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VULNERABILITY Seems To Be The Hardest Word … Big Boys Don’t Cry

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Man in war crying

It’s my life and I’ll cry if I want to …

I’ve wasted a lot of time over the years trying to hide my feelings and imperfections.

It’s a stupid exercise, but peer and society’s dictates are strong motivators to bury our intimate thoughts.

As a young teenager in the early ’70’s, I laid in the late, hot darkness of my bedroom, a thin ribbon of warm, amber hall light sneaking through the bottom edge of the door. Thick, humid air off Lake Ontario fell heavily through the window making simple breathing an effort.

My bedroom was typically psychedelic-adolescent of the era with colourful, fluorescent posters of Three Dog Night and Led Zeppelin hung out at odd angles on the walls – groovy, manly music posters of guys with long stringy hair, cool and unemotional as hell; guys I was trying to identify with and mimic in my early years at Glendale High School.

Led Zeppelin

But my attempts at exterior coolness sharply contrasted with the veiled reality I felt laying there – fretting and unsettled about the unknowable possibility of my Mom dying – with small rivulets of tears tickling down my cheek, falling gently, soaking silently into the pillow.

It was a desolate place because these feelings were something I could … would … NEVER share with anyone. Not my Mom or Dad, not my siblings, and especially not my best friends Renato, Frank, or Jerome.

Fears and vulnerability were an inner war to be fought on a minute-to-minute basis. No battle in this realm could be lost, for if even one clash was forfeited, then the war was over. You were a “girl”… none of us boys wanted to be a “girl”.

In my sissy-free mind, I had to be bravely perfect, or close to it.

At my own Mom’s funeral when I was 15, not a single tear escaped my eyes in public.

…………………….

I’m a so-called grown-up now and I can let my hair down (oh wait, sadly I can’t do that the way I could as a ’70’s long-haired kid).

But I’ve found that shedding the cloak of tough guy is not so easy.

Childhood rules are locks and chains with strong forging. Can’t you hear the early voices of your parents, grandparents, and friends warning you to be this, or not to be that?

We want to please our parents, right?

Mommy, watch this … aren’t I good, aren’t I special?” –  “Yes Daddy, boys don’t cry …

These are the RULES.

Correction: Those WERE the rules.

Vulnerability and a willingness to look foolish are first cousins.

Vulnerability ties itself to the post that is perfection. If we have strong knots holding our weaknesses to that post, we’ll never risk losing face. We can always maintain the illusion of perfection, if only the knot holds.

With time, I’ve tried to be more honest about my mistakes and emotions. Even if I’m afraid of what people think.

Yes, I may no longer look as smart as they thought I was. And yes, for a small moment I won’t be the spinning top that never falls.

That’s ok. I’m human. I can be vulnerable and foolish.

And Praise The Lord, ’cause I look foolish a lot these days, and finally … I don’t care. I feel like Forrest Gump gallumping down the road with my leg braces snapping and breaking and flying madly off in all directions. There’s a refreshing wind blowing through my hair and a smile in my heart.

Years ago – maybe I was 18 at the time – I approached a young bikini’ed blond sitting by herself on a beach in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I’d never tried picking up a girl in a bar or on a beach ever ever in my life. But, what the hell, I thought. She looked good, and no one knew me there. I could be foolish in camouflage.

Risk versus reward … Heart thumping in my throat, I went for it.

Mr. Smooth Operator (NOT!!!), I sat down beside her beach towel and introduced myself. We talked and did the ritual animalistic checkout of our ancestors. A quick two minutes later – my jittery breath returning – I think we both knew there was no chemistry happening, no likelihood of making beautiful babies together.

So I stood up, smiled, said goodbye, and walked away… sad that nothing would come of it, but happy that I’d unlocked my vulnerability and exposed myself to potential ridicule and rejection and went for it anyway.

But unfortunately that moment of brave vulnerability was the exception and not the rule for me then and for many long years after.

Now I realize that losing my vulnerability pays dividends just like my stock portfolio and my beloved Tim Hortons’ (er … em … Burger King) shares.

Dividends-become-more-popular-again-NF1LPPHI-x-large

 

 

Creativity doesn’t exist and thrive in houses overstuffed with rules.

This is why I sometimes, really just occasionally, say things that might seem a bit outrageous in this blog. I’m trying to cast off the rules – society’s shackles that hold me back from molding something that approaches “new” (I know that little is truly new, but “idea sex” allows a fresh take on the old).

If I follow all of the rules of life, I’ll live a carbon-copy existence to everyone else. Then I’ll wake up, stuck in a lousy traffic jam cursing the guy in front of me, who’s cursing the guy behind him (that would be me). Give me a wide open country road with wind-blown sand in my teeth and gravel under my wheels.

To be creative and set in motion a billowing mushroom-cloud of ideas, I have to forget about macho perfectionism and playing one or more of the roles thrust on me by others. As a strange consequence, I even think that people like me better when they see how foolish and imperfect and vulnerable I can be.

The time is past due to boldly consider breaking rules. Crossing some boundaries is exponentially exhilarating and joyous.

Sorry, dear friend, but I’ve gotta come clean here.

This blog? I’m really just using you as my analyst.

Thank you for your service! Oh, and your cheque is in the mail!

PS. One last thing.  I still can’t shed a tear in public … some locks were just forged without a key.

Analyst

 

 

 

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Fat Girls …

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On behalf of all the fat girls, I’m making you represent all the guys…” 

 

beach girl

Trouble getting dates? Yeah, right…

Some things just get to me.

Not very often.

But sometimes.

Today I want to tell you about a TV episode I saw recently that affected me deeply.

It scratched and inflamed a raw nerve that was an oozing wound inside me.

Maybe it’s because of the guilt I feel for being so shallow… or  maybe – just maybe – because I’ve felt the same way – inadequate – at times for similar and slightly different reasons.

Do you know Louie CK?

Middle-aged, slightly rotund and unkempt, somewhat depressed-looking, stand-up comic-guy? I don’t know, maybe he’s the new Rodney Dangerfield. Anyway, he’s pretty popular right now.

I can’t quite figure out whether I like him or LIKE him yet. He’s a lovable teddy-bearish kind of gent, but I don’t want to get sucked into his vortex of minor, low-level gloom. I’m perplexed, is he funny or a downer?

Louie has his own comedy series on FX network called … yup, LOUIE.

It’s kind of like Seinfeld, where Louie does his brief stand-up comic bit followed by a usually semi-autobiographical, weird story arc of an aging, divorced father.

It’s set up to make us feel squirmy and uncomfortable with that unsettling awkwardness that many of us feel from time to time. He’s got the stunned look down pat.

Only for Louie, it’s awkward ALL of the time.

Louie

I’ve had awkward moments.

Once, when I was in my late teens, I climbed into a hot, sticky backseat for a car ride back home from a McDonald’s employee picnic with a dude and his girlfriend – said girlfriend happened to be my ex-girlfriend who I wasn’t 100% over yet.

I sat, feeling sweaty, squirmy, edgy in the back, like a little kid getting a ride home with Mommy and Daddy … uncomfortable? I felt so small.

Many of Louie’s uncomfortable moments revolve around his difficult and embarrassing attempts at dating in NYC. He’s dying to be loved but he’s also the least smooth operator living in the civilized world.

The Episode of Shame

The installment of Louie that affected me so much was one where Vanessa, a plus-sized but sweet-faced server-girl at the club where Louie does his stand-up routine asks him on a date.

(BTW Aside:  the Louie show is worth watching just to see the little girl (Ursula Parker) who plays his 8 year-old daughter Jane. AMAZING little actress!!)

In his typical Louie dazed-style, he looks blankly at Vanessa, gut hanging over his belt, and hums and haws around a way to say “no thanks”.

Sarah Baker as Vanessa is stunning in her frank portrayal of the “fat girl”. She utters such an honest and heartwrenching statement about men and women in western culture that it hurts.

On behalf of all the fat girls, I’m making you represent all the guys,” she says. “Why do you hate us so much? What is it about the basics of human happiness, feeling attractive, feeling loved, having guys chase after us, that’s just not in the cards for us? Nope. Not for us.”

It’s a wonderful and moving soliloquy, isn’t it? Could you feel yourself squirm a little? Maybe you saw yourself in either Vanessa’s position, or maybe Louie’s. That’s the beauty of this episode.

We hold a mirror to ourselves, and we don’t love what we see.

And I reluctantly realize I, like Louie, am guilty as charged.

Yup, I avoided dating fat girls in my early years. I dated a fat girl for awhile – and like Vanessa says in the clip above, we even had sex –  who was very cute and then I backed off when I felt like I was too good. She didn’t match up to the image of what I felt I deserved.

I wallow in the shallowness of my internal self. There are ugly parts to me.

I feel guilty knowing the truth about myself … but then I look in the mirror again.

I realize that just like a fat girl, I have limitations too.

Every one of us has limitations.

Every one of us has the potential to be rejected for something we are or we aren’t.

But I live with my flaws and deficiencies and make the best of it. Sure, I occasionally set myself up a pity-party and knock back a drink or two, but it gets boring quickly and so I head home early and refresh my outlook.

Yes, the storyline is about fat girls, but you might substitute nerdy guys or short guys or an unattractive person. 

We can be fat, we can be ugly, we can have little boobs or a short penis, we can be short or stupid, bald or buck-toothed. Life sucks. But it is what it is.

Yes, I’ve avoided dating fat girls. But really hot girls and too-many-to-count average-looking girls have ignored me and definitely wouldn’t have sex with me in my youth. It’s true, even though since I grew out of my tween chubbies, I’ve been reasonably slender all of my life.

But I don’t look like Rob Lowe, or Tom Cruise, or thank heaven, Mick Jagger. I don’t own yachts like Bill Gates. I don’t have the compelling intellect of Bill Clinton (and any cigars I’ve had were strictly for smoking!). My gifts are modest but worth unwrapping.

We can accept it or change it. We have choices and if we decide to accept our lot, then so be it.

There will always be Louie’s out there that make us frustrated, but really we’re frustrated with ourselves.

So, Fat Girls … fat girls, I’m sorry. There is no perfection, even if looks like sometimes there is.

I feel for you and I want for you what you want, but I can only tell you what most of us (should) know and reluctantly accept.

Life sucks. Shit happens. Sometimes.

I’m shallow.

But we all have something about us that makes us lovable and makes us special to someone else.

And when we find that someone, it makes the wait all worthwhile.

I promise, Vanessa.

perfection-sign

 

 

 

 

How Do You Become A LIST Whore?

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Hello my name is Larry and I’m a List-aholic”

mens-health-march-2014-1

 

Follow me here…

Every day, I check the Huffington Post, or Zite, or Flipboard or The Globe and Mail on my iPad or Kobo and there are lists.

10 WAYS YOU CAN BECOME… 5 REASONS YOU SHOULD… 8 TOP SECRETS OF…

Every time I stand waiting in a supermarket line, I sheepishly – is anyone watching? – glance over the covers of magazines like People and Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health filled with rules and Top 10 lists.

  • 30 Rules For Boyfriends From Two Wise Little Girls (Huffington Post)
  • 17 Things Women Think During Anal Sex (Cosmopolitan)
  • 13 Ways To Prevent Excessive Gas (Huffington Post)
  • 73+ Pivotal Blogging Shortcuts and Tips (Blog Tyrant)
  • We Shit Glitter: The 9 Unsexiest Secrets Of Being A Burlesque Dancer (Sabotage Times)

A lot of it is pure BS, but I can’t pull myself away from the lure of the car crash scenario. I don’t want to be drawn to them, but the curious irresistibility factor suckers me in. “Read me, read me!”

One more list and then another, just one more list will make me a better lover, or athlete, or father, or pickle maker. You name your interest and there’s a list to help you become a better (fill-in-the-blank).

It’s an addiction that I need to feed, and there are idea nutrients spread everywhere like a military carpet bombing. Lists are mind candy – the succinct conduit for delivery of ideas and inspiration.

Honestly, I crave lists and rules like I hunger for creamy sweet chocolate, french fries, and oxygen.

Lists play into my insecurities.

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It’s no secret to me that the success of all these lists is that people, myself included, are feeling a veiled dissatisfaction with some area(s) of their lives.

At its root lies the question, “What is my life about?

That might sound bad, but it’s really not. Let me explain, OK?

A couple of times over the past year or so, I’ve shown you the picture of actor Sally Field clutching her Oscar “Best Actress” trophy in delirious victory. I love that picture and the honesty that poured out from her throat.

People made fun of old Flying Nun/Momma Gump Sally when she stood on the Oscar stage in 1984 and emotionally declared, “… you like me, right now, you like me!”.

SALLY_FIELD

…of course I like you Sally…

Sally blurted out the hidden but truthfully obvious fact that 95% of the actors, directors, camera operators and the general public in the audience just want to be liked, whether on stage acting, or in the everyday trenches of real life.

We want others to like us and to recognize that we are good at something. And a great way to show us that we are lovable and worthwhile is to give us a gold statuette and clap at us while we stand on a stage basking in glory.

It’s no different than when we were little kids and we badgered our Mommies and Daddies to watch us jump into the swimming pool: “Mommy, watch this… Mooooommmmy, WATCH THIS!”

These needs to be loved and admired within most of us are what lead us to push harder and try to be better at something, which feeds into our sense of self-esteem.

Most of the wonderful advances and improvements in our world and society (yeah, a lot of the bad stuff too) came from those who wanted to be recognized as achieving excellence, and hence, received love and admiration from their peers, friends and family, and the world at large. So what’s wrong with that?

The great innovator Steve Jobs loved to wander back and forth on a stage in his black turtleneck sweater, basking in the glory of the spotlights and hordes of admirers before he would utter those famous words, ” Oh, and one more thing…” , just before making a huge i-whatever product announcement.

That was just a grown man standing by the edge of the kiddie pool, yelling, Mommy, watch this…”.

When I crossed the finish line of an Ironman race many many years ago now, would I have experienced the same joy if there was no one there watching? Of course not.

I craved the adoring gush of the throngs of people and my family acknowledging what a wonderful achievement I had accomplished. Mommy would have approved of me and I would have smiled inside.

Ironman 1990

This is one of MY Sally Field moments …

 

There are very few of us who don’t have underlying insecurities, little voices in our head telling us that we need to be better.

Lists and rules offer up handy – and often, admittedly, too facile – solutions to our insecurities.

But they CAN help to give us tools and innovative ways we hadn’t considered to become new and improved.

CREATIVITY CAN BE FOUND IN A LIST

29-ways-to-stay-creative

I choose to look at lists positively. I’m seeking the bravery to push outside my comfort zone, to subdue my insecurity if you will.

If it takes a list of ideas and suggestions from outside, I’ll happily look at it and decide if my choice to create something new for me – within me – is worthwhile.

Creativity doesn’t always have to be newly invented from within. Epiphanies come in lots of costumes. Let’s make like Bonnie and Clyde, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, like Bernie Madoff, and make off with as many ideas that are offered freely from others as we can.

The choice is ours, steal what looks useful and leave the rest of the dreck behind, like yucky canned peas on a plate of hot, fragrant fish and chips.

Finally, let me offer you one little list I’ve come across. It’s a list for cynics and for those List Haters that I know exist out there who smirk and scowl at us dreamers aka List-Lovers.

FIVE RULES TO REMEMBER IN LIFE

  1. Money cannot buy happiness, but it’s more comfortable to cry in a Range Rover than on a bicycle.
  2. Forgive your enemy, but remember the ass-hole’s name.
  3. If you help someone when they’re in trouble, they will remember you when they’re in trouble again.
  4. Many people are alive only because it’s illegal to shoot them.
  5. Alcohol does not solve any problems, but then neither does milk.

 

Double DD’s … A Sweet Slice of Heaven Lies in Perfection?

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Meg Ryan sliced through my heart …

Meg-Ryan before after

She didn’t have to. She had a choice. And I’m left in a soggy heap asking why?

She must have known she had me enthralled even before she went all gastronomically orgasmic in When Harry Met Sally.

And now here she is looking like someone from the Real Housewives of Hollywood — pumped and plumped lips, cheek implants, brow lift and who knows what else.

She’s a 10 who hit the math subtraction sign of her plastic surgeon on her iPhone and sadly, regrettably, ended up a 5.

It kills me when, like a fluffy puppy, you’re cute and adorable and intelligent in a beautiful little bundle, and then you ruin a recipe approaching perfection by adding a cup of salt — there’s no going back.

Every time Meg cocked her perky little head, flipped a few strands of her blond ringlets and coyly smiled at me in Sleepless in Seattle or You’ve Got Mail, I felt a gentleman’s stirring which meant I couldn’t stand up for 5 minutes.

But Meg? What blurred your senses making you think you needed a Dexter-style slicing and plumping?  Let Dolly Parton and Pamela Anderson and Bruce Jenner have the implants and injections and tucks.

Gold Medalist Decathlete Bruce Jenner

Decathlete Bruce Jenner … Olympic Gold turns to Plastic …

Now me – at my objective best – I have physical faults, lots of ’em.

How do I perceive such? Let me count the ways:

  • My nose is too wide.
  • My hair is thinning and I have a bald spot.
  • I’m a bit overweight.
  • I have wrinkles criss-crossing my wrinkles.
  • I have sagging skin on my jaw line, the start of jowls.
  • Secretly, I fear I’ll never be a folk-singer star.

OK, that last one isn’t a real physical fault, but it just goes to show you the depth of my insecurities.

It’s sad that my outsides are sliding and sagging down a Sochi Olympic slope. I’ve watched my juvenile bloom drain and melt away year after year in the bathroom mirror. Where’s Dorian Gray when I need him?

But you know, I’m at an age and a stage where technology could help me retain a semblance of my youth, if I choose.

And so I ask myself…

Would I take on a bit of plastic surgery?

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Plastic surgery has become a part of our western culture — like it or not. It has insidiously seeped through our pores like the creams and lotions we massage into our dermis to magically remove the wrinkles.

We pretend that advertising and peer pressure doesn’t affect us, and then we go buy the latest iPhone.

When we see enough people getting BOTOX injections or calf implants or beautiful voluptuous breasts, we begin to believe that it must be OK. Once everyone in your office has had lip plumping and liposuction, don’t YOU begin to feel like the odd one in the group?

Let’s not beat ourselves up about this.

It’s not bad – alright, maybe a bit sad – but it’s who we are. It’s the nature of humans to be a part of a culture, a society … to belong.

You can't handle the boobs!!

You can’t handle the truth …these Babies are REAL!

I can tell myself that I’m superior and above such frivolous thoughts. But am I really? 

What used to be a perk of the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous out there, has, like maybe owning a Porsche or a 150″ theatre-style TV, become a possibility for Mr. or Ms. Anyone with a few extra dollars of expendable income.

Remember Bill Clinton’s successful campaign slogan from 1992 that helped him defeat George Bush Sr.?:

It’s the economy, stupid.

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Well, plastic surgery should have its own slogan:

It’s our insecurities, stupid.

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I have insecurities, you have insecurities, we all have insecurities.

And so we place ourselves under the knife or needle to fix on the outside what we can’t or won’t repair on the inside.

The inside stuff is just too difficult, and often emotionally painful to deal with. If we can fix the outer problems, maybe our critical inner voices will melt away, right?

Or maybe its just that we struggle with respecting or accepting the value of aging and therefore reject the mantle of wisdom.

…………………

I have a friend Julia, who recently had some work done to her face. Twice actually.

Julia is an attractive, slender, divorced woman in her early 60’s.

Unlike Meg and so many others who have become possible substitutes on The Walking Dead, she looks really good after her facial manipulations.

When I talk with her, I see a perky youthfulness that gives her a freshness that had ever so slightly waned as she entered her fifties and then her early 60’s. The changes have been subtle but restrained enough to see that there wasn’t an attempt to regain a face of a 30 year-old.

It makes her feel good about herself and I can’t criticize her or judge her. I guess I only hope she didn’t do it as “Whore Lure” to attract the male of the species.

…………………………..

I feel badly Meg. You didn’t need to change for me. You were good and nice in so many ways already. And I’m really glad you didn’t have breast augmentation, despite your modest endowment in the pectoral area.

I don’t like the look of fake boobs. And honestly, large real boobs don’t really call out to this Man on the Fringe.

But I digress. Have you noticed that I’ve skillfully avoided answering the question I posed earlier?:

Would I take on a bit of plastic surgery?

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My hesitant answer?

Forgive Me Father for I have sinned!

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  • I admit that a portion of my fitness activity is partly an attempt to retain a semblance of youth without taking a blade or needle to the temple that is my body.
  • I’ve had my some amalgam added to a couple of my teeth to remove the appearance of gaps.
  • I’ve had my eyes surgically-lasered so that I don’t need to wear glasses.

By a matter of degree and nuance, I’ve already joined Meg Ryan and so many others desperately seeking perfection.

I won’t be running to a cosmetic surgeon any day soon, but, in a few years, if my Levis begin to sag badly in the rear — or heaven forbid — I should succumb to one of those “male enlargement” e-mails … well, who knows what sin I’m capable of!!!

Butt implant

Take My Wife’s Pad … Please!

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Feminine pad

Feminine hygiene products were just about the furthest thing from my mind when I signed on to become a medical lab tech in the 1970’s.

I was fully prepared for thick, crimson blood in glass tubes and straw-coloured urine in clear plastic containers. I was even able to entertain the thought that I would deal with an occasional stinky stool sample in an AIRTIGHT container. The thought of any other sample types just never floated into my consciousness.

But hell, I’m flexible and can adjust on the fly just like you and everyone else out there, right?

Every field has its unusual somewhat surreal moments. Well, this is one of mine.

A few years back, a fellow female lab staff member asked me if I would come to the front desk of the laboratory. A male patient had asked to speak with a male employee — men in labs are a fairly uncommon commodity, don’t ask me why? — and as I was the only man on site that morning, I agreed to come and see what it was he needed.

E. coli urine sample

I replaced the plastic lid back onto the agar plate growing bright-pink E.coli bacteria colonies from a urine sample, set it back onto my desk and headed to the front of the lab.

I greeted a man in his mid-30’s. We shook hands and then I led him into the small pathologists’ office and pushed the door closed for privacy. Curious to know what was coming, I perched my backside onto the corner of the large wooden desk that rested next to the window.

-Good morning, I’m Larry Green, a lab technologist … what can I do for you today?

Well, I’m hoping you can do some lab tests that will tell me if my wife is having an affair.

SAY WHAT!!!??? I began to plot my escape…

Well Sir, I’m not sure I know of any lab test that can do that.

The man combed his fingers through his hair and nervously cleared his throat. Then he reached into the bottom of his coat pocket. He fished and fumbled around a bit before extracting a small white, tightly rolled-up bundle, and with a sad look in his eyes, held it out for me to see.

Interesting … looks like a marshmallow … or … oh no … a feminine hygiene PAD!

–I took this, my wife’s used tampon from the garbage basket at home. I’m pretty sure she’s been having sex with another man. Do you think that you can test the tampon for the presence of semen? I have to know if there’s something going on but I can’t bring myself to ask her directly. If you could find out if there’s another man’s sperm on this, I would know for sure.

Wife-Got-Caught-Cheating Cow

He outlined to me how he had been suspicious about an affair for some time, and explained in WAY WAY more detail than I needed about when he thought sexual escapades had occurred.

I tried my hardest not to appear stunned at the request and his story but I’m sure I must have looked gobsmacked.

Struck by the black humour of the situation, I had a brief moment of horror where I thought I might burst out laughing; wouldn’t that have been terrible? This was an obviously distressed fellow, and a bout of laughter on my part would have devastated him I’m sure.

My mind raced for an answer to the situation.

An infidelity lab test?

Did I look like Ann Landers? Or Dr. Oz or Phil?

Ummm, I’m sorry but I don’t think I can do anything to help you because it could result in legal action on either your’s or your wife’s part. You have some pretty grave concerns here. I think you might want to contact a lawyer and ask what you might do if you would like to pursue this further.

He thought about it.

He looked heartbroken and defeated, and probably felt pretty humiliated just having to explain the situation to a stranger. But he hesitantly agreed and said that he understood.  He slipped the biological “evidence” back into his pocket.

We shook hands again — I washed mine thoroughly as soon as he left — and I escorted him to the lab’s front door.

I last saw the poor shrunken man slip like a ghost through the doorway of the stairwell and disappear.

What would you do?

As he walked away, I began to think of what I would do in the same situation. How low can a person sink when they feel another is doing them an injustice?

I felt really badly for this guy. Not just because of what he thought his wife had done, but also because he had allowed himself to become a victim. Granted, human frailties are a part of what we are and, like it or not, we can’t just turn them off with a switch. Frailties? Yes, I have a few.

But this man didn’t own his own world. He was a slave to someone else’s actions and decisions. And instead of finding a way to deal head on with the pain he was feeling, he came to me looking for the answer.

He was like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. He wanted to spin free on the hillsides, his arms spread wide, singing to the open skies surrounding him.

But instead, he was crouching hidden in the dark corners of life, making himself a prisoner of the dictator inside his own head. He was his own cruel Nazi captor. There was nothing I could offer him that would let him out of his self-made cell.

A face-to-face talk with his wife or a sit-down chat with a counsellor would take him to a better place than a visit with a hapless, helpless lab tech like me.

julie-andrews-the-sound-of-music

I have a difficult time now each time I wander past the feminine hygiene aisle in the supermarket. These products may allow women to joyfully live through “Life’s ups and downs, cycles and changes” and to Have a Happy Period.

But the pretty pictures of butterflies and smiling young girls on the packaging just make me feel sad for the one sorrowful fellow I met who went through his own very difficult “period”.

Somehow, working with stinky stool samples never seemed as bad to me after that day.

And occasionally, just occasionally, when no one is watching, I just want to put down my culture plates, stand up and twirl carefree beside my desk.

 

TWO GUYS WALK INTO A BAR…

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I want to talk to you this week about insecurities, of which I have a few … but FIRST

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The local YELLOWKNIFER newspaper announced that “Mitzi”, the infamous stripper who could propel ping pong balls from her inner girly works was coming to town.

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I was a young, unattached guy and this was northern excitement at its finest; I would not be denied the thrill of a titillating lifetime.

The only stripper bar I’ve ever been inside in my entire life is in Canada’s Arctic in Yellowknife, NWT. Yellowknife is a small’ish (about 20,000 population today)  northern frontier town famously replete with mosquitoes, blackflies, gold mines (when I lived there in the late 1970’s) and diamond mines (today).

I wandered into the dark, shadowy barroom with an old friend and hospital work colleague Jim Collette.

It was the Gold Range bar, although in Yellowknife it was referred to as a tavern. A nauseatingly strong stench of stale beer and years of accumulated cigarette smoke saturated the walls and air surrounding the dark wooden tables, knife-etched with names and phone numbers of past inebriated patrons.

The_Gold_Range

The Gold Range, affectionately called The Strange Range, was a fusion place for aboriginals, sourdoughs and rough-hewn miners. You could see your life coming to an end at the point of a knife blade or the ragged edge of a broken beer bottle at a place like the Gold Range.

It had a reputation and it wasn’t a good one. It was stereotypical Wild West, or in this case, Wild North.

The people populating this place had names like Stinky Pete, or Dirty Dan. They had long, stringy hair; dirty, frayed baseball caps with names like Weaver & Devore Trading or Giant Mine emblazoned on the front; and multi-hued teeth that hadn’t seen a dentist’s chair in … well, maybe ever! I was feeling pretty jangled and nervous sitting there –  the only reason I stayed was because my horny libidinous heart was quixotically stronger than my frayed nerves or common sense.

The Gold Range was not the natural habitat for this soft, southern boy. Jim and I sat and ordered a Pilsner and Alta 3.9 beer and waited with anticipation for the show to start. When it did begin, it was pretty anti-climatic (sorry, bad pun!). The strippers were mostly a bit older and kind of saggy. It wasn’t the erotic “hit” I was expecting, and the shared experience with a bunch of others was just kind of demeaning to us all. Honestly, I don’t even remember the ping pong ball part of it, just the sordid seediness that left a sour taste.

This is what "Good Girls" do with ping pong balls...

This is what “Good Girls” do with ping pong balls…

OK, you’ve been patient so now I’ll come to the part about my insecurities.

Bars come in classes. I was probably too classy for the Gold Range but not really classy enough for the Horseshoe Lounge at the posh Explorer Hotel; my self-esteem wasn’t sufficiently high to stroll into the Horseshoe Lounge. I’m just a middle class mid-range bar kind of guy I suppose.

My friends and my favourite drinking hangout in Yellowknife was called The Gallery. I would consider it a mid-range bar. It was a wide open well-lit watering hole with a shuffleboard table and a jukebox. The Gallery had no art and no shooting other than the drinks that were fired back in large quantity. They served the best kielbasa in hot dog buns with mustard and relish.

I always hated to enter The Gallery alone. There were those few hesitant, uncomfortable moments where I feared I wouldn’t spot anyone I knew, and everyone else in the bar would know that I was a lonesome loser. I’d stroll in with my eyeglasses all fogged and frozen up from walking off the -40 C streets in January and then try to locate a familiar face either through ice-glazed glasses or furry myopic eyeballs.

Either way, the little voice in my head would be saying, “what are you doing here by yourself, everyone else is with a group and having fun … there must be something wrong with you.

It’s crappy when we’re young and insecure (or worse still, older and insecure) and we worry about every little thing that others might think about us. We want to meld into the mix of others, not stand out as different. Conform or die.

Insecurity doesn’t come from an objective view of our ability but an emotional interpretation. Two people with the same capabilities or attributes can have entirely different levels of insecurity.

Hollywood Insecurity...

Hollywood Insecurity…

I know I’m a capable person on a lot of levels and yet even still I have that worried voice in my head that tells me I could be better or different. Fortunately, the voice has grown far quieter as I grow older, but it still talks to me and tries to bring me down. Rationally I know it’s a liar and a deceiver, but it takes a determined ounce or two of positive counteracting thoughts to stuff it away sometimes.

But you can’t outrun insecurity. A sad matter about Yellowknife was that some people came there for their last stand against inner demons. They were lonely, miserable outcasts who thought that when they came to the Arctic somehow there would be a mystical transformation and everything would be different from their life in the south. They would magically fit in. Rarely happens.

Soon after I arrived to work in Yellowknife, a nice guy named Perry came to work in the housekeeping department at Stanton Yellowknife Hospital. He would stop by as he mopped floors and chat with me every morning about cars and guns and other things that interested him. Perry was about 21 years old and seemed pretty normal by all appearances. Perry was sad and miserable inside, only none of us knew it.

I liked Perry but I never asked him to join in with any of our “professional” group of lab techs, nurses, physiotherapists, in whatever Reindeer Games we were playing. You know, he might not have chosen to come along because he wouldn’t have enjoyed our company, but would it have hurt me to just ask him?

One dark, early winter morning I walked into the Microbiology lab section where I worked and ran into John, the senior housekeeper boss guy.

–Perry killed himself last night, John said.

–Put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. The RCMP found him in a ditch on the outskirts of town.

I had spoken with Perry in a normal fashion a day earlier and now his demons and insecurities had won the interior argument. Now he was dead, at his own hands. I was stunned. I was ignorant and stunned.

Insecurities come in different layers and different strengths. I try now to look for signs of insecurities in others, not to make myself feel better in comparison (another sign of insecurity), but so that I can understand their struggles with behaviours such as selfishness, arrogance, sulking, gossiping, over-competitiveness, defensiveness, excessive chatter, people-pleasing, excessive swearing. If there’s some small thing that I can do or say that will soothe someone’s negative inner voice, why not? It’s a Pay It Forward kind of thing, I suppose.

Insecurity wears a lot of different costumes.

Slack Alice’s, the local stripper bar in my area burned down about a year ago. And DAMN, I never saw the inside of it. I guess I was just too insecure to go inside on my own!

But I’m sure that every day there was a whole barroom full of strippers and patrons, nursing a beer or shot glass, and each, just like me, with their own beat-up lifetime suitcase filled with personal insecurities.

insecurity suitcase