Sunday, July 2, 2017

Acts of God

I don't necessarily want to make this post about God, but it seemed like an appropriate way to frame this incredibly long story what the hell?

A short time ago I had sold things on eBay in order to acquire enough cash to buy a more expensive thing that I otherwise would not be able to afford. Ten other people were watching the auction of the thing that I wanted, and it was the least expensive example of the thing that I had seen in quite some time. 

The things I had sold left me about $50 short of the thing, which was a manageable amount to charge to the credit card. However, that was based on the assumption that I would be paid for the two things that I had sold on eBay prior to buying my thing. Buyer number one paid me $32 immediately, but after three whole days I had not received the $95 from my second buyer, and so I was faced with the decision to either buy the thing I wanted and assume I would be paid shortly thereafter (eBay warns non-paying bidders after two days) or allow the thing I wanted to fall into the hands of someone who actually had the money to pay for the thing.

I chose the first option. I bought the thing. Because life is short and I wanted the thing and I felt that I had suffered enough this year so I deserved some retail therapy.

I waited one more day for my $95 payment to arrive so I could pay for the thing that I had agreed to buy. That payment did not come. Six months earlier I had sold something on eBay for a nice chunk of change (about $70 or so) and the seller flat-out refused to pay. He told me so himself. Not because there was anything wrong with my item, mind you. He just didn't want it anymore. 

With that deadbeat bidder at the front of my mind, and a three-figure debt hanging over my head (oh, the irony) I could not sleep. And I did something I had not done in over a decade. 

I prayed.

Not for anything impossible or improbable or selfish*. I didn't even pray for a better job so that I could be a better provider for my family. I didn't want anything I wasn't entitled to already. Just make the man pay me the $95 for his item so I don't have to bankrupt my family over a baseball card. Kthx. 

*your definition of "selfish" may vary

I awoke the next morning to... a minor miracle. The seller had paid me late the night before, at 1:30am. Around the time that I had prayed.


Bleary-eyed from a lack of sleep (and my contact lenses) I went straight to my computer to happily pay for my thing. I only have to charge $50! This is great! Yay God!

And then...

After I pressed 'pay' I noticed something. eBay had defaulted my payment method to my credit card, bypassing PayPal altogether. The entire thing had been charged.

Oh, but the good lord was only warming up...

That Saturday was the end of my 7 year-old's soccer season and my 5 year-old's gym season. Initially the "soccer-rama" was scheduled to start at about the same time as the gym class and it would have been a logistical headache getting both girls ready for (and bringing them to) both things at the same time. Especially since I don't drive.

But by the end of the week soccer-rama had been rescheduled to start at 8:30 am, which is when it started last year. It's basically a one-day tournament in which all four teams play (abbreviated) games against each other while volunteers (including one very hot blonde volunteer) cook burgers, sausages, and other stuff and a DJ blasts kid-friendly hip-hop.

When the games were over all of the little girls from all of the teams danced to this dumb (but fairly harmless) song. My father-in-law couldn't help but complain "This is music?" He said to me, as every other parent filmed the dancing kids with their phones.

Once the trophies were awarded to the winning teams (definitely not my daughter's bunch of Bad News Bears) we had to hit the road for my five year-old's gym show. While everyone else headed for the car(s) I ducked into the school to use the little boy's room. When I left the school a minute later, a downpour had started. 

It's been a relentlessly rainy year here in Jersey, so this was no surprise. I was actually thankful that the rain had held off until after my daughter's games were over. Gym class was indoors, so it had all worked out okay. Until...

The girls wanted to go to their grandparents' house afterward. I was already exhausted from waking up early, and I expected that we'd go there the next day for Father's Day, so I decided to stay home. I took a nap, cleaned up a bit...turned my brain off for a while. 

My wife and kids came back a few hours later. "Uh..did you see the backyard?" 

I had not. I had no idea why she'd even ask that - until I looked outside the back window.

Our tree had split in the storm, and a large, thick branch had collapsed over the neighbor's nice white fence. (I'd post a pic but my phone broke.)

I hadn't heard the tree fall, nor the neighbor who had visited at least once and left us a note written on an index card and inserted into an envelope.

My wife called her father immediately and asked him what we do. Because he always knows what to do in these situations. He told us who to call, and we informed the neighbor. The insurance adjuster would be available Monday, and we'd deal with it then.

It was decided that since the girls had visited Poppy on Saturday we didn't have to go there on Sunday/Father's Day. In fact, this was the first weekend day in at least two months that we didn't have to go anywhere. That morning my daughters gave me their custom-created cards, and my wife started cleaning the living room. She had all of the girls' toys sorted into piles so that we could discard some of the ones they no longer play with.

I used that time to call my mother (on D's phone, since mine finally died the previous week, and we had yet to set aside the time or money to replace it) About ten seconds after I handed the phone back to D, the house phone rang. Her mother called. Frantic. One of those "get over here right away!!" calls.

Pop had been celebrating Father's Day with his other daughter. He had just opened a Father's Day card when a sudden stomach pain sent him into the bathroom. She asked if he was okay. He answered that question with an unfamiliar and frightening "NO!"

And then he fainted. His 6' 5", 300lb frame fell headfirst into the bathroom wall. 

An ambulance rushed him to the hospital. I stayed home with my daughters while his daughters tended to their fallen father. My seven year-old asked me "Is Poppy gonna die?" I didn't know. I told her that. 

Around 4pm the house phone rang. My wife called with an update. She said he was responsive in the ambulance. She held his face and told him she was there. He grunted and nodded in acknowledgement. I told my daughter Poppy's going to be okay. They're running some tests. Mommy will be home soon and Pop will be okay. He's a veteran. He's tough.

Later that night my wife called again. "He's gone."

Pop was the closest thing I've ever had to a father figure. He could be a grump at times and a goofball at times, and I wasn't always thrilled with the stuff he would teach my daughters, or the junk food he'd feed them. But he was the glue that held our family together. His daily child care allowed my wife to go to her time-sucking job an hour away and allowed me to go to my soul-sucking job a half hour away. He fixed anything that broke, took our car in for repairs, and paid for everything out of his own pocket. 

The weekend prior he had bought us two brand-new air conditioners and installed one in our living room. When I tried (and failed) to install the other one in my upstairs room, he did so the next day. I had asked D if he could maybe finally look into putting together the elliptical machine that my mom had bought for me last year. She said he had looked at it, but that it was more complicated than he thought and so he'd have to do that another day.

That day never came.

Every time Pop gave me a ride to or from work (which was at least once a week) we'd talk about baseball. None of his kids ever cared about baseball, and when he started collecting baseball cards from the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers his wife had no idea why "You don't like baseball." She said. But he did, he just never had anyone to share it with. And neither did I.

The last time we talked about baseball he had asked about Aaron Judge, the gigantic rookie slugger for the New York Yankees. He asked me how much a Judge rookie card would be worth, and if I had any. I told him I had one

I was too embarrassed to tell him that I had sold my best Judge rookie card for $500 last year - when it is now selling for five times that amount. I also never told him that the Judge card I kept was from the 2017 Topps Heritage set, which was an exact replica of his favorite set from 1968. 

It would have been fun to share this with him, but my wife doesn't want her parents to know how much money we spend on ourselves. I don't have a working phone, or new clothes (she had to buy some funeral attire for me) or my own dresser. My mattress is ten years old and has a giant crater right under my lower back (as if I didn't have trouble sleeping already.) The living room couch is nearly as old, and even more damaged. I told D I'd buy her one for our anniversary but, as always, she declined. She said her father had mentioned that he'll get us a new couch sometime soon.

When I told my mother that Pop died, she offered to come to NJ and watch the girls so D and I could go to the wake, the funeral, and any other family functions. My mom will be 75 this year. She's overweight and her knees are shot. She can barely walk without a cane, and she can't drive too far out of her town. My sister had to drive her here, drop her off, and drive back to Connecticut.

Mom brought bags of clothes, food, and a blow-up mattress with her. What she didn't bring was her medication. She was even more achy and tired than usual. Her blood pressure was way up, despite the fact that the girls went to all the family funeral stuff and she didn't watch them as much as she'd thought.

The funeral was Friday, and it was muggy as hell. Mom was a sweaty mess in the church and after she rejected my offer of water four times I finally got up and fetched her a cup. I took a long look around the room - my father in law lying in a coffin in front of me, my mother dehydrating next to me. Holy shit. This is a dress rehearsal. This is practice.

The big one is coming. Once my mother goes.. that's it. Game over. I got next.

As it is, I can count on one hand all of the things that bring me joy in this world:

My daughters even though they fight and they don't listen and they're on YouTube way too much - especially my 7 year old, who spazzes out if she cant play Minecraft or watch Minecraft-related videos. 

Baseball cards even though D continually guilt trips me about any purchase over $10. I've consolidated much of my collection, narrowed my focus, and sold a great deal of great cards (often prematurely) to self-fund, because I cannot and will not stop collecting. It is the beating heart of my meager existence. 

Fall Out Boy even though I listened to their new song exactly once and have no plans to buy their forthcoming album. Also, D informed me sometime last year that we have free concert tickets due to some class action lawsuit against Ticketbastard and she asked me if I wanted to go see FOB when they were in NJ. I decided I was too old and uncool for that crowd, and so I passed.

Caffeinated beverages which is pretty much Monster at this point, since I've lost my taste for colas, and Mountain Dew is starting to wear on me. Apparently Monster discontinued my favorite flavor because I can't find it anywhere anymore. But I still buy the other ones, because it's nearly impossible to get through a work day without one.

Sleeping which is much harder to do on my worn-out mattress. After another argument with the wife last night about how we can't afford a new bed/couch because I can't stop spending money.. I decided to flip my mattress over rather than simply turning it around. That seemed to work okay - for one night, at least.

There are some things that can be occasionally enjoyable, depending on my mood. And then there are other things that I've lost my passion for, such as:

Writing/blogging which I'm never able to do anymore because I'm constantly busy and/or interrupted. I've been writing this since noon, and I know it's waaay too long, but I've had a lot on my mind and I'm not sure if/when I'll write again. Four day weekends don't grow on trees - and even if they did, the tree would probably collapse in a storm and all the four day weekends would blow away. I had hoped to return only when I had something positive to report, but apparently that's never going to happen.

Sports I rarely even watch the games anymore, and I can't remember the last time I looked at the standings. My father in law knew more about who had won the night before than I did. "The Tigers won, the Red Sox won, and the Yankees lost. Great day!" I'm pretty much done with hockey, for reasons I won't bore you with. A major hockey card and memorabilia purge is well underway. 

Taryn My previously cynical view of so-called "internet celebrities" has reasserted itself. A few months ago she dropped a couple hints on Instagram that had me on the edge of my seat. I really wanted to know what was going on with her (I had even planned to write a blog post addressed to Sam Lupin asking for her expert medical opinion) but Taryn never explained herself. Well, that's not exactly correct. She apparently decided to share whatever it was on Instagram Stories, not YouTube. I do not have access to Instagram Stories. I was quite annoyed. 

And then she did the same thing with a second topic. After weeks of not posting any videos on YouTube she promised one would be coming soon. Finally she bestowed upon us a video about... Trump's tweet typo. Bor-ring. (Also, when some of her followers suddenly discovered that the "Hot 4 Hillary" girl had political opinions that didn't jive with their own they spewed venom at her - and her half-hearted defense was disappointing.)

It's like...if you're trying to please your audience, then be more present and accessible. If you're just going to travel the world, drinking fine wine and staying in five-star hotels then why do you care if some asshat decides to unfollow you? (Also, how the fuck does she have the coin for this kind of lifestyle? She's a "content creator" who hardly ever creates content. Who pays these social media stars anyhow?)

At least she distracted me from obsessing over Joy. I still peek at her Insta from time to time, just to see what's up. She moved from a blue state to a red state and she posted a workout video which got an alarmingly low like/dislike rate. In fact a comment someone left on her video got as many likes as the vid itself - and I dont think "holy hell you're skinny" was meant as a compliment.

I think of her a lot less than I used to, but I've always wondered how she can trust in God through all the dark times in her life. She's still single (which is a sin in and of itself) and I assume she's still dealing with her mental and physical health issues - though she's got a hell of a lot going for her. 

What does she think of God when innocent people are murdered in a school, or a church, or a movie theater? What does she think about the crumbling discourse in our country, the total lack of respect and empathy we have for anyone who has differing opinions, the countless ways that technology (which Taryn has so much faith in) can destroy our social skills, our democracy, and our society? What the hell does she think about our godless "leader" and those that obey his every word above all else (like some of my in-laws.)

This is why I'll never forget Joy. Because long after any personal feelings for her have faded, and long after I've stopped envying her health and fitness regimen, and long after I've lost the need to know what's going on in her life, I will take stock of my life and wish that I had her optimism, her resiliency, her faith. 



  1. Thanks for this well-written thought-provoking post.

  2. Wow. I'm sorry about the loss of your father-in-law. I know the in-laws often drive you crazy, but it's really nice that your FIL could share his love of baseball with you. I thought that ebay/PayPal always used whatever PayPal funds you have first before going to another method of payment. At least you can use the PayPal money to take care of something else, right? Or have it switched to a bank account. I understand about the baseball card collection. We all need to have something we enjoy.


    1. Thanks Janie. The in-laws are quite frustrating but he was the easiest to get along with. I always assumed PayPal was the default way to pay on eBay, until this incident. I've change my payment preferences so that doesn't happen again.

      Sorry I haven't been around for a while. I hope you're doing well :)

  3. I'm so sorry about your father-in-law. And the rest of it, too.

    Hope things start to improve for you soon!

    1. Thank you Jennifer. I hope you had a fun 4th of July weekend :-)

  4. Sorry about your dad-in-law.

    Everyone needs a hobby. I've known too many people without hobbies who end up in really bad places mentally because they have literally nothing to divert their attention away from real life for a while. And baseball cards is a pretty popular hobby.

    God is always listening and always answering. Sometimes the answers are a little louder and more obvious, and I've always believed that those are the moments that He is really saying HEY YOU PAY ATTENTION.

    I think I may have mentioned this before, but I can't remember.... Have you considered joining a local church men's group? I feel like you need to have some adult men in your life, even if it's just once a week to chat in a coffee shop for half an hour. The men's group at my [now former] church had several members who didn't actually go to the church, or even necessarily believe in God. They just liked the group as a social gathering.

    Hope this week is going a little better for you. xx

    1. You have mentioned that before, yes. I've thought about it and it might be something I can do once things settle down here a bit (if I can overcome my social anxiety) but thank you for this :)