Wasted away in Coronaville

This Coronavirus thing has got me going batshit crazy.  It’s completely nuts.  First they say, there’s an invisible enemy, a deadly virus that may or may not be anywhere and everywhere, and it may or may not be highly contagious, and you may or may not show symptoms, and you may or may not get seriously sick and die.  THEN they take away ALL of the tools to fix this problem.  Anything that cleans?  GONE.  No toilet paper.  No paper towels.  No Clorox.  No disinfectant.  No hand sanitizer.  No alcohol.  They say, stop buying this stuff, stop hoarding.  Don’t get an N95 mask.  You don’t need one.  Only healthcare workers need an N95 mask.  Not you.  If you have an N95 mask, you need to donate it to first responders.

First responders.  Right.  Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re great.  I think it’s amazing that someone would risk everything, their own safety, their very lives, to help others.  But I mean, really.  It’s getting out of hand.  It’s approaching worship.  Oh, look at me, taking a selfie with the donuts I brought to the fire station.  Oh, let’s get a photo with the cops showing the barbecue meal I just delivered.  Let’s all stand in a line and clap any time a nurse walks by.  Like I said, they deserve it, they do, but I’m just a teeny bit wary of elevating one class of citizen above another.  Feels too much like Animal Farm.

So I was OK.  I’m working from home.  I have some hand sanitizer that expired nine years ago, so it’s basically alcohol-scented oil, but it makes me feel better.  I figured out how to mix the little bit of bleach we have with some water and make a spray disinfectant.  We were OK, I was OK, getting used to ordering groceries and making toilet paper last forever, until they said, you know what, never mind, we were wrong.  You actually DO need to wear a mask.  Except, only the First Responders deserve the real masks.  You must make your own.

OK so first step: get out your sewing machine, gather your fabric, interface and elastic, print out this pattern, and make a mask.  Oh and by the way, you can receive a $1000 fine if we catch you out in public without one.  So never mind that I don’t have a sewing machine, or fabric, or interface, or elastic, and I CAN’T FIND a source for masks anywhere, and if I do, it says RESERVED FOR FIRST RESPONDERS ONLY, and the ONE N95 mask I’ve had in my garage for five years I CAN’T USE because I’m NOT A FIRST RESPONDER.  I must make a mask, somehow.

Fortunately for me, my mother still sews and yes, I now have a mask I can wear.  Only, that’s not the solution to the problem.  It really doesn’t work.  It leaks so bad, my glasses fog up as I breathe.  I could just put my N95 mask on underneath, but there’s a good chance that’s just a petri dish for viruses anyway, so I might be infecting myself even worse.  And there’s a MASSIVE amount of social anxiety that goes along with it.  I don’t want to stand out in a crowd.  I don’t even like GOING to the store in the first place.  And here I am, wearing a homemade fabric rectangle on my face with shoestrings around my head.  Stick out like a sore thumb some places like the hardware store, where NOONE ELSE is wearing one except for one other (elderly) customer.  And if I DON’T wear a mask, I feel conspicuous in places like Target where EVERYONE ELSE is wearing one but me.  I feel like I’m back in high school, trying to fit in with the cool kids.

I’m so stressed out.  I’m going completely nuts.  And ALL of my coping mechanisms, tools I use to deal with stress, are unavailable.  I’ve been sober now for over 6 years, and besides, alcohol weakens my immune system so if I DO get drunk, well, I really might die.  I don’t smoke, although a cigarette sounds really good, but again, if I smoke, I weaken my lungs, Caronavirus moves in, and I die.  Gyms are closed so I can’t work out.  They even closed the fucking beaches.  Can you believe that?  Sand.  Sand is illegal.  Fucking earth with nearby water.  Parks are closed.  I have a massive headache, but due to a recent doctor visit, I found out my stomach is messed up and I can’t take Excedrin or Ibuprophen.  Tylenol doesn’t work for me, ours was expired anyway, and we CAN’T FIND IT ANYWHERE.  We actually DID manage to order a bottle from Walmart curbside, but realized it’s Tylenol PM, which ironically also gives me a headache in addition to making me sleepy.  And what if I DO start to get sick?  Can I go to the doctor?  NNNNOOOOO.  I have to call, and basically, well just stay home and die, beds are reserved for first responders only.

How about buying everything online?  I used to be good at ordering online.  I knew what web sites to go to, how to filter the products by average review score and price.  Not any more.  Amazon has become the wild west.  Anybody can list something for sale on there.  Counterfeit items are everywhere, even obvious, misspelled ones where ALL the reviews say This is fake!  The reviews are fake, too.  There are now a couple of web sites I have to use to review the reviews, to try to filter out the fake ones, and that’s just a guess.  I’ve placed stuff in my cart and then happen to notice it will arrive in two months, so I cancelled.  I can’t wait two months.  Walmart.com is the same way, as is Newegg.  And everything I think of getting, someone else has already thought of and bought.  Yesterday I went to three different stores, risking my life to get ethernet cables because the wifi was messing up, after verifying with the app and/or web site that they had stock, and guess what?  All gone.  Everyone is working from home, and everyone already thought of getting long ethernet cables to connect to the router because the wifi is too slow and unreliable.

This has been a miserable time for me.  I know I’m not alone, everyone is going through this shit, but I just need to bitch about it.  My family depends on me, but I have no one to depend on.  I’ve got this huge burden, this very real but invisible danger, this big problem, and every time I reach for a tool to fix it, that tool disappears.  No cleaning supplies or coping mechanisms, so I’m just isolated and anxious and wondering how this will all end.  And I just don’t know what to do.  Do I risk my life to go to the store?  Or do I order something online and pray it’s not a scam?  If I go out, should I wear my mask?  Will anyone else be wearing one?  Will people be looking at me thinking, Look at that idiot, wearing a mask, he looks stupid, scared little nerd man, doesn’t he know that stupid mask isn’t doing a thing to protect him?  Or, if I don’t wear one, will they be thinking, I can’t believe this guy, spreading viruses all over the place, doesn’t he care if he’s spreading disease everywhere he goes?  Or if I wear my N95 mask, will they be thinking, Why is this civilian wearing a First Responder mask?  Selfish asshole.

So…

I guess this is where faith comes in, right?  So, it’s faith that makes us able to see something that’s not there.  You know what I’d like to have faith in that I can’t see?  The future.  I want to have faith that in the future, I am safe, my family is safe, we are all healthy, Disney World is open, we’re planning a trip, my boys are starting their new jobs soon, and we’re looking forward to a little time off before school starts up again.  I think back on this time, remember the anguish of early 2020, and shake my head of the memory as I flip the burgers over.  My wife asks if the meat is almost done, and I smile as I turn to see her holding a tray of freshly toasted buns.  We share a smile as our eyes meet.  It’s going to be a great Saturday.

God willing, we will rise again.

-Mark

Still sober

It’s been over six years since my last alcoholic beverage.  I no longer crave the release that drinking brings.  I no longer wake with headaches, guilt and regret.  If I never see another rum & Coke, it will be too soon.  I have achieved total, and God willing, permanent sobriety.

This has been a very long and difficult road.  There have been so many good excuses to drink.  So many difficult days at work.  So many nerve-shattering emergencies over these last six years.  One great temptation of mine was a couple of weeks ago, when my son turned twenty-one.  What father wouldn’t LOVE to share his adult son’s first drink?  That’s iconic image has been in my mind for years.  I wanted so bad to have that common experience with him.  But, no.  I didn’t even offer.  I could have just bought him a margarita at the restaurant, just to enjoy watching him, but I didn’t do it.

It makes me mad that drinking is so engrained in our culture.  It’s poison.  Why should good times be celebrated by communal poisoning?  Why do we have this idealistic image in our minds of being truly happy as we guzzle alcohol?  Now that I have a little distance from it, I can see how depraved that is.  Have a birthday?  Poison!  It’s a new year?  Poison!  Had a hard day, or feeling alone and depressed?  I have just the thing: more poison!

There are a handful of people who have emailed me over the years that are still on my prayer list.  I don’t know what your struggles are or where you stand in this battle, but I believe in you.  Addiction is something you can beat, and beat permanently.  It takes courage and time and forgiveness, but it can be done.  I pray to God that you will have the strength to resist the urges, the need, the desire for the escape that alcohol brings.  If I was able to do this, then you can too.

God bless you, dear drinker.  Your redemption draweth nigh.

-Mark

Wife love

Last year, we decided to get season passes to Disney World.  We had just bought a new van, and I rigged it up with an air conditioner and foam bed for camping.  We made six trips to Disney.  Sometimes we stayed in a hotel or rented a house with the kids, and sometimes we slept in the van at the state park, just the two of us.  The height of opulence came on one of our last trips when my wife saw some Mickey drink cups for sale in the Magic Kingdom.  Before we headed home, I decided she needed to get those cups.  We went back to the Magic Kingdom and made our way to the Starlight Café.  We stood in line with the masses and ordered four.  On the way out, I had her pose for a picture holding all four of those cups.  The look of contentment, happiness and joy on her face is something I will always treasure.

Last week, I was able to capture that feeling again.  I spent all day with her driving to a tulip farm.  I knew that was her favorite flower, and we just don’t see them very often where we live now.  It was a long drive there & back, but just about right for a day trip.  At the Tulip farm, they give you a basket and you walk around, picking the flowers you’d like to buy.  Once home, as the flowers started to open up, I gotta say, those are the most beautiful tulips I have ever seen.  Later that night, as she was snuggled in bed, she said “I’ve got chills.”  I said, “They multiplyin?”  A second or two later, she smiled as she caught my Grease reference.  Then as I was in the kitchen, taking my pills and vitamins, I heard a voice.  Sounded like some girl talking.  I checked my kids’ bedrooms, but no, the sound was not coming from there.  As I got closer to our bedroom door, I realized it was my wife.  She was singing!  I had done it again.  She was so content and happy, she was singing the Grease chorus out loud.

I’ve struggled for years to figure out how to best please my wife.  I’ve cleaned for her, built her things, bought her things.  She likes it, sure, but I’ve only gotten that happy, unworried, content look from her a handful of times in the past few decades.  Spending time with her, just the two of us, somewhere nice, away from our responsibilities, and buying her something she loves is a winning combination.  I would do anything for my beautiful bride, and the memories we share of those fantastic moments are more precious to me than life itself.

Happy Valentines Day, sweetheart

-Mark

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I have disabled the comments on this site because I’ve been getting hundreds of emails a day, all auto-generated from spambots.  It makes it impossible to respond to actual people.

-Mark

Paying off the house

I’ve always heard that it’s a good goal to pay off your mortgage.  So I did.  I thought it was a great idea.  My mortgage interest was over 6%, it was costing me every month, and I happily spent my annual bonus to pay it off.  Only good things can come of this, right?

Not necessarily.  I do have a lot more breathing room on the budget.  There seems to be a little more money at the end of the month.  But my credit rating took a hit.  I didn’t know why at first, but I went from 820 or so to 760.  For a couple of months, it didn’t offer an explanation, but then it said “no payment on installment loan” or something like that.  Yep.  Paying off the house cost me 60 points.

Not a big deal, I thought.  A score of 760 is still pretty respectable.  So with the next year’s bonus, I bought a van for the wife.  I got a really nice one, put 40% down, and got a great rate financing the rest.  The car note is now about what I was paying in principle and interest, so I feel like I can afford it.  Then I got my annual home insurance bill.  Wham!  Up 50%!

I called the insurance company, and sure enough, they ran a credit check.  Didn’t bother to look at my score.  They looked at my debt.  Apparently, if you owe more than $23K, they knock you up a price notch.  That’s everything – car, credit card, etc. – except a mortgage.  I could owe $100K on the house and they wouldn’t care.  In other words, I could take out a second mortgage on the house, indebting myself for 30 more years, pay off the car, and the banks would reward me for having more credit-worthiness.

This is dreadfully unfair and illogical, but what are you going to do?  When life hurls lemons at you with a potato gun, your only option is to stand there and take it.  Not like you can dodge big yellow bullets.  Or, don’t buy anything expensive.  Unless it’s a house.  I just wish I had known about that magic number.  I could have re-arranged some things and probably gotten it down below $23K.

Who knew that paying off the house would cost me over a thousand dollars extra per year?  I’m definitely paying down my debt to get under that magic number as soon as I can.  But if you’re thinking about paying off the house, beware: banks want you in debt to them, but not to car dealerships.

-Mark

Harvey vs Allison

My how times have changed.

My wife and I had been married for a year or two, and she had just started selling Tupperware.  Being new, poor and immature, we took them seriously when they said the order had to be in by the end of the day.  Sure, there was a tropical storm, the roads were flooded and wind blowing like crazy, but deadlines are deadlines, right?  So, we loaded up in my ’73 Valiant and headed out in the storm to deliver the all-important Tupperware order.  Stupid, right?

Made it to the Almeda mall area, and water was lapping the bottom of the car.  Headlights were dipping in and out of the water, which splashed up on the windshield and formed big waves as we trudged along.  Finally, I made the executive decision to turn around.  Deadlines be damned, this was just plain crazy.  So I saw a big, open area and made a sweeping turn, trying to keep my momentum up so I wouldn’t stall out.  Suddenly, the passenger side front plunged down into something murky.  I leaned on the throttle, and managed to peel away when halfway through my U-turn, the front end drove straight down into the water.

The engine died.  I immediately tried to start it, heard the whrr-clunk of hydro-lock, and knew it wouldn’t run again.  Water was pouring in to the front, submerging the pedals and up into the front seats.  I yanked my wife into the back (still not sure how I did that), got the baby unbuckled from the car seat, and got out in the impromptu lake just as the car settled into the ditch.  (Found out later that “big open area” was just a regular road with ditches on both sides.  I almost got into the first one, then plunged straight into the opposite side. Like I said: young and stupid.)  It happened so fast.  To me, it was like slow motion.  My wife says, one minute we were in the car and the next she knew, we were in the street.  I guess there’s a reason God gives young people fast reflexes, eh?

So there we were.  Gale-force winds driving the stinging rain almost sideways.  Barely able to see the freeway, soaked to the bone, pushing our way through the waist-high current, me, my wife and baby.  I can remember him actually laughing at the rain as it struck his face.  To him, it was just another adventure, I guess.  Me, I felt like we were in a disaster movie.  It was surreal.

Trudging through waist-high water, we finally made it to the freeway.  We went in to the waffle house and stood shivering in the entrance.  Patrons gave us a curt look, rolled their eyes and went back to their dinners.  A waitress noticed us and reluctantly asked if she could help us? I asked if they took checks, which is all I had besides a little change.  Nope, they don’t take checks.  I glanced longingly over at a man sipping a hot cup of coffee.  Do you think we could just come in and sit down while we wait for a ride?  The waitress glanced at the puddle on the floor, then looked at us.  I guess so, was her reply.  We ordered two waters and I went to find a pay phone to call my pastor, who is the only one I know with a really, really big truck.  We were there an hour, as he searched for us at the wrong diner.  It was much harder to communicate in the pre-cell-phone era.  And we did finally make it out.

People forget how it used to be.  Nowadays, people are falling over each other to help in a crisis.  It’s wonderful that they had to turn away people with boats because they had too many.  It’s great that we don’t have room to fit all of the food in the fridge because FEMA put a bunch of money on my daughter’s welfare card and the stores finally opened up & she went on a bit of a spending spree.  It’s awesome.  It used to be that people didn’t help you.  You were on your own.  The government wasn’t going to save you.  They were a last, last, last resort, after all other attempts had failed.  Maybe.  You had to save yourself, and if that didn’t work, you had to find someone to save you.  And if you couldn’t be saved, well then, I guess you just died, right?

The overwhelming outpouring of support for Harvey victims has been extraordinary.  People really are more connected and more caring than they used to be.  It may not seem that way when you watch the evening news, but I have seen it first-hand.  Say what you will about people, and how things were better in the “good ole days”, but when something really big happens, people get up and help.  Trust me; I’ve been through Allison and I’ve been through Harvey.  This ain’t the good ole days.  It’s better.

-Mark

 

My Hurricane Harvey Experience

I’m happy to say, we’re safe and dry in this household.  And by dry I mean both physically and spiritually.  This October will make 4 years of sobriety for me, and if this storm doesn’t make me drink, nothing will.

Like everyone else in Houston, I am in shock at how much water and flooding has occurred.  It’s hard to know when to take the weather predictions and the news seriously.  Every time it rains, they get all excited and tell you the world is ending.  Weather is the only subject they seem to be comfortable editorializing.  Everything else is more or less fact-based, but when it comes to weather, it’s opinions galore.  Locally, we have received about 40 inches of rain since last Thursday.  Saturday and Sunday night were the worst.  It was coming down in buckets, and my phone alerts were so frequent they became annoying.  During the tornado warning, with the wind whipping around outside, we actually thought we might get hit.  I got the storm shelter ready, put some dry clothes & a flashlight in there, a few other little things.  Thank God we didn’t need it.  Water got up over the curb, but that’s it.  Turns out our neighborhood has some really good drainage.  I’m about 30 feet above sea level here and outside any flood zones.  Turns out it really is all about location, location, location.  I could probably sell tomorrow for $200K as a flood-proof, hurricane-proof house.  We never even lost electricity.

My daughter’s house got about a foot of floodwater in it.  She’s here with us now, along with her family and pets.  It’s been a struggle feeding everyone and it’s a constant routine of cleaning, cooking, laundry, repeat, every day.  The chemical plant I work for is flooded as well.  I’ve been told to stay home until called in, which is good because my little BRZ wouldn’t make it that far anyway.

I pray to God for the rest of Houston.  This is an incredible disaster for the city.  I’m not one of those big tough guys that rescues people with his big truck and giant boat.  I’ve never been that guy.  God has given me the skillset and abilities to do just one thing, and that is to take care of my family.  It would be nice to be able to save people and get them to dry land, pick them up from rooftops in my big fan boat, but it never seems to work out for me.  And that’s OK.  We all have different roles to play, don’t we?  I’m the grandad.  I provide.

I doubt much of anyone is still reading my posts, but if you are, say a prayer for Houston, especially the poor.  My daughter’s situation is pretty common.  They basically don’t have a penny to their name, and have lost almost all of their possessions.  Their house may not be habittable, and it’s likely the car they left behind is totaled.  Without help, they’re in a world of hurt.  And theirs isn’t even the worst story.  At least they got out.  I would imagine a lot of people, they will find after the waters recede, did not.

God bless Houston and God bless Texas.

-Mark

What did you not do today?

Don’t beat yourself up over what you did not do today.  The things you didn’t do is infinite.  There is no way you can do all of them; it’s impossible.  Concentrate on your accomplishments.  You will get rewarded for your works, for the things you did, not the things that you didn’t do.  Think about it.  You didn’t give all your money to the poor.  You didn’t offer your body to be burned.  You didn’t clean the grout in the bathroom with a toothbrush, especially that little spot by the toilet where you have to get on your knees and stretch until your nose touches the bowl right next to the trash can and there’s always a spider’s web and a few dirty Q-tips.  The list is endless; no one can do everything.

You know what I didn’t do today?  I didn’t drink alcohol.  In fact, I haven’t had a drink for almost four years.  Maybe I didn’t finish painting the upstairs, and maybe the check engine light is still on, and maybe we don’t have lunch ready to cook yet and will probably eat junk food again, but damn it, what’s more important?  The fact that I’m sober, or the fact that the fucking walls don’t match the new couch?  Nobody is impressed with sobriety, or faithfulness, or any other type of tireless consistency.  People want to hear about your new (finished) home theater room, or the new recipe you mastered, or the new car you bought.  Maintenance isn’t sexy.  Everyone wants to hear about upgrades, but upgrades don’t pay the bills.

I refuse to beat myself up for the infinite number of things I didn’t do.  I’m not God.  I don’t have unlimited time, energy and money.  If God wants me to do something, He’ll give me the opportunity along with the will and ability to do so.  In the mean time, I’ll keep doing what He put me here to do: taking care of my family.  It may not be glamorous to replace a broken fence slat, drive the kids to the mall, change the oil or run the dishwasher, but it needs to be done.  When I get to Heaven, I want to hear, well done thou good and faithful servant.  And that’s what I am, a servant, not a CEO.  I’m doing my best to obey my lord, stay out of trouble and keep everyone safe, sheltered and fed.  It uses up all my time and energy, and if that’s all I get done, so be it.  The rest of that shit doesn’t matter.  It’s like dessert.  Cake is awesome, but eating sugar on an empty stomach can make you sick.

So what did you do today?  If you’re still married, employed and sober, you’re doing good.  Very good.  Well done, fellow servant.  Well done indeed.

-Mark

Just existing is enough

It’s enough to just exist.  It’s enough to watch a sunset, or sit by a lake, or close your eyes and listen to the wind in the trees.  It’s enough to watch children play at the park, to see the turtles swimming in the fountain, to gaze out at the stars.  God created a wonderful, beautiful world.  You don’t have to earn it.  You already have it.  It’s yours, all the fabulous beauty in the world, for you to behold and enjoy.  God gave you eyes to see His creation, and ears to hear the music of His nature.  It’s good; it’s very good.  And it’s OK to enjoy it.  How many times does God say to rest, trust, consider, watch – these are admonitions to slow down, calm down, stop working so hard.  Didn’t Jesus chide Martha for busting her ass in the kitchen instead of listening to Him?  It’s OK to relax.  You can work so hard that you miss all of it, and before you know it, you’re a bitter, aging  man like me.  The world was made for us, not us for the world.  The Sabbath day of rest was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  It’s important enough to make the top ten commandments.  Peace, not stress, is the fruit of the Spirit.  It’s OK to take breaks.  It’s OK to leave a project unfinished.  It’s OK to just be still and feel God’s presence.  It’s OK to just… exist…

-Mark

 

The Old and New Testament

A couple of weeks ago, my wife was having an on-line conversation with someone.  She said, We’re not under the law any more.  They said, What, so we don’t have to follow the Ten Commandments any more?

This is a typical point of confusion.  What most people fail to do is differentiate between morality and ritual.  God’s position on morality has never changed (with the possible exception of incest).  It is still wrong to kill, steal, fornicate, etc.  But, there were a number of rituals that the Old Testament commanded the Jews to observe that no longer apply.  Why?

Just about everything in the Old Testament was a prophecy about Jesus.  The Jews were instructed to sacrifice a lamb so the lamb’s blood would cover the sins of the people.  Now that God has given His own lamb, Jesus, there’s no reason to continue with the ritual.  It’s like watching the movie preview, after the move.  What’s the point?

Besides the animal sacrifices (a picture of an innocent life being lost so that sinful people could live), there are a number of feasts in the Old Testament.  The feast of booths, where Jews would spend a few days living in a leaf-covered outdoor structure, told of Jesus’ birth in a manger.  The feast of lots, where Queen Esther intervened and prevented a mass slaughter of the Jews, foretold how one person (Jesus) would come and once again save people from certain doom.  There’s only one feast, the Feast of Trumpets, that still has to be fulfilled, as I believe it points to the time when the trumpets shall sound in Heaven and usher in God’s final judgments and the return of Jesus to the Earth.

As far as incest is concerned, well, look at it this way.  Why is it bad to have kids with your sister?  Beside just being gross, it’s because your DNA matches closely, so all of the bad mutations are passed on to the children.  Adam and Eve were genetically perfect.  Before they fell into Satan’s trap, and sin entered the world, no genetic mutations occurred.  Now, thousands of years later, mutations abound.  Think of it this way – at our best, we’re all a bunch of inbred retards…

The point is, those of us who have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, have the wonderful blessing of living under grace; every sin, past, present and future, is covered.  We don’t have to live outdoors once a year, or observe Passover (not that we shouldn’t, but we don’t HAVE to), but we can live each day knowing that we’ll never be in danger of hellfire.  When this life is over, only our membership in God’s family will matter, and not whether or not we missed a Sunday service…