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I’m Bad At Reading And Other Stuff…

October 17, 2011
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I’ve been feeling kind of blank lately.  A general meh of the soul, if you will.  Whenever I sit down to write, I just wind up staring at a blank computer screen. A super cool, high definition computer screen, mind you, but a blank one, nonetheless.  So there I was staring away, thinking of how to kick start some mojo, when I remembered a quote from Bono where he is quoting John Lennon (that’s right, I like my quotes twice removed) saying that songwriting is sitting down with your guitar and opening a vein, and whatever comes out comes out.  Good idea. I think I’ll steal it.  There will be no guitar involved in this exercise, however, because 1.) I can’t write songs and 2.) I’m pretty sure my guitar, Virginia, is currently pissed at me because I’ve been neglecting her.  What are you gonna do?

Speaking of things I’ve been neglecting, I’m currently two years into a one year plan to read through the Bible for a class at church that ended a year ago.  I don’t read good.  I’m currently getting passed up by the class taking the course this year.  Now, I could say that I’m just taking my time to really absorb the material.  I could.  But that would be a lie.  And I’m pretty sure the Bible is against lying.  I think.  I haven’t gotten to that part yet.  I did, however, attend a church media conference a couple months ago in Dallas, a city with temperatures high enough to shatter glass but somehow not high enough to melt the $#&%-eating grin on Tony Romo’s face.  Where’s the justice in that?  Anyway, I spent most of my time sitting next to a bunch of computer nerds wondering if I should have gotten a degree in computer nerdery, because this liberal arts degree isn’t exactly working wonders at the moment.  All I know is that Heaven better be well supplied with Macs.  Because if not, those people are going to freak.  Hopefully, Steve Jobs is rectifying this situation as we speak.  Otherwise: riots.  I kept my Windows netbook in my bag for fear of getting jumped.  There’s no recovering from a computer nerd beat down.  Just pick up your non-iPhone cell phone and walk off into the sunset.  You’re done.

I used to be able to delude myself into thinking that I’m tough.  Not prison tough.  Sneaky tough.  Like, “Hey, I wasn’t really expecting much from that skinny, pasty kid, but then he punched me in the face and it kind of hurt. Kind of.”  I used to think that.  Then I went to a UFC event in New Orleans a couple weeks ago.  Never mind.  You know who’s A-OK with not being tough?  This guy.  Because if that’s tough, I’m tapping out.  There’s not enough Mountain Dew in the world to get me jacked up enough to get in the octagon.  I saw a guy get locked in a sleeper hold and refuse to tap out.  I guess he didn’t want to give his opponent the satisfaction of knowing that he made him submit, so he just went blue and lost consciousness.  Man’s game.  Aaron’s game is creating an Aaron-shaped hole in the wall of the octagon as I run through it, away from the psychopath in the Affliction t-shirt who just punched himself in the face to get psyched up to punch me in the face.  I’ll take a pass, thanks.  Besides, I can’t ogle Arianny if both my eyes are swollen shut.  Fact.  Of course, the Bible may be anti-ogling.  I’m not sure.  I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

That’s a funny word: ogle.  You know what else is a funny word?  Mulligan.  You know what’s not funny?  How many of them I needed the last time I played golf.  Yeah, I don’t exactly keep the USGA rules….or score.  There’s no need for mathematical proof that I suck.  You can just go ahead and accept that on faith.  Or sight.  Both will lead you to the same conclusion.  You know, I’m convinced that there will be no golf courses in Heaven.  You know how I know?  Because there’s not supposed to be any swearing in Heaven.  But if there are golf courses in Heaven, you know what else will be there?   Swearing.  And maybe murder.  But definitely swearing.

While we’re on swearing, football is here again, which means I’ll be spending my Sunday afternoons hurling expletives at the television.  It’s a lot like primal scream therapy, only with the chance to win money and a ridiculous trophy at the end.  And I would feel bad about spending all day watching/yelling at football games, but since my wife joined the fantasy football league, it’s actually turned into a bonding experience.  A bizarre, somewhat profanity laced bonding experience, but a bonding experience, nonetheless.  And, oddly enough, hearing my wife scream “KILL HIM!!!” is adorable in its own way.  Who knew?  At least she’s not yelling it about me.  Winning!  Now if I can just get her to stop stealing my t-shirts.  But that’s a battle for another day.  One battle I lost a long time ago was when I asked my parents if I could play football when I was a kid.  My dad didn’t care, but my mom absolutely refused to sign the permission slip.  So, sadly, no one will be drafting me for their fantasy teams.  However, given my above stated feelings about toughness, my mom may have actually saved my life.  Thanks, Mom.

All right, so what have we covered today in this little stream of consciousness exercise?  I’m not great at reading, fighting or golf; my wife has a little murder in her heart and steals my clothes; and my mom may have saved my life.  Wow, I am not good at things.  I immediately regret the decision to undertake this exercise.  Who knew opening a vein would yield blood?  Why wasn’t I informed of this?  I knew I should have paid attention in biology class.

On the plus side, though, I cut this out the back of my wife’s Cocoa Puffs.  So I’ve got that going for me.

The recession being what it is, Batman had to cut his wardrobe budget slightly.

Batman Like Me: The Things We Do For Friends…(Part 2)

May 16, 2011


When last we saw our hero, he was leaving the relative safety of his wife’s Xterra and making his way towards the feeding frenzy that is a six-year-old’s birthday party. Armed with only a utility belt containing no utilities to speak of and a birthday present, he is about to step into annals of birthday history. Whether it’s as a hero or as a complete idiot remains to be seen…

Closing the car door behind me, I take a deep breath and make a mental note to get Jon’s costume size.  I don’t care if my son or daughter is born in December, we’re having the party…..outside… South Louisiana… 1:00… Summer, or as we say in South Louisiana, “Please shoot me in the face. I’m melting.” Payback, I would argue, is a dish best served in sauna-like conditions and wrapped in rubber or some kind of thick foam. And for those of you wondering, the answer is yes, revenge is a great motive to have a child. Mwahahaha!!! OK, back to hero mode….

Now, as any good crime fighter knows, it’s always best to do a little surveillance before you move in, so I poke my head around the back of the truck to get the layout of the party. The kids are all gathered together in an open area to the left. The adults are where adults always are at these things: by the trees, in the shade. Veteran move.  I decide that my best option is to head for the trees. Hopefully, I can make it there unnoticed and then announce my presence. If this thing is going to go down, it might as well go down in the shade, right? I make it about halfway. Any thoughts I had about the kids being scared or stand-offish are quickly shattered as now there is a herd of kindergarteners rushing toward me at a full sprint, the ground trembling beneath their Velcro-shoed feet. I’ve seen this movie before. It did not work out well for Mufasa.

Shaking off that image, I drop to one knee, open my arms wide and prepare to receive what I’ve got coming…….which, much to my relief, was about twelve simultaneous hugs. My plan had worked. I figured you can’t trample a dude just trying to hug it out. That’s just the way it is. Lucky for me, these kids seem to abide by the same code. Looking up, I notice that my “assistant” has made her way to the shade. Thanks, “assistant,” for all your “assistance.” I’m on my own now. And just like I had thought, the questions started to roll in. “Are you the real Batman? ”  Thus begins Operation: Lie, Lie, and Lie Some More. But while I’m in the middle of assuring him that I am, in fact, the real Batman, another kid shouts out “He’s not the real Batman. He’s just a guy in a suit.” I fight the urge to tell him that Santa Clause isn’t real but the monsters under his bed are, and instead make a mental note to trip him later when the adults aren’t looking. BATMAN DOESN’T TAKE LIP FROM ANYBODY!!!

Seeing how this could quickly spiral out of control, I quickly refocus on my first goal of the day: make the birthday boy happy. I find Ayden, pick him up, wish him happy birthday and begin to wade through the sea of children towards the shade — the sweet, sweet shade. It’s then that I see him: The Riddler (a.k.a. Jon). Now, the superhero/villain relationship being what it is, I’m under a moral imperative to open a can on Jon. However, since Jon is Ayden’s dad, I’m not sure of the exact protocol. Thinking on my feet, I remember that all Superman needed was a pair of glasses to conceal his identity. Maybe Ayden doesn’t know that it’s his dad. It’s worth a shot. “Ayden, who is that?” “That’s my dad.” Swing and a miss. People in Metropolis are stupid. Only one thing left to do: put Jon’s fate in the hands of the public, Gladiator style. “Kids, you know The Riddler is my enemy. Should I take him out or let him be?” The answer comes back with a resounding “Take him down.” I’m liking these kids more and more. Sorry, Jon, the people have spoken. It’s go time.

Batman taking out The Riddler

The Riddler has had better days. Eat it, fool!!

I set Ayden down and walk to the grass. If this is happening, it’s going down on something softer than concrete. The kids gather around as I size up my opponent — all 5’6″ of him. Advantage: me. I tell the birthday boy to say when, and with a smile on his face, Ayden yells, “Go.” (This is just pure speculation on my part, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Ayden’s new family nickname is “Judas.”) Having received my cue, I rush Jon, lift him up and put him on the ground. A few elbow drops later, I invite the kids to join in for good measure. You said to entertain, right, Jon? Well….ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!!

Once the battle is over and justice has been dispensed, Jon retreats to the adult area while Batman picture time begins, at the conclusion of which I decide to up the ante and start a wrestling war with the kids. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. However, I failed to consider the small detail of 12:1, otherwise known as the odds. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Before I can say, “I immediately regret this decision,” I’m buried beneath Mount Kindergarten. Now, don’t get me wrong, in between flashes of my life passing before my eyes, I got in a couple of solid moves, but it was a losing proposition from the beginning.

Once the pile had been cleared and we’d all had a chance to catch our breath, round two of question and answer kicked into high gear. “Why are you sweating so much?” The answer in my head: “BECAUSE I’M WEARING A #$%&ING RUBBER SUIT!!!” The answer that comes out of my mouth: “It’s not this humid in Gotham.” “Do you have any bombs?” “Of course I have bombs. I’ve got a whole drawer full of bombs. However, you’re parents asked that I not bring them to the party. Buzzkill, I know.” “Can you break a stick?” “Show me the stick first.” I am then handed a small stick that was lying on the ground nearby. Oh, I’ve got this. P90X is about to pay off. I snap the stick to the “oohs” and “aahs” of the kids. Yep, I’m pretty awesome.

It is here that an unforeseen villain emerges. From the crowd of parents, a certain follicly challenged associate pastor who shall remain nameless <cough> Brian Jeansonne <cough> chunks what can only be described as a small stump at my feet and says to break that one. Note to self: Brian must die. Summoning up all my Bat strength, I give it my best shot….nothing. I cannot break that stick. Seeing disappoint starting to break across the kids’ faces, I try the old “Hey, what’s that over there?” trick. When they all turn to look, I toss the stick behind me….only it catches the side of the bat ear on my mask and falls right by my feet. Excellent. The kids, however, all laugh. I seize the momentum and quickly change the subject. I set Ayden on my knee and call over my assistant with the present (a Nerf gun). I deputize him and give him the gift to unwrap, telling him to only use it on bad guys and Brian. His face lights up and the rest of kids gape in wonder as he heads off to open his present from Batman. Goal No. 1: check. Free stuff works every time.

Batman and Ayden

Batman and Ayden.  We’re boys.

Poison Ivy (a.k.a. Leslie, Ayden’s mom) makes the announcement that it’s game time. Sweet. The kids can play while Batman gets himself a drinky-drink from cooler. But before I can turn to head towards the refreshments, I feel a little hand on my wrist. It’s a kid dressed in his own Batman getup, and he wants me to come play the game with them. The drinky-drink will have to wait. Duty is still calling. Duty is long-winded today. On the way over to the game, he informs me that he is my biggest fan and that he has several of my action figures. This kid thinks I’m the real deal. Goal No. 2: check. Now, I just have to maintain until I make my exit.

The game involves throwing water balloons at a Catwoman target. The objective is to hit her hands, where some pins have been inserted from the back to pop the balloons. The kids are hurling balloons at the target like it stole something from them, and I am enjoying the splashes of water I get when the balloons bust on the target. It’s a win-win. When the artillery cooler is down to it’s last two balloons, Poison Ivy calls me over for the last two throws. But….but….I didn’t stretch….what about warm ups?….I don’t think those balloons are regulation size….Have we forgotten the stick fiasco already? There is a surprising amount of pressure involved in being a superhero.

Nevertheless, I take a deep breath, walk over and take my position. It then occurs to me that one chance to embarrass myself is better than two chances to embarrass myself. I call Ayden over and give him one of the balloons. I kneel beside him and we get ready to launch a dual airstrike on Catwoman. He went first. I can’t really tell you where his balloon went, as I was busy repeating “aim high” to myself in my head. My turn. I launch the balloon from my knees. I could tell you I hit the bulls-eye, but that would be lie. I was must have been a little too focused on aiming high because the balloon sailed over the target. Awesome. I knew those balloons weren’t regulation. Plus, I didn’t want to show up the kid on his birthday…….anyone believe that?…….anyone?……anyone? No? Okay. Just checking. I congratulate Ayden on his throw and give him a Bat-Five. It’s like a hi-five, but one participant is dressed up like Batman.

I’m then approached by the kid in the Batman costume again wanting to know if I can break the stick in his hand. What is it with these kids and breaking sticks? But seeing that this stick is much more reasonable than the steel beam I was asked to break last time, I take it and snap it in half. There is a collective “whoa” from the crowd. SWEET REDEMPTION!!! I’M AWESOME!!!

With my superhero dominance restored, it’s time to start thinking of an exit strategy, as the time allotted for me at the party is drawing to a close. After the birthday song is sung, the announcement is made that the Bat Signal has been spotted and that I have to go fight some crime. The kids all say that they don’t want me to go. Hey, maybe I don’t suck so bad after all. I tell them that I wish I could stay, but that I’m needed elsewhere. As a consolation, I start dispensing out Bat Hugs, which much like the Bat-Five, is a regular hug, only one person is dressed like Batman. After telling Ayden happy birthday one more time, I kneel down and call all the kids in for one more group hug as a grande finale…..and am subsequently gang tackled by every last kid at the party. I can feel the love. The love is heavy. I think one kid even got airborn.

Batman hug

This Bat Hug has gone horribly wrong.

Upon emerging from the dogpile this time, I notice that something seems amiss. Looking down, I see that the piece of rubber covering the Bat groin is only attached on one side now, with the other hanging down. Batman is having a wardrobe malfunction. It’s time to go. Holding the costume together with one hand, I give out a few more Bat Hugs to the clamoring kids and make my way towards the parking lot. I’ve got a few new bruises to my body and ego, but I’m making it out intact. Batman will live to fight another day. The Riddler walks my assistant and me back to the car and slips me a cold bottle of water. DRINKY-DRINK!!! He thanks us for coming and we shake hands. With my mission now complete, I climb back in the Batmobile and we speed off to the Batcave, where Batman will take a long Bat shower. Justice has been upheld and a good time has been had by all.  The Dark Knight is going to sleep well tonight.

Thank you note from Ayden with a picture of him and Batman.

Thank you note from Ayden with a picture of him and Batman.  It’s currently proudly displayed on the Batfridge.

Remember that song Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)?  I don’t care what anybody says, there’s some good advice in that song.  One line that has always stuck with me is “Do one thing every day that scares you.”  I don’t always follow through on that and it would have been easy to sit out this time.  But the reality is that few things are gained in this life from the comfort of our couches.  Growth requires stretching, and that stretching is often uncomfortable.  This is not good news for introverts like myself.  I really like my couch.  It’s green.  But I know that if my life revolves around it, I’m going to miss out on a lot of the beautiful people and experiences this life has to offer and end up somehow less than complete.  And the last thing I want to be thinking about when I’m at the end of my journey is a list of regrets.

It’s with that thought in mind that I pray for the strength, when opportunities present themselves, to strap on my cape, step outside myself and find…  I doubt it’s ever easy, but as my walk in Batman’s shoes has reminded me, it’s worth it.  My time as the Caped Crusader also reminded me that heroes, even superheroes, aren’t perfect.  We can’t break every stick or hit every target, but if we’re willing to put ourselves out there, the transformations in hearts, lives and relationships that occur are bigger than all our shortcomings. That transformation is worth every step we take out of our comfort zones, and it’s worth every drop of sweat…..even when that sweat involves a rubber suit.  But regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, we should always try to remain open because, who knows, we might just find ourselves, however briefly, walking in the shoes of heroes. So while I’ve never danced with the Devil in the pale moonlight, I have been gang tackled by a bunch of six-year-olds while wearing a Batsuit in the South Louisiana humidity. Your move, Superman.

Batman Like Me: The Things We Do For Friends…(Part 1)

May 9, 2011
Aaron as Batman

Me as Batman. I look good.

They say if you want to truly understand someone, you need to walk a mile in their shoes. Well, I recently got to walk about half an hour in Batman’s, and let me tell you one thing: Batman is a sweaty dude. Granted, my understanding is that Gotham is a bit more frigid than New Orleans, but still, bearing the mantle of the bat is not for the faint of heart. And while I know that all crime fighters have their own obstacles to overcome, let’s just say that some superheroes earn their paychecks a little more than others. For reals. While Superman is busy flying around trying to pretend it’s a tough gig being invincible and Aquaman is off doing whatever it is that Aquaman does in a nice pool somewhere, Batman is busy doing work. Superpowers? Nope. Just a few toys, some anger issues and a whole lot of badass.

So why was I dressed up as the caped crusader, you ask. Latex fetish? No, I’m afraid it’s nothing that interesting. It all started like any other Sunday where I don’t have to go to church: I woke up at noon. That’s right, noon. And, no, I wasn’t being lazy. It was the Sabbath and I was honoring the heck out of it.  You’re welcome, God. Anyway, waiting for me on my phone when I woke up was a text from my friend, Jon, requesting my services, which if you think about it, is kind of like a low-tech Bat Signal. A Bat Signal that drops too many calls and doesn’t get great reception in my own house, but a Bat Signal, nonetheless. Maybe one day when I’m rolling around in Bruce Wayne scratch, I’ll upgrade to something more suitable.  For now, I’ll just have to deal. Whatever. Anyway, Jon is a friend from church who has managed to overcome a misspelled first name to marry a pretty girl and start a family. Good for Jon. And this particular Sunday, Jon’s son, Ayden, was turning six and having a Batman themed party, and everything was in place for a killer celebration except for one thing: Batman.

Now, Jon is a resourceful guy and had managed to procure a Batman costume and was curious if I would be willing to make an appearance as the Dark Knight and entertain the kids at the party for about half an hour. This presented me with something of a dilemma. While, on the one hand, I’m not afraid of public speaking and I wanted to help my friend, on the other, kids are scary. I saw Kindergarten Cop. Those kids almost took down the Terminator; what shot do I have? I don’t even have a ferret to distract them with.  And if the six-year olds in that movie had the lowdown on male and female naughty bits pre-internet, I can’t even begin to imagine what this group of computer programmers is going to throw at me.  I’m screwed.  But while I’m busy trying to thumb out an elaborate text that politely declines, I see the newly tattooed Claddagh on my arm and remember my commitment to developing and strengthening the relationships in my life. Boy, it didn’t take long for that to come back and bite me on the butt (See previous post, Praying In Ink, if you’re confused). I mean, if you’re going to make yourself more open, you’ve got to start somewhere, right? I was just hoping to not start this far out of my comfort zone.  But while I’m busy bemoaning my plight, I realize that I still have a good chance of dodging this bullet.  It occurs to me that his text came a couple hours ago, while I was still in bed. Chances are he’s found someone else by now (fingers crossed). Holding my breath, I text back and see if he still needs me. He does. BAT CRAP!! There’s no turning back now; I’m Batman. Resigned to my fate, I agree.

Not long after that, there is a suitcase in my living room containing one Batsuit….well, half a Batsuit.  I had to complete the ensemble with a pair of my black dress pants and my father-in-law’s black cowboy boots.  I knew that my old pair of Dockers wasn’t the most authentic choice, but since they were the only black pants I had and I didn’t figure a pantless Batman would be appropriate, I went ahead with them and hoped no one would notice.  Now, if you’ve never had the pleasure of donning a Batsuit, let me fill you in on a few of the particulars. It’s hot. Really hot. Apparently, not only does it repel bullets, it also repels breezes. I’m in a full on bat-sweat within five minutes…..inside my air conditioned house. And the party is outside. In South Louisiana. At 4:00. In the Spring, or as we call in in South Louisiana, Summer. I’m going to weigh 80 pounds when this is over. Next, while the Batsuit may be bulletproof, it is not flexible. Apparently, Bruce Wayne thinks the ability to turn your head is overrated. But I guess when you have your bat-senses in full effect and an arsenal of kick-ass karate moves at your disposal, you don’t need to look to your left. Batman and Chuck Norris have that in common. It’s an exclusive club.  I’m not in it (tear).  Finally, you would think that Batman would have engineered in an earhole or two. Nope. The only thing I can hear is the muffled sound of my dignity as it closes the door behind it on its way out of town.  And I know my wife was busy trying to tell me something while I was feeling my way down the stairs, trying not to plunge to my death, but hell if I know what. (She might also argue that I don’t need the aid of a Batsuit to not pay attention, but that’s a discussion for another day.) Of course, there is the possibility that Alfred and Robin are talkers, and Bruce just wants to drown out the yapping. Solid logic, if you ask me.

Speech BubblesNow, I know I can’t walk into this blind. Kids are like cats: they’re curious and can often be found licking themselves.  I need to have some answers for what is surely coming my way; what they’re putting in their mouths is their parents’ problem.  Are you the real Batman?  Yes. Yes, I am.  And, frankly, I’m offended that you would question my credentials.  Can’t you see that my suit is made from the finest rubber China has to offer. Why are you in New Orleans?  Superhero convention.  The catering in this town is top notch.  Why aren’t you in the Batmobile?   Have you seen the price of gas lately?  Who is the lady (my wife) driving you in the Nissan?  My traveling secretary.  Batman’s coffee isn’t going to make itself.  I may have over-thought it a bit.  But at the end of the day, I only have two goals: 1. Make the birthday boy happy.  2. Get one kid — just one — to believe that I’m the real Batman.  Anything more than that is gravy.  And to hedge my bets with the birthday boy, I brought him a present (a Nerf gun) as an ace in the hole.  If things start to go downhill, whip out the present.  Kids love free stuff.  Hell, I love free stuff.  I will gladly forgive you for being super boring if you start throwing presents at me.  I’m superficial like that.  And I’m betting that six-year-olds are, too.

I’ve got to admit, this plan sounds pretty solid from the comfort of my living room couch, but how it’s going to play out in reality is anyone’s guess.  Either way, the amount of time I have to prepare is growing shorter and shorter.  And, as with many things in life that you’re nervous about going through with, time flies by like a runaway train.  Next thing I know, I’m sitting in my wife’s car in the parking lot of a local park, sweating bullets and taking in the last precious seconds of air conditioning I would get for a while.  Through my wife’s open door, I hear a girl arriving for the other birthday party in the park tell her mother, “Hey, that’s Batman in that car!”  Well, at least one girl thinks I’m believable.  Too bad she won’t be at the party I’m going to; I could use a good hype man.  Oh, well.  My wife laughs and shuts off the engine.  The moment of truth had come and it was time to bring the pain or have the whole thing blow up in my face and get heckled out of the park by a bunch of mini-me’s.  With a million thoughts running through my head of the various ways I could screw this up and make a six-year-old cry on his birthday, I open the door and step out into the parking lot.  I’ve heard it said that heroes are made, not born.  I’m guessing that applies to superheroes, too.  The countdown is over.  I’m about to find out how super, or not, I am….

So how does it end?  Does Batman complete his mission of putting smiles on the kids’ faces?  Does he collapse of dehydration and get taken away in an ambulance, thus scarring a group of children for life?  You’ll have to tune back in next week to find out.  Same bat time.  Same bat channel.  Da na na na na na na na Da na na na na na na na……

To be continued...

Praying In Ink

May 3, 2011
tags: , , ,

Turning 30 will make a man stop and think about a few things.  Things like, “How the hell did this happen?” and “How many toys can I milk out of this travesty?”  Or maybe that’s just me.  But I do think it’s natural for us to pause and take stock at such mile markers in life.  For me, the first thirty years, I would have to say, have been marked by searching for a clue as to what in the world I’m supposed to be doing with my life.

Some people know what they want to do and do it.  Those people annoy me.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for anyone who has a clear vision of who they are and what their calling is and pursues it, but I still kind of want to trip them in the hallway on behalf of those of us who don’t have it so easy.  I know, I’m envious and a little petty.  I’ve made peace with that.  But I digress…

Getting back to the idea of mile markers, I knew I wanted to do something to mark turning 30, because despite all the not knowing, I have come a long way and I have hope that this journey has a purpose and will make sense in the end.  And I don’t care what anyone says, turning 30 is a big deal.  It’s a third of your life, for crying out loud;  unless you live in Okinawa, of course, in which case it’s more like a fourth.  Seriously, what kind of Mr. Miyagi voodoo are those people working with, and where can I get some?

Anyway, back on topic.  I’ve read that sailors used to get swallow tattoos after traveling 5,000 miles at sea.  Well, I’ve never sailed and I have a history of losing consciousness around needles, so, naturally, I felt the perfect way to mark my 30th birthday was with a swallow tattoo.  Makes perfect sense, right?  Well, it will in a minute.  Bear with me.

I figure 30 years has got to be somewhat comparable to 5,000 nautical miles.  I don’t have a conversion chart to prove that, but it sounds about right.  More importantly, swallows were a sign of hope for sailors, as they would alight on ships when they were close to land.  And solid ground is somewhere I would very much like to get to one day. Metaphorically speaking, of course.  I’m currently writing this on actual solid ground.  Well, ground as solid as New Orleans ground gets.  You get the idea.

So, you see, there is a logic at work here.  But why stop at a single swallow?  This is a third of my life we’re talking about.  This demands a scene!  Enter the nautical stars, specifically two regulars and one North Star.  The North Star was used by sailors to guide them through the night and to bring them home safely. And if you look closely, you’ll see that the color pattern of the North Star (the one the swallow is following) is different from the other two nautical stars.  It’s subtle, and for the record, not tied to any color pattern tradition concerning nautical/North stars – I just wanted that one to be different for my own symbolic purposes – but it’s one of my favorite things about the tattoo.

Finally, the anchor rounds out the nautical portion of the tattoo.  Anchors traditionally symbolize a steady course through rough weather and protection from storms that would otherwise dash a ship on the rocks.  Now, I don’t care who you are, life has a way of tossing you around and if you don’t have something to hold on to that keeps you grounded, you’re in trouble.  So anchors, much like sliced bread, are just a good idea.  All right, that just about covers the nautical part of the tattoo.  If you’re keeping score, you’ll see that we’ve got symbols of hope, guidance and protection that simultaneously mark the passage of time and speak of hope for the future all tied together in a single theme.  Now we’re talking.

Tattoo Phases

The progression of a tattoo. It hurts so good.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it.  The real genesis of this tattoo, however, was Matthew 6:26:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (NIV)

Sounds pretty good to someone still trying to find their way.  So not only is the swallow a mile marker and a symbol of hope, it is also a reminder that I’m important in God’s eyes, regardless of how anyone else, myself included, thinks or feels about me at a particular time.  And if He watches over them, He will surely watch over me.  Also, in addition to the meanings mentioned above, the anchor was used by early Christians as a disguised cross.  Like the fish, it was a way to identify oneself as a Christian while escaping persecution from Rome.  They had lions and they weren’t afraid to use them.  And, I’ve got to say, I do like a good hidden meaning.  Also, there’s Hebrews 6:19:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain… (NIV)

Sweet.  I happen to like security very much and I’ll take it where I can get it.  I’ve already mentioned the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, so it’s nice to have the guidance of Someone who does.  Finally, the North Star, currently the star Polaris.  By the way, the role of the North Star passes to a different star every few thousand years.  Who knew?  Regardless, it always appears due north and, from our perspective, remains stationary while other stars revolve around it on their respective paths.  In other words, it’s constant.  Like God.  We can follow it’s direction or not, but it’s there all the same, pointing the way ahead.

If you put all of that together, you get one of two visuals.  One: A picture of the Trinity.  Granted, the Holy Spirit is usually represented by a dove, but a dove doesn’t really fit in with the nautical theme I’ve got going, so work with me.  Two: The swallow is me, anchored in faith and trying to follow the signposts that God sets up.  See, I’m working on two levels.  Count them: one, two.  There is some major allegory going down here, people!

Now, on to the Irish portion of the tattoo.  First, the Claddagh (that’s the hands, heart and crown, for all you non-Irish).  The Claddagh serves two purposes.  One, it’s Irish.  At this point, I’m just going to assume that you can look at my pasty complexion and connect the dots as to where my family is largely from.  The hands stand for friendship, the heart for love, and the crown for loyalty.  I’ve seen the overall message stated as  “Let friendship and love reign forever.”

Now, whether it’s from being an only child or it’s just my personality, I’m not a people person.  Left on my own, I’m very happy to live in my little Aaron bubble.  It’s nice there and the only one who misplaces my toys is me.  However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized the importance of sharing life and putting more effort in developing friendships.  The Claddagh is a reminder to me that we are meant to live life in community and not in isolation.  So I’m currently trying to get over my instinct that people, by and large, suck and be more open to letting people into my life.  New Orleans traffic is not helping with this endeavor to change my opinion, but I’m dealing.  God, help me, I’m dealing.  I’m even writing a blog post about my personal reasons for getting a tattoo.  That’s a start, right?

One more quick word about the Claddagh.  If you notice, the tattoo is on my left arm.  This is significant as it concerns the Claddagh because it also has romantic/marriage connotations.  This aspect of its meaning is summed up this way: “With these hands, I give you my heart and crown it with my love.”  One can even signal their relationship status by which hand they wear a Claddagh ring on and in which direction it’s pointing.  If worn on the left ring finger, it signifies that the wearer is married, which I am.  Sorry, ladies.  Technically, this is on my arm and it’s supposed to be upside down, but you get the picture.

Now, finally, the pièce de résistance that brings the whole thing together: the quote banner at the bottom.  It says “BY THIS LOVE.”  It’s from “Mysterious Ways” by U2, which just happens to be the best thing to come out of Ireland since green and is my favorite band of all time.  The full quote is actually “One day you’ll look back and you’ll see where you were held now by this love. While you could stand there, you could move on this moment, follow this feeling.”  It’s a great line, but since I don’t have elephantiasis of the wrist, I had to cut it down a little.  And, as with many U2 songs, it’s either about God or a girl or, in this case, both.  One interpretation of the song is that it presents the Holy Spirit as a woman wooing and directing a man in the way he should go and teaching him things he can’t explain.  As the quote pertains to the tattoo, it reaffirms the need for help and guidance as well as the importance of both divine and earthly love/relationships in helping us become the people we were created to be and carrying us through the storms of life.  It also echoes Matthew 22:37-40,  where Jesus responds to the question of what was the greatest commandment:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (NIV)

So there it is: the obvious and the not-so-obvious.  The paint and the story behind it.  When I look at it, I see a prayer.  A constant prayer that will be answered over and over throughout my life.  A prayer that acknowledges my weakness as well as my hope in the strength and faithfulness of the One who said He would show me the way to go and promised never to abandon me.  A prayer for the courage to break down the walls I’ve built around myself that keep others out and even my best friends at bay sometimes.  And a prayer for the strength to love others the way that I’m loved.  This isn’t going to be easy.  Maybe, if I’m fortunate, I’ll have these virtues somewhat down by the time I’m sixty.  We’ll see.

Tattoo and Guitar

Happy Birthday to me. So far, 30 is looking and sounding pretty sweet.

Some people are confident enough to do crossword puzzles in ink.  I’m not.  I get stuff wrong all the time.  And when it comes to life, I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I have faith in the One who does.  And while that faith does ebb and flow, it is always there.  It’s permanent.  Like ink on paper.  Like tattooed lines beneath the skin.

Now, as far as the tattoo process itself, I didn’t see a single centimeter of it actually take place.  I looked away the entire time.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t like needles.  Just ask anyone in my 8th grade English class, where I passed out from just reading a story about donating blood.  FYI: If you ever find yourself in such a situation, just take it in stride because you’re not going to live it down.  Fact.

So how did I get through it?  I went in with a plan.  First, I asked a couple of friends to be praying that I don’t pass out in public…again.  I’ve  lost far too many cool points that way already.  Second, the artist I booked was a girl covered in tattoos.  If you’re a dude, you’re not allowed to cry/bitch/pass out while getting a tattoo from a girl that has more tattoos than you.  You just can’t.  It’s in the manual.

Third, I brought my wife.  I did this for  a couple reasons.  One, she’s pretty to look at and, two, she was under strict orders to keep talking to me.  I didn’t care about what; just keep talking.   I really have no recollection of what we talked about for the four hours we were there.  I think a John Wilkes Booth conspiracy theory from the History Channel and the contents of our refrigerator were covered, but I can’t be sure.

Fourth, I brought a squeeze toy to occupy my free hand.  Why?  Because biting down on a stick in public would just be weird.  Plus, I’ve seen enough movies and TV shows where a woman in labor crushes her husband’s hand to make herself feel better that I figured it had to be worth a shot.  And since I wished to continue being married, I used a foam stress reliever instead of my wife’s hand.  She was appreciative.  Who says chivalry is dead?

Finally, I played mind games.  I pretended I was a captured American spy being tortured by Communists to give up the nuclear launch codes.  Sounds stupid?  Overlooks the fact that the Cold War is over?  Yes and yes.  But  it worked, and you’re all safe thanks to my will of steel.  You’re welcome.  U-S-A!! U-S-A!! U-S-A!!

Oh, and if any of your friends ever get a tattoo and tell you that it didn’t hurt, they’re lying liars who tell lies, and if what I learned in elementary school holds true, their pants should be on fire.  That being said, I’m already thinking about another one.  Just don’t tell my dad.  He just got over this one.

(This tattoo was done by Lirette at MidCity Voodoux Tattoos.)

Bloggin’ it up…

March 24, 2011

footprintI’m Aaron.  This is my blog.  It’s got sole.

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