I'm so happy to be here!

Scared Shitless

Most people don’t remember their own potty-training experience. I remember mine.

A traumatic encounter with a toilet is among my earliest recollections. I was two or three, and yes, I remember the incident in stunning, graphic clarity. No exaggeration—it scared me shitless.

A little boy’s right of passage, I was finally tall enough to stand at the potty. My li’l wee-wee was just high enough to … get pinched when the seat falls. Pinched? CRUNCHED! 

Mom was crushed when the shitter bit me. She blamed herself. She explained to me that the fancy throne cover she’d crocheted of baby-blue yarn caused the upright seat to lose its balance and … damn near guillotine my li’l pecker.

Just before impact, all was streaming along. I was ecstatic. I could hear the tinkle. That’s what Mom and Dad stressed—big boys who can stand up to use the potty get to “make tinkles,” referring to the sound pee makes as it hits the water. “Do you want to make tinkles?” Hell yes, I want to make tinkles! 

There I am, peeing like a big boy. Music to my ears! I’m making tinkles! I think I had a premonition. Not even a formed thought, more a sense, really … Am I really safe while my li’l wee is hanging all out there in the open? Just then, I felt a rush of wind. Down there.

BOOM!

Loud! Like a cannon went off! Do remember, at that very instant my ears were hyper-attentive to any and every sound—I’m loving the tinkle. This most violent and percussive strike was amplified by the porcelain and tile, and ricocheted around the bathroom. As did my scream.  

And the sting? HOLY SHIT! 

Mom was there in a flash, administering whatever comfort a loving mom can offer her son … whom she may have just neutered. 

My li’l wee was li’l no more. Swelled up like a balloon. When you’re that young, swelling freaks you the hell out! No concept of ‘this will go back to normal.’

Then Doug came along. He said, “Mom and Dad should have warned you; that toilet is a man-eater!” He went into great detail, describing dozens of times the toilet tried to bite him. But he mastered the art of standing back, far away … projecting his pee. “Aim high and make an arc,” he said, demonstrating an arc with his hands. 

Then he offered me this consolation: “At least you were standing up and peeing when it bit you. That pain is nothing compared to how bad it hurts if it bites you while you are sitting down to poop!” 

HOLY SHIT! This thing is dangerous! I vowed to never sit down on a toilet. 

Slowed my potty training. Shit my pants a lot, too. Eventually I matured through it; discovered the toilet is a friend, not a foe. 

Maybe not public restroom toilets. I’ve seen some scary looking public shitters.

Jesus loves me, this I know...

Four-Letter Words

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

In other words, love God and love others; everything else will fall into place.

You run into trouble when the everything else becomes more important than the love. You’re communicating the message, that to Jesus, the everything else is more important than the love. 

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  

You’re not winning anyone to Jesus talking about the everything else; you’re winning people to Jesus when you love.

Sometimes when you work for the Lord you have to go very fast.

Sometimes When You Work for the Lord …

My first trip to Russia–or as we said, then, into the former Soviet Union–introduced me to Pastor Nikolai. I learned many lessons from him; stories for another time, perhaps.

In those years immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, the only cars you saw on Russian roads were these ugly, earth-toned, power-deprived, squared-off, clown-car-sized Russian vehicles called Ladas. Nikolai drove a sleek, starburst-blue, Mitsubishi sports car outfitted with chrome wheels, raised-white-lettered tires, with a fin on the back.

I asked why he didn’t drive a Lada like everyone else.

“Sometimes Darin, when you work for the Lord, you have to go very fast.”

True that.

Did'ya blow?

First, Last & Lasting

Q: My first encounter with death?

A: “Did you hear Shooter’s dad blew his brains out?”

Christmas break from school. I was playing in the backyard, listening to a Captain & Tennille cassette tape on my tape recorder—both Christmas gifts from Santa, the year Santa dropped the ball. Mom called me in. I can’t recall exactly what she said, I just remember the news: Matthew’s dad died. He hadn’t come home from work. They found him at his office. She said something about how I should act the next time I saw Matthew.

But I saw Greg Griffin first. “Did you hear Shooter’s dad blew his brains out?”

At 8-years-old, neither of us caught any irony in that sentence. Matthew was Shooter because his last name rhymed with marble, and his size … well, Matthew was a big marble. Like a shooter. And if you’ve never played marbles and have no idea what I’m talking about … What the hell kind of childhood did you have?

“Found him dead in his car underneath the CNA building,” he continued. All us kids knew the CNA building—a downtown landmark we’d all seen out the car window from the highway. 

I can see why Mom disliked Greg. I’m sure this wasn’t the time or occasion Mom had envisioned to have to speak to her child about grown-up topics like depression and suicide. Again, I don’t recall the specifics—he was very sad; no one knew; sometimes when people are this sad they aren’t thinking clearly, and …

Mom told me, years later, her real fear was not having to explain it to me, but Matthew learning the circumstances of his father’s death like I did—Matthew’s mother hadn’t told the kids. Mom called her. 

It was a while before he came back to school. And it felt really strange. Kids were staring at him. I was staring at him—this was the first time anyone I knew, lost someone; the first suicide I’d ever heard about. First thing that wasn’t stable in my world. Things went from bad to worse; with Greg, they often did—

“Your dad is in hell, now, you know.” The certainty with which he said it … Shooter punched Greg in the mouth. No exaggeration, the kid’s lip ballooned before the he hit the floor. And the SMACK! Ms. Eames heard it and came running.

Word got around the neighborhood parents. Of course, I was forbidden from seeing Greg. This time did feel a little different—like he’d really stepped in it. Usually a few days would pass and Mom would relax the restriction. Had the feeling this one wouldn’t blow over any time soon. Now she had to have a talk with her 8-year-old son about hell. She assured me: Greg is wrong! Bad people go to hell; Matthew’s dad wasn’t bad; he was sad. 

Matthew moved away not long after that. Not far. I remember at least one play-date Mom arranged. They had a condo with a community pool. We swam. Drank lemonade. Didn’t talk at all about his dad. That was the last time I ever saw Matthew.

But to this day, every time I drive through Orlando, I glance over where the old CNA building used to stand.

I'm so happy to be here!

The Prophet Peter

“I’ll grow into my overbite. You won’t outgrow stupid.” 

It was something! I reckoned, once, that Peter could fit his entire fist into his overbite. I didn’t say it, of course. I felt bad for him. Kids say things, you know? Harsh things. 

And it got much worse the day Peter became a walking dark-age orthodontic experiment.  

He walked into Mrs. Eames’ second grade class wearing this medieval-torture looking device. No kidding, like something Jigsaw might have employed in Saw. Bands, belts and bolts, it was a stream-of-drool-inducing, lightening-strike-inviting, leather and metallic contraption, affixed to his skull. I do mean affixed; with screws or something. He tried to explain it to us. He was hard to understand. (Pinch your tongue with your fingers and try to talk—that’s sort of what he sounded like … but a lot wetter.) 

Something about the top part was pulling his face back, and the lower half was moving his chin forward. I’m no engineer, but that was definitely the direction things needed to go. 

He had to wear this thing 24/7 for the first few weeks. Then, good news! He’d only have to wear it during the day after that … or in other words, when he was around all the other kidswho say mean things. And they did. Greg, worst of all.

Greg took it as a challenge to come up with new cut-down monikers every day. They spread through our elementary school like a runny nose. Kids who didn’t even know his real name called Peter Tin-grin, Zipper-lips, Train-tracks, and Cheese-grater. During the holiday season—Christmas for us, but not for Peter because Santa didn’t like Jews—Tinsel Teeth was wildly popular.

What Peter lacked in jowl-alignment was more than compensated in his thick-skin and quick-wit. He’d laugh himself, and fire back disarming humor. And never with an ounce of malice; never a hint that any of this teasing nicked him—

Until the day the apparatus was gone. I don’t remember what Greg said, something like, ‘Doesn’t look like it worked’ … because, well, it didn’t. This jest cut, I could tell. Peter turned to face Greg, looked him in the eye, and said, “I’ll grow into my overbite. You won’t outgrow stupid.” 

Peter was a prophet.