Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mary Louise Cratty 1926-2013

My wife was not particularly fond of me after one month of courtship. Her intention was to dump me and move on, but her mother didn’t know that and pressured Summer into bringing me to meet them at a local dealership where she was looking at a vehicle with her husband and mother.

Despite the fact Summer's father is built like a brick shithouse and her mother has the ability to size people up in a nanosecond, I was comfortable meeting her parents. Her grandmother was another story.

Grandparents don't sugarcoat their true feelings and it doesn’t take much to offend them. I was told her grandmother immediately disliked her previous boyfriend and her disapproval never wavered. I was sure I would be confronted by a weathered old broad who tries to smoke on airplanes and intentionally runs any stop sign that went up in her hometown after 1972.

Instead, what I saw at the dealership was an adorable unassuming woman strolling around the lot with light bouncing off the colorful jewels on her jacket, wondering aloud what she might look like cruising around town in a yellow VW Beetle. I loved her instantly.

I didn’t get dumped after all. I am sure her family’s seal of approval, including her grandmother's, had something to do with that.

I was blessed to share more than four years worth of experiences with Summer's grandmother. I watched an intoxicated woman excitedly lifted her off the casino floor at Excalibur in Las Vegas. I sat in my in-laws kitchen and listened to her give a spot-on breakdown of a Boston Celtics game when I didn’t think she even knew it was basketball season. While my in-laws were on vacation, we popped over to help with a few chores and I was delighted to learn the annoying ducks in her garage were purchased by Jerry “at the hillbilly auction.”

Summer, Seth, and Mary Louise in VEGAS!

We sometimes take these moments for granted. We assume each passing year will give way to another fresh slate on which we’ll write new stories. When you go to a car dealership hoping to win the favor of an elderly woman whose granddaughter may dump you within the week, you don’t take anything for granted. You appreciate each moment and hope it’s not the last you get to be a part of.

I love being part of my wife’s family for more reasons than I can count. One of them was getting to know her grandmother. Now, like the rest of her amazing family, I will tell the stories and enjoy the memories.

And I’ll smile every time I see a yellow VW Beetle, hopefully on it’s way to pick up ducks at the hillbilly auction.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tom Arnold is the Coolest

There were two distinctly Iowan qualities in the woman behind the ticket counter at the Cedar Rapids airport Sunday morning; Midwestern friendliness and an enthusiasm for Tom Arnold. The man most famous to the majority of the country for his marriage and divorce from Rosanne Barr is revered in his home state. Iowans are like that; you stay loyal to them, they’ll stay loyal to you.

“There’s a celebrity on your flight!” said the woman, clearly excited to share the news.

Despite my Dallas-residing, too cool for school attitude, the Iowan in me was intrigued.

I walked toward security thinking, 1) I can’t imagine Tom Arnold appreciates airline employees alerting travelers of his presence, given the inclination of star-struck rubes to hassle people they recognize from television, and 2) my folks need to wrap up good-byes with their grandson ASAP, I gotta go find Tom Arnold!

Many people, especially from rural areas, approach celebrities for pictures and autographs. I do not. By leaving them alone I obey an unspoken code usually broken by those who rarely see celebrities in person. I used to work at a television station in Dallas and once shoulder bumped a diminutive fellow who turned out to be Richard Marx. Clearly, I can handle myself in the presence of megastars.

On this occasion, I was traveling with my 10 month-old son, meaning there was a good chance I would ruin Tom Arnold’s flight. To acknowledge the situation without breaking the code, I felt it appropriate to tweet him a hassle-free preemptive apology:

To my surprise and the pleasure of those seated around me, Gabe was a perfect little traveler. Over the two-hour flight, he didn’t have a single outburst. When he exited the plane, Tom (we’re on a first name basis) looked at Gabe, smiled and said, “Hey, Buddy!”

I had to admit it was a pretty neat interaction to tell people about. My Iowa friends would get a kick out of it.

Then on the way home, I received this reply to my pre-flight tweet:

Tom Arnold is the coolest. And not just because I’m from Iowa.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Flexible Traffic Laws for Babies

It doesn’t matter what you do for a living or how often you go to church, if you walk into a courthouse for any reason other than a 7th grade field trip, you are a criminal receiving your comeuppance, and the people who work there treat you as such.

I attempt to be as friendly as possible when paying fines. It’s my way of saying, “I’m a good person with a lot to offer, and despite the six cat-related trinkets on the desk behind you, I’m sure you are too. There’s no reason for this to be unpleasant.”

I don’t blame the cat ladies for emotionally boxing out my friendliness. If people have to walk through a metal detector to interact with you at your job, and you don’t work behind the controls of a 747, chances are you run across a lot of shitheads.

Until my most recent speeding ticket, I had given up on ever having a pleasant experience in a municipal courthouse. Then I walked in with a baby.

Some people thought it was a little shallow and off-putting when I referred to my dear child as a great fashion accessory. Raising babies is hard work. The sleep you’re accustomed to is virtually non-existent, intimate moments with your spouse are tougher than ever to come by, and at some point you are going to walk around in public with actual human shit on your clothes.

After all that, I am supposed to feel guilty about using my son as an emotional shield? I think not.

People love babies and if you're in public with one who is behaving, they will think you’re swell too. I don’t advocate lugging a toddler into the back room of a nightclub to discuss an extension on overdue gambling debts, but if you need to wiggle out of a petty traffic violation and don’t shamelessly flaunt your baby, you are under-utilizing your greatest resource.

My son even managed to charm the security guards, who are typically too drunk with perceived power to smile. My belt buckle triggered the alarm, causing one of the guards to scan us with the wand. When he ran it over the arm holding my son, Gabe took a swipe at it. This inspired me to joke about using my baby to sneak in a gun. 

Rule of thumb: don’t attempt to get a laugh out of security guards in government buildings by suggesting you have a firearm...unless you’re holding an adorable baby. If a random law breaker made the ill-timed joke, the would-be comedian may have earned a cavity search. But from the father of a baby, a little gun joke goes over like gangbusters.

From there it was on to the dreaded feline enthusiast with the rubber stamps.

Before I said a word, I was treated to a story about her daughter whose twins were born at 8lbs each. Since this was already the best interaction I’ve ever had with someone through bulletproof glass, I stopped myself from wondering out loud what havoc that must have wreaked on her daughter’s poor vagina. Instead, I said my preferred method of parenting is one-at-a-time. She enthusiastically agreed.

When I finally handed her my ticket, she offered a money-saving resolution.

Honey, you don’t need to pay this fine. I’m going to give you an extension and you just go ahead and register the vehicle when you can.”

The world would be a friendlier place if everyone were treated like a happy 10 month-old, but until this dream becomes a reality I highly recommend new parents use their babies to shield criticism as often as possible.