#WarriorDown

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I called him “Shep,” like, at least two or three times before finally realizing that I’d mis-remembered (yes, that’s a word now) his last name; it was “Sam Shelby,” not “Sam Shepard.” It was our first day working together, and there I am, calling him “Shep” … repeatedly … because I’m a douche. Of course, when I finally realized (with no small amount of embarrassment) the mistake I’d been making, Sam just laughed it off and took it upon himself to make the moment far less uncomfortable and awkward than I deserved for it to be … because that’s who he was.

After spending the previous two years working out of a friend’s basement, I had landed a gig as the editor of an online city guide in Phoenix, and I spent those first few days waiting for Terry — whom I somehow had tricked into hiring me — to come walking into the office that Sam and I were sharing to say that he’d made a terrible mistake, and would I please pack my shit and leave. Amazingly, that never happened. Instead, Sam and I jammed to the latest albums from Limp Bizkit and Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Dude”-ed each other incessantly, and became fast friends in a matter of days … and not because I’m such a likable guy, mind you; as we’ve already established, I’m the kind of self-centered asshole who not only will fuck up your last name, but will then address you in an inappropriately familiar, shortened, nickname version of that incorrect last name. No, Sam and I became fast friends because Sam was the easiest guy in the world to befriend. You couldn’t meet him and NOT want to be his friend.

During the year that followed, Sam, Terry and I had more fun than I would dared to have hoped could be had at my first “real job.” I looked forward to going to work every day because I knew I was going to get to hang with those guys.

Sam was our team’s Marketing Manager, a job that necessitated schmoozing and cutting deals. Anyone who knew Sam is grinning and nodding knowingly right now, because Sam was born to schmooze and cut deals … and not in a phony, used-car-salesman way, but in a genuine, truly endearing way that verged on being a superpower. Whomever was on the other side of the bartering table from Sam surely gave up more than they had planned to before meeting him, and were all too happy to give it in order to do right by this awesome guy they’d just met. It was like the goddamn Jedi Mind Trick.

The objective of Sam’s deals? Well, yes, the primary purpose was to promote our business … but he also took great joy in sharing the spoils of his conquests … which is how Terry, Sam and I ended up working out every morning (OK, maybe not every morning) at an NBA team’s exclusive gym, regularly eating for free at Alice Cooper’s rock-and-roll/sports bar, and attending more than our fair share of professional sporting events and concerts.

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Pre-gaming at Alice Cooperstown in Phoenix before hitting Desert Sky Pavilion to see Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers back in 1999. (Rumor has it that this is the same location where Sam & I partook in the occasional lunchtime Waborita … or two.)

An overwhelming majority of my favorite memories from that time in my life not only involve Sam; they happened specifically and solely because of Sam. The dude was a turbocharged catalyst who loved life, and loved to make life more fun for everyone around him.

Of course, our friendship with Sam grew to include Sam’s friendship with both my wife and Terry’s wife … because anyone who was married to Sam’s friend, or was related to Sam’s friend, or was a friend of Sam’s friend … became Sam’s friend. It’s a well-documented law of nature.

***

Eventually, Terry and his wife returned to the West Coast, my wife and I returned to the Boston area, and Sam returned to his beloved North Carolina. And if Sam and Terry were just two cool guys that I enjoyed working with, that would be the end of the story. But they weren’t. They were two lifelong friends I’d not expected to make when I took that job in Phoenix, and the friendship we forged was meaningful enough that, when my wife and I took our first-ever family vacation with our baby son, we met up with Terry, his wife, and their two baby boys in Wilmington, NC, so that we could all hang with Sam.

Let me say that again: two sleep-deprived, stressed-out, married couples sporting a combined total of two babies and a toddler between them used their precious vacation time to travel by plane to the South in the middle of July in order to spend multiple nights in a hotel … because: Sam.

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Our visit was all the motivation Sam needed to continue investing in contraception.

***

In the years that followed, Terry and I got busy raising our kids, and Sam got busy saving the earth and befriending everyone else who lived on it … but we always stayed in touch, and Terry and I always threatened to bring both our families down for another visit.

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It wasn’t a matter of “if,” just “when.” I wish like hell that “when” came sooner.

***

It had been a couple of months since Sam and I had been in touch when he messaged me on my birthday back in January.

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Seemed like a reasonable question at the time. After all, he was messaging me on my birthday and telling me about a band, so clearly there wasn’t anything heavy going on his world, right?

When he didn’t respond right away, I did a deep-dive on his FB page to see what had been shaking with him. That led me to his newly created blog, MOJOWARRIORS.COM … where I learned that Sam — a non-smoker and otherwise super-healthy dude — had just been diagnosed with inoperable, stage-4 lung cancer.

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***

Sam spent all of this year documenting his battle against cancer … and he did so with 10 times more humor and positivity than any human being could reasonably be expected to muster in the face of such complete and utter bullshit. And all those friends of his? They — we — rallied around him … and he, in turn, unified us all and transformed us into something bigger than the sum of our parts, as only he could.

From Sam’s blog:

Since getting the news, I have had an indescribable amount of love, friendship, warmth, affection, support, and super good mojo come my way. It has brought me to tears. These friends and family members are my team, my posse and what I am now calling my MOJO WARRIORS. You have magical powers based on the definition below! If you are reading this, you are most likely part of this sorcery squad, and I ask you to apply it to my situation, and anyone else you know that may need an injection of oomph or love or a high five or a hug. Make them smile, laugh, feel loved, missed..it makes a big impact.

mo-jo: a power that may seem magical and that allows someone to be very effective, successful, etc.

war-rior: a person who fights in battles and is known for having courage and skill

The MOJO WARRIORS were born.

Sam’s MOJO WARRIORS literally spanned the planet … and if the key to healing Sam was based upon a combination of the number of people who gladly would have given our left arms to make him well, and the intensity with which we all wished and hoped and prayed for him to receive a miracle, he’d have outlived all of us and would never have had so much as a friggin’ head cold for the rest of his life.

The MOJO WARRIORS movement culminated in last month’s “Joe’s Bucket Bash,” a huge fundraiser to benefit Sam. When the plans first were announced in July, Terry and I knew it was time to make the trip.

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***

A couple of weeks ago, Terry and I flew down to NC for the Bucket Bash. Shortly after we arrived at the event, we got word that Sam was having his worst day yet, and probably wouldn’t be able to attend. Damn. We were bummed … but our disappointment was dwarfed by our concern for our friend and our hope that he get well. No matter what else happened, Sam knew we had come to support him … and Terry and I got to reconnect on a level that reminded us just why we had become such good friends in the first place. We have Sam to thank for that.

We spent the day celebrating Sam and generally marveling at both the size of the crowd that had turned out to support him, and the high concentration of awesomeness that was so clearly evident in every one of his other friends with whom we spoke.

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So, um, yeah … Sam was moderately well-liked

Later that afternoon, Sam texted me and Terry: “If I don’t show up, maybe you guys can come see me later??”

Um, yeah, I’m pretty sure we can work that into our schedule, pal.

Sam sent us the address where he was staying. We slipped out and beat a path to his location.

Despite being exhausted and having tremendous difficulty breathing, Sam sat between Terry and me on a porch overlooking the intracoastal waterway and hung out with us one last time … and I got to hug him and tell him that I loved him. That was a gift for which I could never thank him enough … and as much as I know he wanted to see us, I know he also received us that afternoon because he didn’t want to disappoint us … because that’s just who he was. Right down to his last days, Sam was incapable of thinking only of himself.

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***

My friend Sam died yesterday morning. His brother wrote on Facebook that he “passed away peacefully on the recliner in our living room surrounded by family. His last words are good words to live by — ‘y’all relax.'”

I was not Sam’s closest friend. I didn’t have the pleasure or the honor of knowing him for as long as or as well as did his childhood pals, frat brothers, family members and many other loved ones … and, after leaving Phoenix, I didn’t have the good fortune of living close enough to Sam for us to be a part of each other’s everyday lives … but that never stopped me from loving him like a brother, nor him from holding a place on the extremely short list of guys whom I consider to be my very closest of friends. I had so hoped to have more good times with him.

I speak not in hyperbole when I tell you that Sam Shelby was the sweetest, nicest, friendliest, kindest, funniest, most fun-to-be-around person that I have ever met … and I am only one of the hundreds of people who feel that way. The outpouring of tributes on Facebook in response to his passing is, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen happen on the Internet. It’s the biggest fucking digital group hug of all time, and it is a fitting testament to not only how many people Sam touched, but how deeply he touched them.

We’ll relax, Sam. Just gotta do some crying first.

I wish I believed in the things so many people believe in at times like these in order to find comfort and make sense of tragedy. Unfortunately, I have a hard time convincing myself that there’s anything else after this ride stops. I hope I’m wrong, though … and I hope that, if there is something else, it has an Alice Cooperstown … and I hope that, when I get there, Sam is sitting at the bar with a couple of Waboritas in front of him.

I love you, Sam … and I’ll miss you forever.

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Mirror mirror, on the wall ground … and the dashboard … and the seats … and the floormats … who’s the biggest pick-up-truck-driving asshole of them all?

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Actual letter I placed in someone’s mailbox on my way home from work yesterday:

Hi. My name’s Jon. This morning, as I was driving by your house, a large pick-up truck — presumably driven by some schmuck who at the time was busy using his phone to Google “Why do people keep telling me I’m such an idiot?” — crossed the lane divider and almost struck my car head-on. In order to avoid a collision, I had to swerve out of the way … which resulted in my passenger-side mirror slamming into your mailbox. This completely destroyed the mirror and mirror assembly … and, because my windows were open, also covered the entire inside of my car with shattered glass. So that was pretty awesome.

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[No, I didn’t include pictures with the letter. They’re here just for you. You’re welcome.]

Unfortunately, despite my best effort, I was unable to chase down and strangle to death the driver of the truck, so I now find myself stuck with a multi-hundred-dollar car repair and a guilty conscience that won’t let me drive by your mailbox twice a day, five days per week, without letting you know that I’m the boob who hit it. (On the other hand, I’m not dead from a head-on collision, nor in jail for murdering the truck guy, so I’m trying to look on the bright side.)

Anyway … please email me at [email address redacted] so that we can make arrangements to repair and/or replace your damaged mailbox if necessary.

Thanks,

-Jon

Hopefully they’ll decide that my entertaining letter is payment enough.

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The nuclear option … or, Why I’ve erased my children from the blogosphere

Zan & Jayna go bye-bye

“Hey Dad, what the fuck is this website we found containing tons of pictures of, and stories about, us? Also, you’re an asshole and we hate you.”

My children, circa some point in the not-too-distant future

When I started blogging almost a decade ago (yes, I’ve been blogging for almost a decade now … which is either very impressive, or very depressing, or probably both), my primary influences were a handful of Mommy Bloggers who were writing with equal parts brutal honesty, heartfelt emotion and sharp-tongued humor about the trials and tribulations of raising young children while simultaneously struggling to maintain some semblance of the person they were before they became completely engulfed in the chaos of parenting. It inspired me to do the same … so I went for it. And I loved it.

Raising infants and toddlers was the most difficult experience of my entire life. I do not miss those years, but writing about them was a great way to keep from losing my fucking mind … and a great way for me to document some really special times in my children’s lives that they one day will be able to read all about thanks to this blog. When they are older, I believe they will consider this a precious gift.

Right now, however, I’m guessing probably not so much.

I’ve often wondered how I would handle with them the subject of this blog when they were old enough to question its existence and their exposure therein. Somewhat shockingly, they still remain only peripherally aware that I have a blog, and are totally ignorant of its contents. They’ve never seen it, and they’ve never asked about it. They do, however, know that there’s something called “Daddy Scratches” … and it is entirely feasible that they’ll either go looking for it themselves, or mention it to a peer who will do so.

During the past nine-plus years, I’ve published almost 700 posts here … hundreds of which contain photos of, and details about, my two amazing babies children, who now are 12 and 10 years old. No longer are they the bumbling, sometimes comical, sometimes demonic, Muppet-like doofuses I first started writing about way back when. They are people, and they exist outside the bubble within which my wife and I safely kept them during the years when I first began sharing with you my stories about raising them.

I’ve struggled in recent months to reconcile the fact that pictures of the two of them, and details about their lives, have remained available on the Internet without their knowledge or approval. Granted, I’ve shared less about them here in recent years, and have always maintained their anonymity … but still … they have reached ages at which I’m sure they would prefer those things be private.

And so, rather than waiting for them to ask, or for them (or, worse yet, one of their peers) to discover this blog, I have hidden from the public every post and social-media image in which their faces are clearly shown, as well as posts containing stories that, at this point in their lives, probably are best kept private. (I’ve also hidden a lot of other really lame shit that was doing little more than cluttering up the place … and, yes, I know at least one of you just made a “But Jon, that must mean you’ve deleted EVERYTHING!” joke, and, sweet Jesus, you are funny … and by “funny” I mean “such an asshole.”) The result? The almost-700 posts available here yesterday have been whittled down to about 200.

So what’s next? We’ll see. I’m eager to do some more blogging … which is what prompted me to make this move to begin with. The extent to which my forthcoming posts will deal with fatherhood remains to be seen (which has me wondering if I should stick with “Daddy Scratches” or come up with something less daddy-blogger-ish; the jury is still out on that one). Meanwhile, although the infrequency of my posts has certainly caused my readership numbers to drop in recent years, I know some of you still come back every time I post something (for which I thank you), and I know one of the things you’ve enjoyed here are my stories about my kids and my family. I hope to find ways to continue to tell some of those stories, albeit in a less revealing fashion … and I hope to also write other stuff that you’ll think doesn’t suck.

Most of all, though, I hope to write.

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Posted in Jayna, Life, Parenthood, Writing, Zan | 16 Responses

Real-estate shaming: The newest trend in pre-adolescent douchebaggery

Take a look at this screen capture and tell me what you see:

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Chances are you see the homepage of Zillow.com, a site where one can go and look up the supposed value of any given home. That’s what I used to see, too.

Now? Now I see this:

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Allow me to explain.

Back when I was a kid, maybe the shittiest thing we’d do is give some nerd a wedgie … and by “we,” I mean the little assholes I went to school with, and by “some nerd,” I mean me … but that’s beside the point.

Anyway … I recently discovered that technology has rendered obsolete the good ol’-fashioned wedgie.

A few weeks ago, Zan was goofing around with some friends and acquaintances on a baseball diamond when one of his classmates — whose identity I shall protect here by referring to him with the more anonymous and yet simultaneously more accurate name of Rotten Little Fucker — announced to Zan and the other boys the following:

“Hey, Zan, I looked up everybody’s house on Zillow last night to see how much they’re worth, and yours was the cheapest. Did you know your house isn’t even worth as much as a Lamborghini? How does that make you feel?”

Well, I don’t want to speak for Zan, but I can tell you how it made ME feel when I learned that Rotten Little Fucker intentionally went out of his way to make my son feel less-than and purposely tried to embarrass him in front of his friends based solely upon my financial resources: It made me feel like going to his expensive house, tying him down in his expensive front yard and using him as a fucking lawn-dart target.

See, here’s the thing: When we moved here from the Boston area about five years ago, we could have bought a McMansion for less money than we ended up spending on the much older and far more modest house in which we now live … but the McMansions were all located in shitty school districts, while the much older and far more modest house in which we now live is located in what recently was ranked as one of the Top 5 school districts in the entire country.

Unfortunately, “I live in one of the Top 5 school districts in the entire country” isn’t something about which an 11-year-old boy can reasonably be expected to get super excited … especially when that 11-year-old boy’s peer group is largely comprised of millionaires’ offspring, all of whose homes are worth at least two to three times more than ours.

Of course, I also am well aware that “We live in an exclusive hamlet, surrounded by affluence” is a first-world problem, so I hope this doesn’t come off like me whining about being low man on the upper-middle-class totem pole. I’m merely explaining that it is a unique kind of parenting challenge to raise one’s children in an environment where one’s resources are far surpassed by those of the other children’s parents.

True story: This past winter, Zan attended a birthday party that took place at a country club where the birthday boy’s parents rented out the banquet room and converted it into a miniature golf course. We can’t really compete with that.

Fortunately, we a.) don’t really want to compete with that, and b.) have so far done what I would describe as a more than respectable job of teaching our children to accept the fact that there will always be people with more than us, and there will always be people with less than us, and instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we need to appreciate what we do have and how lucky we are to have it.

“So Mom told me what Rotten Little Fucker said to you about our house yesterday,” I said to Zan when I picked him up from school the following day. “That was a pretty lousy move on his part.”

“Yeah,” he said without much interest.

“You know, usually, when someone does something like that, it’s because they don’t feel so great about themselves, so they try to make themselves feel better by putting other people down.”

“I know,” he said, still unfazed.

“And we really don’t have anything to be embarrassed about. I know we live in a place where a lot of people have more than us, but we have a nice house and everything we need, so you shouldn’t let anyone make you feel bad about that.”

“I know, Dad. I really don’t care about what Rotten Little Fucker said. It didn’t bother me.”

And I realized with equal parts relief and pride that he meant it.

Also? I realized I’m raising a kid whom I know would take absolutely no pleasure in making one of his peers feel shitty about themselves. You can’t really put a price tag on that … but I can assure you that it’s worth far more to me than the fair-market value of my house.

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Posted in Life, Parenthood, Zan | 16 Responses

So about that neurosis-inducing crystal-breaking incident…

Hey, remember this?

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Well, I know you’ve all been lying awake at night fretting over the outcome of that tragedy, so I decided it was time to put some closure on the broken-crystal story.

When last I updated you, my plan was to return to Crow Haven Corner, the bona fide “witch shop” in Salem, Massachusetts, from which I bought my now-broken crystal more than 20 years ago. The only problem with that plan was the fact that, back then, I was attending college in Salem. Nowadays, I live about 370 miles away. So, you know … slightly less convenient.

A few weeks after I broke the crystal, however, my mother turned 65, and I decided to make a solo run up to Massachusetts in order to surprise her at her birthday dinner. The journey marked my first-ever road trip in my new car (which, yes, was seven months old at the time, but when you own a car for 15 years, its replacement can still reasonably be referred to as “new” at the seven-month mark), and I was pleased to find that I was able to get all the way from Philly to Boston without making a single stop.

Even though the car was not yet out of fuel when it reached Beantown, its driver most definitely was. In fact, I spent the last hour of the drive fantasizing about filling my growling stomach with a pie from the greatest pizza joint in the history of flat, round, cheese-and-sauce-covered dough: Regina Pizza … or just “Regina’s,” if you prefer (and I do). It was like a pizzeria Death Star, locking me in its tractor beam and pulling me towards its brick-oven goodness. There was nothing I could do to escape. Plus, also, I didn’t want to escape; I wanted to eat.

Unfortunately, the North End of Boston at 10 o’clock on a warm Friday night in October is a zoo … which is why it took me more than half an hour to find a parking spot. I didn’t mind, though. Driving around my old stomping ground was part of the fun.

After parallel parking like a goddamn champion on the busiest street in Little Italy — no small feat when you’re doing so in front of an audience that looks like the cast of “Goodfellas,” one of whose members almost surely owns that jet-black Escalade you’re trying very hard not to back into — I donned my Red Sox cap and beat feet towards my favorite neon sign (a much better, highly-doctored version of which I posted years ago).

Just drove 6 hours for a pizza. Totally worth it.

A photo posted by Daddy Scratches (@daddyscratches) on

Word of my imminent arrival had apparently leaked, because there was one stool left at the bar just for me, and seconds after planting my ass on it, the two ladies to my left offered me the rest of their half-full pitcher of Samuel Adams Octoberfest, which I was all too happy to help them finish. Within moments, I was eating the greatest pizza known to humankind, drinking free beer and watching Game 3 of the World Series. This is what you call “a good night.”

The following day, I had some time to kill — my surprise appearance at my Mom’s festivities wasn’t taking place until 4 o’clock — so I hung with my Dad for the first half of the day, all the while toying with the idea of heading up to Salem in search of a new crystal. And because I am a piss-poor judge of time, I waited until almost 2 o’clock to drive into what, on a normal day, is a frustratingly inaccessible city, and on an unseasonably warm and lovely final weekend in October is the single most congested square mile this side of New Delhi.

Why so congested, you ask? Because the “Witch City” is Ground Zero for every Halloween-loving freak from around the globe. (And, lest you think I’m casting aspersions on those freaks, allow me to remind you that I most surely am one of them.)

Traffic was backed up for miles, and I was still about a klick away when it became painfully clear to me that I had two choices if I wanted to make it to my mother’s dinner on time: Bail on this mission, or park the car and set out on foot. Guess which option our obsessive-compulsive ex-soldier chose?

After power-walking into the heart of the city, I reached my destination:

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When I arrived, the place was so busy that I had to stand in a line on the sidewalk and wait for the head witch in charge to allow me in. Based on how little time I had left to complete my mission, I thought about cutting the line, but seeing as how I was surrounded by, you know, actual fucking witches, and seeing as how I didn’t know if toads were welcome at the restaurant where my Mom was having dinner, I tried to wait as patiently as I could.

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OK, so maybe I wasn’t all that concerned about someone turning me into a toad … but you gotta figure anyone dressed like this in broad daylight who believes she’s an actual witch might be capable of going batshit crazy on your ass if you cut her in a line for a famous witch shop. Just sayin’.

When I finally entered the shop, I made a beeline for the case in which the crystals are kept and asked the goth girl behind the counter if she might have a suitable replacement for the damaged one I was wearing. But, whereas the long-haired warlock dude who stood behind that counter 21 years ago was only too eager to help a long-haired college dude/potential fellow warlock find the perfect crystal, the present-day goth chick seemed less enthusiastic about aiding the short-haired, wrinkle-faced senior citizen standing in front of her.

After perusing what was available, I reinforced my senior-citizen-like image by telling goth girl that they apparently don’t make ’em like they used to … because I saw nothing that was worthy of being tied around my neck for the next several decades. This was a bummer, because I really liked the idea of replacing my old crystal with a new one that came from the same place of origin.

Fortunately — or at least seemingly so at the time — a number of other witch shops had sprung up in the vicinity during the years since last I was there, so I set out on a frantic, door-to-door search … a process made significantly less fun and substantially more time-consuming thanks to the capacity crowds crammed into every store.

A half hour later, I was still empty-handed, so I asked a store clerk with a face full of metal if she could suggest a place where I might find something comparable to my old crystal.

“Try Hex,” she said.

“Hex?” I said.

“Yes, Hex,” she said. “It’s about a half-mile that way.”

Oh good! More speed-walking! This fits perfectly into my plan to arrive late to dinner, drenched in sweat!

A half mile later …

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Based on the sign alone, I felt like I had as good a chance of finding a crystal here as I did of becoming the main attraction in a blood sacrifice … and I was right (about the not-finding-a-crystal thing, that is; thankfully, I managed to avoid the blood-sacrifice part).

It was with no small amount of difficulty that I overcame the obsessive-compulsive, hyper-focused, never-say-die forces that rage within me, aborted the mission, and fled on foot back to my car … but seeing as how I had driven 400 miles to attend my mother’s birthday dinner, I felt like I should probably be there on time, so I folded.

And thus, the really cool story I’d envisioned about going back to Salem and replacing my crystal instead became a really lame story about how I wasted an afternoon conducting a fruitless, one-man forced road march through a sea of tourists and witches for no apparent reason.

I consoled myself with a back-up plan that involved finding a worthy replacement online — you know, the way I’ve bought every other item in my life for the past decade or so … specifically because doing so allows me to entirely avoid frustrating bullshit like the afternoon I’ve just described. (I’m tellin’ you guys, this Internet thing is gonna be big!)

Four months later, however, I’ve realized that the Krazy-Glue with which I “temporarily” repaired my broken crystal seems to be doing a more-than-respectable job of serving as a “permanent” solution … and tragedy has not yet befallen me, so one can assume that the crystal’s magical protective properties are still in full force (if one is a little touched in one’s head, that is) … so I now have no desire to replace it.

Which means it just took me more 1,000 words to tell you that I’m just gonna keep wearing my old crystal. You’re welcome.

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Posted in Life | 13 Responses