Time to Wake Up

My alarm is ringing.  It’s four o’clock in the morning.  Fucking thing!  I was up at three and forgot to turn it off.  Annoying as all hell.  You know, hell isn’t made of brimstone and conflagrations.  No sir.  It’s made of thousands upon thousands of ringing, dinging alarm clocks with no off buttons.  It figures, doesn’t it?  Only us human beings would invent a device whose sole objective it is to disrupt morning slumber.  And why?  So, we can be on time for school or work?  So, we can get a jump on the day?  Honestly, what would happen if all these confounded alarm clocks disappeared from the face of the earth?  Snap your fingers, and away they go!  I know what exactly would happen. Civilization would be doomed.  Weeds would muscle their way up through cracks in the pavement, and plaster would crumble and turn to gray dust.  And paint would blister and peel like it’d been infected with a flesh-eating skin disease, and life as we know it would revert back to the rotting, soggy stench of a dark primordial jungle.  Vines would grow over everything, and bizarre animals would hang from the trees.  There would be no more man.  There would be no plastic trash floating in the oceans, or fluorescent green chemicals swirling in our rivers, or plumes of exhaust choking the air, or candy bars, chewing gum, cigarette lighters, or bags of Doritos for sale at our ubiquitous gas station convenience stores.  Alarm clocks are the rattling, ringing, dinging backbone of our civilization.  My wife’s alarm clock is pink.  She’s had this stupid clock since she was a little girl, and it is set to go off at seven this morning.  No, she isn’t as obsessed as I am about rising before the sun.  She insists on getting her eight hours of beauty sleep.  And she is very good-looking for her age.  How do they say it?  She is well preserved?  And she is so…good.  She likes to say that she’s a Girl Scout, even though she never was one.  She is seriously, steadily, and studiously well behaved.  She eats all her vegetables, and limits her starches.  She drinks plenty of water, and she never smokes cigarettes.  She brushes and flosses her teeth after every meal, and she may not go to church, but she has the good sense to scold me when I belittle people who believe in God.  No, she’s not sure about God’s existence, but there’s no sense taking a chance on offending the guy-in-the-sky, you know, just in case.  Goddamn it all!  Goddamn these alarm clocks!  And Goddamn me to hell and back for getting up like a slave each and every work-a-day morning to shave, shower, pee in the toilet. drink my coffee, and devour my daily allotment of Captain Crunch.  Come to think of it, Fruit Loops make for a pretty good breakfast too.  I like all the colorful, crunchy, sugar-coated rings, and I like the drawing of the toucan on the box.  Yes, I’m a sucker for advertising aimed at children.  Remember when they used to put prizes in cereal boxes?  Christ, those were the days, right?  Do they still put prizes in cereal boxes?  I don’t know for sure.  To tell you the truth, I haven’t really been paying attention.  I’ve got a lot of things on my mind.  There’s work, of course.  There are also the kids, the wife, the house, the yards, both of the cars, the two checking accounts, the IRAs, the 401Ks, and the all stocks I bought last year.  I’m still waiting for the prices to come back up to the levels I originally paid.  Jerry from work is the one who originally piqued my interest in investing in the stock market.  He told me how much money he was making on his investments.  “A hundred percent return in a couple weeks!” he bragged.  So, I followed his advice, and now I own a pitiful little portfolio of stocks that’s worth only three quarters of what I paid for it.  “Stocks are a long-term proposition,” Jerry told me in a wise (and frankly, a little condescending) tone, and I wonder what in the fuck happened to that hundred percent return in two weeks?  I’m halfway done with my bowl of Captain Crunch, and the wife tells me, “You better go check on the kids.  They should be down here by now.”  We split the responsibilities.  It’s her job to feed them, and my job to get the lazy monsters out of their bed covers.  So, up the stairs I go, and I enter my son’s room first.  He is sound asleep.  “Wake up,” I say.  “It’s time for breakfast.”  He rolls over and moans.  “Come on, now.  It’s time to get out of bed.  Didn’t you set your alarm?”  One eye opens, and then the other.  “Okay, okay,” he says.  He sits up and yawns, and then tells me to get out of his room.  I go to my daughter’s bedroom.  I open her door, and she is wide awake, sitting at her vanity, brushing her hair in front of her mirror.  “Time for breakfast,” I say.  And she replies, “I know what time it is.  You need to get out so I can get dressed.”  Do you have any kids?  Do you know what it’s like?  I remember when I was a kid.  I got hit a lot.  A smack upside the head.  A slap on the ear.  A leather belt to the rear end.  If I had told my dad to get out of my room, there would’ve been hell to pay.  My dad didn’t mess around.  But back downstairs I go, back to the breakfast table to finish eating my cereal and drinking my coffee.  My wife has the TV on in the kitchen, and I listen to the news while I eat.  A man is accused of murdering his pregnant wife, a state senator is accused of taking a bribe, the president is called a racist by a well-respected black leader, and there is another police shooting of an innocent man.  The man was shot dead.  His heartbroken wife is crying for the cameras, and all the lunatics in the neighborhood are organizing a protest.  “This has got to stop,” one angry man says on the TV.  “Enough is enough.  The situation is out of control.”  You know, the last time the press harped on one of these shootings, I did some research.  Just for the hell of it.  Do you know how many police officers there are in this country?  There are about eight hundred thousand sworn officers roaming our streets.  Sure, the bad shootings happen, but given there are so many cops, nearly a million of them, I’d say we’re only talking about a very insignificant percentage.  Enough is enough?  This has to stop?  What has to stop?  Seriously, the TV news just stirs things up.  So much crap.  Day after day, the bullshit never stops.  I wish my wife would leave the TV off while I’m trying to eat my cereal.  But she doesn’t agree.  “The police in this country are out of control,” she says, shaking her head.  “Yeah, right,” I say, not at all in the mood to argue.  Arguing with my wife is pointless.  The last time we argued, I wound up apologizing to her – and I didn’t even know what I was apologizing for.  I just wanted the argument to end.  It was giving me a headache.  It was making my eye sockets ache.  Finally, the kids have come down the stairs, and they enter the kitchen.  “Have you guys made up your minds?” my son asks.  “About what?” I ask back.  “About the tattoo we talked about last night.  Are you going to let me get the tattoo?”  Into a spoonful of Captain Crunch I say, “No, we’re not.”  My son asks, “So, what if I get one anyway?”  I look up and realize that he’s serious.  “You’ll be in trouble,” I say.  “Like you’ll ground me?” he asks.  So, I say, “It’ll be something like that.”  And he says, “What if I refuse to stay home?  What are you going to do about that?  What if I won’t let you ground me?  How are you going to stop me from leaving the house?”  Jesus Christ, I think, this is not going well at all.  And I’m not in the mood for it.  “We can talk more about it tonight,” I say.  You know, first it was the earrings, and we finally said yes to those.  Now it’s a tattoo.  So, what’s next?  Will he want to join the Hell’s Angels?  Seriously, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.  You give these little trouble makers an inch, and the next thing you know they’re joining up with a notorious motorcycle gang.  My daughter suddenly speaks up, changing the subject.  I am glad she’s changed the subject, but now I have to deal with her.  The truth is that she isn’t much easier to deal with than my son.  In fact, both of these kids are really beginning to get on my nerves.  Why can’t they just be satisfied?  It’s always more, more, more.  It’s a bottomless pit of wanting this and that.  It’s like calculating the value of pi – there is literally no end to it.  “What about this weekend?” my daughter asks.  I say, “Your mom and I talked about it last night, and the answer is still no.”  Seriously, you should see the look on my daughter’s face.  I think she practices this look in the mirror.  She’s so darn good at it.  She so good at it that I almost laugh.  It’s that expression your kids get when you’ve done something so wrong to them that it defies description.  You’re the worst parent in the world.  You’re cruel, petty, selfish, uncaring, cold, unfair, and downright mean.  So, what’s this all about?  She wants to go up to the mountains with a group of friends and stay in a cabin for the weekend.  Unsupervised.  Just a cabin full of stupid kids.  Is she kidding?  There’s no way in hell my wife or I would ever say yes to this.  We’d rather she got a damn tattoo on her neck.  “I never get to do anything,” my daughter says.  Pi, pi, and forever pi!  Just then the phone rings, and I get up to answer it.  It’s my boss, the perpetual worrywart.  This morning he’s fretting over the schedule of the Bay City project.  We’re five days late on the installation.  We’re late because the city kept making changes.  Sure, they agreed to pay for these changes, but the changes put us behind on production.  What did they expect?  And now they’re calling my boss and complaining about me, telling him I never told them the changes would cause delays.  I wish I could ignore this lunacy, but I have to deal with it.  So, I tell my wife, “I’ve got to leave.  I have to get to the office right away.  We’ve got problems with one of the accounts.”  What a marionette I’ve become in my middle age.  Just tug on my strings so I dance.  Lend me your voice and make me talk.  Walking, talking, and dancing my adult life away.  That’s what I do.  I don’t think twice about it.  Now, I don’t know if I’m leaving the house because of my boss’s phone call, or because I want to get away from my wife and kids.  But the net result is the same.  I jump into my car and back out of the driveway, speeding down the street and thinking.  You know, when I was a kid, I used to watch my father work.  He was a self-employed carpenter, and he’d take me with him to his jobs.  Back then, he built a lot of wood decks in backyards.  Over and over, it was the same routine, day after day, measuring, sawing, chiseling, sanding, and hammering – and putting up with fussy housewives and their cranky husbands.  I remember asking if he ever got tired of it.  It seemed like a fair question.  He set down his hammer and said, “I’ve thought about that.  I honestly have.  It’s a very good question.  Then I woke up and asked myself, what else am I going to do?  I couldn’t come up with a good answer, so I picked up my hammer and went back to work.”