Saturday, April 30, 2016

Pride and Play

The auditorium was dark, not completely. There were some lights on, but not enough for you to make out the details of a person standing a few feet from you. The stage curtain was closed, the orchestra pit had a few lights on and I could make out shadowy movement of people in it.
            I looked around the large room and saw there were maybe two dozen people in attendance. I guessed most of them were parents or family members of the actors and maybe a few teachers. I felt a bit crestfallen there were not more people there. Yet, I couldn’t blame them. Hell, if I had not had a family involved in this production, I would have been at home either resting on my couch or sitting on my porch having a cigar.
            As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw my party. I made my way over to them and was about to sit down when I saw a buddy of mine and his fiancĂ©e walking up. I was surprised to see them and honored at the same time. We talked for a few moments and then took our seats.
            The lights dimmed, my daughter strolled out on stage and gave a brief synopsis of what we were about to witness and then she walked off the stage.
            Thirty minutes later and a million emotions later I was beaming with pride.
            My daughter had written, directed and produced a play at sixteen years old. Not just a throw away play where students act out scenes and there is no plot or message. Nope, she did a full on scene changing play in several acts. These acts followed a story line that was maintained through the entire show. There was character development, emotional stress, emotional comfort, anger, joy, sadness and even a two different plot twists.
            But under it all was my daughters message.
            That message, understanding and acceptance.
            While I don’t think some people understood what was being said on stage, in the end, when the two different groups of actors accepted each other not for their differences but for what they discovered they had in common, well, I was honored to be my daughters father.
            Now, that is not saying I don’t feel that way every day. It is just that there seems to be times in our lives where we as parents take for granted our children. Then, they step out of their box, find a passion and follow it. Which then leads to some amazing occurrences in life.
            In this case, my offspring did something that I never even thought of doing. She also did something most of my contemporaries have never done. I mean after all, how many people do you know who not only have written a play but then went on to direct and produce one? On the heels of this, she has also written, directed and filmed a short movie that is being considered for a student film festival.
            Where did she get these ideas? Where did her talent come from? How did she learn to do this stuff and where will it take her?
            I have no idea to any of these answers, I do know that no matter what she wishes to do, I will support her and help her in any way I can.
            The reason I do this? Simple, I want to continue to be amazed by her and what she comes up with.
            So proud, so happy and so excited to see what she comes up with next.

            Have a great week.


I’m not a good person. At least that is how I feel almost all the time. Sure, I have brief respites of I guess what could be considered normalcy. But for the most part, I don’t view myself as good.
            I live too much inside my head, I seek out and relish in being alone. I have a tendency to alienate people and I’ve developed this into an art form. So much so that there are times where I intentionally try to push people away. Just to see their reactions.
            However; this sort of behavior has pretty much made me a very lonely person with almost no friends. So when I need to talk to someone, not my wife, I have very few people to turn to. I’d like to think that I have a co-worker I can talk with but that is a lie I tell to myself.
            Mostly though, my loneliness comes from me not really thinking I’m worth anything or good for anything. Also, I can’t imagine what sort of person would find anything I have to say interesting or of value. My wife seems to think that these thoughts come from my childhood and the fact that I really didn’t have good male role models. This may be true.
            After all, I have vivid memories of being called a twerp, useless, good-for-nothing and a burden. Those are just the ones off the top of my head. Also, both men, father figures you could say, had a very heavy hand when it came to discipline. These things helped shape me into the reclusive, self-destructive, workaholic, antagonistic, dour and basically sad man I am today.
            I don’t want to be this way. I wish I weren’t. I know there have been times in my life where I didn’t feel like crap all the time. Times where I was a caring, loving and compassionate person. Those moments seem like dreams.
            I have an addictive personality. If I think one piece of pizza is good, the whole pizza will be great. If one drink of whiskey is good, the whole bottle will be amazing. This type of behavior is bad. I know it’s bad. I’ve tried to control it and I’ve been losing this contest.
            I went years maintaining control, then, not so long ago, I lost it. Now, I’m fighting to regain that control. The first time was easy. This time, not so easy.
            Maybe it’s because I’m under more pressure. Maybe it’s because my past has come back to haunt me. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m treading water with a hundred pound anchor strapped to my back.
            Life is not supposed to be like this. Life is supposed to be a joyous occasion. We are supposed to celebrate life. Live life. Enjoy life. And all I seem to be doing is drowning. No, not drowning so much. More like the water is up to my chin and every so often, when I take a breath, I suck in some water, cough, sputter and renew my efforts to stay afloat. Then I get tired and suck in more water. There is no joy, no living, just me, treading and barely existing.
            I’m tired of just barely existing. I want to live and enjoy. I want to be free of all the emotional chains, the weight of responsibility and the binds of my past that have held me in its iron grip.
            My Pastor and friend say I need help. My wife says I need help.
            I agree.
            But here is the biggest crux, remember what I wrote at the beginning? About alienating people? That is my biggest hurdle. I don’t open up well to strangers and when I feel the urge for self-destruction… I can’t or won’t open up to the people closest to me.
            I shut down. I go out on my own and mess everything up that I’ve worked hard for.
            I do this because I truly feel that I don’t deserve the gifts and happiness that are in my life.I hear all those bad names in my head. Twerp, good-for-nothing and useless. Those words have done more than impact me, they have formed themselves into demons in my head that prevent me from being who I am supposed to be. Well, at least I feel they do.
            My name is Skip Novak and I am a broken wreck of a human. I can only blame myself for my actions and I hope one day, not today, or tomorrow or even next year, but one day, I will have shaken the crap that I’ve given so much credit to and power over my life.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Haze Gray Gifts

“This is for you.” The elderly, white haired man sitting in the guest chair in my office said as he slid a medium sized cardboard box across the top of my desk.
            It was a normal looking box. Not too big, not to small. I picked it up, it was light in my hands, I turned it this way and that. I looked for any markings that might give away what was inside, but there were none. I sat it back down on my desk, looked at my friends and said “What’s in it?”
            “Guess you’ll have to open it to find out, Skipper-doo.” He answered using a nickname that only he could pull off.
            I opened the top drawer of my desk, pulled out my small, Sabre three blade pocket knife, and opened up the medium blade. The stainless steel cut easily through the packing tape and when I was done, I put the knife away.
            I looked into the man’s eyes for any clue as to what he was giving me, his face was as blank as a piece of printer paper. I shrugged and opened the flaps and stuck my hand inside. Course, stiff packing paper greeted my hand. I pulled it out and threw it away and reached in the box again.
`           It was soft, yet stiff. Curved lines and smooth edges were traced by my fingers. It felt familiar. I plucked out the present. Dark, navy blue fabric filled my vision. I turned it around and saw the word USS Austin, LPD-4 in gold stitched across the front and under the name and above the ships call letters was a gray stitched silhouette of my ship. I was holding one of my ships hats in my now shaking hand.
            I looked up at the man in the chair. My mind was racing with memories and my eyes leaking with nostalgia as I smiled at him. “Captain, where in the world did you get one of these?” was all I could muster.
            “You like it? You want it? It’s yours. Don’t worry about where I got it from Skipper-doo.”
            Over the next thirty minutes we sat talking about things only sailors understand. Mid-watches, sunsets on the Atlantic one night and sunrise on the Mediterranean the next morning and endless hours of doing gator squares, or trying to fill in the quiet hours of the evening just lying on the deck reading a good book. We spoke of liberty calls, dolphin and whale sightings. We shared our pains of endless work hours, bloody hands, sore muscles and broken hearts. Tall tales filled the room spun by two masters of the sea with all the landlubbers forgotten and lost in the cloud of memories.
            I put the hat on. Took it off, adjusted the band and put it on again. The Captain left with a slight hitch in his step and a smile on his face. I sat at my desk and put my feet up and a smile on my face.
            The rest of the day my mind wouldn’t let me forget a single moment of life spent at sea for the United States government and my service to the fleet.
            It is a rare thing in my life when I receive a gift that makes me time travel. And over the course of the past couple years I’ve received two. Both of which I keep in my office where I can see them on a daily basis. They help me remember a time when I wasn’t so tainted, so disillusioned with life and its many pitfalls, when I was able to move my body without pain and when I knew I was the master of my world.
            Those days are long gone. Beaten out of me at the harsh, cold hands of experience, but you know, the one thing that I still have and the one thing that has not left are the thoughts, experiences, joys, travails and life I once had.
            A life I didn’t even know I was lucky enough to be involved in. Which sort of makes me appreciate where I am now in my life.
            Who knows, maybe thirty years from now, if I’m still alive and kicking, someone will hand me a toy train or a photograph of who and what I am today and I’ll get misty eyed all over again.

            Have a great week.

Friday, April 8, 2016

300 Part Two

The cloud looked like a rabbit. Not an Easter rabbit with oversized ears and pastel eyes. No, this one looked like a rabbit just sitting there in the grass, but the grass was a beautiful aquamarine sky. It looked peaceful. Happy and very content with what it was doing in the atmosphere. My wife said something and I looked at her and responded. When I looked back into the sky the rabbit had transformed into a horse from one of those old Remington paintings. You know, the kind with the cowboy sitting on the wild stallion trying to break it? One arm tossed back over his head, the other hanging on to the reins with all its strength. The horses back was arched and its legs were kicking out at odd angles. You could tell he was pissed he had an unexpected visitor on him.
            How did I miss the transformation? How long had I looked away? I tried to re-visualize the rabbit again, but I couldn’t. Maybe it got scared when the cowboy and horse showed up and hopped off into a white, vapor filled bush. Or, maybe it was just a trick of light from the sun on the clouds making my mind interpret things so that I could identify with them. I don’t know. I just wish I’d seen the change.
            Which is about the time two Navy jets screamed across the sky in front of the horse and cowboy. The sound of my wife’s voice and the voices on the radio were drowned out by the jets traveling at ludicrous speeds. I smiled. Tracked the jets and when the disappeared from my sight I looked again at the ever changing cloud. I could tell it was trying to change into something but I couldn’t distinguish what. Maybe it was like the cartoon character Meatwad on television. It could only change into a couple of things before it eventually turned back into its natural state of indistinguishable nothingness.
            We were traveling down the interstate. We were going above the posted speed limit and yet, we were still being passed like we were standing still in a parking lot. Commuters from all walks of life were heading to and from Virginia Beach on missions only known to them. Their self-imposed importance of their mission made them feel as if they needed to get ahead of everyone else on the road and that if they could just get past the car in front of them, then all would be well in their world.
            I was in no hurry. I don’t think my wife was either. We were ahead of schedule, had just eaten not two hours earlier and had received good news from one doctor and were on our way to another doctor. We had hopes of good news being delivered as well.
            There was an odd peace and tranquility that surrounded us. Something which I’m not used to. Why should I be? I’ve grown accustomed to being worried about everything and knowing that the proverbial other shoe always drops right on my head. Yet all those worries and concerns seemed as far from my life as the moon is from the earth. I mean, I could still see the problems in my mind, I knew they were there, but I just couldn’t give two shits about why they were there and when they’d make their inevitable tidal tug and make my stress levels to rise again.
            I associated with that peaceful rabbit in the sky. The rabbit that had disappeared into oblivion and leaving in its wake a bunking bronco who desperately did not want to be broken.
            Which I guess is how I normally feel. Like the bronco. And all the stresses in my life are on my back trying to break my will and make me complacent in this life. Make me tame. Make me easily ridable and a good work horse. Or, maybe I needed to be like the wild hare. Just happy to exist in a world and when danger appears, scamper away and hide until the coast is clear.
            But there is a problem with being a wild hare. They get eaten by predatory birds and four legged animals. They get hunted by man and eaten. Occasionally they get stuffed and mounted on some hunter’s mantle. Or worse, they get turned into a lamp or a coat or a sweater.
            The same goes for the horse. If the bronco doesn’t get busted, it gets put down and becomes dog food and glue. If it breaks, then it becomes a slave to the rider. A complacent work horse. That seems to be the way of wild creatures. Wolves, bears, whales, elephants and other creatures of nature I admire.
            They get plucked out of their natural habitat, stuffed into a zoo, or a hold of a ship and become food or clothing. Or they get tamed and end up in some sort of circus. Displayed and exhibited for all the world to admire. But what are the people admiring? The beast? Or the beast’s tamer?
            No one applauds the tiger who takes down an elk in the wild. But when a tiger tamer cracks his whip and the tiger stands up on its two legs and waves towards the crowd with an empty and broken look in its eyes. The audience screams, cheers and claps that the tamer was able to teach this majestic beast this trick.
            The last time I saw this sort of action, I believe I died a little inside. I rolled a rare tear down my cheek and I pitied the poor animal and hoped that one day I would read that the animal had turned on its trainer and eaten his head. I know that hoping for this sort of natural action from the animal would mean the end of the animal. But I just can’t believe that anyone or anything would be happy performing for thousands of people every night just to receive a meal. Especially if by doing so, you end up giving up all the traits and beauty that make you the amazing creature you once were.
            This philosophy applies to humans as well. I know wild people, I know broken people, I know trainers and manipulators. I’ve seen broken people, I’ve seen trained people and I’ve seen independent, strong and virtuous people end up blubbering idiots. All due to life and the strife it has in store for all of us. I know, depressing.
            Some folks end up forging the chains of their captivity out of their own actions, others seem to have it thrust upon them. While others, well, they thrive by being wild, being animalistic and seem to have a knowledge of self that I envy. Which can be very scary.
            However; on those rare occasions when I have the nerve to look myself in the eyes in the mirror, I see I am all of those things. I’m a wild man, a trainer, a broken hulk of a human and someone just biding his time so that he can break lose the chains of captivity and run naked into the full moon light and howl and rage against life.
            How many different forms can one person take? Am I like the cloud? Only two representations of communication? Or do I have inside me the ability to be like the chameleon and change with my surroundings at the drop of a hat? Can I survive for another day, week, month, or even a year?
            I suppose the answer is yes. Yes, I can. We all can, hell, we all have. Because if you’re reading this, then you have experienced all of these transformations and deep inside of you, you are just biding your time so that you can break free and become the individual you hide from the world.
            I hope you have a great week and get a chance to look at the clouds this week. Maybe they’ll speak to you as they’ve spoken to me.
            One last thing and then I’ll sign off. This is my 300th blog post. I’d like to thank you all for taking your time to read my mindless ramblings and I hope that you’ll be around for another 300 more. That is, if I have another 300 more in me.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Get a Haircut?

It was shortly after seven in the morning. I pulled into the parking garage near work, backed into a space near the exit, rolled my window down all the way and shut the car off. I took a puff of my cigar and a sip of my hot chocolate and leaned back in the seat. My body was still stiff and annoyed that I had the gall to actually get up out of bed and begin moving. My joints ached and creaked in protest with each slight motion I made.
            I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the headrest and tried to ignore my abused system. In my ears the sounds of a podcast and its host filled my mind with visions of traveling to mars and alternately, escaping from mars. I wondered if the slightly less than earth gravity of that planet would help relieve the pain in my system.
            The sound of the garages electronic gate buzzing open and the revving of an engine peaked my curiosity and I opened my eyes. I watched the small car pull into the parking space next to me and a Coast Guard sailor get out. He nodded at me when he saw me. I nodded back. Then he walked away. I closed my eyes again.
            On the podcast the host was asking someone how he came to write a story about being stranded on Mars and the science he researched for his story. I missed the next part because the gate buzzed again and I watched another car come into the garage. This one however; drove up the ramp and out of my sight. Then the gate buzzed again.
            I tried to ignore the buzzing and the constant traffic but soon I found myself watching the comings and goings of early morning workers. I don’t normally get to do this. Normally I’m at work not long after six a.m. The garage is quiet then. A handful of cars and trucks fill the structure and the only thing you see are your shadows dancing in the flickering lights against concrete.
            In my ears, the writer of the story talks about how it took him three years to write his book, post it online chapter by chapter and that he never really talked to experts, he just googled all the information he needed. He went on to say he eventually self published the story in electronic format and then in print. Soon, Hollywood called him and bought the option to make it into a movie. This part of the podcast had my interest peaked. After all, I’m always interested in what writers say about their process, how they write and the effects of getting a movie made of your hard work.
            I took a sip of my cocoa. I look out my windshield. An unmarked police cruiser is parked in front of me. The officer behind the wheel is looking at me. I nod at him. He nods at me. I nod at him again and take a puff of my cigar. He leaves.
            I shake my head and try to concentrate on the words filling my ears. I have a hard time doing so. My neck is stiff and my right arm screams in pain every time I try to lift my travel mug. I stretch my legs and consider going home, downing a bunch of asprin and going back to bed. I quickly push that thought out of my head.
            I’m in a surly mood and I need rest but I know that if I do go home the only thing I’ll accomplish is mentally abusing myself for not going in to work. I check the time. Almost 7:20. I decide I should grab my laptop, snuff out my cigar and head in to work.
            But I can’t.
            The cop is back.
            This time, his window is down and I see him talking on his radio as he looks at my front license plate. He catches me looking at him through the haze of cigar smoke and he cocks his head slightly to the side. I give him an upward nod.
            “You work around here?” his young voice asks from his open window.
            A thousand smart ass answers flood my brain. I don’t say anything. I just slowly remove my earbuds and mimic him in cocking my head.
            “I said, “Do you work around here?””
            “Children’s Museum.” I answer and as if to punctuate my disdain for being interrupted by him I take an unneeded puff of my cigar and fill the cabin of my car with smoke.
            “We got a concerned citizens complaint about you.” He says without me even ask.
            “Imagine that.” Is all I could say.
            He picks up his microphone, talks into it and then says “Have a nice day.” And drives off.
            I shake my head and watch his tail lights disappear out of the gate. I look in the rearview mirror and I see my eyes. Hazel green, tired and surrounded by greyish black circles. They are the eyes of Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars.
            I lower the sun visor and open up the vanity mirror and look at my face.
            Four days’ worth of stubble are on my cheeks, my hair is coarse and wild, my mouth is in the shape of an upside down wedge of lemon and by the sallowness of my skin, it’s easy to guess I’ve not spent any time in the sun in decades. All of this framed by a black, leather motorcycle jacket. I don’t recognize the homicidal maniac staring back at me.
            I’d venture to say that if I saw myself walking down the street towards me, I’d cross the street just to avoid any incident.
            Then I smile my crooked toothy smile. My goatee frames my teeth. But the smile doesn’t really reach my eyes. I frighten myself. A madman wrapped in leather and hair with a cloud of smoke for a halo.
            I shake the thoughts from my head, roll up my window, grab my bag and head in to work.
            I tried all day to not think about the vision of me through someone else’s eyes. I couldn’t do it. However; I do know this one important fact…
            I’m not getting a haircut.

            Have a great week and don’t scare yourself in the mirror.