I HEAR THE TRAIN WRECK A’COMIN’

by Steve Clem on March 10, 2013

This past week has been full of suck.

My bank account is near empty three days after payday, and not for anything fun. My oldest not-so-mini-me treats me like a complete jerk when I leave work a little early so that I can catch the end of his basketball game. I come home to my disaster-caused-by-three-males-living-in-a-limited-amount-of-space apartment to read a note on my door about the bank inspecting ten percent of the apartments at random in two days’ time. And I was having a text war with my ex-wife that included discussions of garnished wages and threats of jail time. To top that off with the cherry, an unsolicited text conversation regarding politics that did nothing but first confuse me, then annoy me.

And I’m smack-dab in the middle of two major work projects that require constant attention from me and my staff while the store is open.

The stress level has been through the roof, no doubt. My first fantasy, my go-to fantasy, was to pack up a few essentials in my Saturn Ion and head for a nice Mexican beach. But, alas, said Saturn Ion is waiting for Dr. Kevorkian’s staff to arrive any day now, and wouldn’t make it past Mexico, Missouri.

Then I thought about just saying, “Screw it,” calling in sick, and drinking cheap beer and eating frozen pizzas and microwaveable bacon for a month.  I ended up taking a day off work to clean my apartment and deal with car issues. Wasn’t quite as fun as the beer, frozen pizza, and bacon fantasy.

The old me would have let the entire ball of stress swallow me whole, and I’d be in the corner, rocking back and forth in the fetal position sucking my thumb. But the new me, the one who has faced far worse than this and realized it’s survivable, just did what any grown-up does. I tackled the problems one at a time.

I swallowed my pride and asked for some help from my parents to help cover the unusual expenses I had this month: baseball league fee for the youngest mini-me, and having to pay out-of-pocket for a printing project for work that I’ll get reimbursed for a few weeks from now.

I told my oldest son that I wouldn’t bother going to any of his games from now on if he chose to disrespect me like he did. He quickly apologized the faint Teenage Apology: a muffled “I’m sorry” while staring at his iPad. But he did tell me he wanted me to come to his next game.

I cleaned my apartment, though not likely to the bank’s liking, so I used my wherewithal. I wedged a chair under the door handle so they couldn’t enter the apartment and left through the patio door. The cleaning continues, and luckily my apartment shows no signs of forceful entry.

I sent a text telling my ex-wife that I was fully prepared to go to court if that’s what she wanted to do. Current divorce laws would be much more favorable to me, as the law changed shortly after my divorce to take away the notion that the parent with the penis is less worthy somehow.

And I let the political texter know that I respected their opinion, but that I didn’t see how venting to me would help the situation. I’ve been pissed off by political leaders plenty in my lifetime, but I don’t let it consume me to the point where I send unsolicited texts about my frustration to friends or family.

Then I read a Facebook status update this afternoon from a friend who was admiring her amazing veterinarian. She asked her if she was as good at life as she was in the examination room. The vet replied with a laugh and admitted, “No, my life is a train wreck.”

And it made me realize that even though I was putting on a fake smile with every customer this week — and to my employees to a lesser degree, and to my sons an even smaller bit — that I, too, was facing my own train wreck. Just like my friend’s vet. And the soccer mom you passed on the freeway tonight. And the guy driving the Porsche who is wearing designer jeans and alligator skin shoes.

Each of us, every last one, has our own train wrecks in life. It’s how we deal with the boxcar wreckage that matters in the end. If we stand there staring at it and don’t try to fix anything, well, then we’ve got a nice monument to our failure. If we pick up the boxcars, and the engine, and the cute little caboose, and wedge the tracks back together when necessary, we can keep moving down the line. Until the next train wreck, of course. And if we’re smart about it, we’ll even ask others to help us, when necessary, to go through the clean-up.

There isn’t some magical group of people who get to glide through life without derailment. Well, maybe MNDOT snowplow drivers — but I digress. The people who appear to have their shit together only differ from others in that they’ve found a way to pick up the pieces as best as possible and get the train-wreck survivors rolling back down the track.

It’s never easy. But the more times you do it, the better you get at it, just like anything in life. And you might even get to the point, like me, where you can feel the vibrations on the track and know . . . “I hear the train wreck a’comin’.”

* * * *

Steve Clem is a divorced dad, a recovering Republican, and a Prisoner in the Tundra. He is in The Guinness Book of World Records for being part of the largest Hokey Pokey of all time. He was the founding editor of the Iowa City weekly The ICON.

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