who apparently spoke the same language translated for the rest of us.
But then one day in church during one of those episodes, my young and bored mind had a thought: What if I translated the message? It seemed to me that it would be easy enough. All I had to do was close my eyes and appear to be deep in thought, throw my hands up in the air a couple times while delivering the message emphatically.
As I sat there listening to the person speaking martian, I quickly tried to come up with a message that held some meaning to my young mind. Something other than the “God wants you to be faithful and serve him” message usually served up.
Then it hit me: God wants you to take your children to Chuck E Cheese after the service and buy them pizza and let them play all the games they want.
It would be perfect. And all the fellas would think of me as some sort of hero, because surely if God says it, it will pass.
Sweet Jesus, it would be a miracle. Pizza and video games for everyone!
I brimmed with excitement. I could hardly contain myself. I rose to my feet and prepared to jump in with my translation as soon as the martian was done. I think I even cleared my throat and stretched my arms.
Then, as if he could sense his son was about to do some dumb shit, I caught a glimpse of my father who was giving me his always powerful, “boy-if-you-don’t-sit-your-butt-down-and-quit-whatever-it-is-you-think-you’re-about-to-do” look.
The dream was instantly dead. No pizza, no video games.
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-Hear about that guy we had the other day?
-Nah, what guy?
-The guy that almost blew his head off.
-Almost blew his head off? How the hell do you do that?
-With a shotgun.
-I mean, not what he used, but how?
-He went all Ernest Hemingway with it, only he didn’t do it right.
-I get the thing with the shotgun. But how the hell do you “almost blow your head off” with a shotgun. The damn thing has a pretty good spread. It’s a point and shoot type a thing.
-I don’t know, guess he wasn’t committed to the whole thing. Pulled the trigger, then tried to back away at the last second. Got half his face. We got to the call and he was walking around, trying to hold the blown off side together with the other side.
-Jesus. Poor bastard.
-What happened to him?
-Who knows? We dropped him off at the ED and the trauma team took over.
-Jesus, that’s fucked up.
-Really fucked up.
-He made his choice.
-Wanna know what’s really fucked up?
-Johnny was making his lasagna that night at the house.
-God, Johnny’s lasagna is the best.
-I know, that mother fucker can make a damn good pan of lasagna, for Mexican.
-So what happened?
We get back, and all the boys ate it all up. There was nothing left.
-Not even leftovers?
-Nothing. Those bastards ate it all up and didn’t even save us a plate.
-Now that’s fucked up. That’s just wrong.
-Who you telling? A guy can really work up an appetite on a call like that.
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