When I grow up…

There’s a commercial on TV right now, with a little boy dressed up as a pirate.  He runs around the house, chasing a turtle with his sword or doing ‘pirate things’.  He ends up in a grocery store with his mother, and sees an old man with an eye patch.  As he prepares to do battle with the unsuspecting old guy, his mother quickly rushes him out of the store.

It’s very cute.  We all love watching kids play out these fantasies in their everyday lives – little girls riding their tricycles around my neighbourhood dressed up like fairy princesses, while dad patiently walks behind them holding their wand, is adorable.

When we’re little, we dream of what we’d like to be when we grow up, and it’s usually something none of us will ever aspire to; astronaut, movie star, super hero.

You sometimes hear about famous athletes or celebrities announce during a speech or after winning a trophy of some sort, how it’s been a dream of theirs since they were a little kid.

I can kind of get that when it comes to athletes, but for actors?  Did they really lay on the grass in their backyards as little kids, daydreaming of sitting in makeup at 4am for 3 hours only to find out that the catering truck didn’t show up, so they had to wrap for the day, or taking wild swings at the paparazzi that swarm them like mosquitoes?

Something happens to us as we get older.  Belief in things like the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny disappear, and along with them, other fantasies that sit in our memories.

We learn that Superman isn’t real, and the closest thing we have to real heroes now are random strangers who happen upon an accident, running into the dangerous situation that we run away from.  No capes or tights, which is probably a good thing, but nothing obvious to tell them apart from the rest of us.

I don’t remember what I wanted to be when I grew up.  We did a lot of outdoor stuff, and had an affinity to climb things.  I recall that we had a ‘Spider Man Club’ where we’d challenge each other to complete difficult obstacle courses on playground equipment.  I don’t know that I ever thought I wanted to be Spider Man when I grew up, though.  In fact, I don’t think I know very many people who have had a life-long dream, then went out and achieved it.

There is one old friend who, after suffering a back injury as a young teenager, decided he wanted to become a chiropractor after his first treatment where the conventional medical institutions could not relieve his pain.

He committed to it back then, and the last time I saw him, a few years ago, he was running one of the most successful sports injury clinics around.  Now that is following your dream!

Being in the hunt for work, I often get asked what it is I want to do, now that I’m free to chase my dreams.  In fact, it was one of the first questions I was asked by the guy charged with getting me back to work.  I stumbled over my answer.  I’m not even sure that I gave him an answer.

Mostly, I’m only able to give a list of the things I know I DON’T want to do any more;  drive in rush-hour traffic, sit in meetings all day, that kind of stuff.  If I was completely honest with myself, I’d say that for the rest of my life, my work would look like this:

Sleep in, pour a coffee, get my daughter off to school, read the paper, walk the dog, chat with the neighbours, cut the grass, go golfing, fix something around the house, do a bit of shopping, then prepare a fabulous meal for my family – Something barbequed.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to come up with a way to get paid to do those things.

See, here’s the problem with starting over so late in your career.  All those childhood dreams are long gone; dried up in the dusty old recesses of your mind, if they were ever there in the first place.

Even if you wanted to be idealistic about the rest of your working life, you will be tasked with verbalizing your grand plan.  Astronaut or super hero are not likely in the cards any more, and you’d more likely be sitting on a chair in a psychiatrists office than working with NASA on the next space mission if you ever brought those dreams up.

Six year old dreamers are cute.  Fifty year old dreamers are on drugs…or should be…or are Richard Branson.

I don’t know if, over years of being beaten down or having dreams dashed, that you kind of throw in the towel, or if it’s something more basic than that.  Maybe you just realize that at a point in your life, you see the kind of stress your boss is under, and know you don’t want that, and the things that are important to you have changed.  Good family, good neighbours, good friends, good health.

I know that sounds really boring, and maybe it is.  But I also think you can still be a bit of that dreamer kid you once were, just on a more practical level.  Helping someone pick up dropped groceries in the parking lot, or cutting a neighbours grass when their lawn mower is kaput.

It’s never too late to be that guy or gal you dreamed of being when you were a kid, but it may look different, and be a bit less glamorous. In the end, though, we’re really here to help each other through life.  If that’s our only accomplishment, we’ve done quite well.

It may not be leaping tall buildings or swinging through sky-scrapers on a web, saving that damsel in distress, but it’s a lot safer, and you don’t have to wear tights.  Unless you want to.

Unfinished Business

There are a lot of self-described home handymen out there.  I like to think that I’m one of them.  I love watching those home repair shows, especially the ones where the frustrated wife calls in the expert guy to ambush the unsuspecting, well-meaning husband about his incomplete or completely wrong home renovation.  The poor guy usually looks completely emasculated.

There should to be an aptitude test that everyone should take before they’re let loose in the home improvement stores.  Can you tell the difference between a hack saw and miter saw?  What does a router do? What shape is a Phillips head screw driver?  That kind of thing.  Maybe they’d get a tool belt or a certificate if they passed.

I was lucky enough as a kid to have access to a really cool workshop in our home, so I got a good start on understanding what tools did…and didn’t do.  I once tried to use a rasp as a hammer.  Bad ending for the rasp.  When I became a home owner, through necessity, I learned the hard way what jobs I could reasonably tackle and what jobs I should call in the experts for.

I do have one big growth opportunity, though – finishing a job.  I know there are a lot of women out there who pull their hair out over all the half complete projects their husbands have started around the house.  Guilty as charged.

I suppose that this has been a character flaw for most men through the

ages.  What was the logic behind the famous George Washington Unfinished Portrait?  Did old George get up to go to the washroom and never come back?  Did the artist run out of paint?  Maybe he said ‘lets pick this up again tomorrow’, then George had to run off to battle or something.

In the house I have now, I took on finishing the basement, which took several years to complete.  It wasn’t due to a lack of desire, but a lack of time and money.  We went into the project expecting it to take a while, but because it was the basement, it didn’t interrupt normal living.

We had our share of slow downs along the way, like rebuilding the bathroom 3 times…love you, honey!  Once I completed most of the framing, we bit the bullet and hired contractors for the plumbing, wiring, and dry wall.  By the way, hiring dry wall guys was the best investment I think I’ve ever made.

My job was to paint, lay flooring, then do the trim work.  That was it, then we could enjoy the ‘Man Cave’ to its fullest.  That was 3 years ago.

The basement looks fantastic if I do say so myself, but under closer inspection, there’s a little piece of trim that I never got around to installing.  3 years, and a 1 foot piece of white trim, and I can’t get it done.

That’s another funny thing about guys and their projects – when they show them off to friends, they immediately point out all the flaws.  Why is that?  Maybe we do that so no one else can point out our shoddy work.

Incomplete projects drive the ladies nuts!  How many homes have partially finished backyard projects, or a job started, the tools sitting out, and left there for weeks on end?

Well, I have a theory that should give the therapists out there lots to chew on.

We don’t finish these jobs, because we’re afraid.  There are two main fears that we men have:

  1. We’re afraid that if we finish the job, we’ll be tasked with another immediately afterwards, so the honey-do list never ends.
  2. If we put that last piece of trim on, and the job is finished, we are open to ridicule about how well we did.  As long as there’s one little thing left to do, we always have the default response when someone points out a flaw; “Well, I’m still working on it”, thus extinguishing any negative comments.

You see, you can’t truly fail if you haven’t finished trying yet, can you?  Even if the flaw has nothing to do with what you haven’t completed, there’s that little caveat that gives you an ‘out’.

That’s what the experts say, right?  As long as you don’t quit, you haven’t failed.  Well, the same thing applies here – as long as you’re still technically working on a project, you haven’t failed at it.

I also think a lot of men are like me.  I love tackling a project.  I lay awake at night, figuring out how something will come together.  I actually get a bit obsessive about, which may not be entirely healthy.  The trouble starts as the job gets a ways down the road and all the big manly parts are finished.

We’d do the big stuff – the deck is framed, concrete poured and the huge beams are secured in place.  Renting heavy equipment is like a day at Disney World for us guys.  Have you ever seen someone at the rental counter with an auger or hammer drill?  Like a kid on Christmas morning!  These large pieces of equipment also have to be lubricated….with beer and a couple of friends – as spotters, you know.  Now that sounds like a manly project.

But it’s those little finishing things that are kind of a let down.  It’s almost like driving home after a great vacation.  You know it’s  coming to an end, and all the fun stuff is over.  Back to the rental counter with your head down and a hint of sadness in your eyes.

Maybe that’s the tie in on all of this.  If we finish a job, not only are we in the cross hairs for the next one, and we have to fess up to a less than perfect job, it also marks the end of something we wrestled to the ground and beat.

If home projects ended with something cool like using a jack hammer or a flame thrower, we’d probably finish a lot more of them.  Unfortunately, they usually whimper out with a small paint brush and a rag, or a handful of dainty finishing nails.  Not very manly.

Is this what it comes down to?  Are we men so shallow and insecure that we intentionally refuse to complete home projects because it means all the cool tools have be put away, and the arts and crafts stuff comes out?

With all that to roll around in our noggins, here’s a thought.  From now on, all home projects have 2 distinct parts.  The first part is the big stuff; demolition, dismantling, framing, rough construction.  Then the second part is the little stuff;  painting, trim, door pulls, cleaning up.

Maybe the jobs should be shared with someone else less ‘heavy equipment worthy’ so we don’t have to deal with the glue guns and accent colors of the project world.  At the very least, we may actually say we finished something.

Life In The Fast Lane

In the last decade or two, I’ve been a fairly responsible driver.  I don’t suffer from road rage (mostly), and I signal all my turns.  I did get one speeding ticket a few years ago, while absentmindedly driving too fast through a school zone on a Saturday morning.  I totally deserved it.

In my younger years, speeding tickets were pretty common place for me, which reflected on my insurance premiums.

I’ve also had my share of lucky breaks.  A few times I was able to get tickets dismissed due to administration errors, such as no amount written on them, or the wrong date or location recorded.

When and if I’m ever pulled over, I don’t make a fuss about it.  I know when I’ve been caught, and I pay for my indiscretions.  In fact, one time just after buying a sporty new red car, I was going well over the speed limit, and passed a cruiser parked on a dark side road.  I knew I was busted, so I just slowed down and waited on the shoulder for him to catch up.

I was lucky enough to get off with a warning that night, probably because I made it so easy for him.

Most of the time, not that I get pulled over a lot, my interactions with above mentioned law enforcement officers are fairly pleasant and straight-forward.

Have you been drinking tonight, Sir?

No, officer“.

Thank you.  Have a nice evening.

There was one instance however, where things went a little sideways over an alleged highway infraction.  I probably should have handled this differently, but hey, in the middle of a situation, sometimes good judgement takes a back seat. No pun intended…

I was traveling along a major 2 lane highway one afternoon, heading towards home after a long day on the road.  I came up to a slow bit of traffic that seemed to clog up suddenly.  Cars were traveling at exactly the posted rate of speed, and no one was passing.

This could only mean one thing:  police.

While waiting for things to thin out, I looked into my rear view mirror and saw several large trucks barreling down on our little swarm of anemic cars.  Not a single driver was brave enough to pass the police car, which was in the right lane, traveling at exactly 100km/h (that’s about 62 miles per hour for my Imperial friends).

Realizing that this crowd of cars in an otherwise completely empty highway was ridiculous and dangerous, I took the lead, and crept forward.

Inching my way past the police cruiser at barely faster than continental drift, I eventually passed him and safely signaled, moving over into the right lane in front of him.

Suddenly, bright red lights filled my mirrors as the police car pulled up against my rear bumper.  Unbelievable! Well, at least I saved all the other drivers from the torture of following this guy for miles.

I pulled onto the shoulder, shut off the car and waited.  This huge bear of a man stepped out of his cruiser and approached my car.  He was a sergeant and had a swagger that would put John Wayne to shame.

Good afternoon, Sir.  In a hurry today?“, he sarcastically asked.

No! If I was in a hurry…I would have been SPEEDING!

I was as surprised by my response as I’m sure he was.

He went on about how I must have been speeding, since he was doing the speed limit and I passed him.  My blood was boiling.

Do you know how fast you were going, Sir?“.   There’s that condescending tone again.

Of course I know how fast I was going.  I was passing a cop!

I have a policy of pulling over every car that passes me.”  was his explanation.  Really?  I think I made some comment about how much fun he must be around back at the station.

By now, I didn’t care if I got a ticket.  In fact, I begged him to give me one.

I just saved this highway from a seriously dangerous situation that you were causing.  If you want to give me a ticket for going 2 km/h over the limit on the busiest highway in North America, I can’t wait to take it to court and have you explain this to the judge“.

He replied; “I can tell by looking at you, that you’re a speeder.  There’s a speed enforcement team just up the highway.  If I wasn’t out here slowing you down, you would have been caught going way over the limit“.

What?  So, now you can tell the future?  That’s remarkable!”  was my slick reply.  “Either give me a ticket, or let me go“.

In the end, he let me go with a warning – of what I’m still not sure.  There was a suggestion to get my speedometer re calibrated in a weak attempt at a truce. I’m a bit surprised that he gave in at all.  I was sure I would get dragged back to his cruiser in hand cuffs.

I don’t mind taking my lumps when I deserve them, and I don’t typically respond to authority in such an ill-mannered way.  It was the stupid logic in pulling me over and tone of his voice when he spoke to me that really set me off.

Hopefully this will never happen again.  I’m, pretty sure though, that on that day, about a dozen motorists saluted me as they drove past in honour of the great sacrifice I made for them.

They call me Mister

From the time we’re old enough to respond to our names, we’re able to pick up on the subtle differences between being called and being in trouble.

When your mother calls you by your full name, you know you’re in big trouble.  That kind of formality is reserved for serious infractions.

We never had trouble distinguishing things with our Dad.  He only called us by name if we were in trouble.  Otherwise, we got called ‘My Boy’ which was usually accompanied by a noogy.

There were 4 boys in our family, and he would just run down the list from oldest to youngest until we responded – and we had better respond, or else!  The more mad he was, the more convoluted the list sounded.  It’s no surprise that now with his condition, not remembering our names doesn’t come as any great shock.  For half our lives, he called us by the wrong name.

Out in the big scary world, there are names given to you that can be considered either respectful or condescending, depending on the circumstance.  Case in point;  Being called ‘Sir’ can be a show of respect from a youth, although it still stings a bit, since it means that you’re old. “Will you be getting the senior’s discount today, Sir?“.  Ouch!

On the other hand, being called ‘Sir’ by a police officer has a whole different meaning.  It’s on par with your mother calling you by your proper name.

When I’m introduced to people, especially someone of a generation ahead of my own, I tend to call them ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ until they offer back a more relaxed option.  “Call me Harold.  ‘Sir’ was My father’s name”.

At home now, we generally refer to each other with pet names; honey, sweetheart, and so forth.  I know I’m in trouble or something has gone wrong when my lovely bride calls to me by saying ‘Troy’.  We call our kids ‘Boy’ or ‘Girl’, and refer to them as such with our friends.  I don’t know how that came about, but it stuck.

In my neighbourhood, there’s lots of kids.  Since we live smack-dab in the center of our street, our activities are almost always visible to curious little eyes.  This is also why we have good curtains.

The children next door to us call us ‘Mister Troy’ and ‘Missus Darlene’.  I guess our Polish last name was just too much for their little tongues to navigate.  I think it’s cute – as soon as we come outside or pull into our driveway, they compete to see who can say ‘Hi’ first.

Hi, Mister. Troy.  We’re going to the zoo today” the little boy would rush over and announce.

Somehow, even without introductions, our names are now known all around the neighbourhood, which is kind of cool.  But not today.

While I was picking up the mail, a kid who couldn’t have been more than 10 and doesn’t even live on our street was walking home from school, and as he passed, he said ‘Hi, Troy‘, with a casual wave of the hand.  No ‘Mister’ Troy, or Sir.  Heck, even ‘Mr. T’ would be better.

It came out of him with a familiarity like he was someone I had a beer with while fixing the lawn mower.  This was a little too cozy for my liking, especially from someone his age.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not one of those formal people who insists that people refer to them as Mr.  I’ve met people like that. “Hello, I am Mr. Stephens“.  Yikes!

It’s just that there’s something about respecting your elders that got lost on this kid.  You should follow a more formal introduction until offered otherwise.  Is that being stodgy or frumpy?

I know it’s not the kids fault.  He wanders the neighbourhood a lot, with little if any adult supervision, so it’s not like he’s getting a good mentoring.

Maybe ‘Mister Troy’ should take him under his wing and teach him about respecting his elders, and on properly addressing people he doesn’t know.  Who knows, maybe one day, he will be sharing a beer with me while fixing the lawn mower.  Then he can call me ‘Troy’.  But for now, he can call me MISTER!