Strong as Gay

      John Stillman, AKA JAck wrangler – “The Marlboro man”

I was talking with a good friend this morning.  We were lamenting on the fact that we were both sort of married to the Marlboro Man, well different versions of, not the same guy, lest you be confused.

You know.  The Marlboro Man!  Rugged.  Strong.  Masculine.  Not bad to look at.  Works hard.  With their calloused hands no less, which always have grease lined-nails and jagged edges.   Yes, they are the quintessential man’s man who know the definition of HARD WORK and have an inexhaustible supply of energy to draw from in order to work– usually ten or twelve hours (on a slow day).

Maybe you know a Marlboro Man.  He probably smokes.  And cusses when he gets mad.   They leave the seat up just for you, ladies.  They like steak and potatoes and they despise casseroles and anything that comes from a recipe.  They like a nice cold one after work.  They like Monday night football and they don’t do chick flicks—ever!  They don’t see dust and above all they never ever cry.

They’re Dodge Ram tough!  They fix transmissions and they fix broken sinks.  They have tools that are too heavy for you to carry.  But mending broken hearts?  That’s another matter.

Ah yes, these steel boned, iron-willed men are what we chose and what we are indeed grateful for.  But sometimes, if life were absolutely perfect, we wonder what it’d be like to at least borrow a man like this:

Strong as Gay

     Yes, I said it.  For just one night, I want a reprieve from reality.  I want to spend time with someone who is characteristically and  fastidiously neat and would be horrified to see urine on the side of the porcelain and would instantly reach for the nearest spray bottle of Clorox.

In this alternate universe we’d have our moment.  My dream date would go down something like this:

First, I’ll go out to dinner to an elegant restaurant with a name I can’t pronounce, attached to the arm of a man who has never publicly belched or farted and knows what a linen napkin is for.  I want to see that Polo pony emblazoned proudly on his shirt in all its embroidered glory.    Yes, this is the steed for me.

I want to smell some nice Givenchy or Hermes with fruity overtones waft across the candlelight as this beautiful man sits there and compliments profusely my long ago-forgotten beauty.  As he gazes into my forty-something eyes, he’ll reach for my hand and hold it softly in his, as I’m acutely aware of how his baby-bottom like soft skin touches mine.  He’ll look longingly into my eyes as he gently inquires how was my day and how am I doing?  Yes, how are you actually doing–he’ll insist on knowing.  Then he will even wait for and even listen to my response. 

Even if it involves tears.

Especially, if it involves tears.

    “Oh dear, dear, dear, dear,” he’ll say as he wipes my eyes.  “We can’t have this.  This absolutely won’t do; your mascara will run.”  At this point, this perfectly caring strong beautiful man will jump up and then kneel down beside me on my side of the table and wipe my tear before it even starts the slippery descent down my cheek.  He’ll lean over and kiss the crown of my head and my heart will just melt.  I will think for a moment what did I ever do to deserve such a sensitive man.

By the time the maître d arrives, the perfect Pinot Noir has already been ordered and the definite possibility of dessert is being discussed.  No, make that relished.  We are laughing as we fork through our shrimp and avocado salad discussing dessert choices.   Next the topic of conversation will slowly shift to the time-treasured topic of:

Hopes and Dreams

     We’ll slowly savor each bite of our pan-seared salmon entrees with asparagus as we spend a good hour discussing the finer details of the above-mentioned topic.   Yes, I’ll try and get a word in edge-wise about what about you and your dreams, but this strong as gay man will have none of it.  We’re not here to discuss me he’ll say; tonight is all about you.  “But it’s not even my birthday,” I’ll insist.  “Shush, shush,” he’ll say, “as you were saying?”  He’ll beg for more details in his compassionate quest.

After dessert, we’ll sit facing one another in his new luxury Mercedes S class Sedan.  As I inhale the fresh-off-the-lot cleanliness of new leather, I’ll surreptitiously notice that not a solitary object exists in his car, save for the most recent copy of Architectural Digest and Traditional Home tucked neatly away in the backseat.  He’ll check his watch and remind me that we still have an hour before the movie starts.  He’ll ask me which movie I want to see more, the one with Sandra Bullock or the one with Hugh Grant.  He’ll tell me he is good either way.

We’ll continue talking about life and he’ll offer wisdom and real words of encouragement when I mention the things that are bothering me.  He’ll lean over and say, “Is it okay if I just hold you?”    This will make me cry and I’ll say, “Of course!”  Then I’ll start crying in that slobbery kind of way reserved only for deaths of loved ones and true break-downs, and he’ll just keep holding me and have a hanky close by on ready reserve just waiting to wipe away my tears.  In between sobs and slobs, he’ll just say, “There, there, it’s gonna be okay.”  And he’ll just lightly kiss the side of my face once or twice but mostly he’ll just hold me.

I will calm down and feel strangely comforted.  I may even feel like this is LOVE.   I’m relieved because I know I don’t owe him anything later for this abundance of kindness and caring.

As the evening winds down, we’ll finally go and see our movie.  We’ll laugh and cry together as we stuff our already full bellies with popcorn, soda, and chocolate.  Yes, we’ll have lots of chocolate.   He’ll probably reach over for my hand just to hold it during the tear-jerker scenes.

Finally, he will take me home.  He’ll look into my eyes one last time and say, “Thank you darling for tonight. It has been such a lovely evening.  You mean the world to me!  Never change, okay?”

We’ll lightly peck one another’s lips as I savor one last time the smells of his car, of him, of a reality that isn’t mine, never was, and never will be.

He will drop me back off at the house of the Marlboro Man.  The house where I live.  The house where there is both duty and love.  Heartache and heart full.  But every now and then, I will pine for the man who comfortably wears pink, has a small stud earring and smells really good, and a heart that goes so deep I think I’d like to drown there for just a little while sometimes.

Yes, we suburban wives of Marlboro need just such a strong man sometimes or at least the dream of one.  Even if it goes up in a puff of smoke.

Post Script:  John Stillman who played Jack Wrangler, aka The Marlboro Man, first worked as a model, than became well-known for his rugged good looks as The Marlboro Man.  He then went on to become a porn star and died from emphysema at age 62 in April 2009.

Dipsy and Doodle and Lil’ Officer Storm the Beach

God really blessed me the day he introduced me to my friend Andrea eight years ago.  I had just taken her prior job as a teacher assistant in Special Education.   She had moved up to a living wage job in a hospital and I was just crazy enough to accept the challenge of her former position.  Some days were hard; the difficulties these kids faced were incredible, but we both loved the job very much.  More than that, we became friends as we compared anecdotal stories about working with special-needs kids.    What bonded us immediately was our humor.  Because if you couldn’t laugh at yourself, you would not survive a job and the heartache of an entirely different world of kids that often made you want to cry.

I only lasted a year since I was suddenly with child at age forty!  Before you say woops, let me just say I’ve always been a non-conformist and leave it at that.  After my little guy was born, she was one of the first friends to come visit.  Up to then, we had only been friends in a professional setting, comparing notes and laughs that only people who work in Special Ed can understand.

We have an easy breezy way with one another.  Mostly it’s because we both passed forty a while ago, we both have three kids (both having two sons and a daughter), we both like to work out at the gym together despite our futility to “get ripped”.  About the only thing we ever ripped together was coupons from Sunday’s paper, but I digress.  We know we need to turn up the intensity of our workouts, but frankly that would be the buzz kill of our conversation time.  So we just maintain the status quo of our walkie-talkie relationship.

We are blonded together in both bottle and spirit.  Both of us are pretty awesome at not fixing what ain’t broken!  In fact, generally, we don’t give a seashell about things that are.  We’re both known for saying, “Pfftttt, who cares?!”

Together we are lazy and we laugh.  Between the two of us, we possess over one hundred years’ worth of wisdom!!    We both passionately love theater.  We both are willing to work triple over-time to see the  great Broadway plays that come to NC a few times a year.  Well, she is.  She works about 70 hours for each of my 30.  She is one busy worker bee!  And there’s this:

We always say that put together, we are the equivalent of one perfectly self-actualized, fully functioning adult brain.

      Here’s the thing:  We both have a lot, and I mean a WHOLE LOT, of what we refer to as “Dipsy Doodle” moments.    These are the opposite of Oprah’s “Aha” moments and more closely resemble the Three Stooges.  “Where in the world did I put my keys?  Did you take my keys?  Oh great, now I can’t find my wallet.  Hold the elevator.  Just a sec; let me run inside and pee!  Do you want me to grab you a soder on the way out?”     Too bad for the family of six who are all dripping sand and water and are anxious to get up to their hotel room.  They will just have to wait a second already!

See my girl Andrea is from Queens, and I’m a Taurus, and she’s nearly one (she missed the cut off by minutes I swear!) so we have this way of making things work out, well…..perfectly.

That’s because we both are barely bossy, yet easily pleased and generally happy.  If our hotel doesn’t have cockroaches or bedbugs, we are more than satisfied.  The important thing is did we get the cheapest one?  Like Trump, it’s all about the art of the deal in our mind.    We know the real secret of a good beach vacation:  Go south, get a cheap hotel with a kitchen and park super close to the beach.

Easy beach access and cooking in the room is great, but our favorite part is when the other guests are SO DANG interesting.      This weekend I told her we were blessed to be staying in what could only be deemed as Redneck Paradise.  It was People Magazine Polar Opposite in the flesh on steroids!  I don’t mean that as a slam; I was just so excited to be surrounded by so many people I hope to include in a future great literary work of fiction.   Real life often reveals people and characters begging to be described that you couldn’t normally even dream of when trying to write fiction.

We saw someone I will call Pete the Pirate, or perhaps Pete the former Navy Seal with his super model girlfriend.  He impressed me on many levels, foremost his sheer comfortableness of removing his prosthetic leg and absolutely loving an ocean adventure!   He had super long jet black hair that whipped his face furiously as he crawled into a very windy and wild surf.    He pulled his personal Christie Brinkley look-a-like into the water where they took turns laughing and groping and majestically kissing one another and splashing in the waves.  It was like watching a dark-haired Fabio come to life in the ocean.  It made me wish I had a camera until I realized that would be tad bit purvey.  When the Pirate and Christie weren’t frolicking in the ocean, they were donning leather chaps sans helmets (it’s SC y’all) and getting ready to ride their Harleys.   It was what can only be described as his intensity and zest for life that made me observe more astutely than normal.

My little boy was quick to point out to a group of foreigners on our elevator that there was a certain smell coming out of their kitchen on our floor.  He also told two wrinkled twin grandmothers in the hotel hot tub that our room was destroyed, utterly destroyed when he was sitting just a few feet out of my hearing range.  I leaned over to Andrea and said, “I better go get him.  He’s probably spilling family secrets.”

Two second later:  The kindly grandmothers let me know, “He’s spilling all your secrets!  He said your room is a HUGE mess!”  Well that was a slight exaggeration, but still as is his custom and ours, he made an impression.  Later, when several grownups decided to take a dip in the tub, he was speedy quick to remind them that sessions are only to be fifteen minutes and they are not to drink ALCOHOL.  He knew that because he could read the signs.  Well then–it’s comforting that we have a six year old officer to maintain order and control!

Yes for forty eight hours, we laughed ourselves silly!  I read an old cheesy beach romance novel  in one morning and lamented the success of its writer who made the NY Times Bestseller’s List–multiple times!!  The entire book was built on sentences only a first grader could write!  We observed that Michelle Obama may possibly have a point in the fact that some people really can’t control their eating or their frequent German lover on the side–Hagan Daaz!    We rejoiced in the fact that we were the “skinny” moms on the beach—well, mostly.  Except for the occasional super model (translation: everyone UNDER age 30).   We laughed about our husbands who weren’t there to defend themselves, but reminded ourselves how thankful we are too.  We talked about dumb things we did in high school and rejoiced in the fact that is not who we are now.  We shared the burdens of being a mom and a wife and a worker, while accepting the realities of aging—being sandwiched somewhere in the middle of anxiety and grace, health concerns ranging from birth to death, aging parents, and children who’ve been known to cause a gray hair or two, and thereby justifying our blonde habit.

We played in the ocean and watched my son like a hawk in the stormy sea.  The caution flag flew the whole time and my back never touched the sand.  My little boy who is scared to fall asleep alone is absolutely fearless in the pounding waves.

       By the end of our short stay, my son newly empowered by taking on the force of the ocean, took his life jacket off and finally got the hang of swimming on his own in the pool.  What an accomplishment!  I’ve waited five summers for this day to arrive!

Our first night we went out for delicious Italian food at Travinia’s.  Later we eavesdropped on a group of French high school kids singing rap songs that sounded weirdly elegant, snobby even, as we ate ice cream outside the theater.  We saw dozens of smiling Batman and Joker imitators and one person dressed up, strangely enough, as a bottle of Mustard.  After words, during another Dipsy Doodle moment, okay make it twenty, we walked around aimlessly because we had temporarily misplaced my mini-van.   The next day we mourned when we heard about what happened in Colorado.  Our trip concluded with what had to have been a 5000 calorie buffet at Mammy’s Kitchen, where yet again, we almost were the skinny ones.

The beach trip went by in a blur.   We talked and laughed so much!  Sometimes we were quiet and just read.  We built sandcastles, jumped waves, and played in the water.  We made and ate good food.  We drank juice-box style Pina Coladas in the evenings.   We celebrated that though life is hard, it is also very good, if you are willing to appreciate the smallest of victories, kind deeds by others, and sheer beauty God puts before us every second of every day!

It doesn’t take money or an itinerary or an agenda to have a great vacation or be a great friend.  It just takes time—time enough to laugh, share, reminisce, pray, and love.    Laugh about yesterday, treasure today, and pray and hope for tomorrow.

    For Andrea—my friend with a GREAT heart!

BREAKING NEWS FLASH: Liz Won the Lottery!!

Photo by Liz Gray

Go and wake up your luck.  Persian Saying

        Life is so beautiful.   I should easily be able to think of at least a thousand memories from the 17,184* days I’ve lived so far,  but for sake of the preciousness of your life, allow me to account for just one day.

Yesterday was such a very happy day.  I woke up;  as is my custom, God willing, and that right there is something major to be grateful for.  This was followed by a series of multiple media message checking from cell phone, to email, to facebook to home phone—all before I had a chance for my morning coffee.     Make the beds, make a plan for the day, change the litter box; change the plans for the day after consulting all the other family members and their plans.

Thankfully, it was Saturday, so we didn’t have the usual workday/school day stress of all trying to get out the door.   As words were exchanged and plans revised and rearranged, I first felt the twinges of stress creeping in from an “overstuffed” day, but for once I was able to pause  and remember something:

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it! (Psalm 118:24)

See I wanted to go to a dear friend’s daughter’s high school graduation.  I also already had plans to go see my daughter’s dance recital at a studio about two hours away, two hours from when the graduation ceremony started.  I had not seen my friend in over a year or her family.  Not only was her youngest daughter graduating, her oldest daughter was coming into town with a brand new baby, only a few weeks old.  I could not skip my daughter’s recital, yet how could I miss the graduation of someone so dear to our family?

What to do, what to do?  We’ve all been here.  How do you either A: Stop Time or   B: Be in two places at one time?

Well, if you figure that one out, please be sure and let me know, because it seems every day I live, there is more that either NEEDS to be done, or that I WANT to do, and sadly it’s just not possible to do it all.

So I prayed.  I rushed, but I prayed five simple words:  Lord, please order my day.  BOOM!  No sooner, than this simplest of prayers get lifted up, a possibility floated into my consciousness.   It was as if God let me know a visit with a friend delights and warms our heart no matter how brief.  I decided I would meet my friends, and hug her beautiful daughter if only for a few moments outside the church shortly before graduation started.  We spent about thirty true quality moments.  I did not get to see her graduate.  But I did get to see her.

I got to admire the serene beauty of a mom who raised four amazing children who have grown into Godly, well-adjusted, kind, compassionate young adults who will make this world a better place because of their purpose in it.  I got to see her two beautiful boys, one with a family of his own,  and her lovely oldest daughter, a mom of three with her newest gorgeous baby boy.  Hugs were exchanged and plans were made for a future visit.

Kiss, kiss, and off I went.  I drove the two hours west where the foothills, turn into what I guess I would call sledding hills.  Not quite the mountains, but there is a hint you’re getting closer.  Along the way to the dance recital, I kept stopping because I am the kind of person who gets distracted by Kodak Moments.  Rural America has a hundred snapshots a mile.  I could write into eternity, and I’m not even sure that would be enough time to capture all the beauty I see all around me.  Old wells, broken down cars,  wheel wagon mailboxes, giant ten-foot neon signs decades old, purple houses with pink petunias everywhere, and even the unique, humorous, and downright weird billboards I saw were all “signs”  from a higher power to:  SEE!  ENJOY!  WHAT BOUNTY AND ABUNDANCE I HAVE PLACED BEFORE YOU!

My favorite pic of the day was a sweepstakes building.  There was only one car there; I assume it was the owner or employee. There was not another car in sight.  They were open for business.  But no one came.  Maybe it’s because this small town felt like I did; I already won the lottery!!   Who needs a windfall, which often is accompanied by curses and broken promises, when beauty and memory is to be found everywhere.

I ultimately made it to the dance recital where my daughter sat in the front along with the other teachers, as opposed to dancing on the stage like all the recitals of the last ten years.    Her choreography was amazing and loud applause warmed my heart, because God continues to water the seeds of her gifts too.

I thought of all the unwritten chapters yesterday.  Not just what I want to write about, but what God wants to write about.  He truly has written eternity into the hearts of man.  Who will this new graduate become as she starts her voyage from this day forward as an adult?  Who will this new baby be?  What new adventures await my lovely friend who has successfully raised four amazing children and now after nearly thirty years will have the joy of time to do more of what she loves?  What lies ahead for all the talented dancers I saw yesterday? Their possibilities of choices, colleges, and careers are endless.

See I didn’t have to go inside and play the lottery.  For I have a secret to tell you.  I already won!!

It’s not about what we have or haven’t gotten yet.  It’s not about the career we have or don’t have that defines us.  Life is about  enjoying the gifts God puts all around you and within you.    It’s not about  stuff or status; it’s about purpose and perspective.  Ah yes, definitely perspective.

Yesterday I hugged three beautiful moms and one beautiful graduate!  I kissed a new baby.  I met a new toddler.  I saw dancers that could soar so high and dance so magnificently it made me cry that even that much talent can be squeezed into one person’s body, and even that was repeated in multiple dancers.   I hugged and kissed a beautiful teacher–my daughter.   Throughout the day I listened to music that inspires my soul and saw scenery that leaves me with only one thought.  Thank you!    Thank you God for letting me win life’s lottery.  It’s not free from struggle, by any means, but it’s days like yesterday, that make me realize, I’m infinitely rich beyond measure.

Today I even got to wake up for the 17, 185th time.  Seriously, how SWEET is that???

The soul, like the body, lives by what it feeds on.  ~Josiah Gilbert Holland

  How long have you been blessed?