The Big Sleep

My wife won’t let me sleep.  I don’t know why, I just know that that she won’t let me sleep.

Maybe she believes that sleep deprivation makes me more compliant.  Or maybe she is trying to kill me and doesn’t want me to see it coming.  Whatever the long game is for her, I haven’t figured it out.  My wife is intelligent, driven, and ultimately willing to do whatever it takes to reach her goals.  She is also devious and patient.  She does not mind playing it slow when she knows it will end in her favor.

I don’t think I am being hysterical or overly dramatic when I make this claim.  The fact that it is happening is incontrovertible.  But, why do I think she is doing it on purpose?  Well, let me walk you through her routine and I’ll let you decide for yourself if it sounds intentional or not.

It starts in the evening.  My wife often works late, so several nights each week she gets home in time to eat, put away some dishes, pick up the piles of debris I have been carefully building all day, and then maybe sit down for five minutes to watch some television with me before it is time for bed.  As soon as we crawl under the covers, she will turn to me and ask me how my day was.  This is how the whole grueling ritual begins.

I tell her it was fine.  She then presses for details, so I usually say something like, I ate too much pudding and watched a couple movies on the tv.  She is still not satisfied with this response, so she will ask, “Anything else?”  To which I say, “Did I mention the part about the pudding?”

Next, she wants to tell me about what she did during her day.  My response is generally along the lines of, “Dammit, woman!  Stop talking and let me go to sleep already, you harpy!”

Not really.  I not only want to sleep through the night, I would like to live through it as well.  But, I think you can start to see what I’m up against.

As bad as the evenings are, the mornings are infinitely worse.  My wife sets her alarm for 4:15 AM every morning so she can “go work out.”  That’s what she claims anyway.  I think she just wants the excuse to set the alarm for such an ungodly hour in the morning.

When the alarm goes off, it wakes me up.  My wife typically hits the snooze button at least once.  Each time the alarm goes off, it wakes me up again.  It is a pattern of abuse as cruel and systematic as any Chinese water torture.

She then gets up, gets dressed and leaves the house.  We have our house alarm system set up so that it chimes every time someone opens an exterior door or window.  We rigged it that way when the girls became teenagers because … well, … teenagers.  So now, when my wife leaves in the morning, the alarm chimes and it is just loud enough that I can’t sleep through it.  When she gets home an hour and a half later, the same chime goes off.

Phase two of her tormenting routine starts when she comes into the bedroom, turns on the lights in the bathroom and starts to run the shower.  This is followed by a series of bangs and crashes as shampoo bottles are thrown around, cabinets are opened and slammed shut, and various items are bounced around the bathroom counter.  This goes on for several minutes and, just when I think it is starting to wind down, she goes for the big guns:

The hair dryer.

When this baby kicks on, all hopes of sleep are gone.  I am forced to burrow deeper under the covers and pull a pillow over my head in an attempt to mute the auditory assault.  It rarely works, but it is the only defense I have, so I go with it.

Eventually, thankfully, the hair dryer is silenced.  Afterwards, there is usually a few moments of quiet as various hair care products and makeups are applied.  It is during this brief respite that I at last lapse back into blissful slumber.

When the house is silent, and I have fallen back into the loving hands of somnus, that is when my wife administers the coup de grace.  She leans over the bed, kisses me on the cheek, and says, “I love you.  I hope you have a nice day.”


Once again, I am awake.  And usually for good at this point.  I, of course, remain in bed and try to fall back asleep for another two or three hours, but it is rarely successful.  I find myself dragging my weary body out from under the covers at the crack of ten o’clock most days.  It is a brutal beginning to the morning.

To combat the fatigue, I am forced to nap on the couch in the afternoons.  This also helps to prepare me to do battle with the monster that calls herself my wife when she gets home late in the evening and starts the vicious process all over again.

By now, I think that anyone reading this can understand my pain and the hell I am currently living in.  I thank you for your empathy, your kind wishes of support, and your prayers for my well-being.  It helps to know that all of you are on my side in this struggle.

I will muddle on the best I can, despite the hardships I am forced to endure.  Maybe one day, I will even figure out why my wife is determined to torture me in this manner.  Maybe.

Right now, however, it is time for my nap.

The Back To School Blues

I’m going to just come right out and say it:  I hate back to school shopping.

While I, like most parents around the globe, love the fact that the children are going back to school and vacating the house, I abhor jumping through all the hoops it takes getting them ready.  And, it isn’t just the money you have to spend that bothers me.  Well, okay, it actually is about the money you have to spend.  But, there are other things that bother me about the process besides spending money.

Such as, all the money I no longer have when it’s over.

This year we got a little bit of a late start on the back-to-school sales at the various stores.  My daughter, EM2, and I went to one of the mega marts this week only to find four entire aisles of space dedicated to school supplies that had been totally picked clean.  It was a ghost town, complete with tumbleweeds and tiny dust devils spinning past our feet.  There were a few kids and parents wandering around with us, but it looked like a cluster of jackals sniffing around a lion’s kill, hoping to find something still edible.  While exploring the area, I accidentally stumbled over three feral ten-year olds fighting over the skeleton of a day planner.

The store had almost none of what we were looking for, and yet we still managed to spend about two hundred dollars before moving on to the next location on our list of errands.

Normal years are bad enough, but this year is an extra special trip down the rabbit hole.  EM2 is starting her first year of college.  So, along with the usual assortment of pens, booklets, binders, papers, and random items covered in pink glitter, my daughter needed to purchase a few bigger ticket items to outfit her dorm room.  This year, along with the typical mandated classroom clutter, mom and dad got to buy a mini fridge, a one-cup coffee maker, bed sheets, pillows, towels, blankets, and most of a new wardrobe.

We also had to purchase a new portable printer, compatible with EM2’s laptop computer.  I won’t say the name of the store where we bought the printer, but I will say that it would be extremely ironic if this place ever ran out of staples.

See what I did there?

Anyway, I actually found a printer with a semi-reliable brand name for only 70 bucks.  I thought that was an amazing deal until the salesperson on the floor told me that this particular printer does not come with ink cartridges.  What the hell kind of printer doesn’t come with ink cartridges?  Printers have been coming with ink already installed since the stone age when printers were called ‘typewriters’ and ink was just a strip of ribbon.  Why the new marketing ploy all of a sudden?

Fortunately for all parties involved, the store had the correct cartridges for that printer.  Big surprise.  And it was priced at a very reasonable … drum roll, please … fifty dollars.  Of course, that was just the color cartridges.  I would also need to buy the black ink printer cartridge for $25 more.  And what’s a printer without paper?

I thought the guy was done turning the knife at that point, but that was when he suggested that I might want to look into the extended warranty.  For an additional twenty dollars, I could insure the printer for three years against accidental damage or faulty manufacturing.  I asked him if this amazing warranty covered the ink cartridges as well.

It did not.

I told him I thought $20 was a ridiculous amount of money to pay to insure a 70-dollar printer.  At least, I thought I told him that.  I may have just been thinking it.  I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but I do remember loading my brand new, fully-insured printer into the car and driving home.

Now, EM2 has almost everything she needs to start her first semester of college.  There are still a few items we will need to purchase or scrounge from around the house before she leaves, but we are pretty close to where we need to be.  At the end of the week, we will pack everything up into the truck and move her into her dorm room.  My plan is to dump all her stuff in her room, give her a big hug and tell her I love her, then abandon her as fast as I possibly can, leaving her without a car or any other way to get home.  At that point, she is her roommate’s problem and I will have my house back to myself.

Well … I will almost have the house to myself.  I suppose I still have to share with my wife.  And the dog.

With both girls moved away (EM2’s older sister moved back into her college apartment last week) my life should get much simpler.  All I need to worry about now is keeping up on the yardwork, doing some chores around the house, and writing a weekly blog.

Oh, and figuring out how to make two college tuition payments.  And pay for textbooks.  And pay rent on a dorm room and an apartment.  And buy food for two kids that don’t live with me anymore.  And not go bankrupt.

And, not “accidentally” wander into traffic.


Over the Top

Although, in general, I try to avoid politics and discussions that tend to incite heated arguments, there is currently an on-going debate that is tearing our country apart.  This rift is so widespread that it has even invaded the safety and serenity of my own home.  Anyone who has recently sat down in a bathroom long enough to flip through the newspaper has been exposed to this turmoil, and I have finally reached a point in my life that I can remain silent on the issue no longer.

Obviously, I am talking about the question of how to load a toilet paper roll onto the bathroom dispenser.

There are many who have expressed their opinions on the proper way to mount toilet paper on the spool – the debate has raged since the late 1800’s – but it is now my turn to take a stand (or sit?) on this contentious issue.

There are two general schools of thought on proper roll etiquette.  They are diametrically opposed ideals that should never have been allowed to exist in the same universe, yet here we are stuck with a conundrum that offers zero hope of compromise.  Now, to be fair to all involved, I will try to address both sides of this argument fairly and without personal bias; that way you are free to weigh all points of consideration and come to your own conclusions.

Regarding proper paper feed, one group of people believe that the toilet paper should be loaded so that the sheets unroll over the top.  Then there is a second group of people who are just stupid and wrong.

Top feeders think that the paper is most effectively dispensed when a simple top to bottom movement of the hand will cause the roll to spin and to easily unravel a useful length of tissue.

Bottom feeders think that the world is flat and that it is perfectly acceptable to eat their own shoelaces.

Before I go any further, I would like to address the fact that in the 1980’s I worked as a janitor for two years at a university event center.  I say this because I wish to establish my credentials as an expert in this particular field.  I am not just some crackpot amateur with an unopened pack of two-ply who thinks he can handle the responsibility of mounting it with no formal training.

During my time in the field, I learned that there are three main reasons for top loading the paper:

One, in bathrooms where there are working showers, steam from the hot showers accumulates on the walls in the form of condensation.  Toilet paper feeding from the bottom of the roll is too close to the wall and can end up sticking to the condensation, making the paper wet and useless.

Two, paper that feeds forward into an open space is less likely to bundle up and get stuck in an enclosed dispenser than paper that feeds toward the wall.

And three, as my boss once told me, “Because I already told you that’s how I want it.  Ask me again and you’re fired.”

Compelling arguments indeed.

There is one person I know who, despite having the invaluable benefit of my opinion, insists on continuing to load the toilet paper so that it unravels from the bottom.  I don’t wish to cause her any undue embarrassment, so I will not use her real name in this discussion.  Let’s just refer to her as, “my wife.”

I have explained to my wife on numerous occasions why she should not load the toilet paper inside out, and yet every time she puts paper in the spool she places it so that it unravels next to the wall.  Every time.  Without fail.  So, I know the act is not random.  It is a deliberate decision to go against God and nature, and it is a conscious attempt to push this world just a little further into chaos.

I don’t know why she insists on this behavior.  It’s as if someone gifted her a priceless piece of art – like the Mona Lisa, or maybe that sunflower thingee painting by the guy with one ear – and she decided to hang it upside down like a savage.  It makes no sense.

I finally confronted her, and I asked her why she continues to sully our home with this disgraceful act of vandalism.

She told me to stop pestering her.  In response, I promised her that if she could give me one good reason why she hangs the toilet paper backwards – just one solid reason that I could not immediately refute – then I would never mention the topic again.

She looked me in the eye and said, “Because I know it pisses you off.”

Obviously, I am no longer permitted to speak of this matter at home.

A promise is a promise, and I am a man of my word.  I told her I would never mention the topic again, and I intend to stand by that commitment.

I did not, however, say I wouldn’t write about it.

The Bear Facts

While camping alone in Truckee, California, I was almost eaten by a bear.  Twice.

As I am here to recount this story, obviously I survived.  But, I must admit, it was a rather close call.

I made reservations a couple of months ago for this trip and, as the time to leave got closer, every one of my family members suddenly had an excuse as to why they couldn’t go with me.  Ordinarily, if everyone else decides not to go, then I end up staying at home as well.  This time, however, I had already paid to reserve my spot for all three nights, and the only thing I hate more than going camping all by myself is not using something that I have already paid for.  So, away I went.

When I arrived at the campgrounds, I noticed that approximately every three feet there were signs advertising that bears had been seen in the area and for campers to watch out for them.  The signs had pictures of large, unfriendly looking animals with captions that said: Do not feed bears; lock up all food or bears will find it; and, secure dumpster when throwing away garbage because … bears, dummy!

It was all rather intimidating, but as I am not very bright and, more importantly, too cheap to just drive away and leave my non-refundable deposit, I parked my trailer and set up camp.

The very first night, as I lay curled up in my bed trying to fall asleep, I heard pine needles rustling outside the trailer as something rather large moved around my campsite.  The noises got closer as I lay there, silently hoping whatever it was would just go away.  Finally, I heard heavy breathing and a snort from something right next to my head.  The bear was inches away from me with only three millimeters of aluminum between me and it.

I knew that in the morning, other campers were going to discover chunks of me embedded in bear poop spread out all over the woods.

I shifted to move further away from my nighttime visitor and bumped my head against the wall of the trailer.  The noise startled the bear and it ran off into the trees with a distinctive clippity-clop, clippity-clop.

Now, I am not a zoologist, and I do not claim to know everything there is to know about bears, but, I am pretty certain that they do not make a “clippity-clop” noise when they run.  Horses clippity, and donkeys clop.  Bears, however, not so much.  That particular noise requires a very specific set of footwear, and the last time I watched a nature program with bears on it, I got the distinct impression that most of them did not have hooves.

Gathering my courage, I forced myself to open the blinds on one of the windows and look outside.  I turned on a flashlight and pointed it out the window so I could see what was lurking out in the gloom.  My light surprised a small herd of deer grazing right next to my trailer.  Several of them gave me looks that very clearly stated, “Dude, can’t you see we’re eating here?  Can you maybe cool it with the light?”

Realizing that I was going to live through the night after all, I turned off the flashlight and crawled back into bed.  It was a terrifying ordeal, but I got through it, and I believe I am now stronger because of the experience.

The following morning, I was again visited by a bear.  This one had discovered my breakfast leftovers in a garbage can right outside my trailer door.  I heard it rustling around in the garbage and I went outside to chase it away.  When I exited the trailer, I did not see anything right away.  I thought that maybe it had already run off.  But, as I stood next to the garbage can, scanning the campsite for intruders, the can began to shake, and I heard something moving around inside.

Trying not to startle the tiny bear that I knew must be foraging inside my garbage, I pulled out my phone, held it over the top of the can and took a picture.  As I did, the bear leapt out of the garbage and attacked.  I only survived by having the good fortune to duck out of the way at the last second, causing the bear to miss my head by mere inches.  That, and the fact that it was actually not a bear, but rather a chipmunk stealing my garbage.

It was quite a camping trip.  Not everyone can claim that they survived two bear attacks inside a twenty-four hour period.  It is not an experience that I recommend, but I am confident that if I can get through it unscathed, then so can anyone else.

You see, I learned one very important lesson during that trip that I would now like to share with all of you, just in case you find yourself in similar circumstances:

The best way to survive a confrontation with a bear is to be mistaken and discover that what you thought was a bear was actually just a deer … or a chipmunk.  I strongly recommend this tactic.  It works every time.

 Not a bear.

 Also, not a bear.

You’re welcome.

Writer’s Block

Finding something to write about can sometimes be difficult.  There are times when inspiration strikes and I can’t wait to sit down at my desk and start writing.  More often than not, however, I find myself sitting in front of my computer, looking at an empty white screen, and wondering how I am going to fill up all that blank space.

I once wrote a short story about an author that couldn’t think of an idea for a short story.  It was called “Deadline,” and it was 2,000 words of random thoughts that came to me while I was trying to piece together something worth reading.  I guess it worked out okay, because it was one of the first stories I ever published.

Twenty years later, I’m still trying to make something out of nothing.  With … rather mixed results.

And the problem gets compounded when I have to do it every week.  When I am writing short stories, if I don’t feel particularly motivated I can stand up, walk away from my desk, and go reward my failure with ice cream or, as is more often the case, copious amounts of alcohol.  There are no expectations, so there is no real pressure to perform.  With a weekly blog, I can’t walk away.  I have to find the motivation to create something, or risk losing my faithful readers.  Both of them.

I often write about things that happen to me during the week.  Unfortunately, my life is not exactly eventful, and it isn’t very exciting to read an article about what television shows are on, whether or not Cool Ranch Doritos are better than Nacho Cheese, or how comfortable the couch is for taking a nap.

During those weeks when the most interesting thing that happened to me was running over a pile of dog poop while mowing the lawn, I still need to find something worth documenting.  And, even harder, it has to be something I haven’t already done.  The only thing worse than being boring, is being repetitive and boring.

I keep notebooks all over the house, so I can jot down ideas as they occur to me.  Sometimes, when I read them later, they will trigger an idea for a story or a blog post.  However, while it is usually entertaining to me, most of the stuff I write down in my notebooks turns out to be pretty useless.

For example, these sorts of beauties usually occur to me at two o’clock in the morning when I can’t sleep:

I had a girlfriend years ago, and every time she slept over I would wake up freezing in the middle of the night because she had stolen all the covers.  I finally had to break up with her.  It got too expensive buying new sheets and blankets two or three times a week.


I finally discovered the one true path to happiness.  Unfortunately, I lost it again when I wandered off the trail to take a leak in the bushes.

If I were putting together a standup act, those kinds of thoughts might be more productive.  For writing a blog, they would only come in handy for something like … well, … something like this, I guess.

For any writers out there reading this and hoping for tips on how to come up with great ideas or how to push through a writer’s block, I’m sorry.  I don’t have any magic words or tricks that will guarantee a prolific outflowing of prose.  I’m still struggling with the whole process myself.  All I can do is pass along the words of wisdom others have given to me:

If you want to write, then write.

I know that sounds simplistic and ultimately not very helpful, but I promise you it is the only way to move forward.  Write something, anything, every day.  Even if it is terrible and you wind up throwing it in the trash, you are training yourself to devote time to the craft.  You are learning what does and does not work for you.   And, most importantly, you are creating a starting point from which you can only improve.

As far as coming up with ideas about what to write?  Every writer is different.  Every writer is interested in different things and finds their muse in different places.  That is up to you to discover.  Some days, you will look out your front window, see a flower growing out of a crack in the sidewalk, and you will have the idea for the next New York Times’ best-selling novel.

Other days you will stare at your computer or typewriter, and you will struggle for the motivation to string eight hundred words together in some kind of coherent order.

Seven hundred ninety-eight … and … done.