Golden Birthday

All my graphic designer friends now hate me.
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Poetry From My Misbegotten Past

Once upon a time, not so very long ago (let's say 1999), I was a lifeguard. Not one of those bare-chested, sunkissed, God-smiles-upon-me sorts that proudly perch atop summer pool stands, scanning - or sleeping - behind aviator shades and prepared at any moment to gracefully part the waters below in a heroic rescue telegraphed by a Look-At-Me! whistle blast. Well, I was one of those too, but once the summer ended I transformed into a sad-sack, XL t-shirt clad, mopey indoor guard, the made-for-cable version of my big-screen summer blockbuster self. The pool I worked at (which shall be unnamed although it deserves all the vitriol I can spew at it) was rarely used. I'd come in at 5 in the morning, perform the inane opening duties - checking chlorine levels, organizing kickboards by color (unnecessarily) and cleaning used band-aids out of filters. At 6, when the club opened, I'd sit and watch the lone aqua-jogger struggle back and forth, checking his pulse at the end of every lap. As a Red Cross certified guard, I knew that I was morally obligated only to check on him every 20 seconds or so, so I'd fill the intermediate 19 by doodling, writing letters to my wish-you-were-my-girlfriend and, on occasion, composing very childish poetry. I've never considered myself a man of metre, and have far too great a prediliction toward rhyming couplets, so I put sharpie to sheet with a juvenile audience in mind. I recently came across one such poem written in my youthful, idealistic... er, youth, and decided to pass it on. It still expresses a sentiment I like, and in a very faint way reminds me of the better children's poets I enjoyed in my tender years (when exactly are those? I still get pretty fragile). Here it is, I hope you enjoy. There were two more verses, but I've edited it for the better (I think). They were something about locomotives, something about clouds. I don't know. They're better left out.

Alison and I Don't Play Together

by Jem Wierenga, c. 1999

There never was such a nice young girl

as little Alison Plopper.

Hands in her lap, "Madam, please" "No, Sir, thank you,"

she was ever, ever so proper.

But she was never the Queen of Sheba,

dazzling Solomen's eyes.

And she never rode the stallions of Egypt

under the midnight skies.

If I had the choice between being demure,

and living wild and free,

then I'd never choose to be Alison Plopper,

when I have the chance to be me.

Ah, High School. I miss it sometimes.
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The People I See Around

I'm an impulse person and an impulse buyer. No, I've begun poorly. I can't start with me; this story is not about me.

Chad greeted me when the doors slid open, but I couldn't understood what he said, so I asked him to repeat himself. Well, what I really said was "Whuh?" The graveyard shift must be an endless mind-melt of half-formed conversations. I know I'd tire of it. I'm sure he already has. It's 12:07 in the morning, do you know where your diction is?

His name was Chad, but I only sidelong-learned it at 12:23 after our conversation at the checkout stand went off-script. Protected both by an ego-barrier of self-satisfaction at a celebratory day and an eagerness to be a clever little "personality," a bright spot in a dull night, I asked him if he judged the people who wouldn't cough up a buck for the Breast Cancer Society. I'd already refused, swiped and punched in my secret code. My vitamins, band-aids and greedily grabbed gum are bagged and waiting.

He replied that he didn't judge, but was disappointed. His mom was re-diagnosed two weeks ago.

Man, I feel like a jerk.

It's a deadly flaw in his family genetics, he tells me, but he doesn't say it like that. The word "pancreatic" was never on any vocabulary list at his school, so he curls his fingers as if around a giant tube of disease and draws in across his abdomen. "She had it here, but now it's up here" and his hand at his chest, over his heart. A false salute to an iffy future.

Man, I feel like a jerk.

The annual Race for the Cure is tomorrow - no, today. I know this because a friend was both earnestly and ironically wearing a pink bandana around all day. So I ask him if he's going, telling him I'll be downtown for it. That's a lie. I had no intention of going before I spoke those words, and probably can't fit it in to my hectic, fantastic "I love what I do" schedule. He, at least, is honest. He'll be sleeping because another all night shift begins at 8.

I should have left already, been out the doors and back home to spend another hour clicking through my Tivo playlist while pretending to write. But I'm in deep now as he pulls back his sleeve, revealing in the florescent overhead light a yellowed bump with a rosacead center. It's big, not enormous, but of a size that you know should have been checked out. A soddened tea bag squeezed of its last herb-juice.

"We all get them," he says. "And around thirty they turn to cancer. But I'd rather not know." If you have tough life, it's gonna show, so I'm struggling to pin down his age. His teeth, his face, the slump in his shoulders all say that he's hit that mark, or will soon. So again-

Man, I feel like a jerk.

I want to feel like a samaritan.

"Chad," I begin. I know his name now and I've committed to eye-contact. "You need to have that looked at. It's always better to have the facts so you can make a decision." Keystroke italicized - always.facts.decision. It's my presentational voice, my jedi-mind-tricks inflection. I don't think it's going to work, and I need it to work. Chad needs it to work. But this isn't a galaxy far, far away, so of course it doesn't, and he's already exited the conversation.

"When they find the cure..." he says, handing me my purchases and back in the proper posturing of employee-to-patron relations. "The cure for cancer, I'll get it checked."

That's a lie. We're both liars and one of us might die from it. And it's 2:33 now and I haven't showered and I didn't go back, dig down and give him the dollar or point him toward a free clinic. I left. I'm home. He's still working. And I'm reduced to melodramatic melancholy.

Tomorrow's another big day in my busy, busy, busy life. I'm doing things I believe are important, but now seem much less urgent than they did at two and a half hours ago.


Here's the important part - If you were intrigued or bothered or whatever, click here to donate online to the American Cancer Society in whatever capacity you wish. I gave a few bucks, which I should have done earlier. I hope you can too.
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An addendum to last post...

This is a self-inflicted humbler. No-one coerced me, but I couldn't let this morning's bedhead pass the world by...

I think my hair stayed up and had a party after I went to bed. I certainly wasn't invited.
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