The Small Decisions That Drive Us Crazy

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comLife is full of decisions.

Some are big ones with life-changing implications. Do I get married? Do I change jobs? Do I buy a house?

Most of the decisions we are forced to make on a daily basis, however, are ridiculous and unnecessary.

I love orange juice. I always have. But I have almost turned myself against it because I always find myself standing there in the grocery store paralyzed trying to decide which kind to get.

The first question I am forced to ask myself is how much pulp I want in my juice. Should I get it with no pulp, some pulp or lots of pulp.

Once I solve my pulp quandary, I am then forced to decide if want it with extra calcium, extra vitamin D or 50 percent less sugar.

I just want orange juice, squeezed from an orange into a jug. Is that too much to ask?

Thankfully, some marketing genius at the orange juice factory had people like me in mind and decided to label some “Homestyle.”

I don’t know what Homestyle meant, and at the time I didn’t care. I grabbed it before I even gave myself a chance to read whether it had anything added, reduced or taken away altogether.

Coffee is almost as bad. How could anyone pick between dark roast, medium roast, classic roast or breakfast blend?

And I will eat your hat if you can tell me what French roast means.

The bathroom tissue aisle should come with its own grief counselor.

We shouldn’t need an advanced college degree in mathematics to decide whether 12 regular rolls at $5.99 is a better deal than 9 mega rolls at $7.49.

The grocery business in general is the worst offender, but it’s not the only one. 

I despise trying to figure out what kind of central air filter to buy.

Do I buy what the company calls the good one, which is also the lowest priced? Or do I splurge on the premium one? Or do I ride the fence and flip a coin between the two in the middle?

The expensive one supposedly stops something called microscopic allergens.

I don’t even know if I have microscopic allergens floating around, and if I do, I figure I need to get rid of them in the first place and not just try to corral them in the central air filter.

Now, in addition to not knowing which air filter to buy, I have to worry also about microscopic allergens.

I went to a website that sells air filters, and I honestly counted 168 different sizes.

It’s absurd.

Women have it rougher than men, though.

I’ve heard both my mother and Kim complain dozens of times over the years about trying to figure out which kind of pantyhose to buy.

Women pretty much don’t wear pantyhose anymore, and I think it’s because the decisions are too tough.

You go, girl. Burn those stockings and the eggs they rode in on. That’ll teach them.

I’m not sure why we ever needed a half million variations of this product. But I do know that hell hath no fury like a woman who bought reinforced toes by mistake.

Sometimes I think the big decisions are easier than the small ones.

You May Have Seen Me in Women’s Sunglasses

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI’ve always found it interesting that the more I like a pair of sunglasses the more quickly something happens to them.

Of course, the opposite always holds true as well.

A couple of years ago, I bought a pair out of necessity at a convenience store somewhere outside of Fredericksburg, Va.

As you can imagine, the sunglasses department was pretty slim pickings. The ones I was forced to buy looked like something out of a sci-fi movie. I think they were $8.99.

They fit my head like a little plastic vise. They were crooked. When I looked down, they made the ground look 3 inches farther away than it really is.

I still have them. They’re never going to break. I can’t lose them.

If I ever left them somewhere, I have no doubt a Boy Scout with a pet bloodhound would happen by, pick them up and track me cross country to return them.

A couple of months ago, conversely, I decided to splurge on a decent pair. I went to one of those outdoor gear stores where the employees always look like they just got home from spring break.

To me, splurging on sunglasses means spending about 30 bucks.

I bought a pair. I loved them. They broke after a month.

Having learned nothing, I went back to the exact same store to get another pair.

I decided on some much like the ones that had just broken. 

“Do you want me to put these in a bag?” the young lady at the counter asked.

“Oh, no. I am going to wear them.” It was less of a statement and more of an announcement for everyone in the store to hear.

When I looked at myself in the rearview mirror, I was a little disturbed by the way the arms were a little wider than my other ones. I noticed the same thing about the tortoise-shell curvy pieces that go around the ears.

Then I took them off and realized the arms had a little design on them.

I was the proud owner of a pair of women’s sunglasses.

You will find it difficult to believe I didn’t notice any of this in the store.

I sat there in the parking lot wondering whether to return them immediately or live with them. It was not tremendously obvious they were a bit feminine. I tried to pull a little hair over the design to hide it. 

I decided to keep them. No one would notice. And the best part is, I knew I would never, ever lose them, and they would never, ever break.

I left the store and cruised down the road trying not to rear-end anyone while I continued to argue with myself if I looked weird or not.

I did. As much as I tried to talk myself out of it, I looked weird.

I was a head scarf and a cigarette holder away from looking like Audrey Hepburn cruising down Sunset Boulevard on her way to William Holden’s house for martinis.

In the end, I bought myself a pair of men’s sunglasses — though I did it at another store.

Kim got the others.

She makes a much more believable Audrey Hepburn than I do.

Sports are Changing, but for the Better?

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comSports are changing.

My favorite NFL team held a fashion show last week, and I am not tremendously thrilled about it.

I had been hearing about the Tennessee Titans’ uniform reveal party for weeks now. The stage was set for a big block party on Broadway in Nashville, complete with appearances by current and former players, new coach Mike Vrabel, Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk, and others.

Some of the Titans players modeled the new uniforms.

Since it’s Nashville, naturally, attendees were treated to a concert both before and after the event. Fireworks capped off the night.

One estimate I saw said nearly 100,000 people attended.

That’s 30,000 more people than the team’s average attendance for a game in 2017, just so you’ll know.

I like a party as much as the next guy, but come on, let’s have some good-natured fun with this.

Here are a few more things I would like to see the Titans reveal this season.

How about they reveal 11 players jumping up and down in the end zone after a touchdown five or six times a game.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a scoreboard reveal that says Titans 84, New England 0.

How about revealing a picture of Vrabel and Strunk hoisting the Lombardi Trophy during a shower of confetti after the Super Bowl.

I truly believe the Titans should look a few blocks up the street and see what their sister team has done in hockey. The Predators — who are a favorite to win this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs — turn Nashville into a hockey-frenzied town season after season.

And I’m pretty sure they accomplish that by what they do during games, not on the catwalk.

I’m old school when it comes to sports, and some of the things that capture our attention these days befuddle me.

One of the biggest stories out of Knoxville this spring has been new UT coach Jeremy Pruitt announcing that the team won’t be wearing the smokey gray uniforms this fall.

Although Pruitt’s honeymoon hasn’t even started yet, he did rankle a few fashion — I mean football fans — with this decision.

Another big announcement out of spring camp in Knoxville this year is Pruitt taking away music from loudspeakers during practice.

You won’t find it hard to believe that Butch Jones is the one who started musical practices.

Pruitt said, “I don’t think they play music during football games. I’ve never heard it. I like to coach, and I like for the people to be able to hear me when I do coach.”

The nerve of that guy.

Last week, East Tennessee State University head coach Randy Sanders was suspended because he slapped a player’s helmet during practice. When he was reinstated, he was issued a letter of reprimand and lost a week’s pay.

While I don’t condone violence, I thought that was a bit much.

I participated in a few sports back in the day and I’ve seen coaches slap helmets, twist face masks, kick players in the rump and more.

Our seventh grade basketball coach paddled us during practice one day for missing free throws.

I wonder what he would’ve done if we would’ve suggested playing music during practice?

I Even Managed Not to Fall on the Tracks

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comEuropeans don’t give us Americans credit for having much sense.

That’s the primary conclusion I drew from my and Kim’s recent trip to Italy and Spain. Visiting Grant in Spain was the reason for the trip. We decided to tack on some extra days in Italy beforehand as an early anniversary present to ourselves.

And much to the surprise of the Italians and the Spaniards, we made it back in one piece.

A few people we encountered in Italy spoke English fairly well. Many spoke only a little.

But whoever painted the warning signs up and down the entire country of Italy on everything imaginable was fluent in English, that’s for sure.

Apparently no one who speaks Italian or French or German or Punjabi ever fell off of a train platform. That must be why every 6 feet was a sign saying “Stay Behind Yellow Line,” plainly written in English and in no other language.

Nothing else was written in English. Why was that?

What is it about English-speaking people, I wondered, that makes the Italians think we are just itching to to get hit by a train?

As we got deeper into the trip, I realized that every sign urging us either to do or not do something was written first and foremost in English — and usually only in English.

“Turn off light when leaving toilet.”

“Do not enter.”

“Not responsible for items left in gondola.”

“No smoking.”

“Wet floor.”

It was like the preacher was talking to us and no one else in the congregation.

I’ve been all over the US, and nowhere in the whole country have I seen a warning sign printed in any other language more prominently than it was printed in English.

I would be willing to bet that the sign at the edge of the Grand Canyon says “Don’t fall in canyon” and not “Non rientrano nel canyon” for all of the Romans who might be vacationing here.

Things didn’t change much in Spain.

When I got to the rental car desk, the clerk I was blessed with spoke very little English — at least that’s what I thought in the beginning.

He couldn’t even understand that I had a reservation. He had to get a co-worker to interpret for him.

But something on his screen must have flagged me as American, because he suddenly and magically learned the language.

“This is a new car,” he said.

“Ok, great. Thanks.”

“It has only 13 kilometers. You are the first driver.”

I guess I nodded or smiled or something. I knew what he was getting at, but he wasn’t sure I did, so he paused a moment.

Then he looked me dead in the eye over the top of his glasses and said painfully slowly, “I suggest you get the insurance.”

I don’t know if this guy has been watching too many Dukes of Hazard reruns or the Daytona 500 or what, but he sure didn’t think I was a good risk for his precious new car with only 13 kilometers. 

And yes, I took the insurance.

Then I grabbed the keys, yelled “yee-haw” as loudly as I could, slid across the hood and jumped in the driver’s side window.

We’re Americans, after all. Apparently we have a reputation to uphold.

While We’re at it, I Don’t Even Have a White Coat

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI’m big on do-it-yourself repair projects.

Sometimes they work out, and sometimes they don’t.

I can usually fix a leaky faucet or change a light switch pretty easily. Some problems are tougher, though.

I like to say I know my limits, but apparently I don’t know them as well as I think I do.

Like most people, I dabble a little in self-doctoring. I think it starts when we pull that bee stinger out of our foot for the first time as children while sitting teary-eyed in a patch of clover.

I probably self-doctor a bit more than most people, which is not something I’m necessarily proud of. I would’ve made a great Christian Scientist.

Last week, I expanded my medical repertoire.

I am now doing some of my own dental work.

This has not turned out as well as I had hoped it would.

Of course, I have no training in dentistry. Thank goodness for dental schools who turn out real dentists. For the record, I love my dentist, but I thought I could handle this problem on my own.

My big problem was that I don’t have any dental tools. Most non-dentists don’t, I suppose.

That’s why I was forced to make one using a chopstick, some sandpaper and a couple of inches of electrical tape.

Filing down a rough spot on a crown is harder than it sounds. I worked on it for quite a while, and I don’t think I made any difference at all. I thought about going with a coarser grit, but I didn’t know how that might work out.

The fine sand in my mouth was bad enough. I felt like I was on the beach walking into a stiff headwind. Anything coarser would’ve been unbearable.

No matter how hard I sanded, that little sharp edge just wouldn’t go away. I guess that high-speed dentist tool which sounds like a cat with its tail caught in a door is necessary after all.

Before you ask, yes, I considered using the Dremel but chickened out.

I’ve had to go to the dentist for some unusual reasons over my lifetime, and I’m sure my file looks like Mad magazine. I didn’t want to have to explain the injury I received from working on my tooth with a rotary tool. 

In the span of a half hour, I sent dental care back 100 years. I’ve seen museum exhibits of early medical tools, and I don’t ever remember seeing anything as primitive as my sandpaper on a stick.

By the time you read this, I will have been to the real dentist and had myself fixed up. And it will have been a simple procedure, which I will have had no reason to worry about. That’s the way it almost always goes — though I never look forward to it.

The main reason I tried my do-it-yourself scheme in the first place is because it was late in the day and late in the week, I was busy, and I really didn’t have time to go.

In hindsight, I think maybe I didn’t have time not to go.

Just for fun, I am considering filing a claim with my insurance company to see if they will pay their customary 75 cents.

Heck, that wouldn’t even cover the chopstick.

Let Me Tell You How Petty My Problems Are

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI woke up yesterday morning feeling about as tired as I did when I went to bed the night before.

The same thing happened most days over the past week.

My mind has been in a whirlwind lately with a variety of preoccupations — lots of new aggravations and frustrations, along with some oldies but goodies that use my brain like a vacation home.

And for some reason, 2 a.m., is when the space between my ears thinks I should start thinking about everything all at once.

Throw in a couple of world problems I figure I can solve, and I become the general manager of the universe for the graveyard shift.

Yesterday ended up taking a different turn, however. When it did, I was forced to take a long, hard look at myself; and I quickly realized how little some of my problems mattered.

That’s because yesterday I learned something troubling about someone I admire and respect.

This person has endured some mysterious health issues for a few months now. Yesterday I found out his condition has progressed to the point to where he is being forced to quit his job while the doctors try and find out what is going on inside him.

This is an extraordinary young man I am taking about. He is much younger than I am. He is a man of God. He is a thinker. He is both a servant and a leader with a beautiful family Norman Rockwell never would’ve dared to attempt to capture.

For the record, I have complete and total faith this is only a temporary condition he must endure. That’s big coming from me, because faith is not my strong suit as is evidenced by the opening half of this column. But I believe it.

As I heard more and more about his situation, the smaller I felt.

I spent the rest of yesterday consumed by what he and his family are going through.

This gave me pause to look at myself. I spent plenty of time proverbially kicking myself in the rump for the pitiful outlook I can sometimes have when everything in my life isn’t 100 percent rosy, which is what I seem to expect.

Yesterday, I tossed each of my problems out of my head one-by-one by saying either “so what,” if such-and-such happens, or “so what” if it doesn’t.

With the proper motivation, that’s an easy thing to do. And yesterday — as unfortunate as it was — I had the proper motivation with plenty to spare.

Back when I was Mama’s overnight caregiver, I vowed never to take another moment for granted. Yesterday I saw again how wasting time worrying about the types of things I was worrying about is as big of a waste of time as anything can be.

Of course, I know me. I know full well all my little annoyances will come crawling back into my head soon enough like horror movie villains that can never be vanquished for good.

I also know that when they do, I am going to use my friend’s story as inspiration to do a better job at keeping things in perspective.

Sometimes Accidents Happen, Sometimes Not

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI ran across my polished rock the other day.

I’ve had it since I was 6 years old or so. It is one of my prized possessions.

It’s about the size of a golf ball in the shape of a pyramid. It is a shiny mix of colors — shades of brown, blue and ochre.

I got it on a trip we took to Texas to visit family. My parents, my grandmother and I piled into the 1969 Pontiac Catalina and headed west. We called it the Grey Pontiac. It had red plastic seats that would get scalding hot in the summer. They got especially hot on the Texas trip.

I played with toy cars in the rear deck underneath the back window all the way.

I don’t remember much of anything about the trip — except for the hot seats and the way I came into possession of the rock.

We stopped in a souvenir store somewhere along the way to stretch our legs and look around. I’m sure it was a place that sold toothpick holders, souvenir trivets and little statues of the Alamo.

I’m also sure we bought a few things.

Before we left, though, the shopkeeper came up to me holding a pretty, polished rock.

I don’t remember what she said, but she gave it to me for my good behavior and for not breaking anything.

Every time I see my rock, I think about that story. For some reason, that quick moment nearly 5 decades ago made an impression on me. I know it sounds silly, but it’s something I will never forget.

It’s unforgettable because it’s the only time in my life I’ve been rewarded just for standing there.

Fast forward to 1984. I was on a study tour to Europe with a dozen or so classmates and teachers.

One of the kids on the trip was an exchange student from Japan named Koji. We loved Koji. He was hilarious; he had a huge smile and was quick with a laugh. He spoke precious little English — except for using curse words. He was pretty fluent at that.

At some point during the trip, a dozen or so of us went into a touristy store.

It wasn’t long before the sound of breaking glass reverberated through the room.

As you can imagine, we all went silent. Then, we all looked at Koji, who lowered his head slowly.

“How much is it?” he muttered to no one in particular as he looked at the broken whatnot at his feet.

We all got a pretty big kick out of it — everyone except Koji, of course. He was mortified. I thought he was going to cry.

I don’t remember if he paid for it, or if one of the professors did, or if we all chipped in and did.

Koji wasn’t behaving badly. He merely dropped whatever it was by accident.

It’s fascinating to me the way random events happen. 

Six-year-old me had a much greater probability of breaking something in Texas than 20-year-old Koji did in London.

Some accidents cannot be explained. Sometimes they just happen. Sometimes they don’t.

And when they don’t, if you’re in the right place at the right time, you just might get a rock.

The Positive Effect of the Internet Hoax

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI have always tried to keep up with what’s going on in the world.

That’s tougher than it used to be. With all the communication channels these days, I feel like I spend a great deal of time separating the wheat from the chaff.

To make matters worse, the explosion of social media has turned everyone into their own little reporter. We share the things that are important to us — much of which is worthless to our friends in the online world, but largely harmless.

My newest pet peeve, though, is when people share something before they confirm whether it’s true or not.

No, Bill Gates did not give that high school commencement speech. And he’s not going to give you money for forwarding his chain letter, either.

No, you can’t punch a shark in the nose to keep him from attacking you.

Naturally, I was a little leery when I saw where the World Health Organization had come up with new classifications for human aging.

Here is the new classification according to what I read:

• 0-17 years old: underage

• 18-65 years old: youth/young people

• 66-79 years old: middle-aged

  • 80-99 years old: elderly/senior
  • 100+ years old: long-lived elderly

After I read it, I suddenly felt better. I took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. I had a little more bounce in my step. I went outside and played with the dog.

I broke the rake handle while raking, for heaven’s sake. I was 17 again.

I wanted this to be true. I really did. It was going to make for some great column material. I had already come up with some 14-karat gold zingers, including one about Granny Clampett and her “rheumatiz medicine.”

Good news is hard to find these days, and I was going to be the knight in shining armor who brought you a nugget today. I was going to provide you with the inspiration to make you want to go out and break your own rake handle.

This morning I got my youthful self up and started searching to find some corroboration of the WHO story. Something this big would’ve certainly been covered in all the major newspapers.

After several minutes, I couldn’t find anything credible.

Then I thought maybe the report was released just as some huge news event happened and it slipped under the radar.

I thought I hit pay dirt when I did find a WHO report on aging. It was 233 pages long, but I delved into it. My eyes glazed over after a couple of minutes, though, because those scientists write like scientists. I resorted to entering relevant words in the search function and got nothing.

Zilch.

You may find this difficult to believe, but those crazy kids in the white coats in Geneva don’t consider me to still be a youth.

Maybe this whole experience has been an exercise in the old “age is just a number” argument.

I really did break the rake handle, after all. I really did go out and play with the dog.

I don’t need the World Health Organization to label me as a youth. I just need a little hoax to get me moving.

Look out, sharks, I may just punch one of you in the nose one day.

Sometimes We Can Agree on Right and Wrong

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comWhat is the difference between right and wrong?

This depends on your point of view. For most of us, the answer would lie somewhere among the Ten Commandments. They pretty much cover all the biggies. Although sometimes I wonder if Moses was so tired after bringing down the first ten that he forgot to go back and get the rest.

Across this big world of ours, different religions and cultures believe differently on what is good or bad, right or wrong. 

A hunter in a jungle in a remote corner of the world and a vegan in the freshman dorm down the street would certainly have different views on what to do with a bunny.

Or, we could debate all day whether it’s okay for a parent to steal if that is the only way he or she can feed their family.

There is seemingly almost nothing everyone on earth could agree on.

Notice I said almost nothing.

I can think of two exceptions.

Kim celebrated her birthday last week. Celebrate is a bit of a stretch. A couple of days before it, she ran across a card I had given her a few years before and told me I could just give it to her again. That was probably the nicest thing she’s ever done for me, but that’s beside the point.

 She got cards from several different people, but the one that stood out was the one with glitter in it which spilled out all over the carpet when she opened it.

The degree to which that is annoying is incomprehensible, regardless of whether you’re from the Burmese Jungle or you teach the young adults class at First Baptist.

I never thought I could write greeting card verses, but I could write ones for the cards that have glitter in them.

“Happy birthday, I hope you chip a tooth.”

“Happy birthday, here’s to the bottom of your foot itching while you’re wearing boots.”

“Happy birthday, your dog paid my azaleas a visit again last week.”

And of course, “Happy birthday, I know you like to vacuum. You’re welcome.”

My bags are packed, Hallmark. Call me.

But the exploding greeting card is merely first runner up.

As I announce the winner, let me set the stage for you.

It’s raining. It’s cold. You’ve been working all day, and it’s almost dark. Five minutes before you leave work to come home your child calls to tell you he has a science project due tomorrow that will require two pieces of poster board, five mailing tubes, duct tape, baking soda, vinegar and brown spray paint.

You’re almost out of gas to begin with. Then, you sit through three stop lights trying to make a left turn at rush hour. Finally, you reach the store parking lot; and through your tears you can see one vacant spot.

Victory? Not so fast.

As you head your car into the spot, you see it: a little soggy white ball of plastic and cotton all taped up and lying in a puddle right where you will step out after your front tire runs over it.

You instantly lose your mind. Your kid will flunk science.

Leaving a dirty diaper behind for someone else to worry about is wrong. It is not debatable.

I think we all can agree on that.

The Buttercups Say Spring is Coming

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comNever fear. Spring will come again.

I know this to be true because the buttercups in the front yard have sprouted. It is the most welcome sight I think I’ve ever seen.

Buttercups are the first natural sign of spring’s return. Sure, seed catalogs in the mail and swimsuits at Target happen earlier, but they are man-made. The buttercups are the real deal, and they didn’t sprout a moment too soon this year.

I’ve been cold since Thanksgiving. That’s never happened before, probably because I don’t think it’s ever been this cold for so long before.

Even the few breaks from the brutal cold we have had were either too short or too wet to do very much good.

It may just be me, but I think it’s also been windier than usual. I don’t even understand why we have that thing called the wind chill factor. If you ask me, when it feels like minus 6, it’s minus 6, period.

Our poor heat pump has run around the clock for weeks. I wept when I paid the utility bill yesterday. If you work for TVA, your job is safe. You’re welcome.

Of course, part of the problem with the utility bill was our water usage. Back on one of those minus 6 days our neighbor called to tell us our outside faucet on the front was spewing water.

I don’t know how long this had been going on, but I do know it had been long enough to form this big abstract ice sculpture which encased a couple of shrubs and part of the house.

The only thing that made it less devastating was the fact that it was so unusual to look at, I almost hated to see it melt.

I’m not sure how it melted. I guess it got up to 32.1 one day.

After Punxsutawney Phil’s dire prediction on groundhog day, I was afraid someone was going to assassinate him out of sheer frustration. I would never do that — I don’t think — but I would love to knock the smug look off of that guy’s face in the top hat who holds Phil up in the air after he predicts six more weeks of misery.

I’ll bet he owns Punxsutawney Heating and Air.

And now we have the flu epidemic to deal with.

I’m not sure a mustard gas attack would be much worse.

The cars in the parking lots at the walk-in clinics are stacked on top of each other, and the horror stories from the flu’s victims make me shiver.

I’ve taken so much vitamin C, I’m afraid one morning I’m going to wake up looking like Carmen Miranda in full regalia.

The other day I had to pick up something at the pharmacy, and I paid cash because I didn’t want to touch the keypad to enter my PIN. The whole time I was in there, I avoided the aisles with people on them like I was playing a big human version of Pac Man.

We passed around hand sanitizer at church Sunday morning. That’s a first.

Schools have been closed so much, they’ve all but used up their allotted snow days. Volunteers armed with bleach have gone in and sanitized all the surfaces.

It’s been a rough winter so far. We’re cold, we’re sick and we’re tired. 

Thank goodness the buttercups give us hope.

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