Sunday, March 25, 2012

truth and honesty …

I am at a juncture in my life, a challenging “mid-life crisis” that makes me contemplative and introspective. Each day I seek answers to the questions of why I do what I do, how my behaviors and actions drive results or bring consequences, and what makes me the “me” that I am. The objective of this deep and meaningful work is to achieve a positive self-image, which for most of my life has eluded me.

During lunch with a friend who I have known since I was three years old, I find myself sharing what has brought me to this juncture. We talk about the mental and emotional work that I am taking on, which is all part of becoming a sober and fully-realized man. She asks what I want to get out of all of this work. I hold my breath for a moment and then the truth pours out and over the table like water from an overfull water glass.

“I want to be able to see myself as others see me,” I say as my eyes start to burn. I look down and blink repeatedly.
“Do you want to know how I see you?” she asks with love in her voice.
“I don’t think so, because I know it will make me cry.”

My eyes well up. I know what she will say. She will say things that I hear often. Adjectives used to describe me that seem as foreign and incorrect as saying my skin is the color blue. For as long as I can remember, these words (which are kind and lovely) enter my brain, twist and turn, and morph into lies. The image of “me” that lives inside my brain and heart does not match these statements. I do not believe them about myself, so I cannot accept them from others as being true.

For the most part, people in my life think positively of me and say very nice things about me. Normally, I do not feel grateful for the words they use to describe how they view me. I feel shame; shame that comes from lies that I tell myself – things I believe about myself – and actions and behaviors that mask my true emotions or provide a false sense of power when I feel powerless. It comes from a society that condems who I am and who God made me. Shame comes from not living a fully honest life. From fear of people not liking me. I have not been fully honest with myself or with others, and I have not always been honest when it matters most.

Honesty is a hard value to uphold. It influence ones morals. However, where does one draw the line at what one considers a white lie versus a fib, a stretch of the truth versus a full-blown lie? Is it OK to lie in order to protect others or myself, or protect the perception that others have of me? What is the difference? Does it matter what I keep secret and what I make public; and, when does a secret evolve into a lie?

Keeping secrets is a protective reaction. This I know. Secrets protect against ridicule, persecution, harm, shame, or oneself. I am coming to believe that secrets are a form of dishonesty. They are about withholding information, reserving it, reshaping it, or limiting disclosure. This is typical when trust is a concern. But, when do secrets start to make you sick ... the deep sickness that is true shame, guilt, and self-loathing?

Dishonesty comes in many sizes and shapes. Dishonesty can be big or small. For example, when someone asks, “How are you?” and I respond, “Fine” even though I am not, I am not being honest. Maybe I want to spare them the sob story, maybe there’s no time for details, or maybe I just don’t want to accept that life is hard to live on life’s terms. I find that I say, “Fine” often, but I try now more than ever to respond with an honest fact. “I am happy it’s warm today.” “I am little sleepy.” “There’s a lot going on. More than I can share right now.” And, yes, maybe it's just none of their fucking business.

Honesty is the focus and foundation of my sobriety. I am now finally honest with myself about who I am, who I want to become, what I do, and why I do what I do.

I am working to undo damage from what others say that is untrue about me – statements that, after hearing them enough, I choose to believe. Some are in response to my behaviors and some drive my behaviors into being. Statements like, selfish, stupid, not committed, inadequate, a loser, dishonest and not trustworthy, lazy, unreliable, arrogant, or condescending. Those statements make it hard to believe when people say that I am caring, considerate, loving, handsome, funny, articulate, an intellectual, smart, fun to be with, sexy, creative, talented, or a good person.

I am learning that I base my responses on how I feel people will judge me and our interactions. I am a people pleaser by nature. I have lived my life with low self-esteem and with a corrupt self-image. I want other people to like me because I do not like myself. I need others to admire me because I am jealous of what they may have. I surround myself with nice things and present myself as perfectly as possible in order to mask the inner turmoil that is in my head. If my flatware drawer is in perfect order, then of course my life is!

This work requires a great amount of personal evaluation and soul searching in order to discover what makes me tick. The more I dig into who I am, the more I uncover who I am not. It helps me define who I am now and who I will become tomorrow.

This work makes me more able to see myself as others see me. This work helps me hear and believe the words said about me, especially those words that bring tears to my eyes when said by a life-long friend during lunch.

The tears do come, but not because I do not believe the words. They come now because, in this new view of myself and my life, I am starting to hear them as truth.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

not a hero's tale ...

I grew up in a nice, quiet, suburban Northern Californian town, surrounded by the last remaining orchards in the area. There were cherry trees, apricot trees, plum trees. It had quiet streets, good schools, tree-lined sidewalks, and the smell of freshly mown grass on summer Saturdays.

It was in the valley, just a short drive to the beach and a not-so-long drive to the mountains. A parent’s trust was known when they let you drive “over the hill” to Santa Cruz; a harrowing, winding, twisty‑turny drive at the age of 16 or 17; especially when filled with teenagers whose sole purpose of going was to get drunk at a bonfire party at Bonnie Dune.

There were soccer teams that played games only on one weekend day, un-chaperoned walks to and from school with friends, and bike rides without helmets and elbow pads. There were parks where we picnicked and watched fireworks on Fourth of July, streets where you could play hide and seek for hours after a summer’s sunset, and malls that most of us worked at in high school.

There were parents, and children, and families, and friends. There were suburban scandals of affairs and divorce and alcoholism. There were popular kids, smart kids, awkward kids, and nerds. There were polite kids, quiet kids, loud kids, nice kids, and some of those kids were horribly mean kids. Many years later, these horribly mean kids would look back and wonder why they were so horribly mean? They would think quiet thoughts to themselves late at night when reminiscing on their youthful days; their days of teasing and taunting and being horribly mean kids.

My family lived on a street with several other families and their kids. I was one of the youngest kids on the block. We would all play together, go to school together, babysit and be babysat by each other. In this town, most of these horribly mean kids all went to the same elementary school, junior high school, and high school. Only a few splintered off and attended different junior high schools, but most of kids regrouped in high school.

In elementary school, these horribly mean kids built many great memories together that started from kindergarten and continued through sixth grade. Talent shows, skate days, Halloween parties, cupcakes on birthdays, Valentine’s Day paper bag mailboxes and awkward growing pains both physical and emotional.

They played horses, and baseball, and foursquare at recess. They teased and tortured each other with crushes and our own immaturity, and they teased and tortured this one particular boy. He was a geek in the truest definition of the word.

My memory of him, as one of these horribly mean kids, is that he always wore brown corduroy pants that were “floods.” He had a look on his face that showed pure lack of comprehension. He had a blank stare and his cockeyes were covered and enlarged by big, thick glasses. It appeared that he rarely bathed or brushed his hair; it had mats in the back and his cowlick was always unruly. He had yellow earwax in his ears and a snot-crusted nose.

We called him stupid, retarded, a dumbass, and geek. We ignored him, moved seats, and held our nose when he came near. He had cooties and we had an endless supply of cootie spray in our fingers. We laughed aloud if our friends were forced into some type of close interaction, like square dancing or being table partners. We pushed him on purpose, left him out of any clique or afterschool event, and made him become everything that we thought he was: disgusting.

We were the band of horribly mean kids who, years later, began to regret our actions and behaviors. With age brings maturity and remorse for youthful insolence. We would long for a moment to apologize and atone for being so horribly mean.

There were moments when he would pop into my head and I would wonder where he was – if he was. I have no recollection of him after 6th grade. I do not know where he went to school after that.

I pictured him in a special needs home, sometimes in a straight jacket or receiving electroshock therapy. I had visions of old black and white films of sanitariums filled with drooling nut jobs, and he was always right there with them. I sometimes pictured him still living at home, wearing brown corduroy pants, watching TV with his mom – his poor, poor mom – eating a TV dinner while she mournfully knitted and wished her life had turned out different and that she did not despise her son.

On rare occasions, I pictured him a huge success, as if he invented Post Its. He was clean, friendly, and happy. He smiled and laughed and had friends. He had blossomed in college, where he joined a fraternity and played flag football with his brothers, even though he wasn’t that good. He had fun. He went to parties and was awkward, but not excessively so. He was smart and did well in science and math.

He had girlfriends and kissed them. They weren’t repulsed by him and made love to him on the beach. One loved him so much that she said yes when he asked her to marry him and his mother cried proud tears when he thanked her for loving him through all his awkward years and for believing in him. In these moments, I saw him living a hero’s tale.

That is what I pictured when I pictured him alive. It seemed clear that he would be a case for suicide, either as a teen or as a 30-something. I could picture him being the one who shot random people from overpasses, or the one who drove his car into a restaurant, or shot himself after gunning down his office mates.

*     *     *     *     *

Recently, on Face Book, a plethora of school photos was posted. Comments and stories, memories and thoughts, were brought up over one school picture in particular. It was Mr. Murphy’s sixth Grade class photo. These “horrible kids,” still friends today, commented on their life and remembered.

Anne: We sure had style!

Jon: Remember square dancing, skate day on Fridays? Mr. Murphy was a fun teacher. Remember the talent show, the song "Popcorn," and Pat Benatar's “Hit me with your Best Shot”?

Lisa: OH MY GOSH! I totally do! Square dancing was such a good time. I dream about Mr. Murphy's class periodically throughout my life. I think that was one of the best years of my childhood. Why do I not remember skate day? What is wrong with me? Popcorn -- that was fun! We just couldn't get enough of that, could we?

Anne: I loved the song Pop Corn and skate day was so much fun!

Lisa: Does anyone remember the boy front left with glasses? I think his name was Robbie? Anyway, I wish I could give him a HUGE apology. It makes me sick to my stomach, but I can remember us doing some mean things to him. Oh man kids can be so mean!

Cyndi: I remember being so mean to him, too. I wrote him a letter about 10 years ago and apologized for being such a douche to him.

Scott: His name was Robbie. If memory serves, we called him Rotten Robbie. We were all horribly mean to him. I remember reluctantly inviting him to a birthday party of mine once; he ate the candles from the cake after they were blown out. He was odd and I don't think any of us ever knew why, and it was never explained to us. We were mean. @Cyndi: Did you actually get the letter to him or was it just for your own clarity? BTW, POPCORN ROCKED!

Lisa: Yes, it was Robbie. I think I remember mention of a brain injury or something that made him not able to do some of the PE stuff. Did he die, really? My son teaches Taekwondo here. He is so good about working with special needs kids. I think about Robbie sometimes when I am there. I would love to go back in time and extend some love and acceptance to him. UGH. Popcorn was a blast!

Cyndi: @Scott, It was 16 years ago and I did actually send the letter. I felt like sh*t after I grew up and recalled my treatment of him… Kids can be so cruel... I see my youngest son go through it now…

Paul: We were all mean to Robbie! It was kind of hard not to be at the time. Does anyone remember when I split my lip wide open on his head? Somehow, his head got in the way when I was running by. I couldn't remember much, but everyone told me it was all his fault! Who knows? He was kinda mean, but who wouldn't be the way everyone treated him. Did he really die? Poor soul.

Paul: Lisa, how could you not remember Skate Day?

Lisa: Did we bring our roller skates? How do I not remember skate day, but I do remember your bloody lip? LOL! I'm sad I never got to see Mr. Murphy again before he died.  :-(

Anne: I saw him once at an appliance store on San Carlos St. Weird … I was just thinking about him today. I think about him a lot. I think he is the reason I teach 6th grade.

Cyndi: You teach 6th grade? How perfectly perfect!

Lisa: Ok that skate day thing does sound familiar now!

*     *     *     *     *

The comments slowed down and a few weeks passed by. Our lives went on. Other photos were posted and other comments were made. Work, play, eat, sleep, status updates … time ticked on. Then one day an email message came from Gabrielle.

Gabrielle: Found this pic and someone with the same name, graduated in '87 and looks maybe like what he'd look like. He's 42. So that seems maybe right – perhaps he missed school due to medical complications? I sent him a FB message asking if he went to Rosemary.

She provided a link to a MySpace page and pictures that it contained. One of the pictures showed a tall man in a black cap and gown holding a diploma; another showed him in cap and gown with a smaller, older man, presumably his father.

Gabrielle:  I don’t know what all the pics are – thought I could just send the page picture blown up. I have no idea what all the other pics are.

Lisa: That looks just like him. It's got to be him! I hope he really is alive. That would be great news.

Anne: I think so, too.

Gabrielle:  CONFIRMED. Robbie is ALIVE!! I sent him a note and he confirmed it was him. :-)

Lisa: How can we reach him? Is he on FaceBook?

Gabrielle:  Lisa, he is on FaceBook. Same graduation pic.

Anne: Um, ladies, I just checked out his MySpace page and he likes little girls. He has videos of middle school girls in their locker room and a naked picture of four or five women (not girls) and then some other pics of young girls he has labeled "hotties".  
Lisa: You're right. Based on his "friends" in FaceBook, he is quite the perve!  Sad …
Cyndi: Yeah, I noticed that… sad. He should actually be reported don't you think? It seems like he's using FaceBook as kiddy porn. Yuck.  
Lisa: I do think so. I was just telling my 19-year-old son about it and he said I should have reported him. I only blocked him.  
Cyndi: I will do it tomorrow. I have time tomorrow. I hate to say it, but as kids, was our gut instinct trying to tell us something???  
Scott: It is sad. And gross. And, like Cyndi says, sometimes our gut is right on. Either that or the social torture he was put through as a child kept him sort of locked in that state of mind and his longings from his youth haunt him today. Not saying that it's not disgusting, because it is, but psychologically, it can be explained. I think you should report him, Cyndi. You don't know if or when he might act / has acted upon it. Sad. I was sort of hoping for a "hero's tale."  
Lisa: Weird...I'm cleaning house thinking of all the stuff we’re saying. The ‘80s were an interesting time for parenting, not as proactive as today. Looking back, he was a troubled boy crying out for help! Instead of help from adults, he received torment from unsupervised peers. Seriously heartbreaking.  

Scott: Completely.  
Gabrielle:  But is it Kiddie Porn? I didn't actually look, I confess.    

Anne: No, and I think Scott is correct. We don't know; they could be relatives. The naked people were adults. Are we just persecuting him now as we did when we were young?
Lisa: Either way, I can't accept a friend request from anyone who openly posts porn on their page. I am in contact with too many youth.
Gabrielle:  Based on his MySpace pics -- ugh! Was it better for all of us to wonder? I have not made friends nor said I was sorry for the way he was treated. So odd how we felt about this just this morning. Amazing what a few strikes of some keys will turn up with, eh?  
Anne: I just don't want to do to him as an adult what we did as children.
Gabrielle:  I understand, Anne.  
Lisa: I think we are smart to be cautious. He's a grown man now. He's not a little harmless boy anymore. I honestly would love to apologize though. I'm also thankful Robbie is alive.
Cyndi: I think you have a point, Anne, and a valid one at that. My alarm bells went off when I saw children marked as "hot" and "If 1 million people join this group I get to see Miley Cyrus naked" stuff that tripped me out.
Anne: I do feel bad for being mean as a child but don't feel like apologizing. I don't want to bring him into my life. I know that is selfish but I see potential drama.
Lisa:  You're a smart girl, Anne. We have to consider the possibility that what concerns us could just be the surface of stuff going on with this guy that we haven't known for over 28 years. Caution is a good approach! If I didn't have guilt from how I treated him back then, I would NEVER accept a stranger into my social network with open pornography issues.
Gabrielle: Did you all look at all the groups he's a part of? Three of them are "Random Nudity" "Nude Modeling" "That Miley Cyrus pic we all want to see," "I strip naked before I take a dump." I dunno … guess he likes nudes. But, he's a fan of two Philapina girls; one aged 13 and the other 14. As a mother of girls … ew. Just ew.  
Lisa: Sad...and you are right...ew! I hope they keep a close eye on the young ladies in his family...

*     *     *     *     *

And I say again, that as children our gut feelings may have been correct. Either that or the social torture we horribly mean kids put this boy through, kept him locked in that childlike state of mind and his longings from his youth haunt him today. I am not excusing his behavior, nor am I explaining it. I am not condemning him for something that I speculate, but I am not willing to reach out to try to understand or gain clarity. I am no longer in need of seeking out personal redemption by apologizing for my behavior.

While it is a tad exciting – like solving an aged puzzle, the paper peeling slightly from the cardboard backing, the picture faded with age and almost unrecognizable – it is now clear that sometimes regrets should be chosen to remain regrets. Simply: some stones are better left unturned. 

It is sad, especially since I was really hoping for a "hero's tale.”  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

i spy with my little eye ...

I had my eyes examined. I had to; it was time. Again.

I used to wear glasses. I first realized that I needed glasses during a business trip in the 1990s. A colleague was driving and I was navigating. It was raining and I was squinting to read the signs. As a joke, the driver handed me his glasses and said, “Put these on. Maybe they’ll help.” I put them on instantly the whole world changed. There were no light halos, I could read the street signs halfway down the block, and oncoming car headlamps weren’t as glaring. It was amazingly clear – what I saw out the windshield and the realization that I needed to get glasses.

So I did.

Fave Apricot Frames
Brushed Nickel Ici Berlins
I had three very nice and expensive frames that varied in width, shape, and color. My favorite was a pair of clear, apricot-colored, rectangular frames. They worked well with my guy-lighted hair (it was the 1990s, after all). I had a pair of small, oval, onyx-colored ICI Berlin frames and a pair of ICI Berlin larger brushed nickel frames. And, yes, I had long hair once.

Then I got my dog, Victor. He was an easy puppy to train and very obedient. The only delicacy puppy-Victor liked to chew was my eye frames. First the black onyx ones, second the brushed nickel, and last, my favorite apricot frames. I decided I would not buy frames again until Victor grew out of this “chewing phase.”

That was nine years ago. Nine years of squinting into the distance and nine years of not being able to read things further than fifteen feet away.

This past year, my eyesight has become worse. I nearly close my right eye to see clearly. The lights of the city from a friend’s balcony, or the lights of New Jersey on the Hudson, are foggy and muted, like a starlet in close up with a lens slick with Vaseline. Street signs are blurry half a block away. Forget about reading the specials board in a dimly lit restaurant!

*    *    *    *    *   

I went to a dermatologist. Not for my eyes (that would be silly), but to help with a telltale sign of aging that I have ignored -- fine lines and wrinkles deepening like little grand canyons around my eyes. Now I use an expensive glycolic face scrub, firmer, and moisturizer to try to reverse the signs of aging. I also learned that what I thought were warts on my left hand were actually  <ahem> age spots.

Oh dear lord … age spots.

I have to face facts: squinting only enhances those little creases. These wrinkles are making my youthful looks a little more "distinguished" than I like at the tender age of forty-three.

*     *     *     *    *

So … off to the eye doctor I go. Not for my wrinkles (that would be silly), but to get my eyes checked. The whole experience was painless, unlike the dentist. Two puffs of air in each eye, a stare at a light and a look in all directions, a read of the letters on the chart.

A what of the what? Read the letters? Ummmm....

That’s where it fell apart. I couldn’t read them. I chose “one” over “two,” “four” over “three,” and sometimes found "they are very similar," until I could read those damn letters. I had my pupils dilated and was pleased to hear that there are no signs of glaucoma, cancer, heart disease, or anything else that <ahem > “men of my age” start to experience.

My eye doctor recommended that I get progressive lenses. You know, the modern term for bi-focals. I cringed.

                      “Why does that make me feel old?”

                       “Well, you are at that age.”

Again, with the “me-at-an-age-where-aging-is-becoming-apparent-and-unable-to-be-ignored” phrases! Sheesh! I already know I have Madonna’s hands sticking out of my sleeves, but now fine lines and wrinkles, age spots, and bi-focals. Crap. When’s the hip replacement?

I picked out frames. One pair is a moderately chunky, classically-modern frame with progressive and transitions lenses; and one pair is prescription sunglasses with progressive lenses, so I can sit in the park, read the paper, and watch hot joggers in the distance without changing frames or squinting.
Both were measured and ordered.

I put on my old, non-prescription sunglasses and walked home. My dilated eyes made it hard to see. Since I was feeling old, I decided to treat myself to something special (as if two pair of frames and taking care of my eyes wasn’t treat enough). My treat was one that reminded me of youth, and was necessary since I just confronted many aspects of being “a man of a certain age” -- I went to McDonald's.

When I was little, my mom used McDonald's as a reward for doing something beneficial. For example, there’d be a list of books to read during summer vacation on the refrigerator. After checking them all off, she’d take me to McDonald's. I can’t remember how many books had to be read, but I remember reading like a madman for a Happy Meal.

So, it was natural to feign an attempt at youth by treating myself for having a “great checkup!” My age‑spotted hands clutched the warm and fragrant bag as I walked home with my blurred vision. I tried not to squint to keep the fine lines and wrinkles at bay.

Once home, I looked in the mirror. My pupils were huge! I could barely see the beautiful hazel that normally fills the center of my eyeball. If I put on a sad face and whined, I looked like a puppy who just wanted a petting. And if I really tried, I could look like a Keene painting. A little pout, a little innocence, a little haunting, a velvet background and there it was. A freakish Keene painting in the flesh.

*     *     *     *     *

That was a week ago and now, with my new frames firmly on the bridge of my nose, I now see what I have been missing. I no longer need to squint to read street signs. I can see further than half a block. There are no halos around streetlights, car lights, or traffic lights. I can see the lights across the Hudson. The stars are clearer. I can read menu boards. I can see a movie without squinting. I can read a Playbill and watch a show without changing frames. I can read the paper and watch hot joggers without craning or half-closing my eyes to get them into focus. It's an amazing new perspective!

I wonder if these new spectacles will also give me a new perspective on life. Will I see clearly now (especially since the rain is gone)? Will they provide clarity where once there was indecision? Will they provide vision where only blind attempts existed? Or … will I just see my age spots more clearly?

And, while I may be “a man of a certain age”, my frame choices do compliment my classically-modern life and my classically-modern taste. They make my distinguished looks a little more distinguished and I like it.

Now let’s see how well they work on reducing fine lines and wrinkles.

At my desk ... writing away ...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

my favorite food group

I have a confession to make. I love cereal. Cereal is my favorite food group.

I love all kinds of cereal. I love sweet cereals, I love healthy cereals, I love cold cereals, I love hot cereals. I love all kinds of cereals. I always have at least four boxes in my cabinet: two "good for you" boxes and two "sweet and childish" boxes.

I love cereal right out of the box, dry and hand-to-mouth like a box of Cracker Jack. I love cereal in a bowl with milk. I love dipping a spoon of yogurt into a bowl of cereal when I have a taste for something sweet and crunchy.

I love cereal with fresh bananas or strawberries sliced into it. I love it with sugar on top. I love it with honey on top. I love it with agave nectar on top. Sometimes I sprinkle Splenda, Sweet-n-Low, or Equal on my cereal when the pantry is bare of other sweeteners.

I eat cereal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; and I have eaten it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, on separate days and as each meal in a single day. I eat it as a mid-morning snack or a late night snack. I typically eat a bowl (or two) each night for dessert. I eat it at the dining table, on the sofa, at the kitchen counter, in bed, at my desk, and even out of a ziplock baggie like a toddler. I don’t care.

Have I made it clear? I LOVE CEREAL. It is my favorite food group.

I have two spoons that I prefer to use when I eat cereal, my "cereal spoons." One is for cold cereals and the other is preferred for hot cereals. Both spoons were my favorite gramma's ... my lovely Gramma Sam.

The cold cereal spoon is from The Hotel Stattler. It is bent and nicked from being stuck and chewed in some garbage disposal. Gramma Sam didn't use this spoon for eating; she used it as a potting spoon for her plants. I don't know its back-story or how she ended up with it, but when she passed away and I saw it, I knew I had to have it. Her hands were on it often. She loved her plants. She used this spoon. I wonder ... did she steal this spoon? I picture her and her best friend, Madge, on some trip together at the Hotel Stattler; white gloves, hats, and a nice dinner.

"Put in your pocketbook, Sammy. No one will know."
cold cereal is awesome with this spoon ...
*     *     *     *     *

The hot cereal spoon is a soup spoon from my great-great-grandmother's sliver, none of which is around today save this one random spoon. It has a deep bowl and is engraved with the initials MEB, for Mary Elizabeth Barnes. This is also my favorite spoon for soup because it is the quintessential soup spoon.

Each time I use it I think of the etiquette lesson Gramma Sam taught me during one of my stays at the house on Pepper Drive in Lake Elsinore, California. The proper way to eat soup is learned by following this little poem:

Just as Ships Go Out to Sea
My Soup Spoon Goes Away From Me

This was said while spooning up the soup from the edge closet to me to the edge on the far side of the bowl.
hot cereal tastes better with this spoon ...

Let's get back to cereal, shall we? I am pretty much a cerealphile, but there are some that I don't like. I do not like Kashi. (I think half the world gasped.) I prefer some taste to my cereal, and by that, I mean a taste that isn't cardboard. I don't like cereals with excessive crap in them like chocolate bits and raspberries. Or crap like vanilla cream frosting with dried banana and kiwi slices. Fruit “mix ins” are just gross. Peaches and Cranberries! Yuck. I mean c'mon, that is just icky. Don’t get me wrong, I love crappy cereals ... the ones that five year olds beg for. I love ‘em hot and I love ‘em cold.

My favorite hot cereals are Cream of Wheat, Oatmeal, Grape Nuts, Shredded Wheat, and Wheatabix.

I love Cream of Wheat with a pat of butter, some brown sugar, and just enough milk to get the cream of wheat to float like a little boat of deliciousness. Oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins or with maple syrup. And eating one of those huge Shredded Wheat biscuits with hot milk and powdered sugar makes me feel like I am seven years old in the kitchen on Antonio Lane.

My favorite "good for you" cold cereals are: Frosted Mini Wheats; Rice Krispies; Cheerios (traditional and honey nut); Total, GrapeNuts;  Corn Flakes; Special K (traditional ... they’re crazy with the "mix ins" now); Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat; the Chex suite (Rice, Wheat, Corn); All Bran (although it gets mushy very quickly); Raisin Bran; Honey Bunches of Oats; Just Bunches; Cracklin’ Oat Bran; Crispix (it’s crispy times two!); SmartStart (for a healthy heart); granola (yummers!); Total Raisin Bran; Kix (I tested them, my mom approved); and Wheaties.

My Uncle Scott taught me the proper way to prepare Cheerios: a bowl of Cheerios, a sliced banana, and a coating of sugar on top so it looks like it just snowed on the bowl. It is hard to tell the crunch of the cereal from the crunch of the sugar. I don't put that much sugar on now, but I do squeeze on the honey.

My favorite "bad for you" cereals -- my guilty pleasures, the boxes I can eat in one sitting -- are: the suite of Cap'N Crunch cereals (eventhough they cut the roof of my mouth); AlphaBits; Frosted Flakes; Coco Krispies; HoneyComb (it's got a big, big bite!); Golden Grahams; Apple Jacks; Froot Loops; Honey Smacks (they used to be called Sugar Smacks when I was a kid); Trix; Lucky Charms; Golden Crisp (used to be Super Sugar Crisp); and Fruity Pebbles.

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I once went to the doctor for having blood in my urine. I had an examination, did blood work, and peed in a cup. During the examination, I answered some routine questions.

"Has this been going on for awhile?"
"No. It just happened yesterday. There was a lot of it."
"Have you exerted yourself physically recently?"
"Yes. I recently moved apartments." This was when the cost of moving was buying pizzas and beers for the friends you convinced to help you lift sofas, mattresses, and boxes of books and dishes.
"Does cancer run in your family?"
"I am not sure." I said this because at the time, I wasn't, but inside I was freaking out.

He only asked that because he knows I have cancer. Fuck! I have cancer. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. 
This was before the phrase OMG.
"Have you engaged in sexual activity recently?"
"Ummm ... well, of course. I am 22 years old."

Later that week , the test results arrived and I was convinced I had some kind of cancer and was going to die. Over the phone, the doctor said that no blood cells were in my urine and that my blood work appeared fine.

"I think you may have ruptured a blood vessel during your move, a very minor thing that clears itself up. But, I do want to know if you have changed your eating habits recently."
"My eating habits? No."
"Have you been eating foods that you don't normally eat or eating more than normal?"

I thought about it for a minute. There was something. Once the move was complete, I bought groceries. In those groceries were most of the cereals that I was never allowed as a kid (see the "bad for you" list above). The day before I called the doctor, I ate two boxes of Fruity Pebbles for dinner.
"Ah ha," said the doctor with a slight tinge of 'you stupid kid' in his voice, "It was the dye from the cereal. Just don't eat quite so much in one sitting. And try eating from all the food groups in each meal."
Well ... isn't that interesting? Just so you know, I do eat from all the food groups. I enjoy all vegetables and fruit (except mushrooms), I eat poultry and beef, I enjoy dairy (cheese is heavenly!), I love bread and pasta, and I will eat anything else except seafood (yes, all seafood...). But, c'mon, who am I kidding? Cereal is my favorite food group.