No One Trusts the Happy Guy at the Airport

The TSA doesn’t trust me. And probably for good reason. I have a tendency to act very suspiciously in airports. It’s never on purpose; I just always fear that people are on the lookout for large men with beards in airports, so I try way too hard to act casual.

No one trusts the guy who is happy to be at the airport at five in the morning. I like to get places early, especially the airport. As I’m walking through the sleepy checkpoints, I know that nobody truly wants to be there so I like to put on a big smile and a little bounce in my voice, give everyone an excited “Good morning.” But I don’t get smiles in return. No one is handing out high fives or hugs. Just triple checks of my ID and pat downs. While the agent checks my boarding pass he asks my name and I hesitate. Not because I am trying to remember the alias that I booked the flight under but because I am surprised. No one’s ever asked me that before. And I could see the red flags rising all around me.

But I make it through without any need to deeply violate my civil rights.

My luggage is probably the most contentious part of my journey. Every time I arrive at my destination and begin to unpack I find a nice little note from the TSA saying that they went through my luggage. These are so frequent that I feel the need to leave a note in my luggage, something sweet to cement our pen pal style bond.

The problem is that I have two suitcases to try to fit everything I need to live at school five states away from my home in Austin, Texas. It’s a tough squeeze but over three years I have managed to perfect a system that allows me to squeeze my entire wardrobe, over 200 DVDs, half a bookshelf of books, a DVD player, and all my toiletries (toothbrush, razors, shampoos, etc..)

Obviously these two bags are overweight, each averaging around 56 pounds. Not crazy but just enough for Southwest to require $100 in overweight fees. After my first trip where I spent half an hour trying to rearrange things from suitcase to suitcase in an attempt to get the bags under weight only to fail miserably, I have started making sure I had the money on me to cover overweight charges.

This preparation always baffles the clerk at the check in counter. I know it is ridiculous to spend that much money on my stupid stuff but I always see that it would cost just as much to ship the stuff I want to me, so why not just have everything with me when I get there. I try to explain this to the clerk, I say that I do this all the time, that I know it’s overweight and I’m sorry but they always want me to try to move stuff around. I know they want me to save money, but I am willingly parting with it to make this process run smoother and they refuse to see that.

“Wanna just move a couple jeans around so that only one bag is over,” I always get.

“No, I appreciate it, but things are packed pretty tight. I can’t really shift stuff around.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

“You suuuure?”

I am literally stuffing my money into his hand. “Please, don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”

He pulls out a random box he found on the floor. “You can put ‘em in this. It can hold like two or three jeans.”

I kindly refuse. Not only because I don’t want to stuff my clothes into some asbestos ridden box this guy just happened to find, but also because if I were to add a third item to my luggage it would result in a $50 fee anyway. Eventually he gives up and takes my money and out of guilt I tip him twenty dollars because I was being difficult.

The flight goes fine but I know that this guy is wondering why I wouldn’t even open my suitcase. He’s thinking that I don’t want to show him my bomb, I’m thinking that I don’t want to show him Bosco, the stuffed dog that I insist on bringing back and forth from school. But they X-ray my bag with a suspicious eye and see a small rectangle full of wires. Bomb? No, my DVD player. They leave their little love letter and we do this tango all over again in six weeks.

I used to think that flying back in forth across the country would make me a skilled traveler. At this point, if I could make it through a round trip without TSA agents giving me second and third glances and mumbling things beneath their breath, I’ll call that a win.

Like A Water Buffalo With Asthma

In the closed confines of a bus I always fear that I breathe too loud. It’s a stupid thing to worry about but when I have my headphones in (blasting my mix of Norah Jones and Mandy Moore, ‘cause I’m a man) I can’t help but hear my own breathing in my head and thinking that I am just blasting my breath all over the poor guy sitting in front of me. I’m convinced he’s just sitting there wondering, “Did a water buffalo with asthma just sit down behind me?”

I pop the headphone out of my ear and realize that I am in fact breathing like a normal human being, so I put the bud back in and go back to jamming to Merrimack River. Two minutes later I hear my breath in my head again and repeat the process. This happens over the entire drive to or from class. Sometimes I just leave one ear bud out to avoid the cycle. The only time I don’t fall into this pattern is when I’m completely alone on the bus and even then I’m always worried about the bus driver. Is my music too loud? Can they hear my piano-girl music? Am I singing out loud or is that in my head?

The worst is when some poor misguided soul decides to sit next to me. I completely forget to breathe. I always think I’m being super cool and collected, but in reality I keep shrinking into the corner, making myself as small as possible (which is no easy feat) and slowly turning red. The girl next to me throws nervous glances my way and I smile- my eyes wide with accidental asphyxia. Just when I begin to flop around like a fish out of water, the bus comes to a stop outside my dorm and I race to the exit. I mumble “Thank yous” and “I’m sorrys” as she lets me out into the aisle. I tumble out of the bus, gasping for breath like a man who’s been locked away in a leaky submarine.

I have yet to find a remedy for this, so if you see me sitting uncomfortably on a bus like a scared refuge, feel free to say “Hi” and remind me that it’s not a crime to breathe in public. I often forget.

Trouble with the Hero Complex

I don’t think there is a man alive who has never fantasized about saving the damsel in distress. It’s a lovely little archetype drilled into our imagination since before we could read on our own. I know that I still slip away into the fantasy during my more boring classes. The problem is that I have started noticing the potential for these scenarios away from my day dreams.

Walking around downtown at night, I always kind of wish to hear the sounds of struggle in the distance so that I could gallop in like the shining Prince Charming and beat away her attackers. That’s a nice thought in all but that’s still me kinda saying, “I hope some innocent woman gets attacked tonight” and that’s totally not the kind of vibe I want to be putting out into the world. It’s so bad that I’ll see a woman walking alone and I’ll think to myself, “If anyone tries to mess with her, I’ve got her back” but that’s still like one step away from saying, “Yeah, she looks like an easy target.”

I like to think that I’m being vigilant. A real life superhero looking out for the defenseless. But sadly I know me, if anything were ever to really go down my hero instinct would never kick in. I mean, I’m a grown man who still runs away from bumble bees. (I don’t mean a quick dodge. I mean turn the other way and sprint, flailing my arms, and yelling in tongues.) I don’t know why I think I’d suddenly turn into Rambo or something when dangers afoot. So I just end up spending time thinking about scenarios that if they were to happen would just end in people getting hurt.

If only little boys were raised to idolize other types of male figures. What if instead of the big strong prince that fights the dragon, boys wanted to grow up to be the guy with great credit who has mastered the art of empathy? Maybe then I’d spend less time fantasizing about saving women and spend more time saying “Hello” to them.

Board Games: A Blood Sport

My younger cousin does not know how to lose. She’s a board game shark. She’s a hustler. She walks around my grandma’s house with the confidence of a mob boss, challenging you to innocent games of Uno and then robbing you of your dignity. When I visited my grandma’s house in Louisiana this summer I decided it was time to put an end to the tyranny.

I threw down the gauntlet. One day of games, any game she picked we’d play, winner takes all, loser cries in a corner. She accepted with a smug look on her face. But over the course of four hours I took that smug look, threw it in a bowl with some cereal, and ate it for breakfast.

She never knew what hit her. We started with Sorry! and oh was she sorry. 4 to 1 victory for me. Even after two rematches, she was no closer to stealing away my Sorry! crown. Then we moved on to Trouble, Sorry!’s bastard little cousin. And guess who won, I did. I beat her again and again. No matter how many rematches, I beat her. And I laughed in her tiny little face.

Chinese Checkers, Uno, Go Fish, all of these games ended in huge wins for me. Uno, her wheel house, her go to hustle move, I beat her four times in half an hour. I was relentless. Hide and Seek, Freeze Tag, I win. I even found ways to beat her at made up games like Restaurant. She honestly thought she could make better invisible pancakes than me! Silly kid.

At the end of the day, we sat down to a soul crushing game of Scrabble, just to make sure she got the message. I was winning, because we have thoroughly determined that that is what I do. Her older sister (the middle child of three) came home from a long day of doing something related to horses. She sat at the table and watched as I bullied her sister around with big money words like fireman while she cashed in three letter words for junk change. I turned to the new arrival with a huge smile. “So I’ve been beating your sister at games all day. Uno, Sorry!, Trouble, you name it, I beat her.” I was so proud of myself.

She looked over at her little sister whose face just looked miserable after learning that she sucked at everything, then she whispered to me “You that she’s seven years old, right?”

We all laughed. Well I kinda laughed, it was more like I was crying. I realized that my cousin (a seven year old little girl) had somehow convinced me (a twenty year old man big manly man) that it was very important that I spend an entire day of my life proving that I was better than her. And that’s a victory I could never take away from her.

Playing a Concert for One

I always like to think that I am a lot older than I’m but then some nights it’s fun to think like I’m six years old again. When I was younger and bored at home, I would always lock myself in my bedroom, turn out the lights, and dance to N*SYNC (or some other boy band my sister had turned me on to) as if I were performing at a concert. I’d just slip away in my head and there I’d be dancing before thousands of adoring fans. Imaging flocks of girls falling in love with my sweet voice even though publicly I was still declaring girls icky. Then someone, my mom or sister, would walk in and I’d scream and stop what I was doing as if they had just caught me watching porn or something equally inappropriate. But then they’d leave and I’d turn the music back on and get back to dancing to the great “Bye Bye Bye” while the embarrassment faded away.

Now at twenty years old I find myself doing the same thing. N*SYNC has since been replaced with the cool, folk-rocky tunes of Mumford & Sons, The Oh Hello’s, and Milo Greene. On a Friday night, when others my age are off partying and hanging out with friends I am in my room alone. Why is not important. But where I could be sad and frustrated, instead I turn out the lights, put in my headphones and let the world fall away.

There is nothing graceful about a twenty year old man flailing around in the dark playing air guitar and lip syncing. But there is something freeing. I always play out the same fantasy no matter the song. It’s me, my best friend George, and some vague miscellaneous band members thoroughly rocking the faces off the student body at the SCAD Talent Show. I don’t know why the talent show seems to be the height of my stardom. Maybe it’s just me knowing my limitations. Every time I begin to start rocking out with my “band” I always have to check myself. “You know you really don’t know how to play guitar, right? Play something you’re good at, like clapping or something.” “Why are you the lead singer again? George is a much better singer than you are.” But it’s my fantasy and I refuse to be a backup singer in my own fantasy.

There’s always a girl in the audience. Whatever crush is currently renting space in my imagination. She’s never in the front row. She gets lost in the heat of the music, so it’s important for me to find her in the crowd. The songs always something heavy and cathartic with plenty of moments where I can pretend to scream along with the music. Hammering away at invisible guitar strings.

I always imagine it like it’s in this perfect music-video-type slow motion. As I silently belt “I Will Wait”, I thrash about with passion for the music. I see me, the anguish of singing these personal songs all over my face, then I see her (whoever “her” happens to be at the time) in awe. I throw the guitar across the stage; I kick at the mic stand. I’m a destructive tour-de-force.

If someone were to walk into my room at these moments they’d think I was a lunatic. Everything is silent outside of my little bubble. But inside, it’s truly an escape. For a moment all eyes are on me. For a moment I’m not alone in a dark room.

Tonight I heard myself actually screaming the words to a song out loud. Over and over I kept belting the words, “Don’t you give up on me”. For the first time I don’t think I was singing those words for the magical “her” at the concert. But I do think the right person heard them.

Don’t Fall in Love with Your Therapist

It is very difficult to turn the conversation from your parents’ drinking problem into a proposition for drinks. And yet the thought has legitimately crossed my mind at least once or twice over the course of my involvement with the latest intern at the revolving world of SCAD Counseling and Student Support Services. Why I’m there is not important. What is important to take away is that you should never fall in love with your therapist.

Nobody looks sexy as they whine for half an hour about their theater director being mean to them in high school. It is hard to portray yourself as the height of desire and masculinity after you get done talking about how you inexplicably started sobbing during the trailer for the Titanic 3D re-release. But still I spent countless hours before our meetings trying to find ways to tie in my recent bout of nightmares with ‘your hair looks pretty today’.

Needless to say, I am no Casanova. However, there was something so intriguing about having a beautiful woman know all my deep dark secrets and still seem to want to talk to me. So I entertained this idea, this weird little dream that maybe in some 50/50 type scenario that patient ends up with the therapist. You know, that classic tale all the young boys dream about growing up. But sadly I’m not Joseph Gordon Levitt. Therefore I wasted both of our time.

I should have spent the time to talk in depth about my rampant anxiety and social fears but what I did do was spend way too much time talking about our mutual love for the show Smallville. I should have practiced being assertive in my daily life. Instead I tried to decide if it was weird to show up to an appointment with flowers. It is.

I felt bad though. I was letting some flight of fancy get in the way of her being able to do her job. It felt sexist and weird on my part. Like I was a bad person. Like it was something we should talk about and explore. But I was too busy trying to figure out if that ring on her finger was a wedding ring or a family heirloom.

I was caught up in something new. There had never been someone who knew me on that kind of level. She knew all the skeletons in my closet. The things I don’t tell my best friends, the things I don’t tell my parents, the things she figured out that I didn’t even know. That was a form of intimacy I’d never experienced and yay, bonus, she’s a pretty girl. So my tiny 20 year old boy brain says, “Hey, this is love” and proceeded to make the rest of my time with her an awkward mess. I became very well versed in the ethical implications of the doctor/patient relationship but no closer to becoming well versed in the inner workings of Chase Wilkinson.

It wasn’t a total waste, obviously. There was a good month of quality venting and self-exploration before I started ordering horse drawn carriages and wrangling doves. But the problem started when I stopped trying to figure out who I am and began creating someone that she might want me to be even though her job was, in part, to help me figure out who I am.

I’ve never met a person who went to therapy and became more delusional.

Paternal Instincts Not Included

I love kids. I’m great with kids. They like me, I like playing games, and I can listen to child psychobabble for hours on end (well I can tolerate it but that’s still a gift). The problem is that I have this irrational fear that I look like the type of man that other adults deem suspicious when interacting with young children. It’s all in my head, my imagination running away with old episodes of Law and Order: SVU and To Catch a Predator, thinking that parents are on the lookout for shady individuals. And I have this feeling that my large frame, often wild and bushy beard, and the vague distant look on my face that I may be plotting something at all times, sets off an alarm in paranoid parents’ minds when I am interacting with my young cousins in public.

This fear of mine came to a boiling point on my mom’s birthday a few weeks ago. My parents and I were having dinner at a restaurant in town called Hasler Brothers Steakhouse with my dad’s sisters and my six year cousin Eldon. I was quietly sitting in the corner watching whatever god-awful college bowl game was on that night when my dad suggested that the chatty Eldon sit next to me. So I turned my attention from football and became enraptured in this young boys obsession with dinosaurs. His eyes grew wide with excitement behind his glasses as he detailed the anatomy of the Plesiosaur and recreated the epic battles between Allosaurus and Triceratops with his hands.

Suddenly he stopped everything and looked at me with fear. “I have to go to the bathroom,” he whispered. And I was not briefed on how to handle that situation when he was annexed over to my section of the restaurant, so I ignored him like a responsible adult. After a moment he said it again but this time it was not a whisper so I was forced to engage.

“Then go,” I said and he gave me a look that said Dude, I’m six. What the hell does that mean? So I turned to my dad and said that Eldon had to pee. To which he replied, “Then take him.”

So I begrudgingly led him to the restroom that the restaurant shares with the bar next door. And instantly the fear of judgment hit me because the thought struck that “nervous-looking bearded guy leads small child to restroom” is not a fun vibe to send out to the world.

Once inside the empty restroom Eldon set off exploring the different stalls while I stood in the corner wishing I could just phase through the wall and escape the situation. He finally chose a urinal and proceeded to pull down both his pants and underwear. I totally forgot that that was how small boys used the restroom and immediately started searching for hidden cameras as if I were the subject of some sort of sting operation. Eldon turned to me, looked me dead in the eye, and said, “Pretend you don’t see me.” Sadly, I couldn’t.

I suggested that maybe he should go to a stall but he was all like Dude, I got this. I pointed out that he wasn’t even tall enough for the urinal to which he was all like Dude, I got this. When suddenly an adult man that I did not know entered the restroom. He surveyed the situation, a small pant-less child using the urinal and me trying desperately to mentally escape to a field full of puppies, and then proceeded to go about his day and use the restroom.

There was no safe place to look. It was between A) watch my pant-less cousin pee next to a stranger, B) turn around and watch it in the mirror, or C) read the things taped to the paper towel dispenser. I chose option D and left the bathroom entirely. Leaving my young cousin alone in a restroom with a stranger. Because I’m an adult who makes good decisions.

More men exited from the bar in pursuit of the bathroom and were greeted by me awkwardly guarding the door like a creepy sentry. They ignored me the best they could, entered the restroom and I felt more and more like a horrible human being.

Finally one man poked his head back out the bathroom and said “I think we have a problem in here.” I entered the room to see Eldon squirming around the trying to pull his pants back on and button them. For some reason this was a big task because apparently he was raised by wolves or something. So I had to debate the pros and cons of helping out in this situation. He insisted that he could do it but he was slipping and sliding his way across the whole bathroom. I crouched down like a lineman awaiting the snap with my hands out in case I had to help with the button. After a minute of struggle he finally was able to button up and wash his hands and I was free from this nightmare.

As I was exiting the restroom I looked back at the first man who entered and apologized for the entire situation. He laughed as he washed his hands and said, “Don’t worry. I have kids too.” And it was initially weird to think that this man thought that Eldon was my son but there was also a tremendous wave of relief when it was finally confirmed that I don’t in fact look like a pedophile, just a very confused father. And I’m OK with that.