BY Mark

12/01 Direct Link

You have a to-do list. What the hell do you care about my to-do list?

If I tell you how fast my list is growing it sounds like I'm bragging.
As if your time has much less demand upon it than mine does.
As if keeping track of what I haven't done is such a virtue.

I'm trying to make up for the sloth of my past.

A friend said that he goes home everyday a enjoys doing as much nothing as he can with his boys.

My reply was pained. "Yeah. But it drives me crazy to do nothing."
12/02 Direct Link

I've become Jack Spratt. Buttoning the pants on my little boy. His fat belly. I used to tell myself how important it was that I marry a skinny woman so that my children would be spared the overweight childhood I knew too well. She wasn't fat then, but one day I woke up in this surreal video where I'm surrounded by my oinking family, slurping and insatiable, growing out of clothes and losing their beautiful faces inside burgeoning flesh. I only need a small dose of that to completely lose my appetite. So I grow thinner as they grow fatter.
12/03 Direct Link

Whoa, stop the room already. I'll just stand here in the corner for moment, catch my breath, let things settle down a bit. That spindizzy ride delivered on the loss of gravity, alright. My feet barely touched earth for the past three weeks, and no, I'm not in love. Is it even possible? Perhaps not. It's all I can do to remember a heart swell. I've been lost in all of the other stuff. Love replacement stuff. TV. Games. Spending money. Filling out rebate forms. Haircuts and clothes and shoes and a few precious months of not worrying about bills.
12/04 Direct Link

Oh, sorry, I'm over here flirting with the blogs. I still love you, my HundredWords, but I'm starting to accumulate some guilt ever since I fell a few days behind in October, then failed to make the cut-off altogether for November. I thought we'd make it a year, baby, but you lost a little luster. You're an ironic girl, though, and I like that. It seemed like the very moment I failed, I found out that I had a secret admirer. Turns out I was being admired for my fidelity even as I was copping a feel of diversionary tit.
12/05 Direct Link

It all changed when he shaved off one eyebrow and gave me that look. So what if his book was a best-seller, the guy was creeping me out. Plus, I don't like what he wrote. All that shit about how men have got it wrong. She took to shining a bright light in my eyes and demanding long talks and long walks. Then there was an "intervention." More correctly, an ambush. Him with one eyebrow and all of these women, a coven with demonic stares and ulterior motives. When I saw that miniature scimitar in her hand, I woke up.
12/06 Direct Link

Whenever we get a big snow like this, I think of the Fog Cutter, a comic-book creation that I saw in Heavy Metal magazine twenty years ago or so. As I recall, there were no words in the panels, and the pictures were in finely drawn sepia-tone. It was one of those Brazil-like part future, part past, multiple anachronistic universes. The fog descends upon the village/city, and unlike the fog of our universe, this fog solidifies to a density analogous to refrigerated Jello. The Fog Cutter, born with laser-shooting fingertips, is summoned to cut the fog up into manageable pieces.
12/07 Direct Link

"I think it'd be a great project for you," I was enthusiastic on my grandfather's behalf. "It would be great to get all of those old slides digitized, and these new scanners make it a breeze."
"What slides? Whattya mean slides?" screeched my grandmother, leaving off the "Goddammit!" in honor of Thanksgiving.
My grandfather skipped the technical explanation. "Oh, you know, those pictures I used to take until I lent my projector to Mark and he returned it broken."
I just laid my head down on the table and sighed inwardly. This was one of his classic depression-era pointed remarks.
12/08 Direct Link

Once he said, "All of these tools will be yours someday."
But yesterday, "I'm going to put those tools in the garage, and I want you to help me put price tags on them."
I asked him about the edger he'd promised to his next-door neighbor.
"It cost me fifty-five dollars to get that out of the shop. I'll never get that back if I sell it to him."
I was cultivating a deep seethe.
"Why don't you just give it to him? It's nothing when you compare it to all of those meals they've brought over for you guys."
12/09 Direct Link

Nothing he ever gave me was free.

The stuff seemed free at first, but over time I realized that there were strings attached.
He was always checking on the status of that thing he gave me.
If it had fallen into disrepair, there was an explicit expectation that I would get it taken care of promptly and properly.
God forbid I lose it, or (Gasp!) throw it away.

Actually, I learned some valuable lessons from this.
One is how to give a gift.
Freely, and without expectation.
I use this rule even for those things I give to my kids.
12/10 Direct Link

Only three percent of those surveyed knew all of the answers to what us TechTV viewers would consider simple questions. If that extrapolates correctly, then I have again succumbed to a skewed perception of the world demographic, largely due to the narrow range in which I operate.

My wife didn't believe that our income puts us in the top one percent of the country. She's right. That would require an annual income of about 830K. I see that we barely made the top twenty percent. My bad. The top one percent of the world, no problem. That's a mere 48K.
12/11 Direct Link

The voice of Jane Flintstone died. We immediately started in with comparisons of Judy Jetson and Betty Rubble. Someone says Betty's voice was done by the woman who played Jethro's mom. Speculation started up around Jane Hathaway. She's definitely gay, says our resident cynic. I offer the premise that she was spending some wild nights with Jethro in the cement pond.

I find myself wondering what the Middle Eastern equivalent of this conversation might be. Do they have a cultural literacy that includes this depth of inanity? Of triviality? They must have safe and amusing diversions. I picture ancient cartoons.
12/12 Direct Link

The moment I saw that photo, it hit me like a bullet. That's how she sees herself. Thirty years younger, glamorous, wealthy, in control. She was at the top of her game (or so she imagined), and like some people, she lorded over others. Imperious, self-righteous, and secretly tortured by her past, my grandmother felt her privilege to be her due. She built a system of virtues contrived to fit her weltanschauung. Hard work and a sharp tongue were next to godliness in her eyes, and her every effort and sacrifice gave her renewed permission to belittle, berate, and browbeat.
12/13 Direct Link

He's pushing the pictures back and forth across the counter, and I find myself mesmerized by the age upon his hands. Dark and crackled, they look tough yet tired. Like a pouch designed for rugged duty but defeated by time, they seem ready to rend at the seams. The nails, though, have a hardness to their look that crosses into the inorganic. Granite, perhaps, eroded through the millennia, carved by the projects of a lifetime, vulcanized by tears, deformed by worry. The hands shake a little now, undermining the confidence that I had placed in their direction over the years.
12/14 Direct Link

He decided to give half of his estate to some niece and nephew I didn't even know existed. I was okay with it at the time, but lately I have started to wonder what that's all about. I get the impression that familiarity breeds contempt, and he's gotten just too good a look at my financial irresponsibility. It's true, I managed to squander a fortune over the years by both carelessness and ineptitude, but from where I stand, the money looks more and more like a way out. Even better, it looks like a door back in to financial stability.
12/15 Direct Link

My grandparents had this house for sale. Not unusual, as his business was home building and real estate. I was reticent. We were living in a dumpy spot in her grandparents old neighborhood, but I had plenty of money. Things were smooth. I had this new girlfriend (with an uncontrollable daughter), and a new car. But to my surprise, the girlfriend liked the house. So we bit. About a year later, my grandfather started building a house on the adjacent property. "A spec home?" I asked. "It's for us," he replied evenly.

Fourteen years later, the shock hasn't worn off.
12/16 Direct Link

The worst part, really, has been that every time my dad or sister or brother visit, they are obligated to visit my grandparents. Although they've never said so, I feel certain that they've visited fewer times over the years because of this. I would have done the same had I been in their shoes.

There have been times where they have been at my place for a few hours and have elected to not immediately check in with my grandparents. There have even been a few stealth visits.

My grandfather invariably calls. "Is that your dad's car in the driveway?"
12/17 Direct Link

I don't wanna.

I'm sorry, dear, but you don't have any choice in the matter.
(So I went to dinner with this bunch of big wheels).

But I wanted to stay home and play.
(Putting aside my desire to eat lightly, get in a work-out, and settle down with a foreign movie on my laptop DVD player)

Go brush your teeth and put that yellow shirt on.

It's going to be so boring.
(These guys just love to talk shop)

And get rid of that attitude while you're in there. I don't want my boss to see you moping around.
12/18 Direct Link

I've got all of the tools (toys) that I need to make my dreams come true. It's gotten to the point where I need a catalog to give me ideas for more things that I can buy to make my life more complete.

Not that I don't understand that the real value in life comes from the personal relationships and sacrifice for the benefit of those less fortunate. I'm hip to that. Way hip. And I'm going to get around to it one of these days. I don't have time to change all of my priorities around at the moment.
12/19 Direct Link

I could build a house. I used to enjoy that sort of thing. And I could get a lot more house for the money. It could be environmentally sound. An example of e-living in a community consumed by consuming.

But my desires have changed. I don't want to spend my days doing trim work and painting and sub-contracting and re-financing. I'd rather sit at the computer and write and surf and download and learn web design and hacking and Photoshop. And from where I sit, I barely have enough time left on earth to give that stuff a decent start.
12/20 Direct Link

The alarm goes off pretty damn early, so when my bedtime is delayed, I become, well, defensive of it. Some would say cranky.

My grandmother's arm was wounded when she fell before breakfast, but they decided to stop about fifteen minutes after I had gone to bed. I had to get up and get dressed in order to assist my grandmother from and to the car. I'm sure that I was visibly put out, despite my attempts to hide it.

The kicker was when my grandfather asked after that leather coat he had forced upon me last year.

I sputtered.
12/21 Direct Link

I was pretty damned excited with my brand new copy of WindowsXP in hand and a new hard drive and the promise of a wireless home network and well, a brand new day of home computing with separate accounts for everyone and safe internet access for the kids so that they don't have to be exposed to graphic images of cocksucking prior to puberty (which, by odds, was about to occur at any moment). Soooo, after carefully laying everything out and taking each step carefully and deliberately, I blew the computer out with a careless static discharge to the motherboard.
12/22 Direct Link

Every time I do this I lose.
I challenge the scales.
I eat and think, "I can get away with this."

And I do.
For a day. A week.
Even three weeks.
I might start with chocolate.
Or Tuscany bread.
Maple nut scone.
Pepperoni bread.

The scale budges, but a non-threatening pound or two.
It drops back down.
It plays me like a fish on a line.
I start to feel bullet-proof.

I hit the pumpkin roll.
The chocolate chip cookies.

I lose track.
The scale awakes, and the bomb drops.

I check my pockets for seven pounds of change.
12/23 Direct Link

Everybody here is something else.
Butcher, baker, candlestick maker, they are passing through this twenty-five year job in order to support their other interests.

Writers (naturally).
Financial planners.
Web designers.
Computer repairmen.
Ice Cream vendors.

You see them on their breaks, boning up for their future job. Some of them already engaged in their next career.

I'm just practicing. I wanted to find out if I had enough talent to pursue it further. A dispassionate and expert assessment of my ability. So I have begun to "write the miles" I have heard are requisite.
12/24 Direct Link

Everybody here is something else.
Butcher, baker, candlestick maker, they are passing through this twenty-five year job in order to support their other interests.

Writers (naturally).
Financial planners.
Web designers.
Computer repairmen.
Ice Cream vendors.

You see them on their breaks, boning up for their future job. Some of them already engaged in their next career.

I'm just practicing. I wanted to find out if I had enough talent to pursue it further. A dispassionate and expert assessment of my ability. So I have begun to "write the miles" I have heard are requisite.
12/25 Direct Link

I bark at my kids if they act too smart-shitty, but I secretly feel it's a sign of intelligence. I find myself more concerned if they are following my childhood path of over-compliance.

So I'm reinforcing the wrong behavior. My daughter senses some minor foible of mine, makes a clever, if cutting, comment, and I snap at her for being disrespectful.

At twelve, our window of healthy and substantial interaction is about to slam shut. I can't afford to be squandering this time looking after my own wounded inner child.

I still have time to plant a few good seeds.
12/26 Direct Link

There are no more innocent conversations with my grandfather anymore. Everything that is said seems to drip with defensive posturing or hidden criticisms or remembrances of wounds past.

For me, I'm always seeing his commentary on my intemperate spending. It would be paranoia on my part to think that he's reading my daily bank transactions, but the accuracy of his inquiries make it seem likely.

"What're you paying for car insurance?" he asked at dinner.

Now am I supposed to believe that he didn't know that I'd been dropped by my policy holder two days prior?

At least he's interested.
12/27 Direct Link

I feel like I can hear their conversations in my head – the conversations that must have taken place for them to be acting in evil concert they way they do – I hear them listing the ways that they have been slighted or wronged, fanning their fires of discontentedness, listing the shortcomings of our family, the individuals, the only people in the world who care whether they live or die, who go out of their way to embrace them in the warm glow of the family hearth despite their hateful intolerance, their stinginess, and the likelihood that they'll ruin the gathering.
12/28 Direct Link

I gathered up the gifts my grandparents had put together to make the trip to Washington. As in years past, the sweaters and perfumes and the cards with money made the trip with us to the rest of the family, to be enjoyed on a second Christmas morning. This year the gifts were noticeably few, and I was reluctant to play any part in the obvious slight that this bag with two sweaters and a box of pecans represented. I said nothing. My Grandfather said, "It was that trip to Paris they took." Love and money are so easily interchangeable.
12/29 Direct Link

My Time Bastard was raging.
I'd over-planned the day, and every little thing that I wasn't going to get to heightened my angst.

I walked into the house to receive some immediate and unwelcome additions to my schedule, slamming the door on my desperate attempt to do at least these last few things.

I whined, I ranted, I pissed off my wife.

The phone rings.
My grandfather, "I can't get my FAX to work. Could you come over?"

Uncharitable thoughts zing through me (this is why they still write instructions on shampoo bottles).

But I go, and he is grateful.
12/30 Direct Link

Morning NPR interview with a woman who had built her own house in Alaska.
Twelve by twelve.
No indoor plumbing.

It's like a Siren's call to me, to one so encumbered by things.

To look around my house and see the cost (not the value) of the clutter.
I feel shame, yet like a fat man who still hungers, I buy more.

In a twelve by twelve house (give me plumbing), the message might get through.

But where we are right now, frankly, is in imagining a bigger house so that we aren't so pressed in upon by our shit.
12/31 Direct Link

So, reading between the lines this month, you may have glommed onto the notion that my grandparents, while perhaps not providing me with the inheritance that I had anticipated for so long, may have provided me with the writing material that could launch my new career.

I've but skimmed the surface of their dysfunction, and theirs is but a portal to mine, to ours.
The richness and variety of human foibles, missteps, and misperceptions vibrates most compellingly, and the more specifically they are related, the more recognizable and enjoyable they become to the reader.

So thanks, Nana and Grandpa.