Dear Jack: You Now Own a 16 Year-Old T-Shirt with My Face on It, with My Name in Thai

8 years, 7 months.

Dear Jack,

We spent last weekend at Nonna and Papa’s in Alabama, at the same house I grew up in.

After you took a shower on Sunday morning, you realized you didn’t have a clean t-shirt to wear

I walked over my old bedroom to take a quick look at the t-shirts hanging up in the closet.

Instantly, I discovered the perfect t-shirt for you to wear:

Back in college, I had recorded 3 different albums of songs I wrote.

For the cover art on the first album in 2003, I traced a photo of myself as the logo.

Then, that summer of 2003 when I was teaching English in Thailand, I gave one of my CD’s to a friend there.

Accordingly, they had a t-shirt made with that logo of my face, with my name in Thai underneath it.

(Unfortunately, the size of the shirt didn’t come close to fitting me.)

There’s a good chance you are the only boy in America who owns a t-shirt with his Daddy’s face on it, along with his Daddy’s name in Thai underneath.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure of it, actually.

Love,

Daddy

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So I Guess I’ve Always Been a Side Hustler; Being a “Gum Dealer” in High School and Running a Convenience Store from My College Dorm Room

Looking back, I realize now that I’ve actually always been a side hustler; even in high school and college. Earlier today, I published an article declaring that my 5 SEO side hustles all made me a minimum of $1,000 each in 2018. But that mentality has been a part of me, undeniably, since at least when I was a teenager in high school. (See picture above.)

Here on the first day of 2019, I am learning a little bit more about myself. The fact that I have 5 side hustles as a 37 year-old man makes perfect sense, considering my scheming ways back to when I was a teenager.

When I started high school, I couldn’t help that notice that chewing gum was high in demand in the halls of my high school. It just so happened that it was weekly tradition that I would accompany my mom in buying groceries. I noticed that I could buy a multi-pack of Wrigley’s gum at nearly a wholesale price for $1.25; which contained 10 packs of gum (each of which contained 5 sticks of gum), then I could sell each pack for just a quarter. By the time I sold the 10 packs, when I could easily do in a 10 minute break, I had made $2.50. In other words, I was making 100% profit!

It didn’t took long before I became known as “the gum dealer.”

This was great for me. I got to social with all the different groups of friends, and met new ones, by offering them the best deal on chewing gum during each of our two breaks each day during high school.

It was also during high school that I began making my own videos, on VHS. Not only did I direct a horror movie, called “Frosty Bites”…

But I also filmed hair videos, too…

In case you missed it, I made over $4,000 in 2018 from my most popular YouTube channel and its Amazon links, which focuses on men’s hair and beards. And that’s not counting my 2nd YouTube channel, as well. This is not a coincidence.

Then when I moved into my college dorm, Dorm 15 at Liberty University, I took my gum dealer experience and opened up my own convenience store, using two micro fridges, and buying all my products for wholesale price at WalMart.

I sold soda, Little Debbie snack cakes, Ramen noodles, Hot Pockets, and frozen burritos. I even let my customers heat up their food in my microwave, so they could hang out with me while their food was preparing. I appropriately named my store, The Freshman 15.

Those profits went to financing my mission trips to Thailand in the summers of 2003 and 2004, where I was a 4th grade teacher specializing in ESL…

then teaching conversation English to high school students and adults.

Some things just never change. I am and always have been a side hustler. This is simply part of my identity.

Dear Jack: You Made a Real Cobra Head Necklace and Wore It to School… So Yeah, That’s Pretty Awesome.

7 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack,

Unlike Indiana Jones, you are clearly not afraid of snakes.

Last week, you found an old key chain I brought back as a souvenir from Thailand, when I was in college. I had bought it from this man who professionally hunted and skinned snakes. He used the leftover heads for key chains.

Realizing you could disconnect the crystal arrowhead necklace that you got at Ruby Falls during Spring Break, you then replaced the arrowhead with the snake head.

In your own initiative, you had created a cobra head necklace and decided to wear it to school.

As you were leaving that morning for school, I assured you that you’d be the only boy in America to wear a real cobra head necklace to school.

No, this story doesn’t end with me saying that your teacher told you not to wear it to school anymore. You totally got away with wearing the head of a poisonous snake to school.

You came home and bragged to me, “Daddy, on two people thought my cobra snake wasn’t real!”

Coincidentally, just a few days later on Sunday, I had put your sister down for her afternoon nap and decided to take you to play in the creek at Brenthaven in Franklin.

As we were walking across the bridge over the creek, you and I both noticed something we assumed was a rope that had surfaced on a rock, in the middle of the stream.

But as we made our way closer, I announced to you with both caution and joy, “Jack, that’s a real snake!”

I tossed a few pieces of mulch at it- but it never budged. Then I tossed some rocks at it- it still never budged.

Finally, I found a stick long enough to pick it up with. It was obvious the snake was not only dead, but it had been dead there overnight.

You pointed out to me that its tail looked like it had been chewed up. My theory is that a neighborhood dog found the snake and broke its neck by slinging it like a whip, then the snake crawled onto the rock to die.

Turns out, it was either a venomous Cottonmouth or a harmless Brown Watersnake.

But since it was definitely dead, I let you throw rocks at it. I’m pretty sure you’ll remember that day as a highlight of your boyhood.

So yeah, you’re not afraid of snakes.

Love,

Daddy

How My Stupid 2003 Selfie in Bangkok Foreshadowed the Appearance of My Campbell’s Soup Doppelganger in 2012

I spent the summer of 2003 teaching English in Nonthaburi, Thailand at Global English School; basically in the heart of Bangkok. That was before the days of Facebook and digital cameras. So I used disposable cameras to document my experience serving as an ESL teacher that summer.

As I was packing up during my final days there that July, getting ready for my next semester back at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, I felt the need to use up the last few shots on the roll of the last disposable camera.

Even though this happened pretty much exactly 14 years ago, I still remember it clearly. Perhaps I was even inspired by Zach Braff, the star of one of my favorite TV shows at the time, Scrubs.

I took a stupid selfie with that last shot on the disposable camera. Again, Facebook wasn’t a thing back then. So really, who would even be seeing the photo?

Until today, I forgot about that picture. But as I was thinking about my goal of meeting my doppelganger, who currently can be found on the cover of the package of Campbell’s Go Southwest Style Chicken with Quinoa soup, it hit me:

“Hey, my stupid 2003 Bangkok selfie is eerily similar to how my doppelganger has the same hairstyle and is looking to the side, with his mouth open.”

In other words, I did “the Cambell’s Go Southwest Style Chicken with Quinoa look” first, back in 2003. It would be nearly a decade later, in 2012, that the Campbell’s Go campaign would take place, and my unknown twin would do the much more famous version of the look.

However, I’m sure that when I got back from Thailand in the summer of 2003, my sister happened to see that silly photo I made of myself.

Perhaps it made it only that much easier for her to spot the package of soup at the grocery store and send me a picture of it, sincerely asking if that was me on the soup package.

I know this all might sound like I’m obsessing over finding and meeting my doppelganger, but that’s because… I am.

Dear Jack: I’m Feeling Guilty About Rushing Through Our Daily Routines

3 years, 11 months.

I’m Feeling Guilty About Rushing Through Our Routines

Dear Jack,

Last night I had a dream in which I could see myself rushing through our bedtime routine; which is pretty much what happened in real life last night.

In my subconcious, I guess I felt bad about not living in the moment enough.

Sometimes I wish we lived in some village in Thailand where we owned very little material things and had more quality time as a family.

On my conference call with Kirk Cameron yesterday, he referenced this guilt we have as parents in knowing the paradox of balancing a demanding schedule with quality family time.

So while I’m not being hard on myself, it is a real and legitimate issue than I am forced to think about.

Even today on the drive to school, I rushed us out of the house, rushed us down the Interstate, rushed you into school; only to forget your stuffed animal in car.

I left your school with you crying and was still a few minutes late to work anyway.

For my lunch break, I drove back to your school, just in time to deliver your stuffed animal to you for your nap time.

I’m Feeling Guilty About Rushing Through Our Routines

I know this is a normal feeling, but it’s really on my mind right now.

Granted, we’re in the process of selling our townhouse, moving our stuff into storage, and buying/building a new house.

By default, life is chaotic for us right now.

And your Mommy and I are actually planners! We are extremely aware of doing our best to ensure as much quality time together as possible.

We’re so extreme we don’t even have cable TV or smart phones or pets; and yet still, there’s that instinct for me to rush through our routines.

Maybe somehow this will get better once we move into our new house, I don’t know.

I don’t want to get in the habit of camping out in the future when the reality is, you’re growing up right in front of me.

Also on my call with Kirk Cameron yesterday, he spoke about the importance of not depending too much on our children’s teachers or coaches or even church leaders to raise our kids; that ultimately, if a child has parents who love each other and set the example, that influences a child more than anything.

So while life is not as easy I as I wish it could be, we’ll do the best with what we have and hope you turn out alright anyway.

I’m pretty sure you will.

Love,

Daddy

shoes family

dad from day one: Jack’s First White Christmas

Week 6.

During my first summer teaching English in Thailand, I took a week-long vacation to the magical island of Koh Samui, as referenced in the movie Meet the Parents (“Jack speak-a Thai?”).  While there, I went to a highly promoted (via hand-painted street banners) Muay Thai boxing tournament.  Inside the dimly lit warehouse-style building on the outskirts of legitimate commerce, I felt like I was part of the movie Bloodsport staring Jean Claude Van Damme.  Afterwards, as a souvenir, I cut down one of the street banners advertising the event and hung it up in my college dorm at Liberty University the next Fall.  Everyone who saw it laughed at the poor English translation: “Super and Real Fight”.  I mean, it was a real fight, and I would say it was super as well, but for the fight to be super and real in the same adjective phrase just sounds funny.  And that is why I couldn’t title this entry as “Jack’s First and White Christmas”.

In preparing our move from Nashville, TN to Fort Payne, AL (which is located between Birmingham, Chattanooga, and Atlanta), my wife (who is from Sacramento, CA) had asked me if it ever snowed in Alabama.  Though the words “snow” and “Alabama” seem like they don’t go together at all, though do. Just like a lot of people don’t realize that Alabama actually borders the Gulf of Mexico and has several beaches, like Gulf Shores.  I told my wife to expect it to snow a few inches, up to three times a year.  And sure enough, as we woke up around 6 AM Christmas morning to feed and change Jack, we looked out the window to see large snowflakes falling steadily.

A couple of hours later, we drove 0.7 miles to my parents’ house to spend the day with them and my sister and her husband.  Turns out, the snow didn’t stop falling and the temperature remained low.  So the seven of us ending up staying the weekend together, being that the roads were iced over.  One of the gifts my parents bought for Jack was a really cool wagon; ideally for when he gets older. However, when we started getting ready for bed on Christmas night and we were deciding where Jack should sleep, since we hadn’t packed his travel crib, I said, “Well, what about his wagon?” Not many people can say that their first Christmas was a white Christmas and that on top of that, that they slept in a wagon.  But I guess it’s not all that strange, being that we were celebrating a holiday where a baby boy slept in a manger.  We didn’t have a manger for Jack, but we did have a wagon.

Jack is swinging Christmas morning before we left for my parents' house.

We got snowed in.

Jack's presents from his parents.

Jack's presents from the family.

The Four Generations of Shells: Baby Jack is the only Shell boy to carry on the family name.

So Maybe I’m Allergic to Peanut Butter… in Large, Consistant Amounts

But not allergic to peanuts themselves.  Noted, I’m no doctor.

One of the darkest places in life for me is when I am throwing up- which only happens a few times each decade.  It’s that feeling of inescapable depression, like being a notches away from a sickly death- a hellish gravity so overwhelming that I tend to wonder if I will wake up as a ghost like Bruce Willis and not realize I’ve been dead the entire movie.  Usually I try to keep things a bit classier when I write, but in this case there is really no way around the fact that over the weekend I spent the hours from midnight until 4:30 AM constantly vomiting, only interrupted with sporadic periods of rest on the bathroom rug.  I understand that some people have never gotten food poisoning.  As for myself, I can easily think of my three worst occasions: The Central Park drive-thru in 1990, the shady Chinese buffet restaurant in 2007 (back when I still ate pork and shellfish), and the apple & peanut butter incident of 2010.

I don’t know; maybe getting food poisoning every couple of years is like getting stuck by lightening more than once in a lifetime.  Or maybe my digestive track is just ultra-sensitive to any food that is slightly less than proper and sanity.  But what I do know is that I am unable to digest slightly massive amounts of anything- even if it hasn’t been setting out in a Chinese buffet for three hours unattended. What clued me into my possible allergy to large, consistent amounts of peanut butter was my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup overdose of 2003, when I consumed 36 of them in less than 24 hours: I had just came back from spending a summer in Thailand where both peanut butter and rich, American chocolate are rare finds.  I experienced a major depression for the following two days along with a mild rash on my left wrist for the next six months.

Last week my choice snack every day was an apple with three tablespoons of peanut butter. So good- and seemingly healthy.  But I guess by Day 6 of this treat, which I made my lazy dinner Friday night, was just enough peanut butter in a week’s amount of digestion to throw my digestive track into shock.  Because this was the first time that after I puked up all my food from that evening, I puked up a thick yellow substance, then a thick green substance, then blood- and that pattern repeated a few times before I finally fell asleep until late morning. Eventually though, every single trace of peanut butter was erased from my body. Now, a few days later, I was able to eat my first meal with meat (tilapia, okra, and salad), though my voice is raspy from all the ralphing and my ribs hurt any time I cough or sneeze.

To my understanding and according to my self-diagnosis, I have survived yet another case of food poisoning- and surprisingly this time it didn’t involve a restaurant, but instead a good snack.  I’ve eaten a lot of peanuts in a week’s time and never had anything like this happen.  There must be something about the simple process of smashing the peanuts to turn them into butter than makes them slightly toxic to me.  Sure, I didn’t experience any of the typical symptoms of peanut butter allergies like swelling, but I just think it that peanut butter is smart enough of a food to hurt people in its own sneaky ways.

Lesson learned: From now on I’ll go light on the PB.