dad from day one: Won’t Ever Be Lonely

Week 6.

Maybe somewhat surprisingly, I am a proud Country music fan- though I’m ultimately a Dave Matthews Band/Guster/John Mayer/Bruce Springsteen/Tom Petty kind of guy.  In the past few weeks, in the midst of leaving our lives behind in Nashville and entering uncertainty and a current status of “in between jobs” in Alabama, not having much to do but constantly search for jobs and take care of our baby, the lyrics to a Country song by Andy Griggs from 1999 keep coming to my mind: “I promise you now, you won’t ever be lonely.”  Though the song is obviously written from the perspective of a man in love with a woman, looking forward to spending the rest of his life with her, the lyrics now speak to me in a different way:

“You’re safe from the world wrapped in my arms and I’ll never let go.  Baby, here’s where it starts and I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely. Here’s a shoulder you can cry on and a love you can rely on.  For as long as I live
there will always be a place you belong.”

But while the words to this song obviously make perfect sense in the perspective of me speaking to my child, they actually are more relevant to me in this mindset: I won’t ever be lonely.  Not just him.  But I won’t ever be lonely.

I am better able to understand now why there are so many pregnant teenagers and why MTV’s 16 and Pregnant is such a popular show- because so many kids today are lonely. (I am under the crazy notion that a good number of pregnant teens and extremely young parents are not getting pregnant simply because of the careless lack of birth control, but instead because they subconsciously want to be have a baby in a attempt to be loved by someone.) So many daughters have never been told by their fathers that they are beautiful. So many sons have never heard their father tell them “I’m proud of you”.   Having a baby definitely changes the lonely factor in many ways.  Even if the 19 year-old father who works for minimum wage at the oil change place bales on her soon after the baby is born- at least that young mother will always have someone depending on her.

Granted, I haven’t been lonely in a long time.  But I can easily remember it.  It can be painful; literally.  Last week I watched a National Geographic documentary on solitary confinement where I learned that loneliness is processed in the same part of the brain as pain.  I can easily remember being 20 years old, feeling lost, out of place, an unmatched. I wondered for the next five years if I would be like the actor who played Mr. Belvedere, who never married or had children his whole life. But at age 25, my wife and I met each other and those heavy and desperate thoughts of loneliness haven’t entered my mind in over four years.

Now at age 29, I am the opposite of lonely.  I have a wonderful wife and a beautiful and hilarious baby son that I will always matter to.  And I have a feeling that the older our son Jack gets, the more attention and energy of mine that he will require.  At least until he reaches 7th grade and gets too cool for me.

Lyrics to Andy Griggs’ “You Won’t Ever Be Lonely”:

Life may not always go your way
And every once in awhile you might have a bad day
But I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely
The sky turns dark and everything goes wrong
Run to me and I’ll leave the light on
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely

For as long as I live
There will always be a place you belong
Here beside me
Heart and soul baby — you only
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely

It’s still gonna snow and it’s still gonna rain
The wind’s gonna blow on a cold winter day
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely
You’re safe from the world wrapped in my arms
And I’ll never let go
Baby, here’s where it starts
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely
Here’s a shoulder you can cry on
And a love you can rely on
For as long as I live
There will always be a place you belong

Here beside me
Heart and soul baby — you only
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely
No, no, you won’t ever be lonely

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The Art and Irony of Trendsetting: Featuring Crocs, Hawaiian Shirts, Voss Water, and WWJD Bracelets

Trends are only truly cool when they’re not quite cool yet.  And by the time they are in style, they’re pretty much going out of style.

Recognizing the hilariousness of how in many offices in America, it is standard that everyone dresses professionally Monday through Thursday, but on Friday, everyone goes casual with jeans and often t-shirts, at the beginning of the summer I decided to start making Thursday a “buffer” day for how I dress in the office, encouraging everyone else to participate.  How do you transition from khakis and dress shirts to jeans and t-shirts?  Hawaiian shirts.

They are button-down shirts with collars.  Perfect, tacky transition.  At first, only one other coworker would join me in Hawaiian Shirt Thursday.  But then, if for no other reason they felt like they were missing out on something cool, one by one, others began joining us.  By the end of the summer, I had half of the office on my side.  Some people dug through their closets to find the shirt; some actually went out and bought one.  And now, even in autumn, many of us are keeping the tradition going.

Of course, this isn’t the first trend I’ve started at work.  In an effort to make sure I was drinking enough water everyday, I went to Whole Foods and bought a glass Voss water bottle that I refill several times throughout the day.  At first, coworkers joked with me, “Isn’t it a little early in the day for vodka?”  By now though, several of them have privately approached me to ask where they could get a water bottle like that.  And sure enough, the glass Voss water bottle is no longer weird in my office, but instead it’s the norm.

But the irony with trendsetting is that by successfully coming up with an original and unpopular idea, it eventually becomes unoriginal and popular.  Prime example: Crocs.  For the last couple of years, I’ve looked on from a distance at the weird plastic rainbow colored Birkenstock rip-offs.  They were so trendy.  You’d see moms and their kids out at the mall, all wearing Crocs.  Even though I wanted some, I refused to buy them.  Because they were too cool at the time.

However, this week I came to a realization.  The Birkenstocks I have been wearing were given to me by my parents Christmas 1999.  I had already paid $35 five years ago to have them resoled.  It was time for me to either have them repaired again, or pay $110 for new ones.  Or… pay $30 for some brown Crocs.

To entertain the idea of buying Crocs, I checked around Cool Springs during my lunch breaks while riding my mountain bike instead of driving (another office trend I’ve been trying to start since April), but sure enough, I had trouble finding any Crocs for sale.  Eventually, some girls behind the counter at a Hallmark told me to check out the Croc stand across from Fossil in the mall.

Needless to say, with yesterday being Thursday, I wore my Hawaiian shirt, with Crocs, while drinking water from a Voss water bottle.  And boy was I cool.  Yet I wouldn’t have been caught wearing Crocs if they were still trendy.  The trend of wearing Crocs is over; which is why it was more difficult than I had imagined to find them.  I’m not saying that Crocs aren’t cool anymore; they’re just no longer a fad.

And so an important rule for a trendsetter is to not get involved in a trend that is overly popular.  But once a trend is over, then it’s “game on” to participate.  Some fads, after their prime, become an outdated, yet timeless classic.  Like Hawaiian shirts.  And Chuck Taylor’s.  And the wondrous Rubik’s Cube.  WWWD bracelets?  Not so much.


The Return of the Small Town: Boom Days 2010 in Fort Payne, AL

A glimpse at the culture of Fort Payne, Alabama.

It can be common for people who grow up in a small town to want to move away as soon they graduate high school, as was the case for myself.  Since I graduated from Fort Payne High School in 1999, I have lived in Florida, Virginia, and for the last five years, Nashville.  That means for over 11 years, I have pretty much lived away from the hometown that molded me.  Now, I realize that a lot of this could be that I am married now and have a baby on the way, but I must admit, my old hometown suddenly seems really cool again.  Maybe it’s because the pace of my life is slowing down, compared to my single days and even my married-with-no-children days, and is now starting to match the speed of a small town and no longer a big city.  But I still think something special is happening in this small town, apart from my interference or commentary.

This past weekend my wife and I spent the weekend there with my parents, sister, and her husband.  My sister Dana had mentioned to me that there was this thing going on called “Boom Days” on Saturday in the city park.  She heard something about free pancakes and people dressed up like “old times”.  That’s all she knew.  I was way too curious about this possible Lord of the Rings picnic not to go.  So I went.

Turns out the pancakes weren’t free, but instead they were part of an all-you-can-eat-pancake-buffet for just five bucks, and the people dressed up were Civil War reenacters, not from Medieval times.  There was also a llama, a clown, a car show, a guy on a unicycle, horses, cool crafts exhibits, three concert stages, (four if you count two guys playing bluegrass on the sidewalk), a BBQ competition, and even a dog show.  I had originally only planned to check it out for a little while to say that I went, then leave.  But instead, I was there for over two and half hours and left with a slight sunburn.

In other words, I had a whole lot of fun.  It was a reunion of sorts: I caught up with some childhood classmates like Alex Igou and Tiffanie Baker Vincent, as well as our legendary elementary school librarian, Mrs. Jane Mauldin.  Boom Days 2010 was truly the kind of city wide event that had something for everybody.  I predict that like the days of June Jam (1982-1997), Boom Days will similarly help the culture of the town to resurface.

It wasn’t really until I was in college and started bringing friends home for the weekend that I realized that Fort Payne supersedes commercialized stereotypes of what a small Southern town is supposed to be like.  Fort Payne is not simply Country music, cows, and tractors- which are all good and necessary.  Being that when I was growing up I was constantly in plays and musicals, most of them written and directed by native Eddie McPherson, I was always aware of Fort Payne’s love of the arts.  It has to mean something when there are two theatres in downtown, on the same street, a block away from each other.

Fort Payne is also set apart from many towns in that half of the city is on a mountain and the other half is in a valley.  I grew up on the mountain side, sandwiched in between Little River Canyon, Little River Falls, De Soto State Park, and the artistic town of Mentone.  So while the valley half is where I learned to be social and outgoing, at school and at church, it was the outdoorsy mountain half that catered to my introspective and artistic side.  Simply put, Fort Payne is the perfect environment to yield well-rounded and level-headed people.

It takes a village.  Mine was Fort Payne.

All of the scenic route snapshots  used in this post were taken during Boom Days 2010, courtesy of Nick Shell.


Nick Shell vs. Ben Wilder: The Facebook Frenemy Wall Battle of Belittlement

Finally, after over two months, the inside joke is turned inside-out.

Within two weeks of me moving to Nashville (September 11, 2005), I was befriended by a guy named Ben Wilder.  He told me about the Green Hills Mall reopening and giving away $50 gift cards for the first 100 people who showed up to the front door.  So we camped out in the parking lot the night before the Grand Re-Opening (sleeping in our cars) until a few hours before the doors opened.  Ben brought with him a TV and DVD player on a stand and showed the movie Hitch to all of us waiting there at the front of the mall.  It’s possible that the off-beat “hey, I just met you” activity defined my future friendship with him.  And that our matched quirkyness makes for a good duo.

October 2005/Green Hills Mall parking lot: Pictured from left- myself, Ben Wilder, and Kyle Benn (though he was not crucial to this story, he did help facilitate my wife and I to start dating)

Ben and I have a lot in common: We are both from the South (he’s from northern FL; I’m from northern AL).  We both graduated high school in the late ‘90’s (1997 for him and 1999 for me).  We are both 5’ 9”.  And we both have a type of journaling website.  Realizing that we are so well-matched, I decided to call him up a few months ago from the Stoney River parking lot in Franklin, TN with a challenge: To see which of us could get more hits on our websites per week.

Turns out, that wasn’t really a fair challenge because I had my website for a few months longer than he did and the snowball effect of readers I had was a major advantage for me.  So I tried a new challenge.  I dared him to incorporate Yanni’s album name Optimystique into one of his post and have it still make sense.  He succeeded (http://benwilder.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/will-you-accept-this-prose/).  Then he challenged me to incorporate Joey Lawrence, Taylor Hicks, Lady Gaga, Will Smith as Hitch, and Tim Hightower into my mine.  I succeeded: America’s Got Talent But That Doesn’t Mean They Have Fans.

The only next logical move was to begin publicly belittling each other through each other’s facebook walls with open-ended, sarcastic and subtle insults about our frenemy’s personal tastes, amount of common sense, knowledge of social cues, and questionable sexuality.  Of course none of these assumptions were true, but the objective was to attempt to get the opponent’s facebook friends to think the comments were real.  Surprisingly, I personally only had a few of my facebook friends question me about it or comment on our comments.

I’m not officially saying that our facebook wall battle is over, but we did recently decide to stop and explain to the general public what has been going on this whole time and recap our progress.  So yes, this may be the obvious “jump the shark” moment that jinxes and therefore ends the campaign.  But that’s a risk that both Ben Wilder and I recognize and are willing to take.  In reverse chronological order, here is the recap of our insults.

The Facebook Frenemy Wall Battle of Belittlement

Nick ShellBen Wilder: I read your Tweet. Twice in the same day? That’s too bad you had to learn the hard way, as an adult. From now on, just remember to do a little research first by asking around and looking for context clues before asking when the baby’s due. Too bad it was your boss at work and also the preacher’s wife that you said that to. Good luck on that.

Ben WilderNick Shell: Nick, I’m sure I’m the last person you want to hear from right now. I didn’t know the cops were going to take action immediately after I called you in as a stalker. Honestly, I thought you and I could’ve worked it out privately, but last night when I caught you staring in my window–again–I had to call the authorities. I hope you understand (given the circumstances) that lunch on Wednesday is off.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder: You know, I have to admit, I’ve never heard of a guy selling Mary Kay, but if anyone could pull it off, it’s you. Just think, you do enough Mary Kay parties and you can have that pink Hummer in about 7 years. But I know that’s cool with you anyway since pink is your favorite color- because you constantly write about it on your website. I’m like, “I get it, I get it”, you like pink.

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: No, don’t stop writing him letters! Just because he’s going to get the final rose tonight doesn’t mean you have to discontinue writing to Roberto. He’d probably appreciate maintaining your friendship. Just my two cents.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder: : That is a pretty good deal- that you bought a year’s worth of tanning bed visits and got a month’s worth of visits for a friend as a bonus. What a generous offer, but I think I’m gonna have to pass on the free month of tanning, this time around.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder: I must admit, you’re the first person I’ve ever known to buy a sidecar for your motorcycle. I’m just surprised you bought it so you could ride in it while I drive the bike. And yes, I saw the pictures you tweeted of the t-shirts you had made for us when we go driving tomorrow. The one for me that says “The Boss” and the one for you that says “Santa’s Little Helper”. And you said your t-shirt is Bedazzled?

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: I didn’t know it mattered. Sorry. Next time I’ll walk with you to the men’s room. Usually girls go to the bathroom in groups, sorry.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder: Thanks for the tip! I did what you said. Good news: I was able to get your Taylor Swift lunch box autographed for you. Bad news: I sold it on Ebay for profit. Good news: I used some of the money to buy you a plane ticket to “crash” at The Bachelor Pad. And yes, I made sure, both Wes and The Weatherman are going to be there.

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: Hey sorry I missed your call last night. And no I couldn’t get her autograph for you. Try commenting on her myspace page, I think its myspace.com/taylorswift.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  What can I say? Of course I feel honored that you so highly live by the teachings of my writings- in particular: “How to Wear Pink, If You’re a Guy”. I just think for your own safety, though, it’s not the best idea to go around ripping off the shirts of guys you see wearing pink with khaki pants, declaring, “You’ve been Nicked!”

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Pam Price Williams: You boys are funny, and I’m glad I know you…both of you!

David Stanley: I think we have a new saying…how many people have you “Nicked” today?

Nick Shell: I think we should incorporate “Bunny Bucks” into the system somehow.

David Stanley: for every 2 people you “Nick”, you earn 1 bunny buck.

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: Nick, I can’t make it to your instructional seminar tonight. Actually I didn’t even know you had a “Crochet Certificate for Instructors.” Makes sense though, because your crocheted scarf patterns last year were the talk of the retirement community. Glad your sharing your skills now. I’ll be at the Hard Rock tonight.

Flood Benefit feat. Creed | Hard Rock Cafe | Rock | Nashville Scene

http://www.nashvillescene.com

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  That’s a good question. I’m not really sure what all it takes to get licensed to drive an ice cream truck. I mean, officially, at least. I know you’ve been practicing the last couple of weeks just for fun, but, yeah, I don’t know. Good question. Good luck with that, though.

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: Did you win your eBay bid? If you end up winning, congrats! I know much you’ve always wanted Bob Saget’s autograph. Now once you get Uncle Jesse’s you’ll finally have autographs for the whole cast of Full House. Awesome.

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Nick Shell: Hey… Cut, it, out!.. How rude!

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder: : I would never have said “it’s as easy as taking candy from a baby” if I would have known you would make it a game to see how much candy you could literally take from babies (mainly in grocery stores and church picnics) then brag about it in your blog. Wait… do you have any Three Musketeers in your stash?

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: Nick, I know. You don’t have to explain it in detail, and actually I’d prefer it if you didn’t. But use the cream the doctor gave you. That’ll dry up the rash.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder: Well, I know, but just because it’s something you do in the “Internet world and not the real world”, you can still actually be arrested for it. I agree, acting like you were from England to get people to send you money through their hotmail accounts may have been an easy way to make a few easy bucks, but it’s still actually illegal. Don’t worry though, I won’t say anything about it to anyone.

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: you’re kidding me right? If you’re telling the truth, I think it’s kinda cool you used to be a choreographer. Do a lot of people know this video is a dance you choreographed? 00:58-1:00 the dancers in the background definitely look like your work.

Arsenio Hall Show – Color Me Badd – All For Love (1992 Live)

http://www.youtube.com

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Nick Shell: Yes, it’s true. I’m that talented. The most impressive part of this: I turned eleven years old in 1992.

Ben Wilder: You were Justin Bieber before Justin Bieber was cool.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder: : I’m really interested to learn more about how you ended up teaching yourself to spay and neuter animals while you were in college. You kinda left things vague where you mentioned it under “info” on your facebook profile. Like was it part of an elective course or just a hobby?

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: I am a Droid.

I find Nick Shell’s pocket and hide there.

Every time he hears “droooiiiiiid” he says, “what? where!?”

Because the noise was either me in the front pocket,

or in his underwear, a droid droplet.

Droid.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder: No, not really. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily “wrong” or even illegal to marry your 2nd cousin. You might even be able to keep that part a secret since you both have different last names. But like you said, maybe it’s just a crush.

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: That’s hilarious! I thought you would’ve got Slater, but the quiz said you have a Screech personality? Wow. Do you think they’re right?

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  Hey thanks for returning my hair clippers so quickly- you know, the ones you borrowed last week… Though I’m a little confused why they’re all jammed up and smell funny now. That never happened before when I used them to cut my hair…

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: Did you ever catch the train? Ohh, did you mean you were buying a training bra? I thought you said you were buying a train ticket. Sorry.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  I’m no specialist, but I would say that eventually your 8 year-old nephew will grow out of his bedwetting stage. But it may help if you… oh, I mean… if he doesn’t drink as much soda pop while playing Dungeons and Dragons after dinner. That’s really the best advice I can give you. Oh… I mean him.

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: you WOULD join “Team Jacob”. Come on, Nick. This whole time you had me believing you were siding with Edward.

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Rhonda Walsh Hendricks: I knew it. Traitor.

Ben Wilder: You had us all fooled, didn’t you, Nick? If that’s even your real name.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  So look, I appreciate you dropping off the box of Amway cleaning products at my house. They were indeed successful in getting out the stains in my carpet which you made in your demonstration, though I’m still not quite sure what that brown stuff was in that jar you poured out. Nonetheless, I’m gonna pass on becoming an Amway sales rep with you. Sorry, but good luck on that. Maybe you should use your facebook status update to try and recruit more Amway salespeople. No?

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: Hey Nick!! Dude, I can’t believe I found you on Facebook. Last February I randomly saw your name scribbled in a bathroom stall at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama so I wrote a note to myself to try to find you on here. Four months later, I found the square of toilet paper in my jeans pocket and remembered to look for you! Gosh, man, what have you been up to all these years???

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  Well I must say again it was really wonderful having your parents visit church this past Sunday. And no matter what funny looks your mom thinks she may have received, we are very accepting, no matter how a person comes dressed. Though I will say, it may be the first time a woman has ever worn combat boots to our church.

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: Nick, I need to send you a private message about something. I’m pretty upset about it. Remember that poem you submitted a few years ago to the “Nashville Has Poets and Knows Its!” competition? Did they ever find out you plagerized? I had no idea till this morning when I read the lyrics to Red, Red Wine (by UB40) and low and behold, the verses are the same as your poem. Not cool, man. You shouldn’t have submitted a poem anyway; it was for elementary-age kids. But I’ll send you a private message about all this.

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Nick Shell: No, they never found out it was “plagerized”. But they did find out it was plagiarized.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  I feel kinda awkward about bringing this up, but my niece is starting to ask me where her DVD is. You know the one- Hannah Montana: The Movie. Are you finished burning it to your collection yet? If not, I might be able to delay, but just for a few more days. Also, I hate to be a nag, but… do the words “Justin Bieber” mean anything to you? Yeah, you’ve had that CD for a while now. I need to return that to the public library. Overdue fees are adding up…

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: well, that’s why she called the book Pride AND Prejudice, because Elizabeth struggled with prejudice and Darcy struggled with pride. So they both had to work through their issues before a relationship could work. It’s funny what you said about Mr. Collins though, how if you were a girl, you would have been a cougar on the hunt for him.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  I kinda feel bad about my initial reaction. The truth is, I’m really happy for you. It’s just that I’ve never known anyone that has done the whole mail order bride thing from Russia. Really though, it’s cool. Have you and Henka set a date for the wedding? P.S. Does she speak any English?

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Britney Grayson: ummm I am a hysterically laughing member of your studio audience! These things crack me up!!!

Jennifer Moore: I agree with Britney! …totally just laughed out loud!!

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: got your message. Can’t make it out to the “Lecture On Skid Marks: On The Road and On Your Undies” today but have fun. I hope there’s no scratch & sniff exhibits there.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  So I read Chris N.’s Twitter about your trip to Orlando last week. You two were college roommates? Why didn’t you say something sooner?! Anyway, that’s cool that you finally got to check out his favorite “guilty pleasure” Mexican restaurant that he mentioned on the show. And… Congrats on getting to try out for the next season of The Bachelorette. I hope they pick you! Maybe you can be “Rated G”?

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: I can’t believe you went through with it! When you said,”I want to be a man, I want to be a man for that woman,” I didn’t know that meant you were getting a tattoo on your lower back! Can’t wait to see it!

Joe Hendricks likes this.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  So listen, I won’t be able to make it to the Captain Planet party you’re hosting tomorrow night at your house. I wish I could see you dressed up in costume. If anyone can pull off a blue mullet, red underwear, and an exposed midriff, it’s definitely you. I’m really impressed how you take “going green” to a whole other level!

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: hey, I have an answer for your question. Turns out IBS medicine is supposed to be taken orally, not rubbing it into your skin. Hopefully this problem clears up for you soon, though.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  So look, the pink My Lil Pony bedspread you ordered is actually only available in purple right now. Is that okay? Or is that too masculine? Anyway, just me me know…

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Joe Hendricks likes this.

Ben Wilder: I’m more upset at Joe than Nick. How could you like this Joe, how could you?

Joe Hendricks: It brought back memories of me beating up My lil pony’s with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But, I know how you feel…. My sister wanted the pink…. purple sucks.

Ben Wilder > Nick Shell: I saw you filling up your “green” car with gas at BP. Not cool, Nick, not cool.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  Oh man, I heard what happened. That must have been so embarrassing. I’m of course referring to when you showed up to host the dinner theatre show “The Merlot Murders” and you learned halfway through from an audience member that you had dog droid all over your pants. Ouch.

Nick Shell > Ben Wilder:  Your face is a Droid.

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Ben Wilder: I’m gonna droid in a bag, light it on fire, and put it by your front door around 7pm. Cool?

Sometimes, Being Dressed as a Wolf in Public at the Right Moment Can Have Its Benefits

I cried wolf.  And it didn’t end badly.

In high school I played a wolf in the senior class play (1999), Beauty and the Beast. One afternoon during school hours, dressed in full shag-carpet costume, I had just left from a photo shoot for the local newspaper, as class had just gotten out.  There happened to be two girls getting into a fist fight, as a crowd was gathering accordingly. I was faced with a decision:

A) Enjoy the fight.

B) Break up the fight by simply making a scene.

I rushed up near the girls and began growling and howling, similiar to the transformation process on the TV version of The Incredible Hulk. The crowd started laughing at me instead of paying attention to the girls pushing each other around. The two fighting girls both looked at me with confused faces. It’s difficult to continue a fist fight when there’s randomly a 5’ 9” wolf waving around his claws at you, who is making so much racket that the fight itself is no long interesting.  The fight was over.  Both the crowd and the fighting girls walked back to class like nothing ever happened.

Swiss Army SUV (Nick Shell’s Turtle Shell): 2004 Honda Element

If I was an action figure, what would my accessories be?

My wife always goes to sleep before me.  Sometimes, when she’s lucky, I sing her a lullaby to help her transition into dream mode, to coax her into visions of happy clouds and riding unicorns.  Of course, I only serenade her with original songs that I sing as I compose them, on the spot.  Last week, with Avatar fresh on my mind, I sang to her in my finest Styx performing Mr. Roboto voice:

“Nothing can prepare you for the unicorn ride of your life

So put on your purple jump suit and watch a pterodactyl fly by

Because nothing can prepare you for the unicorn ride of your life”

Pause.

Then she asked, “How can I prepare for the unicorn ride when you just said nothing could ever prepare me?”

She made a good point.  The only disadvantage of having the ability to make up and sing Grammy award winning songs on the spot, is that sometimes I forget the lyrics I’ve already sang earlier in the same song.

Ironically, I was the one who wasn’t prepared.  As for the rest of the time, in everyday life, I am prepared.  Because from 1st grade to 5th grade, I was in Cub Scouts and one of our main mottos was Be Prepared”.  Evidently, that has become a law of life for me.

Take my car, for example:

Honda Elements have been compared to a lot of things: a boot, a shoe, a toaster, a box.  And I’m okay with that, because after 4 ½ years of owning one, I am still in love.  And when the day comes to get a new vehicle, my plan is to simply buy another Honda Element.

I have transformed my already versatile duckbill-platypus-like SUV into the vehicular equivalent of a Swiss army knife.  It’s time to take a tour of my Honda Element and see what I keep on hand at all times, just in case I need it…

Typically I keep one backseat always folded up so I can have my mountain bike with me.  It stays secured between the wall and other seat.  The blue t-shirt helps prevent scuff marks on my seat from the bike and doubles as an emergency back-up shirt.

The way I got that shirt was way back in the summer of 1998 when I went on a mission trip to Ecuador.  One of the old t-shirts I had packed for the trip was one that I got from a church youth conference from the summer of 1993.  It was a white t-shirt with the phrase “JESUS IS FOR NOW” on it.  And that’s all it said.  (In Junior High, my classmate Scott Rothell joked with me: “Jesus is for now; Satan is for later”.  He was a funny guy.)

So when I was in Ecuador, a guy my age (17 at the time) saw me wearing the “Jesus is for now” t-shirt and said he liked it so much that he wanted it.  Because I have developed a friendship with him that week doing skits in city squares and painting schools, I negotiated a t-shirt trade.

He let me look through the old t-shirts he brought along, and the blue one was the one I chose: “Con Amor de Tennessee a Temuco, Chile” (With love from Tennessee to Temuco, Chile”.  Which was the official t-shirt my friend got from a previous mission trip.  It remains a comfortable t-shirt after the 12 years of me owning it.

Behind my passenger seats is where I keep my helmet.  In the cubbies on the sides, I have an old atlas I stole from work, a bandana (for days I don’t feel like wearing a hat but want to cover my head- works well in sweaty or rainy situations).

This is also where I keep my bike maintenance tools and restaurant coupons (which I’ve made several copies of on a color copier so I can reuse them).  As well as flyers for selling my house.  And an atlas in case my GPS stops working.  And windshield defroster spray.  Plus a back-up t-shirt just in case…

In the backseat that is not folded up I keep a black fedora.  Because this kind of hat will instantly make me look classier if need be, even if I’m wearing a t-shirt and jeans.  Plus an old baseball cap I got in 11th grade (1997), as well as a new stylish hat that my mother-in-law mailed me on my birthday.  The right hat for the right situation is key to being a model citizen.

Underneath the seat I keep my Birkenstocks (Christmas present from my parents in 1999).  They make the perfect back-up shoes in case I’m wearing nice shoes and it starts to rain.  In the rear side doors, I keep two books at all times.  Just in case I need to kill some time.  One is about speed reading, the other is about “reading people”.

In between the two front seats, I keep some musk incense I bought at an Indian grocery store, to help keeping my Element smelling like a forest.  I received the toothpaste and toothbrush from my most recent dentist visit- always good to keep around.  And of course it is vital to always have nail clippers handy.

The plastic cup remains empty.  Maybe I’ll end up in a place where there’s water but nothing to put it in.  Then the cup saves the day.

I put Velcro on the back of my iPod (with an FM radio receiver so I can listen to it through my stereo speakers) and my steering wheel so it’s always right in front of me.

In the hidden cubby next to my steering wheel, I keep a few spare wedding rings (made out of hemp) just in case I ever forget to wear my actual one.  Next to some papaya supplements to aid indigestion (for my pregnant wife).

Up in the front passenger dashboard caddy, I keep sugar-free gum, business cards (mainly so I can write my website on them to give to people I meet who after talking to me, are curious about my website).  And a bendable Pink Panther- just because he is awesome.  He is my animal cartoon role model.

There are also some pictures from my wife and I from exactly a year ago when we met her aunt in Chattanooga.  The felt letters say “amp” but they used to say “camp”.  But the “c” fell off and I never found it.  I just wanted to enhance the “camp” theme of my car.

Lastly, in the passenger seat of my Element, I keep my Gap one-strap bookbag.  Inside are my laptop, earphones, camera, Bible, and whatever the main current book is that I’m reading at the time.  I usually bring the bookbag with me when I take my mountain bike for a ride so I can be prepared to entertain myself if I need a break.

With the exception of my TV and my Wii and guitar and my clothes which are in the house, the things I keep in my Element are my earthly possessions.  My Element is like an overnight bag.  Like a turtle’s shell.  My action figure’s accessories.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on Honda Elements, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

I’m Only a Dog Person Around Smart Dogs Like Labs, Border Collies, and Shelties

Most dogs hate me.  For the most part.

In college, the next door neighbor had a Weimaraner that had that “I want to kill/eat you” look in his eyes every time he saw me on his daily walk. Finally, one crisp March morning his owner’s girlfriend was walking him and he saw his chance. Charging towards me with all his might, he broke free of the leash and took a bite out of crime (my butt).

I am blessed to be married to a woman that makes sure we live a healthy lifestyle with low fat, organic foods and daily exercise (the last time she went to McDonald’s was in 1999 and it was just to get an ice cream cone from the drive-thru.) A few weeks ago we were on our daily after-dinner walk around the neighborhood when a man walking a Yorkshire Terrier was coming toward us. The first thought when you see a Yorkie is about how “cute” and harmless it is.

Not this one. Bit me hard. Enough for me to yell, “Owww!” The owner didn’t say or do anything other than shrug his shoulders as if to say, “What did you expect? You are despised by the dog world.”

I have been often told that it may be my “fear of dogs” that make them aggressive towards me. If only that were the case. Instead, I am indifferent towards most dogs. At least towards the ones that aren’t cool.

Notably, there have been a few select breeds that particularly have taken a liking to me (and that I like back). Labs, poodles, border collies, and my personal favorite, shelties. Through a little research I learned that these dogs are among the top 7 most intelligent breeds in the world. Coincidence?

Let me close by cursing my enemies: How’s it feel to be a measly #21, Mr. Weimaraner? And Dalmatians, you seein’ spots down there at #39? Oh, and Chow Chows, I’m sorry to hear you’re at #76. Yorkie, is it true? You didn’t even make the top 80 list? Maybe next year, eh?

Check it here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Intelligence_of_Dogs_(book)#Brightest_Dogs