Life Lessons

It is amazing to me that in an instant the very way we view life can change forever. It can happen at the oddest time and from people we would never expect. A few months ago my Uncle Mark (left) and his best pal Jim (right) took their annual vacation to see me from Philadelphia. Now I love these guys but I will be honest when I say that I was looking forward to their visit much like my semi-annual visit to the dentist. They definitly march to their own beat and by the time they left to go home I was grateful to them for allowing me to be in the parade.

Growing up Uncle Mark was definitely the “cool” uncle. He lived in the basement of my grand parents house that was a 12 year old kids paradise full of BB guns, cable TV, candy, a police scanner and a computer. This was heaven sent when the only thing to do upstairs was watch CSPAN, PBS money drives and God forbid read. He also taught me how to punch, never hit a girl, what poison ivy looked like, every line up the Flyers had since ’77, the need to study hard, carrots equal good eyesight, milk makes you tall, spinach equals muscles, don’t smoke (he still smokes 2 packs a day), girls hate guys that are smelly, and some day the Russians will invade so be prepared. See? All good things and I have retained it all even 20 + years later.

Well, Uncle Mark still lives in the grand parents basement and now when I go up there, I find myself giving him lessons and advice. He has never settled down with anyone and that is with reason. Ninety percent of the advice I give is about women. It’s not that I know that much, it’s that he doesn’t. Here’s an example.

Last Christmas I was visiting in Philadelphia and after dinner he took me to his Friday night hang out. It was a dance club for seniors and between Jim and Mark it was more like a potential chance to meet some strange. I went to the bar to get us a couple of beers and as I was walking back I noticed that Mark had no intentions of approaching any women. Actually if you didn’t know him, he kind of looked like a stalker. Well, I decided to help him out and a noticed a younger lady sitting by herself and I asked if she would like to come hang out with us. After bribing her with a seven and seven she came and I introduced her to my “rich and single” uncle. Things went pretty well and they were hitting it off right up to point when his cell phone rang. I swear to God this is what Mark said next.

We have to go. That was my mother and I told her we would be home before midnight. Do you camp? I like to camp so maybe we can go camping?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him she might not call. Actually I did they opposite. I said he was smooth and she would definitely sleep with him but next time, leave the whole “Mom called” thing to yourself and for Christ sakes stop calling her mother.

Jim is a cool guy. He is the typical blue collar Philadelphia Eagles fan that will kill you in a bar if you say anything derogatory about McNabb. He too is 50, single, living at home still. (These guys have a lot in common.) The one thing about Jim is his child like amazement for the most ordinary things. A few years ago on another holiday trip up north, all three of us took a trip up to Allen Town to spend the day at a Bass Pro outlet. I like Bass Pro so I went along. Little did I know we would take a six hour detour and tour the UTZ Pretzel packing factory because we passed it on the highway. If I knew earlier that day I would be wearing a hairnet and safety goggles I would have stayed home.

So now you know them. They have hearts the size of Kansas but socially they do their own thing. Well before I knew it the week had come for them to visit. I actually had been so busy I forgot until the night before but if anyone could entertain themselves they could.

After they arrived we caught up for a few minutes, ate dinner and watched a little baseball. Upon inquiring what plans they have for the week, Jim and Mark made it apparently clear that they needed to first find a Walmart and stat. Apparently on they made the decision when packing to leave the underwear at home to make room for other things. I have never heard of anyone making a cognitive decision to leave the underwear at home. That’s the first thing I pack. Well, I took them to Walmart and you haven’t lived until you see two fifty year olds argue over brief or boxer. Another thing that I didn’t know but every Walmart these guys are at they collect as many plastic bags as possible. After check out they stood out side and compared who had the most bags much like kids comparing Halloween candy. I think this was an omen for the day that followed.

So it was Saturday and their first full day of vacation. I took the day off to show them around before they left to spend the rest of their time in the Everglade. I figured we would go to waterfront, charter a boat, fish off the pier, or take a ride down to South Beach. When I asked what they had in mind Jim piped up and said he saw an add for a Flea Market that’s open and we should check it out but first they needed to stop at another Walmart that was having a grand opening in Stewart an hour north. Ok then. Off to the Flea Market.

Jim rented a pretty nice sports car and we took that to find this crazy mystery place called a flea market. I must admit that Jim is a pretty aggressive driver. I take that back, he’s more crazy than aggressive. After 30 seconds in the back seat I decided that seat belts were pretty pointless when you hit a Crown Vic going 90. If I’m going to die then I’m coming through the front seat and taking one of them with me. I think this guy had a safer ride than I did.

So after we broke the sound barrier three times, honked the horn 400 times, flicked off random elderly couple 250 times and ran 30 red lights we pulled into the South Florida Flea Market. It’s amazing how fast you can get around town when you totally disregard the law. The market was what I thought it was; half shopping, half circus. But no matter, I was there because Uncle Mark and Jim had their hearts set on it. And then I found out what they were there for. They needed gym bags, socks, a new watch with an alarm, pecans and the ultimate sausage sandwich. Wait…what? Sausage sandwich? I have never hung around anyone who has gone on a quest for a sausage sandwich. There’s always a first.

Just browsing around the different kiosks I felt almost overloaded with the amount of ninja swords, personal designed hats, airbrushed T-shirts and homemade jewelry. Jim and Mark were pigs in shit, though. I was there for the people watching but I found myself just watching them. Mark got his socks and watch while Jim haggled with an Indian guy for a couple of Nikie gym bags with an upside down swoosh. Onto lunch!

Holy shit they found sausage sandwiches! I couldn’t believe it. They must be flea market pro’s because they didn’t even question whether or not sausage sandwiches were available. I declined to eat one and it’s not that I’m a snob when it comes to eating food at a flee market. It’s just that I had food poisoning once, which is why I will never drink chocolate milk from a gas station again. I think getting food poisoning from a sausage sandwich may indeed kill me. I just watched in utter amazement as Jim dropped most of it on his shirt and Uncle Mark chewed with his mouth opening while flirting with the raffle ticket chick. From then on I stayed twenty paces behind them pretending to be on the phone.

We came, we saw, we concurred the South Florida Flea market. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. Actually just watching these two guys made the whole trip worth while. I’ll never think about sausage without linking it to the smell of pony rides and pleather. Now onto the new Walmart and it’s grand opening! This one I did skip and stayed in the car. I can’t tell the difference between one Walmart and another.

They went in and came out relatively quickly. But not without a inordinate amount Walmart bags of course. While they were in a kind lady gave them the idea that we should go to up to Fort Pierce to look at the manatees that hang out in the marina. Sounded fine to me. I have only seen a few since living in Florida so why not?

After we pulled out of the Walmart parking lot Mark turned down the radio and hushed us because it was just about 3:00 and he had to test his new alarm wrist watch. We listened intently and at at the stroke of three an audible vioce chimed, “The time is three PM and you’re an asshole.” Holy shit it was a novelty gag watch and the look on Uncle Marks face was to die for. I haven’t laughed that hard in a while. You know the laugh. The laugh that makes your mouth muscles ache. I must say that Uncle Mark didn’t find it too funny and that made it all the more hilarious.

Well, we got to Ft. Pierce in less than 20 minutes which is pretty amazing because it was over 60 miles away. And sure enough the lady was right and there were sea cows a float’n. I’ve never seen two 50 year olds go shit house mad over floating fat mammals. I can still hear Uncle Mark yelling, “Look at his snozzle, look at his snozzle!” I can only assume that a snozzle in the mouth of the manatee. It was pretty priceless.

After that picture opportunity we hopped back in the death machine and took A1A, which is the beach side highway back down to West Palm. On the way we passed a nuclear power plant and for what ever reason they had to pull over and get an outside look. Knowing the history of these guys what do you think happened next?

  • They looked at it from a safe distance and we drove away?
  • They heeded my warnings and just kept going?
  • They walked up to the front gate and decided to take a few pictures?

Of course they took a picture. And not even 30 seconds later two cops pulled up and gave us what we had coming. I think they figured out the harmlessness of the situation but made it a point to make me feel like an idiot and I didn’t even leave the car. Now I was ready to go home.

So the day came to an end. I was never so glad to be sitting on my bed staring at the TV. Even if it was off. I had to share the days events with someone so I called a dear friend of mine and we were rolling with laughter just by the readers digest version of it all. Then I got the outside perspective of what I missed. Uncle Mark and Jim are not sad characters at all. Actually they have what most strive for their whole life. They are truly happy. It doesn’t matter that sausage sandwiches decorate their shirt or the fact that they are oblivious to wearing brown socks with white Stride Rites. In their world Walmarts are Mecca and finding a flea market can make or break a Saturday.

After I got off the phone I walked downstairs and ordered us a few pizzas . At dinner I looked at the atrocious table manners they had with a sense of awe. I had a whole new appreciation for who these guys were. They held the secret to personal happiness. It wasn’t obliviousness or lack of intellect but rather their complete view point on life. Happiness comes in the small things. All I need to do to realize that was take the stick out of my ass and see them for what they are worth and there is no price on that. I needed to learn more from them but soon their trip was over and I find myself missing the strange adventures. I can’t wait to see them for Christmas and maybe the zest for life will inspire me to throw caution to the wind and seek out sausage sandwiches from a random vendor. I think about that every time I find Walmart bags around the house. Thanks guys.

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