Today is my daughter’s birthday. Audrey turns eleven.
While I’m happy to be celebrating this milestone with her, it also makes me feel a bit nostalgic for the past. My life was very different 11 years ago. As if to drive this point home, I recently stumbled across a shoebox full of 8mm videotapes from the late 90s to early 2000s. I’ve got a friend named Ron who has a side business converting old media to DVDs, and since I no longer have a VCR, I’ve been having him transfer these tapes to DVD for me. (Ron’s a great guy and his work is top-notch – feel free to check out his website). I haven’t seen this stuff in many years, and watching it now, I can’t help but miss the past. I marvel at how good I had it then. Two cute little kids, a wife, a house in an immaculate and friendly neighborhood. Backyard barbecues and a family membership to the local science museum and margaritas on Saturday evenings and weekend trips to the beach. Just the idea of having another adult person around full-time to talk to and watch television with and confide in seems like such a novelty to me now. What was it like to not have to cook every night or do all the dishes all the time? To actually take turns disciplining the kids? 4.5 years have gone by and I barely remember that life.
So, to see it played out again on a DVD is jolting. It’s a visual reminder of what once was. I have to remind myself, though, that it doesn’t show everything. The strains and stresses and cracks of daily life were happening behind the scenes, after the director yelled “cut!” Do I wish I could go back in time and change the past? Of course I do. I wanted Mayberry forever – the peaceful and idyllic and simple yet fulfilling life I was leading. But then I remember that I wasn’t really happy, and the person I was meant to be – my true personality – was being suppressed. Divorce opened up doors that had long been closed, and helped me to grow and discover my real identity. I am much more true to myself these days than I ever would have been had I remained covered in the blanket of “wedded bliss.” If you ever want to truly learn how much of a compromise marriage entails, the best Rx is to get a divorce. You just might be amazed by how much you were lulled into complacency. (I’m not anti-marriage, I swear…just anti-my marriage). And maybe I’m overgeneralizing because my ex and I were so very young when we met – less than two years older than my son is now! – and while the idea of “high school sweethearts” evokes a certain romanticism, in reality you’re still just kids at that age and it’s a miracle if you can grow up together while still maintaining your teenage hopes and dreams and desires and personalities. A wise man once said,
The good ol’ days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.
Billy Joel: piano man and philosopher.
Anyway, enough about that. I decided to throw a small birthday party for Audrey yesterday, inviting family over for a barbecue. I always let the kids choose what they’d like to eat on their birthdays, and my daughter asked for baby back ribs. Gotta love that. Knowing that a rack of ribs can set a person back a few dollars, I decided to trek on over to Costco on Friday to buy in bulk and save $$$. Normally, you can count on filling up on free samples at Costco – I’ve eaten what amounts to a 7-course meal on past occasions, between the pasta and bread and chicken tenders and grilled tilapia and cheesesteak and coffee samples, but for some reason there wasn’t much toaster oven action happening when I went, so I decided to swing by their cafe for the $1.50 hot dog deal. Hell of a bargain, that is – a 1/4-lb. hot dog and soda for little more than spare change. Unfortunately, while waiting in line, I ran into an Angry Crazy Old Man standing in front of me.
“Customer service is so damn sh!tty these days,” he said, out of the blue. “Nobody gives a crap. Like right now: they’ve got one person taking orders, and look at the size of this line!”
I turned around. There were maybe six people total.
“I already complained to the manager about this place today,” he continued. “I told him, I says, ‘I know the scam you guys are trying to pull here. Always moving your stuff around so we can’t find it. You force us to walk all over the goddamn store looking for it just to piss us off.’ The manager just kind of shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t give a sh!t. I was about ready to drop him on his f@ck!ng a$s! You know what I mean.”
I’m a polite person, and when cornered like this, I generally agree with people just to keep them happy. This guy wasn’t just Angry and Crazy but also apparently Borderline Psychopathic. So I nodded my head, muttered something along the lines of “Yeah, it’s a real shame,” and prayed that the line would move quickly. Which it did, despite his fears to the contrary.
I got my hot dog, went up to the condiment station (deli mustard, baby – that’s how I roll), and Angry Crazy Borderline Psycho Old Man was still railing about the injustices of the world in general and the lack of quality customer service in particular. Hmm, it’s hard to believe people don’t treat him nicely, considering he’s such a ray of sunshine himself! He kept going, “You know what I mean, you know what I mean,” even though I didn’t. And then a woman said, “There’s no Sprite coming out of the dispenser!” ACBPOM stepped in and said, “I’ll take care of that!” and stormed over to the cashier, yelling “Hey!” I took this opportunity to escape. I skipped the dining area, thinking that ACBPOM would sit down next to me and continue his tirade. When I got out front it was pouring rain, so I decided to quickly eat my hot dog under cover of the main entrance. I was a few bites away from finishing when my buddy appeared again.
“Customer service really does suck nowadays,” he said. “You know what I mean.” And he started walking away across the parking lot. Whew.
“Have a nice day!” I called, relieved to finally be rid of the nutjob.
“Sure hasn’t started out that way,” he replied.
I should have just let him walk away, but nooo…I made a crucial error and opened my mouth again. I said, “I know what you mean! I thought I was getting root beer but the dispenser gave me Pepsi.”
ACBPOM stopped dead in his tracks. He wheeled around and roared, “That’s it!”, marching back toward me. “I’m through with this place! I’m gonna find the manager and tell him what he can do with my membership card!”
Yikes. Funny how my misfortune ended up being the final straw for him. Whatever. I scurried out of there, glad to be rid of the guy. I pity the poor manager, though.
Audrey’s birthday party turned out great. Between the baby back ribs, teriyaki chicken, potato salad, beans, coleslaw, Fritos corn salad and chocolate cake, there was enough food to feed an army…which explains the vast reservoir of leftovers currently inhabiting my refrigerator.
You know what I mean…