Mayberry Forever

Today is my daughter’s birthday. Audrey turns eleven.

While I’m happy to be celebrating this milestone with her, it also makes me feel a bit nostalgic for the past. My life was very different 11 years ago. As if to drive this point home, I recently stumbled across a shoebox full of 8mm videotapes from the late 90s to early 2000s. I’ve got a friend named Ron who has a side business converting old media to DVDs, and since I no longer have a VCR, I’ve been having him transfer these tapes to DVD for me. (Ron’s a great guy and his work is top-notch – feel free to check out his website). I haven’t seen this stuff in many years, and watching it now, I can’t help but miss the past. I marvel at how good I had it then. Two cute little kids, a wife, a house in an immaculate and friendly neighborhood. Backyard barbecues and a family membership to the local science museum and margaritas on Saturday evenings and weekend trips to the beach. Just the idea of having another adult person around full-time to talk to and watch television with and confide in seems like such a novelty to me now. What was it like to not have to cook every night or do all the dishes all the time? To actually take turns disciplining the kids? 4.5 years have gone by and I barely remember that life.

So, to see it played out again on a DVD is jolting. It’s a visual reminder of what once was. I have to remind myself, though, that it doesn’t show everything. The strains and stresses and cracks of daily life were happening behind the scenes, after the director yelled “cut!” Do I wish I could go back in time and change the past? Of course I do. I wanted Mayberry forever – the peaceful and idyllic and simple yet fulfilling life I was leading. But then I remember that I wasn’t really happy, and the person I was meant to be – my true personality – was being suppressed. Divorce opened up doors that had long been closed, and helped me to grow and discover my real identity. I am much more true to myself these days than I ever would have been had I remained covered in the blanket of “wedded bliss.” If you ever want to truly learn how much of a compromise marriage entails, the best Rx is to get a divorce. You just might be amazed by how much you were lulled into complacency. (I’m not anti-marriage, I swear…just anti-my marriage). And maybe I’m overgeneralizing because my ex and I were so very young when we met – less than two years older than my son is now! – and while the idea of “high school sweethearts” evokes a certain romanticism, in reality you’re still just kids at that age and it’s a miracle if you can grow up together while still maintaining your teenage hopes and dreams and desires and personalities. A wise man once said,

The good ol’ days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.

Billy Joel: piano man and philosopher.

Anyway, enough about that. I decided to throw a small birthday party for Audrey yesterday, inviting family over for a barbecue. I always let the kids choose what they’d like to eat on their birthdays, and my daughter asked for baby back ribs. Gotta love that. Knowing that a rack of ribs can set a person back a few dollars, I decided to trek on over to Costco on Friday to buy in bulk and save $$$. Normally, you can count on filling up on free samples at Costco – I’ve eaten what amounts to a 7-course meal on past occasions, between the pasta and bread and chicken tenders and grilled tilapia and cheesesteak and coffee samples, but for some reason there wasn’t much toaster oven action happening when I went, so I decided to swing by their cafe for the $1.50 hot dog deal. Hell of a bargain, that is – a 1/4-lb. hot dog and soda for little more than spare change. Unfortunately, while waiting in line, I ran into an Angry Crazy Old Man standing in front of me.

"Customer service sucks! And I hate sunshine and puppy dogs, too!" (Courtesy of mamapop.com)

“Customer service is so damn sh!tty these days,” he said, out of the blue. “Nobody gives a crap. Like right now: they’ve got one person taking orders, and look at the size of this line!”

I turned around. There were maybe six people total.

“I already complained to the manager about this place today,” he continued. “I told him, I says, ‘I know the scam you guys are trying to pull here. Always moving your stuff around so we can’t find it. You force us to walk all over the goddamn store looking for it just to piss us off.’ The manager just kind of shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t give a sh!t. I was about ready to drop him on his f@ck!ng a$s! You know what I mean.”

I’m a polite person, and when cornered like this, I generally agree with people just to keep them happy. This guy wasn’t just Angry and Crazy but also apparently Borderline Psychopathic. So I nodded my head, muttered something along the lines of “Yeah, it’s a real shame,” and prayed that the line would move quickly. Which it did, despite his fears to the contrary.

I got my hot dog, went up to the condiment station (deli mustard, baby – that’s how I roll), and Angry Crazy Borderline Psycho Old Man was still railing about the injustices of the world in general and the lack of quality customer service in particular. Hmm, it’s hard to believe people don’t treat him nicely, considering he’s such a ray of sunshine himself! He kept going, “You know what I mean, you know what I mean,” even though I didn’t. And then a woman said, “There’s no Sprite coming out of the dispenser!” ACBPOM stepped in and said, “I’ll take care of that!” and stormed over to the cashier, yelling “Hey!” I took this opportunity to escape. I skipped the dining area, thinking that ACBPOM would sit down next to me and continue his tirade. When I got out front it was pouring rain, so I decided to quickly eat my hot dog under cover of the main entrance. I was a few bites away from finishing when my buddy appeared again.

“Customer service really does suck nowadays,” he said. “You know what I mean.” And he started walking away across the parking lot. Whew.

“Have a nice day!” I called, relieved to finally be rid of the nutjob.

“Sure hasn’t started out that way,” he replied.

I should have just let him walk away, but nooo…I made a crucial error and opened my mouth again. I said, “I know what you mean! I thought I was getting root beer but the dispenser gave me Pepsi.”

ACBPOM stopped dead in his tracks. He wheeled around and roared, “That’s it!”, marching back toward me. “I’m through with this place! I’m gonna find the manager and tell him what he can do with my membership card!”

Yikes. Funny how my misfortune ended up being the final straw for him. Whatever. I scurried out of there, glad to be rid of the guy. I pity the poor manager, though.

Audrey’s birthday party turned out great. Between the baby back ribs, teriyaki chicken, potato salad, beans, coleslaw, Fritos corn salad and chocolate cake, there was enough food to feed an army…which explains the vast reservoir of leftovers currently inhabiting my refrigerator.

You know what I mean…

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30 thoughts on “Mayberry Forever

  1. Why didn’t you invite the nice man to the birthday party? I am sure he would be a very entertaining guest for the children. Instead of stuffing your face with food all day…. And you could invite the manager and the cashier and have a regular “peace” corps.

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  2. You better be careful with all that rampant nostalgia or that crotchety old guy might be you one day – bailing up strangers at Costco and interrupting their innocent hotdogs with mustard. Poor Old Someday Mrs Mark will have to round you up with her walking stick and nudge you along with her handbag. “Leave the poor boy alone, Dear,” she’ll say. “It’s not his fault you’re a grumpy old bastard!”

    See, all Angry Crazy Borderline Psycho Old Man really needs is a Mrs Angry Crazy Borderline Psycho Old Man to keep him in line. Unless he had one and he killed her. In which case this story just got really creepy.

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    1. I already yell at kids to “stay off the lawn!”…and I don’t even have a lawn. Guess I’d better find that Poor Old Someday Mrs. Mark quickly, before it’s too late!

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  3. Eh, you young whippersnappers, ya got no respect for the old folks these days! Next time I’m gonna run ya over with my scooter. Kids today, I tell ya what.

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  4. Now you’ve made me hungry, and it’s only 7:13 AM here!

    Marriage (or it’s equivalent) is an delicate balancing act, as I’ve only had a chance to discover these last several years. Roger and I are together five years now as adults. We met at nine, were sometimes battling friends for years, dated briefly towards the end of high school, broke up, saw each other once freshman year in college, then had no contact at all for 33 years. We knew we had something special in high school but were too young and inexperienced to understand how special, and there were a lot of things, internal and external, pulling us apart. We speculate now whether we could have made it as a couple if we’d stayed together back then, and we’re not sure. We are sure that our lives would have been very different than they were, not necessarily for the better, and are grateful for the second chance the Internet age has given us. Real life can be stranger and more interesting than fiction.

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    1. I think there’s a lot to be said for waiting until you’re older to start a serious relationship. You’re just so much more mature then, and you’ve already grown in whichever direction you were meant to (which is really just a polite way of saying you are “set in your ways,” but whatever). If I met my ex today, there’s no way either of us would have been attracted to the other – I don’t mean from a physical standpoint, but rather, personality- and interest-wise. We’re just two different people, but when we were younger, we either didn’t see that yet or hadn’t changed yet.

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  5. First, I big Happy Belated Birthday to your daughter, Mark! Sounds like you had a great day. The menu sounded delish!

    OMG, I know customer service has deteriorated over the years, but that angry crazy old man in Costco sounded like he had a flair up of hemorrhoids – sheesh!

    Hey, thank you for reminding me about transferring my VHS tapes onto DVD because I have a ton of VHS travel tapes I made, that I really need to do that to. I still have a VCR, but tapes seems to lose their visual and sound clarity after a while.

    Have a super Monday, Mark!

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  6. Wow, this was a real pick-me-upper for my first day back at work after a week of vacation spent writing. If you still want this subscriber to not tear up her membership card, you’ll send leftovers and one maple bacon bar to: Angry Sales Manager, 1313 No Coupons Dr.

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    1. I thought I’d switch things up and dig a little deeper with this post. Sometimes deeper = depressing, I guess. But at least I didn’t kill a muskrat and leave it in a bucket of its own blood! ;)

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  7. Mark–
    I bestow upon you the Angry Samaritan. That awful old man needed to met her–which, as I said, can also be you, which would make her a him–you.

    whomp him. what a waste of breath…and so, so sad.

    As for your marriage, I am sorry it did not work the way you had hoped.

    Marriage IS compromise. Every day and twice on Sundays…

    It’s a challenge to stick together, to find time, talk, and do the work that needs to be done…

    All I can do, every day…is keep my promise…and do the hard work–which maybe makes you think I don’t think you did…NOT what I mean at ALL…

    there are so many factors in any relationship, and even more in its demise…

    blessings
    jane

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    1. Well, crap – I think I know what went wrong now. I only compromised once on Sundays! Where were you five years ago, Jane?!

      Thank you for your comment. It is oh-so-wise. And I knew the Angry Samaritan would get a kick out of my story.

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  8. I’m pretty sure I’m too lazy to be as cranky as that old guy.

    Maybe I’m just tired from all the work it takes to stay married for 28 years :-)

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  9. The first part of your post really resonated with me. I like when you write about this kind of stuff. It’s very moving and I think it’s insightful to how you got where you are. When I read old letters/cards or stare at old pictures of me and my ex, I get that same strange feeling. You don’t take pictures of the terrible times. And I don’t have nearly as many letters chronicling the fights, or the terrible end of our relationship, as I do the vacations and love letters. It’s hard not to get caught up and remember some amazing relationship. Sometimes I just have to force a reality check on myself and remember the last days and weeks. That usually does the trick. Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. I only wrote about this stuff here after guest posting on your blog. I’m warming up to this kind of writing more, but I’m also always keenly aware that close family members are reading…making it hard to open up sometimes. Thanks for the feedback!

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  10. It’s only been a year since my divorce, so I’m not ready to dwell into the past and relive the good times just yet. I find it interesting that though our marriages ended for different reasons, we’ve learned the same lessons and in some ways, are in the same place in regards to becoming our true selves. I’ve been fortunate to have you there to offer up advice and share your experiences. So thank you for that. :)

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