The Entrepreneurial Spirit

When I was a kid, I had amazing ideas. Earth-changing ideas! Then my entrepreneurial spirit was crushed not once, but three times.

For the most part, I hated being a kid. I was always eager to be older, although I cannot recall why. Much of it had to do with how I feel most of the time today: that I was wasting valuable time, and that I had to get on with life.

My first idea was to complete all my lifetime’s sleep at once. Basically, I would just sleep 24 hours a day until my early 20s. Then after I awoke (and showered profusely), I would be awake all day and night for the rest of my life, fully able to take advantage of my young adulthood. Of course, I failed to factor in the years of education I needed to be an adult, plus the physical and emotional development I missed out upon. Did I mention I was a kid when I thought of this plan?

As I got older, I started to become aware of the great engineering feat that was my hometown of Dallas. I learned that there were vast networks of utilities that took our waste then returned it to us in the form of clean, treated potable water. And we were going through a ton of effort to clean that water, just to use it to flush our toilets. Why use clean water, I thought, when we could use sea water instead? We wouldn’t need to clean it for drinking purposes — it would just be used to flush toilets. And its salinity might help clean the surfaces as well, just like when you flush your sinuses. My brother was the one who clarified the cost savings for using less fresh water would be offset by the cost of eleventy-billion miles of pipes requiring installation from scratch country-wide.

With my brackish dreams dashed, I turned to problems of physics instead. Pooping during the winter was a tense process, thanks to the frigid toilet seat. I had this inspiration: what if toilets were filled with warm water instead of cold? That way, during that cold dark season, the warm water would heat the toilet and (by relation) its seat. You’d never have to sit on a cold toilet seat again! My dad’s response, “Then your piss would stink!”

Crushed, I tell you!

Photo Credit: Design You Trust

“Wanna Go Schwimmin’?!”

Everything was hazy.

“Matthew,” called a muffled voice, “time to wake up.”

My surroundings, although fuzzy, would come into slow, painstaking focus as the voice gently called to me.

“Matthew, how do you feel?”

I was cold, despite the thick blanket draped over my listless body. I was sitting in a dentist’s chair and was awake. I guess that my oral surgery must be over.

Buzzing around me was my surgeon, whose name I did not remember, and a couple of comely assistants, whose names I wish I did. They kept asking me questions, attempting to discern if my anesthesia had worn off enough to permit discharge.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, “I am ready to leave.” Each of the assistants took hold of my hands and helped me out of the chair. When I seemed properly set on my feet, they asked if I was doing alright. I nodded. They gently released their hold, and down to the floor I fell like a wet noodle.

They tried to help me up, but I would have none of it — I slapped their hands away, frustrated at the unwanted attention. “I’m fine, I’m fine,” I barked. But instead of standing up, I started to crawl towards the exit. The doctor, embarrassed by my display, barked at me to get up. “No!” I yelled. I reached up, turned the doorknob, and continued slithering into the lobby.

My mother was at the receptionist’s counter, in the middle of writing a check for the procedure. When the door popped open, she stood stunned at the site of her youngest, doped-up and army-crawling into the room. Other parents in the room emulated my mother’s reaction, while their kids giggled in highest of amusement. I reached my mom, wrapped my arms around both her legs, and settled down for a well-earned nap.

My brother Michael was in the audience, sitting on a nearby couch and enjoying every minute of my show. Mom bent down to wrench herself free from my grasp, and Michael popped over to rib me in the process. I don’t remember much of what he said, but the words “Spaz!” and “Idiot!” come to mind. At the very least, he prevented me from starting my nap, and for that I hated him. If I wasn’t so doped up, I might have been able to fire back a witty retort about the patch he was forced to wear for his lazy eye.

Mom was terribly embarrassed and you could hear it in her voice. “Matthew, get up!” she snapped. Grabbing my wrist, she forcefully directed me out of the office, into the elevator, and beyond to our waiting car. Dad was inside, and any happiness at seeing his family was muted upon catching my mother’s sour expression. Not needing to ask what happened, he flatly declared, “Alright, Maffers (his nickname for me), let’s get you home.”

“No!” I retorted.

Dad was taken aback. “What do you mean, ‘No’?!”

“I wanna go t’ Simon David,” I slurred.

Simon David was Dallas’s oldest gourmet grocer. Earlier in the day, I read they had just opened a small handful of supermarket-sized venues. Somehow in my drug-induced state, this sounded interesting to a ten-year old child.

“No, we need to get you home,” Dad said.

I screamed, “No! I wanna go t’ Simon David!”

As Mom and Dad still needed to buy groceries that night’s dinner, they relented.

When the four of us arrived, I assumed my usual position as cart handler. My parents walked at the helm, excepting me to take up the rear as usual. A minute later, they turned around to check on me, but I wasn’t there. I had disappeared along with the cart.

I could be found on the opposite end of the store, briskly navigating each aisle and filling the cart with every bright color or shiny sheen that industrial packaging could provide. Soon it was overflowing with various sundries, a super-majority of which did not need.

My family eventually discovered me. Mom would later tell me that she was more embarrassed at that moment than at the doctor’s office. Dad assigned Michael to keep an eye on me while the two of them went through the laborious task of putting back the sundried tomatoes, Black Sea caviar, and fizzy French water that wasn’t on our grocery list. Then we checked out and drove home.

When we returned home, my brother and I discharged our official shopping duties: he unloaded dry goods into pantry, while I filled the refrigerator. I opened the door and bent over to transfer vegetables into the lower-level crisper bins.

Unbeknownst to me, the gravitational pull of the planet earth was beginning to exert a stronger pull, but only on myself. In one slow motion, I was brought down to one knee while continuing to unload groceries. Then came both knees. Soon enough, I sat on the floor in a side-saddle fashion. After the final item was inside the ice box, I closed its door and sat with my back against the cold, steely metal. My eyes felt heavy, and a shit-eating grin emerged on my face.

The air was then pierced by a determined squeak. I looked down, and there was our oldest Siamese cat Martha Mitchell. Three years older than me and already ancient by this time, with her trademark blue eyes now a steeled grey, she was frail but still full of vigor. Time had turned her purring meow into a single note of a screech that sounded like a rusty screen door. She sashayed up to my side and began to purr.

I looked outside and caught glimpse of our swimming pool. Then I looked back at her, and an idea came to mind that seemed just as logical as visiting a grocery store half-drunk.

“Hey, Martha! Wanna go schwimmin’!?”, I asked.

The last thing I remember is my dad yelling, “Goddamnit!” as he snatched me by the shirt collar, then tossed me into bed, where I immediately passed out.

I didn’t wake up for two days.

The Radio That Ruined Christmas

The day before Christmas is a big day in my family. It’s usually the one day where the entire family is in one place, and there was one year long ago that included myself and my older brother, mother, and father.

While we were sitting around, the doorbell rang. Dad quickly responded by bounding out of his La-Z-Boy to greet our unknown caller. We watched with curiosity as he spoke to a FedEx deliveryman and came away with a medium-sized package. Dad took it into the kitchen and we followed. Soon enough, he had released the gift, a Bose WaveRadio personal stereo.

The smile on my father’s face was not enough to dissipate her curiosity. She began the conversation with him as follows:

“Who bought this for us?”

I bought it.”

“I thought we weren’t buying things for ourselves this Christmas.”

“I’ve always wanted a radio of my own that I could listen to while reading the morning paper.

“I’ve seen those things in magazine ads and they look expensive. How much was it?

“It wasn’t bad–”

“How. Much. Was. It?!”


“I thought we agreed to discuss major purchases!”

“I don’t consider this a major purchase.”

The night was downhill for my parents from that point.

Later that evening came our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, where we gather around and share brotherhood and fondue. The meal was mostly quiet, as we were busy digesting both dinner and the earlier conflict.

Our local Satan affiliate KVIL 103.7 FM does well the evil deceiver’s bidding by playing nothing but Christmas songs from midnight Thanksgiving until long past the birthday of Christ. My father broke the silence by cheerfully offering, “Hey, I love Christmas music. We should listen to some songs while we eat dinner.” It is at this point that my father reaches into his shirt’s breast pocket and whips out the Bose’s slim remote control, barely bigger than a baby’s hand but packed with the power of Hercules. He pointed it over his left shoulder, and with a quick click, the pre-tuned radio came to life with dark, catchy holiday melodies.

And so dinner went, the night filled with music that was interrupted only by the occasional sounds of chewing–or my deeply annoyed mother harshly grinding her knife and fork just as deep into her fine wedding china.

Merry Christmas.

Years later, the very radio which united our family so stressfully was stolen by a contractor working on my dad’s new house. Since they didn’t manufacture that particular unit anymore, he decided to replace it with a newer model — and a 67″ rear-projection HDTV. No news yet on what my mom thought of it.

God, I love my dad.

The Surprise(s)

I got home from school, went straight into my dad’s office, and fired up his computer.

Within moments, the system was up. A few swift keyboard commands fired up the internal modem. And chirps and clicks of static noise confirmed a successful connection to one of the many bulletin board systems I perused each and every day.

While browsing around some message threads, the screen suddenly went haywire with bursts of random, ASCII characters. My session locked up, and I was unable to enter any commands. I cursed in frustration, causing my dog to pop up in excitement at the noise.

Looking at the clock, it was 4:00pm, the time my mother regularly called to ensure I was safely home from school. Many times I had asked my mom not to do this, as her incoming calls always knocked me off of my modem connections, and getting reconnected to bulletin boards wasn’t the easiest of prospects. But since she refused to let me disable call waiting while I lived under her roof, we played this cat-and-mouse game each and every day. I picked up the phone, and indeed it was mom.

After chatting for a few minutes about the school day, mom asked, “Will you be there when we get home from work?”

I thought for a second. It was the day before Thanksgiving, so all of my friends were busy doing their own thing. I said, “As far as I know, sure.”

“OK, sweetie. Love you,” she said.

“Love you, too.” I hung up.

Moments after placing down the receiver, I realized what day it was. Sure, it was Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. But more importantly, it was Wednesday, as in “the day before Thursday”, as in “the normal day of the week when my favorite comic book shop received their new shipment of comics but instead got them one day earlier because of the holiday.” The shop would be open today but closed through the weekend. If I wanted new comics, I had to go…now!

I sprang into action. I grabbed my wallet and keys, hopped into my truck, and flew down Davis Parkway towards Hurst, the town that was home to the closest comic book shop. I got there with plenty of time before they closed, and the owner Stephanie was furiously trying to unpack the new shipments and get the shelves stocked. I helped her out a little, reading a quick comic book here and there between opening boxes. Because I was a regular customer, Stephanie held my favorite titles behind the counter, ensuring that my weekly reading list’s comics were never sold out before I could get my hands on them. I ended up spending quite awhile there. I eventually purchased my booty and headed back out in my truck.

Right before turning onto the highway heading home, I spied Best Buy and recalled that I hadn’t rewarded myself with a new CD in quite some time. I steered into the parking lot and spent an hour browsing the stacks. Eventually I settled on some discs and attempted to get back to Southlake.

While fumbling around with my in-dash CD player, I passed North Halls Mall on my left. The video arcade inside called to my soul, and I felt the irresistible urge to play some pinball and Galaga. Soon enough, a slowly depleting fistful of quarter-dollars filled my pocket, and somewhere video game designers were already cashing their holiday bonuses.

Finally, long after the sun had set, I made my way back to Southlake.

Moments after walking in the door, I was accosted by my parents. Both were sitting in the living room, sternly staring at me as I walked in, arms laden with plastic bags of pop culture goods. My mother barked, “Where the hell have you been?”

This was in the age before cell phones, when parents had to wait for their kids to call them — and they had to be home to receive such calls. But in general, my parents treated me with kid gloves, and as long as I returned home before it was too late or called to tell them where I was—both of which I failed to do–they weren’t particularly concerned with what I did.

But they were aware that I regularly drove south to get comic books each and every week. And even in the past when I’d fallen off the grid like this, they hadn’t reacted so sternly as they were now doing. I mouthed back defensively and very much like an obnoxious teenager, “I went to the comic book store to get my comics before Thanksgiving!” I punctuated my exasperation with a breathy, woe-is-me, get-off-my-back-man, “Shhhhhit!”

The two of them said that was fine, but they berated me for not calling or leaving a note. I had little fight in me, so I let them finish their lecture. I then shut myself in my bedroom at the front of the house to read my comics.

My High School Room

I lay on my bed, underneath a sea of posters and pictures dedicated to my favorite fictional heroes. I digested book after book, absorbing tales of earth-born mutants, Kryptonian-born saviors, and all-too-human everyday heroes.

Midway through my weekly ritual, a string of lights began to shine through the blinds. One after one, the sweeping beams of headlights swung left to right as a series of cars came up the curvy road leading to our house. Multiple vehicles were descending upon our farm. Yet since I was self-centered enough to not care unless I knew they had something to do with me, I ignored the event and resumed reading.

Through the thin walls, I could hear the doorbell, and Gos, Tyson, and Murphy barked in excitement at the prospect of visitors. I could hear the murmur of voices as several people entered the house and were greeted by my parents.

Moments later, the sound of shuffling footsteps came closer, capped with swift raps on my bedroom door.

Before I could say come it, open flew the door and standing in my room was every single one of my friends, with my girlfriend Pam forming the point of a visibly-annoyed phalanx of high-schoolers.

They barked in unison, “Where the hell have you been?”

Apparently déjà vu was also one of my friends.

I responded to them with the same annoyance I projected to my parents. “I went to the comic book store to get my comics before Thanksgiving! Fuckin’ A!”

When tempers finally cooled and notes were compared, it turned out there was an amazing orchestration of people and food that was thrown into chaos when I vanished earlier that afternoon.

It turns out that Pam and my friends had been secretly waiting for hours at a nearby pizza joint, so that my parents could bring me over for my surprise 18th birthday party — a surprise party which I had failed to show up for, because nobody bothered to me about it!

The whole gang was there: Pam, Micha, Matthew, Katie, Todd, Dan, George, Scott, Bill, and Nancy. And since they were tired of waiting for me to show up, they decided to bring the party to my place.

We had a silly time, goofing off within the house, outside on the volleyball court, and inside the barn.

It’s worth noting that up to this day, there had been a hard-fought detente between me and my friends regarding my girlfriend. Out of 136 other members of our senior class, I was seemingly the only person who got along with her. My friends tolerated her presence only because of how I felt about her, but such peace was tenuous at best.

While out in the barn, Pam had found one of my mother’s horsewhips, an artificial riding aid that my mother used sparingly to gentle coax her Tennessee Walking horses into proper form. Pam brought it into my group of friends and jokingly announced, “Oh, cool! S&M!” Everyone that laughed did so politely and without sincerity.

Pam then gave the whip a mild crack, inadvertently sending its tail straight into George’s face.

George’s cat-like reflexes saved his face just in time, but they weren’t quick enough to completely avoid the attack. The tip of the whip flicked him hard just below the eye as he fell back. Then in an explosion of anger, he flew forward and lunged at Pam, screaming at her, “What the fuck!?”

Her eyes grew into saucers as she realized the enormity of her mistake. All of us were aware that George had a fiery temper, but even I was surprised at how honestly scared I was for Pam. I jumped in between them to prevent the unfortunate scene of one of my best buddies beating the shit out of my girlfriend in my house on my birthday before all my friends.

It wasn’t until after Pam broke up with me months later that I realized that this was the moment in time when everyone stopped assuaging their intense dislike for her. Through their actions tonight and onward, my friends let me know that if I wanted to hang out with them, I sure as hell better not think of inviting her along.

Tempers eventually calmed down enough for everyone to gather in the kitchen for the best part of any birthday: presents and cake. I then discovered that it wasn’t all about me; it was also Micha’s party.

Born just five days after me, Micha made it hard for me to forget this calendric coincidence. After all, she had spent the better part of the past week delightfully reminding me that I was the “older one”. This was a healthy break from her other persistent cue: because I was the one of us with facial hair, I would also be able to grow a goatee, thus solidifying my secondary role as the “evil one”.

So when we were gathered together, out came presents for both of us. I was apparently the easy one to shop for, as everyone gave me comic books. Titles like “Justice League” and “Green Lantern” helped solidify the survive-the-holiday-weekend arsenal I had purchased earlier that day.
Unbeknownst to me, unfolding nearby was the curious saga of Micha and her three birthday gifts from the boys.

The wrapper came off the first present, revealing a plastic dog dish. Quite a curious gift, as she didn’t own a pet of any kind. The box in came in contained no note, no card, and no explanation. She looked at Matt, Dan, and Todd, who were all equally unforthcoming.

Micha ripped open the second present, which contained a can opener. Her eyebrows arched as she sensed the brewing diss. I was on the receiving end of an evil glare that silently said, “Alright, you’re part of this. What the hell’s going on here?” I shrugged helplessly, as I was not included in their evil plan.

It didn’t take long for the last vestiges of Micha’s good humor to dissolve when the third present turned out to be a can of Alpo. Matt, Todd, and Dan were highly amused at this point. Despite—or because us—this, Matt and Micha would hook up just a few months later. It’s my assumption that the highly inane chain of gifts was the horsemeat equivalent of a guy letting a girl know of his crush by being mean to her.

Thankfully we had a knife on hand to cut the upcoming birthday cake — it could be used to also cut the tension hanging in the room. Attempting to reset a birthday steadily going awry, Micha decided it was time to reveal the birthday cake. Beaming with pride, she returned with a foil-covered baking pan containing a cake she had baked herself. Micha removed the foil, held it before me, and wished, “Happy birthday, big brother!”

Her trademark smile faded as she registered the confused looks of those in observance. She looked down. Written in frosting across the cake she was giving me were the curious words, “Happy Birthday Micha!”

Somehow, someway, Micha had baked her own birthday cake.

Micha quickly glared at Nancy, who was doing her best to not furiously crack up. It turns out that earlier, Micha had used Nancy’s kitchen to start baking the cake, but she trusted Nancy to finish decorating the cake while she rushed to work. That is when Nancy took advantage of the opportunity to pull the prank currently in progress.

That so makes up for being the older one.

Later that evening, we were all running around the farm once again, playing grab-ass and celebrating until long after midnight. We were high-school seniors, and I was having the best birthday ever. I felt that such good things would never end. I felt the same about Pam.

I took a moment to pull her around the back of a horse trailer for a private moment. Pressing her back against the trailer wall, I leaned forward and gave her a deep kiss. Then I whispered, “I love you.”

Pam smiled back at me, but didn’t say anything. It wasn’t until the next semester that I realized why.

Wedding Vows

“To have and to hold…”

One day early in their marriage, mother was talking on the phone with one of her many girlfriends. The instrument she used was an old-school Bell desktop, with 12 gray plastic buttons jutting out of a beige casing, complete with a receiver so hefty and bulletproof that being composed of depleted uranium is the only thing that could explain weight.

While she was talking, my father snuck up from behind and tickled her. Mom is horribly ticklish…so ticklish that it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that she’s a 98 lbs. nerve cell. She jumped and yelled at my Dad, “Nick! Stop it!” She did not turn to look at dad — instead, she kept facing forward and continued her conversation.

Like a child told to keep his hand out of the cookie jar, he did it again. She hissed, “Nick! STOP!” Mom continued to not pay visual attention to Dad, yet he proceeded to keep tickling her.

Holding the phone receiver in her dominant hand, Mom swung it back over her shoulder and cold-cocked dad with authority. This produced a huge clap as plastic met bone. Dad immediately stopped and left Mom alone.

About half an hour later, Mom finished her conversation, hung up the phone, and stood to leave the room. This was when she discovered my father was still in the room, knocked out cold and sprawled on the floor with a big black bruise on his forehead.

To this day, he has never tickled her again.

“For richer or poorer…”

Incidents like that convince me that my parents were just one fuck-this-shit step away from divorce. For example, take the board game Monopoly, a fun enough game if you play by the rules.

One day, the two of them were playing the game, and everything was going swimmingly — that is, until my Dad began to take advantage of the house rules whose existence incidentally had been known only to my father up to this point. Fighting and arguing resulted from these “house rules” but they continued to play for awhile. The game ended quickly enough, when Mom attempted to procure a loan from the game’s bank, but the banker–Dad–would only provide the credit line if mom paid 3.59% compound interest per roll of the dice and secured the loan with the four Railroads & The Electric Company.

Years later, I was born. It wouldn’t be until college that I saw my first Monopoly game, as it was permanently banned from our household.

“In sickness and in health…”

My dad’s mother was a curious creature. I didn’t know Grandmother as well as my mother’s mom, Nana. She was a creature whose hobbies were being crotchety and holding grudges up until her final breath.

In the 1960’s, my parents had just started dating, and Grandmother made no secret that she did not like my Dad’s choice for a girlfriend. To her, no one was good enough to date her son. After accepting my father’s proposal, Mom reached out often in an attempt to win the heart of her future mother-in-law.

One night, the two of them went over to Grandmother’s house to break bread over a home-cooked dinner with Dad’s parents. Grandmother and her husband Gaylord greeted the two as they arrived. Gaylord truly enjoyed my mother and was grateful for her company, while Grandmother at least remained on good behavior.

The quartet dined on Salisbury Steak, with the standard veggie and starch for sides. After dinner, my mother spoke with Grandmother and complimented her on the fine meal. In fact, Mom made it a special point to comment about the tasty mushroom sauce that smothered their steaks. Grandmother smiled and bragged that it was homemade, using wild mushrooms that she had personally picked from the backyard.

Later that evening, all four of them were at the hospital, getting their wrenching stomachs pumped.

“‘Till death do us apart.”

After dinner one night, my father complained about some minor abdominal distress. He was sweating a little and his stomach was feeling twisted into knots. Our next door neighbor was a registered nurse, so Mom telephoned for her to come over and take a look. By the time she arrived, Dad was starting to feel worse.

The nurse asked some questions and briefly examined my father. Her diagnosis: indigestion. Recommended treatment: administer an enema.

I guess she forgot to bring along her leeches.

Dad was feeling bad enough that Mom and the nurse had to administer the enema. I still cannot fathom how awkward of a scene this might have been, especially for the one who was being internally flushed by warm liquids. But it seemed to work, for after the procedure, Dad reported that he felt somewhat improved.

Later in the evening, Dad woke up feeling worse many times over. He was now terribly feverish, and sweat gushed from his forehead. He woke up Mom to report this news, and she got up to take him to the nearest emergency room.

The doctor they met asked some questions and briefly examined my father. His diagnosis: bursting appendix. Recommended treatment: life-saving emergency surgery.

It is my assumption that the nurse and the doctor did not go to the same medical school.

Dad was operated on that night and the surgery was routine and successful. The next day, he was scheduled to be discharged and Mom went over to take him home.

She had to wait in the hospital lobby, a long plain room filled with lots of other waiting people. She stood near the entrance at one end; facing her at the other end was a bank of elevators.

Some time passed, and then the elevator chimed. Its silver doors parted, and inside was a nurse standing behind a wheelchair that held my father. The two of them wheeled out into the lobby

Dad spotted Mom from across the crowded room. He then stood up out of his wheelchair, pointed at her, and shouted, “That bitch tried to kill me!” Everyone in the lobby heard him and followed his gesture until they were locking eyes with my speechless mother.

Speaking of speechless, the two of them did not speak to one another for nearly two weeks.


Photo credits: Gazette Live; Phillip Taylor;
Sailor Courscant; dtail 2 design