Valentimes Day

Happy Valentimes Day. The day when we all celebrate the time of the Valen. This is a holiday steeped in history and tradition going all the way back to the Vikings in the eighth century.

The original celebration was a Norse feast known as the “Phalentroen” which later was adapted by the English as Falentine or Valentine. Phalentroen, in ancient Norwegian, is loosely translated to, “day of massive overeating to stave off depression.”

Of course, absolutely none of that is true. I just wrote it to see if anyone would get mad enough to scroll down to the comments section of the blog and tell me how badly I’ve screwed up the history of this hellish little holiday designed to make women feel unloved and men feel inadequate. And, yes, I realize that it is “Valentine’s Day” not Valentimes Day. But, I figure if you’re going to lay down incorrect facts, go big or go home.

The reality of where Valentine’s Day comes from, if anyone is interested (or even if you’re not, here it comes), is that it was based on the story of a Roman priest who was executed in 270 A.D. The priest, Valentine, was attempting to help Christians escape the Roman prisons where they were being beaten and tortured. When his activities were discovered, Valentine himself was imprisoned.

While in prison, Valentine fell in love with a young woman. Some versions of this story believe the woman was the daughter of Valentine’s jailor, but there is no real evidence of that, so believe what you like. Anyway, before Valentine was put to death, he sent the young woman a letter to say goodbye. At the end of the letter, he signed his message, “from your Valentine.”

The whole thing is very touching. It is also very confusing, as I am left wondering how we got from the story of a man dying in a Roman prison to a day where we are expected to hand out cards, candy, flowers, and God knows what else to our spouses or significant others to celebrate our love for each other.

Valentine died alone in a prison. How does that require me to go to a supermarket and purchase a red Mylar balloon in the shape of a heart to commemorate his death?

And it isn’t just people who are married or dating. The day has become so popular that we require elementary school children to celebrate it by handing out cards to all of their classmates. And, I mean all of them. Don’t forget to give a card to that weird kid that sits in the back and eats the erasers off of his pencils, or else you’ll be at the center of a parent/teacher conference discussing your intolerant behavior.

Nobody wants that.

How did this happen?  Why is it a thing? And, how do teachers explain this phenomenon to the kids?  That must be an interesting conversation.

I imagine it probably goes something like this:

Teacher: “Billy, do you remember that old Roman dude that got his head chopped off two-thousand years ago?”

Billy: “No.”

Teacher: “Me, either. But because he’s dead, tomorrow you have to give every one of your classmates a cheap paper card with candy taped to it.”

Billy: “Everyone?  Even the weird kid that eats his pencils?”

Teacher: “Yes, him too. But you can give him the card that got ripped when you opened up the pack.”

(Yeah, I know that seems oddly specific. But I have deep seated issues I’m still working out. Why do you think I write a blog?)

Regardless of where the actual celebration came from, I believe it is time to do away with it. It is an archaic practice that only puts pressure on relationships by artificially mandating bizarre mating behaviors that would not otherwise occur. It can completely destroy new relationships by causing premature proclamations of devotion that aren’t true, or by compelling one party or another to make some sort of “grand gesture” to celebrate the occasion.

What I’m saying is, if you’ve only been dating for six weeks, don’t propose marriage just because the date happens to be February 14 and it feels romantic. That’s a rookie move.

To everyone reading this blog, I suggest a complete boycott of Valentine’s Day. Don’t go out to dinner. Don’t buy a card, candy, flowers, or (God forbid) jewelry. Just treat it like any other day.

Come home from work, put your feet up on the coffee table and watch the news in your underwear. If you’re spouse or partner asks if you have any plans for the night, tell them, “You’re lookin’ at it.”

If they get mad at you, hold your ground. It’s important to squash these foolish Valentine’s expectations completely if we are ever going to make this holiday disappear. You might end up sleeping on the couch for a few nights, but I promise you, the end results will be worth the temporary discomfort.

Stay strong and remember that I am with you one hundred percent in the struggle. If you need me, you can find me at the store.

I’ll be the one buying chocolate and flowers, because I’m not a complete idiot.




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A Thorny Problem

wild rose bush. a collections of thorns with a few small red flowers.

This week, I went to war.

I met the enemy in his own stronghold and did not flinch. Although my foe was firmly rooted and did not give an inch without taking a measure of flesh in return, I emerged battered, exhausted and bloody, but victorious.


If anybody reading this has rosebushes growing in your yard, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I think I have discussed the bushes that populate my front yard before. They are great big balls of thorns with a bad attitude. They are vicious weeds pretending to be flowers, and I have never successfully pruned those hateful brambles without requiring some degree of medical care in the aftermath.

The bastards I am referring to are not your typical rose bushes. These are called “wild roses,” which is a polite euphemism for “tangle of barbed wire designed for maximum mayhem.” The fact that this thing is even considered a “rose” is due to its periodic attempts to produce a tiny red flower that – if you stand far enough away and cross your eyes – mimics something that might loosely be considered rose-like. Don’t be fooled. These little spots of red are merely the lure this barbed beast uses to draw you in before the attack. It’s like an Angler Fish, sitting in wait for something stupid enough to take a closer look.

As I said, I believe I have mentioned them before, but I have broached the topic for a second time because this year I decided, once and for all, to do away with the malevolent monstrosities. I was fed up with the constant, annual battle to hack my way into their midst and cut them back into something resembling a manageable size. I was tired of throwing away the shreds of whatever remained of my clothing that day and then mopping up the blood on my bathroom floor like I was trying to hide a violent crime scene.

And, no longer was I willing to stand in my driveway during the rest of the year and stare at those waving tendrils of evil as they taunted me:

“It’s almost that time again. You and me, garden-boy. We’re going to dance.”

Well, this year, I vowed it would be our last dance. When it was all over, one of us would own the yard and the other would be dead in the driveway.

When the time came, I sent an e-mail to my daughters to tell them that I loved them, kissed my wife goodbye, and walked out of the house without looking back. With holstered pruning shears and a shovel over my shoulder like a soldier marching in formation, I went to work.

There were ten of them, and only one of me, but I did not hesitate. I knew what was being asked of me and I accepted the risks.

Like most survivors of battle, I do not want to discuss too many details of what occurred. It’s too difficult to think about without emotionally reliving the trauma. Suffice to say, it was utter chaos. There was screaming, prayers for strength, wails of despair, blood and tears.

There was also lemonade. That was nice. But mostly, it was blood and tears.

I recall one moment of perfect clarity in the maelstrom. I was lying on my back on the driveway, panting and feeling my heart racing in my chest. Five of my enemies had fallen against my relentless assault, but five more remained, guarding the front lines and awaiting my next charge.

Through an unspoken, mutual agreement, a brief truce had been called. It was like Christmas day in 1914, when the U.S. and German soldiers decided that although we are still at war and will soon resume killing one another, for this fleeting moment in time we will stand down and let each other coexist.

I could see a few white clouds overhead, drifting through an otherwise clear, cold, blue sky. Somewhere in the distance, birds were singing in the trees as they called to one another in greeting.

It was … peaceful.

Then I heard it. That raspy, low voice. “We gonna do this thing, or what?”

I looked up and saw the nearest rose bush waving its long, thorny appendages in my direction. Two tiny flowers shifted to gaze at me like glaring red eyes from hell.

“You gonna lie there on the ground all day like a putz, or are you ready for round two?”

Okay, I may have been hallucinating a little bit. I am really not in great physical shape and I might have been experiencing the early stages of heat stroke.

I pushed myself onto my hands and knees, and shakily climbed to my feet. It was time to show the world what I was truly made of. So, picking up the shovel one more time, I faced the remaining bushes.

We stared at each other for a long, hard second. I thought about the stories of great heroes of the past, and how they threw themselves against impossible odds. They pushed forward despite the likelihood they would not survive their adventures.

Then, I gave up.

Yup. I dropped the shovel and went back in the house. It’s a bunch of plants. They’ll still be there tomorrow.

As I write this, there are five wild rose bushes still lining the driveway. I hate them, but I know my limitations. Maybe, I’ll tackle them again next week. Maybe not. Either way, I’m going to let them sit and worry a little while about when I might come at them again. They’re not going anywhere, so I have the element of surprise on my side. I have time to scheme and plan my next assault.

Or, maybe I should just hire a gardener.




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Karaoke for Beginners

At fifty-two years old, for the first time in my life, I went out and tried Karaoke. I didn’t plan it or seek it out in any way. It just sort of happened.

I was trapped on a ship during a cruise with nothing else to do, so I decided to get a drink and sit down in a lounge where the cruise staff were setting up microphones and speakers for Karaoke. I don’t know if the bigger mistake was going into this particular lounge or getting the drink. Regardless, inhibitions were lowered and bad decisions were made.

I sat with my wife and several friends as we watched the stage get set up. We chatted about what songs people might be singing that night, and we started speculating on what music we would select if one of us decided to take a turn at the microphone.

The first volunteer (contestant?  victim?) was a woman wearing a gray knitted sweater and sporting a hairstyle that immediately had all of us speculating on the number of cats she was currently concealing in her stateroom. Her song choice did not win her any new friends either, as she started out the night with her rendition of My Heart Will Go On. Not a completely appropriate song to choose to sing on a cruise ship.

She finished her song on a high note – the wrong high note, but still, she really belted it out – and the audience clapped her off the stage. As she left, waving at her adoring fans with gleeful abandon, singer number two waited patiently in the wings to take her turn.

My one drink became two, and then three as the songs continued on stage with a variety of people from all over the vocal talent spectrum. My friends and I dutifully applauded at the end of each number, rewarding the performers’ bravery, if not their actual ability.

Then, without warning, a couple of the friends I was sitting with decided to join in the festivities. They walked up to the podium where the host was taking song requests and began searching through the music selections. They each picked a song, then came back to our table to wait for their turn to sing.

One of my friends asked me if I was going to sing. I told him that was never going to happen. I said that I was afraid I would get up on stage and completely embarrass myself.

I think my argument might have worked a little better if not for the fact that at the exact same instant, a bearded gentleman who weighed about three hundred pounds stood up at the microphone and began to scream (literally scream!) “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”

When the song was done, and our ears had stopped ringing from the electronic feedback the big man had created, my friend patted me on the shoulder and said, “You need to go up and pick out a song.” 

Realizing I wasn’t going to be able to weasel out of it, I stood up and trudged over to the host’s podium. I hung my head and shuffled my feet as slowly as I could manage. I felt like a condemned man making his last walk to the gallows.

When I reached the podium, the host looked up at me, smiled, and asked what I was looking for. I told him, “the back exit.”  He laughed, told me that he didn’t think he had that one in his computer and asked me to try again.

“What do you have?”  I asked him, resigned to my fate. He showed me the list of songs available. There were thousands, so I just latched onto the first one I recognized and thought might be within my extremely limited vocal range.

Twenty more minutes went by while each of my friends got up and sang. They did pretty well. It wasn’t a professional concert, but they didn’t vomit and fall of the stage either, so all in all I give them a win.

Then it was my turn. I heard my name called over the speakers and I got out of my chair … and crawled under the table. It took two of my friends and a passing waiter to pull me out from my hiding place, and I still think I could have held on if that stupid table had been bolted to the floor. But, because I didn’t want to make my entrance while dragging a cocktail table behind me, I let go and decided to walk up on my own.

The music began almost the moment I touched the microphone: “Piano Man” by Billy Joel.

I killed it.

By “killed it,” I of course mean that I murdered the tune and the lyrics almost beyond the ability of the police to identify the body, then I left the pieces buried in a shallow grave in the backyard.

As I walked off the stage in shame, I noticed a man dabbing at a small trickle of blood that had begun to leak from his right ear.

Oddly enough, despite my shame and embarrassment, I was smiling. I think I actually enjoyed myself. It was kind of exhilarating to be up there on stage, and even though I was awful, nobody in the room seemed to care how terrible I was. Everyone was still having a good time.

I returned to my table in a surprisingly good mood and ordered another drink.

I don’t think I will be shouting out “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” at the top of my lungs anytime soon – I’m not that brave – but I might be convinced to stand up behind the microphone again sometime in the future. Maybe next time I can do something by the Beatles. Or maybe the Eagles. I bet I could really do some damage to “Hotel California.”

And yes, I think “damage” is the right word for that sentence.




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Do You Know the Way to Monterey?

My wife and I took a weekend vacation to Monterey.  Maybe vacation is the wrong word.  My wife was sent to Monterey by her boss to attend a work conference and I went with her because I was afraid to be left at home alone with the cats.  I don’t trust them.  Especially when their food bowl is empty.  They look at me like furry little mob bosses who have been greatly disappointed by an underling. 

I believe if they had opposable thumbs and could work a can opener by themselves, I would have disappeared years ago.

Anyway, the hotel room was paid for and I felt it was safer than staying home, so I went to Monterey.

The first day, I watched television in my room for about eight hours and ate a buffet lunch from the hotel restaurant.  Not the most exciting day, but still better than being home.  The second day, however, my wife had some free time and we decided to take a walk.

My wife wanted to visit a cemetery in the Pacific Grove area.  She told me that there were family members buried there and she wanted to see grave sites.  She assured me that the cemetery was “close by” and we could get there on foot.

She was technically correct about being able to get there by walking, but I must say that her estimation of “close by” could use some revision.  The cemetery was five miles away from our hotel, and we ended up walking for over two hours before we finally found it, and by the time we arrived I was more than ready to lie down in the grass and join the current residents around us.  I suggested to my wife that she should find a groundskeeper and ask him if there were any open holes available.

It isn’t as if five miles is exceptionally far to go, but there were some extenuating circumstances.  For example: I’m old and fat, and terribly out of shape. 

My wife seemed to enjoy the walk far more than I did.  She constantly pointed out sights along the way and made comments like:  “The water is beautiful,” Look at all the sealions,” and “If you’re going to throw up, please do it in the bushes.”

I did survive the walk to the cemetery, to my great surprise.  Obviously, as I am still here to write about it.  But as I soon discovered, the worst part of a five-mile hike comes only after you arrive at your destination.  You see, apparently, when you walk five miles in a straight line, if you wish to ever see home again you first have to walk the same five miles in the opposite direction.  For those of you slow at math like me, that makes the journey ten miles for the round trip.  The walk, plus bathroom breaks, pauses to rest and stare at the scenery, stops for food and drink, plus two short pauses for me to lie down and cry about the overall unfairness of life, took about five or six hours in total.

By the time I made it back to the hotel and poured the blood out of my shoes, I was done for the day.

And still, the death march (as I will forever refer to it) was not the worst part of the trip.  Oddly enough, the absolute worst part came when I thought the vacation was over and I was safely on my way home. 

Because we packed up and left the hotel right after waking up on Sunday morning, we did not eat before starting our trip home.  Therefore, we decided that we should stop and get some food while we were on the road.  We saw a sign and pulled over into the parking lot of a….

Well, to avoid any potential lawsuits in the future, let’s just call the place “Donny’s.” 

We parked our car and went inside Donny’s restaurant and were immediate seated by a friendly, smiling hostess.  Our waitress joined us and took our food and drink orders then disappeared into the back room.  It was at this time that I took my first good look around the restaurant.  It was about half full with customers, but there was absolutely no food on any of the tables.

Everyone in the restaurant had their heads turned toward the kitchen.  It was like a scene from a horror movie when all the zombies notice fresh brains for the first time.  Their hollow stares told me that they had been in this state of foodless limbo for quite a while.

Somewhere in the restaurant, I heard a small child begin to scream.  The noise continued for a very long time, and just when I thought it was going to stop, it would ratchet up another notch and get louder.  I couldn’t see what was happening, but I can assume from the nature of the scream that one of the families had given up on ever getting their pancakes and had started eating one of the children. 

In addition to the screaming, I heard an elderly woman in the booth next to mine begin to cough.  It was not the typical polite cough followed by a small clearing of the throat.  No.  This was the kind of wet, gagging cough that says, “One functioning lung is more than enough, so I will now try to remove the other one and spit it out onto this table.”

My appetite, much like the woman in the booth beside me, died a slow agonizing death.

By the time the food arrived about an hour later, I only had the energy to take a couple bites, pay the check, and get the hell out of Dodge.  I have never been happier to get into my car and drive away from a place.

Initially, I thought spending a week in Monterey with my wife sounded like a great idea.  How could a free hotel room and scenic ocean-front views ever be a bad thing?

In the future, however, if my wife is ever travelling for work and asks me to come along to keep her company, I think I may just stay home and take my chances with the cats.  At least when they try to kill me, it won’t be a surprise.

Dirty Laundry

My washing machine died.

Not all by itself, I must admit. It had help. It was merely sick for a long time before I finally called in a professional to euthanize it once and for all.

It started out a few weeks back when I began to hear a soft grinding noise, as if someone had lost a penny in the basin and it was rubbing against one of the machine’s moving parts. My first thought when I heard the noise was something had fallen out of my pants pocket during a wash and gotten lodged in a crack. However, after a detailed search of the wash tub, I found nothing obviously out of place that would account for the sounds.

More recently, the washing machine had started making a loud squeaking noise whenever I was washing my clothes, like a discomfited mouse objecting to unpleasant treatment.

As more time passed, the noise grew harsher and more urgent. Finally, during one shockingly abrasive wash cycle, the machine froze while still full of soapy water. Although I was able to get the tub to drain and restart the wash cycle, the writing was now clearly on the wall.

It was time to call for a professional.

Before I called anyone, however, I remembered that when I bought the washing machine it had a five-year warranty on parts and maintenance. Hoping that it was still within the warranty period, I dug through my drawer of loose appliance manuals and receipts (we all have one of these, don’t pretend you don’t) trying to find the exact date I had purchased this particular machine. To my surprise and delight, I actually found the receipt about two thirds down the pile, slipped in between a manual for our toaster oven and a pamphlet labeled, “Assembly Instructions for Your Dog Crate.”

In hindsight, I really should have read that last one more closely as I almost lost a finger the last time I collapsed and re-assembled the metal dog crate. But, maybe we’ll relive that story another time. Let’s stay focused on the washing machine for right now.

I read through the receipt and discovered that I had originally purchased the washing machine in October, 2013. I can see you all trying to count backwards in your minds, but let me save you the trouble. That was five years and three months ago.

Yup. Five-year warranty expired by barely three months, and the washing machine decided it was time to throw a bolt.

I don’t know why. Maybe the machine thought it was being funny. Or, maybe I yelled at the wrong phone solicitor and karma was coming back to bite me in the ass. Regardless of the reason, I was exactly three months on the wrong side of the warranty expiration.

But, warranty or not, I had a sick machine and I needed someone to come fix it.

The service/repair man that arrived at my door a few days after my reluctant call for help seemed very nice, even if he did appear to be no more than a year or two out of kindergarten. He was friendly, professional, and he assured me that based on my description of the noises my machine was making, he knew exactly what was wrong and how to fix it. Greatly relieved by his assurances, I showed him to his patient, and moved myself to the living room to allow him to work without interference.

As I sat on the couch, watching the television to keep myself occupied, I heard a banging noise coming from the laundry room. It wasn’t an intermittent “bang, bang,” then silence. It was rapid-fire, continuous, and relentless. I thought that I had gotten lost and stumbled into blacksmith’s shop while the proprietor was working on a particularly stubborn horseshoe. It was either that, or the repair guy had just gotten dumped by his girlfriend and he was taking out his frustrations on my washing machine.

The hammer on anvil sounds continued for almost twenty minutes before it finally stopped.

As the ringing in my ears gradually subsided, the service tech wandered down the hallway, out into the living room to find me. I was expecting him to tell me that he had found the problem and everything was fixed now, or at least to say he was sorry about the noise.

Instead he smiled at me, shook my hand, and said, “Yeah, you need a new washing machine. I left my bill on the counter. Have a nice day.”

I asked him if I could still use the old one until I had time to buy a replacement. He laughed and shook his head as he walked away, as if I had just told a remarkably funny joke. “Oh, God, no,” he said, still laughing. “That thing is dead.”

With no other recourse, I grabbed my car keys and headed out to find a new machine. I had two weeks worth of laundry piled up in my closet and I sure as hell wasn’t going to wash it by hand.

When I entered the appliance store, I pointed at the first machine I saw and asked, “How much?”

The eager saleslady on the floor beamed as she walked over to me. “Oh, that’s a very good model, sir,” she informed me. “It’s on sale right now for $999, and it has over two hundred settings just to wash your delicates. It’s also one of our best rated machines for durability.”

“Please stop there,” I told her, knowing in my gut what was coming.
But, she kept talking.

“It will last forever. And, the best part is…”

“Don’t say it,” I begged.

“… it comes with a five-year warranty.”




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A Quick Trip to Nowhere

I have heard it said that getting there is half the fun.  Well, what if you never get “there?”  What if “there” just doesn’t exist?  What if “getting” is the whole thing?  Do you miss half the fun?

What am I talking about?  I’m not totally certain myself at the moment.  So, let me back up and start at the beginning.  Recently, I boarded a cruise ship and took a voyage down the coast of Mexico.  While I had a very nice time, most of my vacation was spent travelling from one place to another without any real destination in mind.

The vacation started on a Thursday morning.  I got in my car and drove for two hours to San Jose where I caught a shuttle van that drove me for an additional hour to San Francisco.  In S.F., I boarded a massive cruise ship which carried me down the west coast of California and Mexico for four days.  On the fifth day, the ship stopped in Puerto Vallarta where I got into a taxi and drove around the city for a few hours before getting back on the boat.

The ship then made three more stops over the next three days.  I rode tour busses, taxis, and shuttle boats for a few hours each day, then re-boarded the ship before it left port at 5 PM every evening.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, is it really a vacation if you never actually get anywhere?  If you are constantly moving forward with no end point to the journey, is it really a journey, or is it just travel?  There was no set destination or arrival point on this trip, instead there was only a parade of vehicles moving me from one place to another.  Cars, cabs, boats, busses, and more walking than I care to remember, just to travel for ten days and end up exactly where I started:  My own front porch.

And let’s not forget the four thousand bucks I spent to do it.  It apparently costs a lot of money to go nowhere.

I enjoy travelling.  That’s why I agreed to the cruise in the first place.  And, frankly, I would happily do the whole thing over again.  During the trip, someone else did all the cooking, cleaning and bartending so all I had to do was eat and drink until I passed out, then sleep until I was rested enough to start eating again.  Who can complain about that?  Me and my three extra chins had a great time.

There was excitement on the trip as well.  For example, I really wasn’t sure if I was going to survive the taxi ride in Puerto Vallarta.  The driver kept talking to me over his shoulder while he drove along streets  of a city where car lanes were more suggestions than requirements.  He would veer from left to right, whipping past pedestrians and other vehicles at high speed while telling me in broken English that the house we just passed belonged to his cousin who owned the best bar in the city, and all I needed to do was say the word, and he would take me there for some tequila.

I passed on the offer.  Based on his driving, I figured he had already had enough to drink.

At one point, I heard a siren from somewhere nearby, and I started looking behind us for an emergency vehicle trying to pass the taxi.  I soon discovered I was looking in the wrong direction.  A moment later, I spotted an ambulance with its lights flashing and siren blaring, moving past my window in the lane right next to us. 

We were passing it. 

My taxi flew by the ambulance like it was a little old lady that got in our way while out for a Sunday drive.

I vowed then and there, that if I ever got badly injured or sick in Mexico, I would never call an ambulance.  I was going to get a cab.  It would probably save me ten minutes getting to the hospital.

The entire ride was a roller coaster of excitement, dread, and a growing queasiness in the pit of my stomach as I imagined the car I was in becoming part of a twenty-car pile up in the middle of a busy intersection.  In fact, the only time the driver slowed down and acted like a human being behind the wheel was for the thirty or so seconds it took for a police car to drive past us.  I don’t blame the guy for being cautious either.  Police cruisers are a little bit more intimidating in Mexico than in the U.S. 

(Don’t believe me?  Just take a peek at this week’s cover photo above.  I took the picture myself during my adventure.)

When we finally crossed the finish line of the imaginary race in my driver’s head, I stumbled out of the taxi and sat down on the curb until my heart rate returned to normal.  I told the driver he should put a video camera on his dashboard and record his trips through the city.  I imagined that many of his passengers would be willing to pay good money to get a copy to show their friends back home.  I know I would love to have video proof of the harrowing events I survived that day.

During the ride, I thought about using my phone to make a recording, but I realized that would require me to release my death grip on the car seat in front of me.  So, instead of video, all I have are a couple still photos, frequent night terrors and a pair of permanently stained underwear to remind me of my brush with mortality.

Getting back to my original point, I guess sometimes the journey, all by itself, is enough.  Or to be more specific, surviving the journey is enough. 

If there is only one thing readers remember from this week’s blog, I hope it is this: It’s hard to care too much about where you end up when you are just happy you arrived in one piece.

That, or maybe, if you are ever in Mexico and need an ambulance, flag down a taxi instead.




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