A few years ago, I shared some sad news with Sister Babe. Despite my mostly having left Facebook, one feed I continue to monitor is the page from the small town I grew up in in North Jersey. This is more of the equivalent of a more personal hometown paper. The guy who manages it is someone I’d sometimes play with when I was a kid, and it’s a great mix of general announcements, school sports updates, happy news, as well as sometimes sad news. In this case it was some sad news that got my attention, a comment that I’d repeated too damned many times in the last few years. I mentioned it to Sister Babe and told her that another guy I knew from back in the day had died. He wasn’t someone I was tight with, but was a year or two ahead/behind me and we’d occasionally be in a playground pickup game of football or schmeer from time to time. And now another guy was gone way too soon.
I also remember that particular weekend was a fun one in our household. Sister Babe and I both had colds, and our basement had flooded the day before. The flood was completely my fault, and a result of trying to do too much when I wasn’t at full mental capacity. Friendly advice, but while in the midst of a bad cold it’s not the best time to do some basic maintenance on your clothes washer that involves having to screw a valve back in place that is used to drain water. On the plus side, when it was over it was a good excuse to get rid of some nasty, decades old carpet and paint the floor & throw a rug over it. The downside was that there was a lot of cleanup involved at the time. And yes, there is a point to this aside, so thanks for indulging me.
Even though both of us were sick, somebody had to walk Doggie Bob on that Saturday afternoon. And that wound up being me. I was miserable for that half hour walk, and when I got home there was Sister Babe on the couch next to Little Bob, him watching TV and her messing around on her phone when there was a lot of work needing to be done in the basement while I was stuck walking the dog. I was livid. For all of one second. It was already running through my mind that I knew Sister Babe well enough that if she hadn’t moved it was because she was hurting a lot worse than me. No sooner had this thought gone through my mind than she was apologizing for not having helped but she was knocked out. I also thought about that “kid” I knew from back home who had just died, and how as miserable as I was that dude would have gladly traded places. Make no mistake, I was still miserable, but I also knew that things could have been much worse. And suddenly having to work on a flooded basement while hurting from a cold didn’t seem so bad.
While I could use this story to make my point, summarizing my 2020 will help to bring things home. And I’ve hinted around the edges about how my year has been going and feel like I owe you an explanation. My 2020 started manifesting before the Kung Flu Pneumonia and the Boogie Wuhan Flu hit. To quickly recap:
In early March my customer allowed our contract to lapse. It was supposed to get cleared up pretty quickly and we’d get back to work (In Ron Howard’s Arrested Development Narrator voice: “Actually, it didn’t), and things looked like they’d be back to normal soon.
March 11 – I was leaning toward going to see The Dead Kennedys, one of the few Punk Bands I was ever into, at the 9:30 Club. But since moving out to the (relative) burbs, it’s a real pain to drive to a club downtown on U street. I decide to sit this out since I’m going to see Overkill two nights later.
March 12 – COVID hits. we’re told to lock down for 14 days to flatten the curve. we do. Remember those days?
March 13 – Overkill, and everything else, is cancelled. As bummed as I was, I felt especially bad for my buddy who was kind enough to buy my ticket and was excited for this being his first time seeing these guys live.
Soon After – Arlington schools shut down, and Little Bob is now being taught virtually. To their credit, while it was half-arsed, at least they were able to scramble a plan which was more than some localities could say. Since work was at a stoppage, I shouldered most of this teaching.
Late April – I get a call from Brother Brother Bob (B3) – the nearby Assisted Living joint that we helped our folks move into two years ago called him to let him know that Grandpa Bob had died, this is never good news, but he lived long & well, and left behind a few grandchildren who will fondly remember him. While we never talked it out, B3 and I manage to simply pick up and pretty evenly divide the responsibilities for next steps. One of my jobs is passing the word to everybody, which includes roughly one week being on Facebook most of the day. No further comment necessary.
The reason our parents moved on from the home in NC where they’d enjoyed @ 20 years of retirement (their lives could have been a Consumer Cellular ad for a while), was that Grandma Bob’s health was declining into what we would realize is Dementia. Now without Grandpa Bob, it fell onto me & B3 to spend time with Grandma Bob as much as possible. Given our work & parenting situations, he took the weekends while I handled most of the weekdays.
Grandma Bob didn’t say she was done directly, but for the first week she was near cationic before slowly rebounding. She needed help eating, and we’d do the best we could while visiting. If you’ve ever had a loved one afflicted with dementia, it’s degenerative, and it never gets better. I now remember a few years ago how Grandma Bob was fully capable of regular conversation, but I’d get frustrated at being asked about my family vacation every time I’d visit for a few months straight. If that were to happen today it would be exponentially better than where she is now. It’s a little bit like raising a kid – it’s easy to focus on the bad parts in the moment, but after the fact as your kid grows up you find yourself missing the good parts of that stage. While I don’t miss having to soothe a sick, crying toddler in the middle of the night, there was a lot of good from back then that I miss. As emotionally draining as it is to visit Grandma Bob these days, I also know that I’ll like the next stage even less.
Around this time at work, I had burned through nearly all of my PTO when a small business loan guarantee came through that would keep me employed. The bad news was that to earn my keep I was drafted to work with the Recruiting team searching the job boards and cold calling for hiring prospects. Did I mention that my first year of my career was spent in Sales and the decade that followed was in call centers talking on the phone all day? Good times.
So, to quickly recap recent events, while Sister Babe helped where she could, the household burden mostly fell on me. So, at this point I had three part/full time jobs – Elementary School Teacher, Recruiter, and Elderly Care Giver. And I was completely unqualified for all three
Memorial Day Weekend – for the first time since we’d moved into our house a decade earlier, our annual Memorial Day Party is outright cancelled. Or more accurately, never scheduled, no rain date.
Mid-August – My job situation was not sustainable – Recruitment wasn’t my strong suit, and the people who called the shots for my old customer couldn’t get their (excrement) together. So, I look for, and find another job.
I land one. New job is the perfect challenge for me that hits at exactly the wrong time in my career. Where just a year ago I was *literally* able to do my job with kids screaming a few rooms over, this job needed a level of concentration I couldn’t do. I reluctantly tell my boss that I’ll stay as long as she needs to backfill me but we had to move on.
I come to realize that Little Bob is lacking some life skills that a boy his age should have by now – riding a bike, able to swim, throw a football. Times have changed – when I was young you followed the older kids doing these things in the street or at a nearby pool. Now the older kids only do these things under organized adult supervision. And spending even more time in front of screen is not helping his video game addiction.
At least with the end of summer I can enjoy the return of pro football, until I couldn’t.
Somewhere around this time we also learned that we had mold in our basement that was causing us some health problems. Which led to dumping $ into getting it removed, and dealing with the source of the problem. As in replacing a lot of 30-year-old windows. Perfect timing.
COVID has also made Sister Babe’s job unusually stressful lately. When I was working home alone, I’d use my “lunch hour” to give Doggie Bob an afternoon walk before we’d meet Little Bob at the bus stop. Now that time is used driving to & from Grandma Bob’s and working while I’m there. My exercise, mind clearing, bonding with my dog activity has been replaced by one that is emotionally draining. While it’s not fun for me, Sister Babe has to be somewhat available for Little Bob while trying to focus on her job.
Now we learn that Arlington Public Schools, who had been gradually pulling back the dangling carrot of getting our kids back in school over the last few months, finally gets the spine to tell us to get bent and indefinitely postpones getting the kids back in school.
Last weekend we caught the end of the Rutgers/Michigan State game that Rutgers won. And I was bummed that Grandpa Bob (a Rutgers alum) would have loved finally seeing his team beat a big name again. He also would have gotten a kick out of the Cuphead video game I bought for Little Bob when we had a mini vacation this summer. If you’re not familiar Cuphead is some creative genius – a video game that’s animated like an old school 30s or 40s cartoon. There were a few other cool things he missed out on this summer too.
And that pretty much gets us caught up. I admit that this was too long, but it was important for making my point. Have I been complaining? Yes. But am I looking for sympathy or trying to proclaim victimhood? Hell no. Let’s look at the flip side:
I’m happily married to a great woman, and we have an insanely cool, healthy boy. I sometimes think about what my life would be like had we never met and it would not be good. Over the last few years a few old friends from my childhood let me know that their marriages of 20+ years had ended in divorce. While that’s not good, at this point I’m happy for them not being stuck in COVID lockdown with someone that they don’t like.
While we’ve indirectly taken a financial hit due to COVID, we’re both in careers that haven’t been targeted for destruction by our government or scumbag rioters. And with me being ever the cynical risk manager, we’ve got a plan for the financial hit we’re taking.
While Doggie Bob misses her afternoon walk (she won’t go anywhere if family members are home and awake), she does like having her entire family home. Although she could probably do less with the packs of feral boys running around her house.
On that note, Little Bob has been loving the lockdown. He regularly plays with two families’ kids each day, and given that there is a lot less to do outside the home, he’s enjoying video game time during the school week he would never get during a regular school year. That said, Sister Babe and I have been embracing the power of “no”, and not letting him go overboard.
And regarding my life skills complaint, Sister Babe had the foresight to get us into a community pool this past summer that also had a few families whose kids he’s friends with. While he didn’t learn to swim, he made progress. And every day after school to earn his video game time, weather permitting I’m using my free time & we go outside and take a few minutes bicycle riding, throwing the football, or kicking the soccer ball around. His friends also join us sometimes. Yes, the boy who used to get picked for any sports teams just ahead of the kid in the iron lung is now coaching kids on how to throw and catch a football. Heaven help them. I guess it’s no stranger than @ 15 years ago calling my parents and saying “Mom, Dad, I hope you’re sitting down because I’m about to utter words you never thought you’d hear. My teammates voted me to be the Captain of our football team.” But that’s a story for another day.
I’m waiting for the paperwork to clear before starting my next job, and we’ll be in a position soon to allow Sister Babe to step back and get her life in order. She has been insanely supportive of everything I’ve gone through this year and soon I’ll be able to return the favor.
Whenever we get away from DC for a few days and get to feel what it’s like to be alive & not surrounded by angry, fearful, judgmental people it’s always painful to return. I keep saying that if we didn’t have such a great home & neighborhood, I’d be ready to put our house up for sale and move out West where people prefer to live, rather than virtue signal how miserable they are. But the fact of the matter is we have a great home and neighborhood. Even though I have some hardcore Lefty neighbors who know my politics (no, I don’t have massive yard signs, etc.), they’re still great neighbors to us. And we got the mold handled. As I like to say, the only thing worse than learning that you have mold in your home that’s hurting your family is not finding the mold.
Grandpa Bob did get to see some cool things in the last few years, though. back in the 00s when Greg Schiano first revived the Rutgers football program, I still remember the Thursday night game where they beat Cincinnati to secure their first bowl bid in… forever. I normally wouldn’t call a 70-something year old @ 11:30 at night, but he picked up on the first ring when I called to congratulate him. He emailed later that he was so excited that he didn’t fall asleep until 3:00 that night. His moving up also allowed him to attend Little Bob’s final Karate belt testing from the preschool he attended. Grandpa Bob also got to see some of the artifacts from our NJ home on display in Chateau D’ Bob. I know he got a kick out of having the only grandson with an autographed picture of Richard Nixon’s family hanging on his wall. I’m personally amazed that it’s lasted this long…
And Little Bob himself is a great kid, with some surprisingly cool traits. For example, whenever he needs to pick out a gift for a classmate’s birthday party, he instantly knows the perfect gift. He’s also a very talented dancer – he didn’t get that from either of us. The only dance I know is The Toxic Waltz.
One last bit – I’ve started attending church again. When I realized our public schools were going virtual, I started checking the local Catholic schools. They’re all wait listed, but I noticed a significant tuition difference for Parishioners. So, for the first time in 30 years I attended mass that didn’t involve visiting my folks, Christmas, wedding, funeral, etc. And while I didn’t see the light as Joliet Jake did, it did me well. So, I went back, and now do every weekend. Deciding I wasn’t going to do this half-arsed, I decided to go to Confession so I could again receive Communion. It’s always interesting when a Confession starts, “… it has been 30 years since my last Confession.” “That’s OK if you haven’t gone in 3 years – wait you said 3, right?” “Um, three decades…” But it went well, and one step will be to get our marriage recognized by the church. Although the priest wanted us to move sooner than later, we’re putting it off to April around our 10-year anniversary. Sister Babe’s family is interested in coming up from Memphis to attend, and hopefully things will loosen up a bit by then.
I spent too much of my life always having something in my life to be unhappy about. Yes, I’m a skinny dork but hitting the gym has put as much muscle as possible on my 6’0″ 150-pound frame. I married a beautiful, very cool wife. We have a loving family, and after years of bouncing around long hours & low paying jobs, I found my career groove. As you’ve just read there’s a lot of bad & good in my life – take a guess which I’m focusing on?
And that’s the even bigger difference between the two sides – entitlement versus gratitude. A couple who I’ve been friends with for decades who also happen to be the most rabid Leftists are also among the happiest. Why? They have three kids, and focus on something other than politics. And while this sounds cold, I feel no pity for the lefty friends who have good careers, families and choose to let their happiness be dictated by the party of the person living in the White House.
Sister Babe pushed back a bit when I told her about this post, as she is left of center. Yes, I agreed, but she lives her life by Conservative values, just like my happy Lefty friends. It’s as simple as that – entitlement versus gratitude. In the words of the urban poet Michael Muir:
Oh, what’s that?
So now you say life sucks
Well, ninety-nine percent of it’s
What you make of it…
So if your life sucks, you suck
The final piece I’ll leave you with to cap off this mini-series is a great video clip of the late John Dunsworth. If that name is unfamiliar, he played Mr. Leahey, the drunken Trailer Park Supervisor, in the comedic genius TV series “The Trailer Park Boys.” It’s short, less than a minute, and is one of the last pieces that he filmed before his death.
Cross posted from Brother Bob’s Blog