Thai Tickle Torture Trip

Phew, I really needed this spa day…

I have this secret about me that I’ve always been hesitant to share for fear of the social consequences that inevitably come about at such a reveal. I’m ticklish. I mean, like, I’m very ticklish—arguably, unreasonably so. Like I have an unhealthy, debilitating fear of all things feathery and fluffy. I hate soft, cuddly things so much so that after a shower, I forgo the towel and dry off with sandpaper instead.

And now, I fear, that I’ve passed on this incurable condition to my son. I never thought being ticklish was genetic. But I also didn’t think newborns could be so ticklish. Alas, he has inherited my burden; suffering from generation to generation, which sin of the father I do not know. I pray that he will be strengthened in the years to come as others seek to take advantage of this ailment. Humans, after all, are anti-fragile. We must experience the purifying crucible of trials and tribulations if we are to become who we are meant to be. Stand firm and courageous, my son, as I have had to do…

Such was a time as this, years ago, in a faraway land of Pad Thai and spring rolls that I overcame a significant trauma: a full-body Thai massage (loud, ominous music plays in the background).

One summer for a college program, I led a team of high school students on a mission trip to Thailand. We were mostly in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, working with different student ministries, teaching English camps, and serving in mountain village orphanages. At the end of our monthly stay, the national missionaries that we were partnering with took us all out for a day in the city. We experienced many of the fun and joyous activities of both locals and tourists: riding elephants, haggling in the market, drinking Thai tea, eating locusts, finding pirated DVDs, and eating at McDonald’s. Don’t worry, I’m just joking about some of those. Of course, we didn’t eat McDonald’s—this was a mission trip after all.

But before the night was done, my team asked the local missionaries if there was one more thing that they should all do before leaving the country. One unique Thai experience to take home with them in their cherished memories forever. After thinking for a bit, they said, “For the time and cost, you should all get an authentic Thai massage and/or pedicure!”

Immediately, I protested, “No thanks! Y’all enjoy that and I’ll stand guard outside to make sure no one steals our bootlegged merchandise.” I should have known better. The team of irritating teenagers immediately started to taunt and bully me. Sometimes, being a leader means doing inspirational and sacrificial things. But in my experience, most of the time, being a leader means doing ridiculous and embarrassing things.

Eventually, I coalesced and accepted my fate. I cannot exaggerate when I say it was pure torture. It was supposed to be on the condition that I just got a normalish back massage. I didn’t want someone touching my feet or putting weird oil on me or anything. But oh, how self-deceived I was. The whole team was so excited. Some of them got full pedicures and some of them tried other bizarre spa treatments. Afterwards, they all expressed such refreshing delight at the pampering and relaxation they received.

But me, the horror, oh the horror. Mind you, this was one of those institutions where you weren’t allowed to wear your own clothes. Everyone had to change into these designated pajama uniforms. It felt like prison clothes. As I walked with a few of my team to one of the massage parlors, I thought we’d all be in the same open room with chairs. Looking back on it all, I believe it was a cruel conspiracy against me arranged by the missionaries. As my team was seated, I was coaxed farther into the depths of hades to a back hall and then a back room where I was instructed to lay down on a mat. Just moments later, a sadistic employee of torment entered the room of which the cruelest war interrogators would cringe. There was no escape from the five foot, ninety pound executioner with her iron, spear nails and torture death hands (and feet, oh yes, and they stand and jump on you). I’ll save you from anymore imagery. Although the imagination is probably the most terrifying. I shouted for help. I cringed and flailed like a fish suffocating on a sun-beaten concrete slab. I pleaded for mercy but there was none as I was twisted into a pretzel and contorted into an abomination of humanity. It became one the most spiritual moments of my life as I sought God’s forgiveness for any and all of my transgressions.

I literally could not stop laughing for the entire thirty minutes (felt like thirty years). And the lady—well, she just thought it was hilarious. Half-way through, I don’t even think she was trying to massage anymore. I think she just switched over to straight-up tickling. I could hear from the other rooms my teammates laughing as well. Death by a thousand cuticles.

But I have survived to tell the tale. My son, listen to me, heed my warnings: never, ever under any circumstances repeat your father’s errors. Never get a Thai massage… so that you may live a long, prosperous, and blessed life.

Birthdays

I had a birthday a little while back. I don’t know, sometime ago or something. Some people are all about birthdays. They live for it (I guess literally, they live because of it). Like my wife: she doesn’t have a birthday—she has a birthweek. And then she also has a half-birthday and extra special celebratory milestone birthyears like when numbers match or add up in some weird way. But me, I’ve never been really big into my birthday. Most years, I completely forget until someone else reminds me. When I was a kid, I couldn’t remember when my birthday was. It always made for a nice surprise.

Like this one year, when my grandparents took me to the toy store to just “look around.” I asked them if they could please get me this action figure for my birthday. They then proceeded to put the toy in the buggy (shopping cart for those of you linguist sheriffs out there).

I said, “No, no, it’s okay. You don’t have to get it now—for my birthday.”

They replied, “Oh yes, fine, well we’ll just get it now and save it until then.”

Later that day when we arrived back home my extended family was all there waiting, and it looked like there was some kind of party or gathering. I asked, “What’s going on? Why is everyone here?”

“Umm, Finley… today is your birthday.”

“Ohh… wow. Cool.”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have anything against people who love their birthday. And it’s not like I hate birth or days or fun. I just, I don’t know, I never really got into it. For one, I hardly even remember being born. It’s pretty hazy, so how am I supposed to properly celebrate some occasion that I don’t recollect. It’s not like I have all these fond memories of exiting the womb and entering the cold, chemically disinfected hospital air. For two, I don’t like having so much attention on me and everyone being soo excited that I’m another year closer to death.

I have heard though, that those who have more birthdays tend to live longer. So that’s a thing.

And I do love all the free coffee and donuts I can get on my birthday. Makes it worth staying alive for another year.

A New Year’s Disenchantment

I remember the first time as a kid that I was allowed to stay up until midnight for New Year’s Eve. My family watched the ball drop in Times Square on the tube (although this TV probably didn’t have tubes, I don’t know).

I remember being so excited, thinking, “Wow, that’s a really big disco ball! And it’s dropping down to the ground while there’s a countdown! Everyone’s shouting and counting in excitement and anticipation! The ball is getting closer. I know what this means… obviously, that ball is going to explode! Oh yeah, it’s gonna blow up with lights, confetti, and sparkles when the clock hits midnight! This is so awesome!”

And then…

Disillusionment.

I was like, “Wait, what? That’s it? How anticlimactic (yes, I’m pretty sure that’s what I thought even at such a young, prepubescent age)!” Nothing happened. Not even a wet noodle of a toot. The ball just drops and then goes back up I guess. It was then that I realized the world is full of disappointments. Vanity of vanities.

I also thought, “I stayed up for this? What a rip off! I’m tired and grumpy. What’s wrong with adults? They think this stuff is fun? Why would they keep themselves awake just to watch some lame ball slowly descend while waiting for the clock to change numbers? It’s all rather ambiguous, actually, the whole new year thing. You know what’s fun? A piñata. They should make that ball a piñata and fill it with candy and prizes. Now that would be a New Year’s to celebrate!”

So yeah, I hope everyone has an awesome end of the year into the new of the year these next couple of weeks. Whatever that means.

Falling with Style

The first time I went skiing was also my last. It was a youth group ski trip. Cliché, I know. And yes, this is another story of me nearly dying in (West Virginia). I’ve never been very adept at those balance and coordination-type activities. Also, who came up with skiing in the first place? Oh, I know, here’s a great idea: why don’t we lock and strangle our ankles to these impractically large planks and then zoom down these snow-covered deathtrap hills while holding treacherous pointy spears?

I didn’t even own any snow gear, so I had to borrow a hodgepodge of items from several people. My outfit included the brightest-luminescent-yellow-green snow pants you’ve ever seen. I looked like some kind of road hazard sign out on the slopes. People actively avoided me—I assume because they thought I was letting visitors know which parts of the ski slope were closed for maintenance. Do they have slope maintenance? Do janitors mop hilltops?

One of my friends, who was far more experienced in this sadistic sport, graciously took me under his wing. He tried to teach me the ropes. Then he just left me to hang myself with the rope. Clearly, I was a lost cause. I guess they call it the bunny slope because a cluster of bunnies had all gathered around to watch in curiosity and delight at the giant lime puff flailing about in the snow. After practicing my face plants a few hundred times (my nose felt like the forgotten popsicle left in the back of the freezer after last summer’s cookout) we decided it was time for me to try skiing, or belly-sliding, down one of the actual slopes.

We navigated our way onto the lift, and then my friend told me where to descend. He explained that I was getting off on the easy, beginner slope, while he was going to go to a more advanced one. “Here Finley, this is a green circle slope so you should be fine.” I’m sure you can guess where this is going. It wasn’t a green circle. It was a black diamond. I must have gone down the wrong side or something. I don’t know why they put those mountains so close to each other. And I thought going down was supposed to be the easy part.

I quickly realized that this whole skiing thing wasn’t going to work. I wouldn’t survive. So I changed techniques and just allowed myself to roll down the mountainside like a neon cream puff which was discarded into the garbage after melting at the church potluck picnic. I felt the embarrassment of a snow owl turn its bulbous eyes away in shame at the sight as I bounced and thrashed and floundered my way to the bottom.

I was a cold, lonely tumbleweed blowing in the wind.

Later, my friend confessed that he realized his mistake and was genuinely worried about me. He thought I died and was asking everyone if they had seen a guy who looked like an intoxicated Elton John impersonator hanging off a cliff.

Sometimes, life can be unexpectedly challenging. Perhaps you too have found yourself standing on the precipice of a black diamond slope and staring into the belly of the beast. You didn’t choose these circumstances, but here you are, and now you must decide: do I take a leap of faith and venture out into the abyss, or do I plop down on my bum and make snow angels until I die of exposure to the elements?

Choices. All you can do is choose how to respond to life. If you can’t ski down the mountain, then slide. If you can’t slide, then stroll. If you can’t stroll, then roll and tumble. Just keep going. You’ll make it, and you’ll be better for it.

As for me, next time I’m going tubing. Sounds more my speed since I can sit the whole time. I have this life dream of eating a donut while sitting in a rubber donut tube and being pulled around by a snowmobile doing donuts. Dream big.

If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl; but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward. – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wave Your Flag

This past Independence Day brought me back to memories of a simpler time. Once, while still in high school, some friends and I went on a hike through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

On this particular day, on this particular hike, we came upon an old dilapidated deer tree stand. So, of course, we decided it would be a dandy fine idea to climb it. Because when you’re a teenager you’re not really living unless you’re playing Russian roulette with your life. I don’t quite remember, but I’m pretty sure I was one of the first ones to go up because I was often volunteered to test the structural integrity of such things.

The poor excuse for a “ladder” was really just some old planks of wood ambiguously nailed into a tree trunk. As I started to climb up the split and partly rotted toothpick steps, I thought, “why, oh why?” As I got higher, the wind blew—just to say hello.

When I got to the top, those down below asked, “How’s it look up there?” I thought, “Oh yes, just terrific! Lovely view. I’m so glad I climbed all the way up here just so that I could see the same trees that I could already see on the ground, but now, I clearly appreciate those trees more because I’m about to die.”

I then carefully, gingerly began my descent. But as I climbed down, one of my friends started to climb up. Naturally, he had determined that this was the perfect time and place to pants me.

I shouted, “Hey, what are you doing‽ Cut that out! Get outta here!” But my pleas for mercy went unacknowledged. Soon I was hanging up there in that tree, twenty feet off the ground with my derrière exposed to the elements.

At the time, I was a wee bit embarrassed. But now, looking back, I take it all as a reminder to be proud of your heritage and what your momma gave you. You are a truly beautiful individual, fearfully and wonderfully made.

I like to think I did Harland Williams (RocketMan, 1997) proud. Hugging the top of that tree with my posterior flapping in the wind like a flag. I was a proud flag; a regal, high-flying flag suitable for fireworks and hot dogs—a display of what it truly means to celebrate independence.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: however you choose to celebrate the Fourth of July, don’t do it with aerial rockets at 1:30 A.M. IN THE MORNING (redundancy for literary affect)! Because I now have the city police non-emergency number on speed dial.

“Every individual has a place to fill in the world and [he/she] is important in some respect, whether he/she chooses to be so or not.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

I’ve Gotta Foodie Feeling About This

We had some friends from out of town visit with us this past week, and it was awesome. It was awesome because our friends are awesome. But it was also awesome because when people visit it means that we eat out at all the best spots. Hi, my name if Finley, and I have a very intense, emotional relationship with food.

When friends and family are around, what do we do? We eat. And we usually eat way more than what’s normally socially acceptable. It’s like we’re making up for lost time or something. Most activities revolve around eating. As soon as people arrive, we start making plans for eating. If there’s a time we’re sitting around just doing nothing (probably, because we’re at the dining table having just finished eating) then someone usually recommends getting something to eat. And we always have to have dessert—even though we typically don’t have dessert—after every meal. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Anyways, one evening we went out for dinner at a local favorite bar-b-que spot. The next morning, I woke up with a meat hangover. To counteract the effects, we then went to an artesian bakery for breakfast. You know, because breakfast is supposedly the most important meal of the day (according to breakfast cereal companies that advertise sugar-infused, syrup-coated wood chips for children).

Yes, breakfast is so important for eating all the right foods: like cake. That’s why we eat things like fried flat sweet dough (pancakes) and bald cupcakes pretending to be healthy by calling themselves muffins. And if you’re less pretentious, you just go ahead and eat birthday cake for breakfast because, yolo, right? (Actually, I believe Jim Gaffigan has a whole spiel on this if you want to look him up.)

After the pork belly bloat, then came the carb coma. All in all, it was a rather delightful time with our friends.

But after meals like these, things do tend to get a little fuzzy… like a self-administered anesthesia to help me sleep my troubles away.

However, I may not remember everything I ate this weekend because I passed out sometime between bread pudding and third dessert, but I do remember the way it made me feel. At first, euphoria and delight, followed by guilt and indigestion. I realize that after eating ten pounds of food, my body literally weighs more, but still, it feels like moving requires the effort of a competitive weightlifting event. It’s like my insides have turned into a waterbed filled with cement and cotton balls.

So, the point is: as in food, such is life. Remember that the way you live your life has a meaningful impact on others. So be kind. Do good. What’s the point in being mean, hateful, and angry? Life’s way too short for that nonsense. Treat others the way you want to be treated. I want to be treated to a tasty ice cream treat. Please buy me some ice cream. Let’s all just try to be decent human beings. Don’t be hideous.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

– Maya Angelou

When Life Feels Constipated

Living life with a toddler is a daily adventure. No shortage of blog post topics. The other day, she was sitting on the potty when this little exchange occurred.

She strained, “Ugh, it’s not working! It stuck. There’s a hino-cheer-us in there!”

“Oh,” I replied. “A rhinoceros is stuck in there?” (I believe this is in reference to a children’s book in which a rhino gets stuck in a tree—because that’s totally normal.)

“Uhuh,” she nodded, and then she looked down into the toilet bowl. “Where are you poopie? It’s ok. Come on out!”

I said, “Yeah, ya rhinoceros, get outta here.”

When I was a kid, like around seven or something, one of my teachers told me, “Finley! You’re slower than molasses coming out of a constipated cow!” I didn’t even know what molasses or constipated meant. I just shrugged and took it as a compliment. Now that I know what she actually meant, I still take it as a compliment.

Sometimes, life just feels like one big, boring waiting game. Like standing in the longest line ever at a Department of Motor Vehicles located inside of the newest ride at Disney World. Or waiting in the drive-thru outside of a Krispy Kreme on free-donut day and the apocalypse is scheduled for tomorrow. I hate waiting. It gets so frustrating. This is why we invented fast food and Internet right? I shouldn’t have to wait for anything.

But maybe there’s something essential about moments of waiting too. Waiting teaches us that the whole world doesn’t revolve around us and our itinerary, like how I need to speed up and cut this person off in traffic so that I can hurry up and wait at the next stop light. Waiting slows us down and gives us the opportunity to reflect on the world around us, like who is the fella with ostrich feathers in his hair and all the other weird people standing in this line? Being bored and waiting can help us to learn how to think, plan, and be creative.

Maybe waiting isn’t something to be avoided at all costs. Maybe waiting is a time that can be embraced and even cherished in our modern lives of frenzy and frantic. Maybe there’s an art to actively waiting.

So, the next time you find yourself stuck in a line or stuck on the toilet or stuck waiting on life to start, just remember to find ways to redeem the time. That and drink some prune juice.

I should really set a calendar reminder to delete this post before my daughter is old enough to be embarrassed by reading it…

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

– attributed to Anne Frank