Vacationing With Jasper

table

By Mark E. Smith

I’m not a formal vacation kind of guy. My career in complex rehab technology and serving my peers is a ’round-the-clock lifestyle that I’m more passionate than ever about after 15 years – and true vacations get in the way of that. In fact, I sold my boat because it was taking up too much time on the weekends during the summer. I just don’t have the desire to be off the grid long enough to truly disconnect in the way that others do, footloose and fancy free. When you come from nothing, work your way up the hard way, and know that you can go back to where you came from at any time, there’s an instinctive drive and work ethic that keeps you focused and dedicated, possibly to an obsessive degree.

However, in my latter years, especially with my daughter now 16, and wanting to give her life experiences that we all should be blessed enough to provide our children, I’ve done a fair amount of recreational travel in recent years. Even that, though, often ties into my career. I love Vegas, and, fortunately, my company has a manufacturing facility there, so on my own dime and time, I can spend, say, three days in Vegas, but still get to see colleagues as wished. Or, I was recently in Washington D.C. for a day relating to my daughter, and was able to drop by a disability-related conference, and visit with close peers. And, with an iPhone and iPad, I’m connected virtually anywhere, any time, so accessibility to work is always there.

Again, though, I do try to balance life a bit, so my one “vacation” this summer was a three-day stay at a self-proclaimed “luxury resort” in the Poconos, an hour from my house, focused on “world-class products and service that exceed expectations of the most experienced traveler.” My plan was peace and quiet, the ability to sleep, eat, check my online communications, and do it all over again – and based on the resort’s marketing, it seemed like the perfect place to do that. But, alas, not so.

See, it turns out that very wealthy people do a great job at making money, and a terrible job at picking where to take their completely ill-behaved kids on vacation. I hate to sound like a crotchety, old man, but my 16-year-old handles herself with the poise and grace of a socialite – and we live in a ranch house and drive a seven-year-old van. How come when your family flies into a resort via helicopter, you have everything but appropriately-behaved children? Heck, I’ve seen the TV show, Super Nanny, and reckon that if you can afford a helicopter, you can afford to hire someone to teach your kids discipline. Mom brought her collection of Prada purses, but apparently there wasn’t room to pack the kids’ manners!

So, I ended up at the so-called prestigious resort, with a quaint room and, in the dining room, a beautifully-reserved table for my included five-star meals – all the while surrounded by screaming, running kids, who had no parental guidance and nothing to do but bother me and others looking for tranquil elegance in a vacation.

Jasper was my favorite, and when I say favorite, I mean the kid that I most wanted to see trip and get rug burns on his knees. I only knew his name because his mom – who was admittedly smoking hot in her tennis skirts – constantly badgered him in an annoyingly-passive voice. Jasper, honey, please come sit with mommy and daddy, and eat your dinner, she said as Jasper played freakin’ airplane around the formal dinning room.

“Whatcha eatin’?” Jasper asked me, his head barely taller than my table.

“It’s deep-fried kid,” I replied. “And if you don’t get away from my table, you’ll be my desert.”

But, Jasper didn’t care what I said, or what his mom said, or what anyone said. It was his world, and we were just living in it.

And, so, there I was, at among supposedly the most exclusive resorts in the country, just wanting peace and quiet, and I ended up in the middle of dozens of preschoolers in Ralph Lauren polos – lead by Mommy’s little Jasper – acting like perpetual-motion pogo sticks, bouncing around the lodge like it was a barrel of monkeys.

So, I went to the one place that the terrible tykes couldn’t go: the bar. However, within minutes, there’s five-year-old Jasper starring at me again.

“Whatcha drinkin’?” he asked, his hands gripping the edge of my table.

“Boar’s blood,” I said.

“What’s that?” he asked, bouncing up and down on his invisible pogo stick.

“Why are you wearing girl’s shoes?” I asked, and he stopped bouncing, looking down at his Docksiders. “See that lady over there – she has the same shoes on. Girl shoes, just like you.”

I’m very observant, and just happen to notice that Jasper and a woman from Italy I’d met earlier wore identical boat shoes.

“These aren’t girl shoes,” he says, crossing his arms. “They’re boy shoes.”

“Now you’re crossing your arms like a girl,” I say. “First you dress like a girl, and now you gesture like one. I see a pattern here.”

Jasper just stared at me, stumped.

“Cat got your tongue?” I asked.

“I’m going to tell my mom on you,” Jasper retorted, pouting.

“Dude, you’re the one wearing girl’s shoes and crossing your arms,” I shouted as Jasper ran away.

Ultimately, Jasper and I became really good friends. I even laughed when he fell running across the lodge one afternoon, burning the tip of his nose as his face slid across an area rug.

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Getting Away with Murder

By Mark E. Smith

When she shouted, “Quick, get his gun!” I should have known it all would go downhill from there….

This all started with a group of us anchored in an empty cove, sunbathing on my boat after an afternoon of swimming. I was stretched out on a front lounge when I heard the sirens, poking my head up to see a patrol boat coming toward us, lights flashing – water cops, we call them.

I sit up, and my crew looks puzzled, the water cop pulling beside us. “Is everyone alright onboard?” he asks, shutting off his engine.

“Uh, yeah,” everyone says at once. We’re a mix of parents, teens, and toddlers, kicking back in 85-degree weather. The stereo isn’t even on.

“May I have permission to board?” the water cop asks.

“Absolutely,” I say.

With his boat loosely tied to mine, the water cop jumps from his fore deck, on to mine. And, in the process, his handgun tumbles from its holster, bouncing off of the front boarding deck of my boat.

With kids onboard, and not wanting the water cop’s gun to fall in the lake, my friend screams, “Quick, get his gun!”

But, the water cop doesn’t know he lost his gun, and reaches for his empty holster in an immediate panic. “It’s by your feet,” I say.

He picks up his gun, puts it in the holster, and snaps it shut, regaining his composure. “Has anyone been drinking today?”he asks.

“No,” everyone answers.

“Whose vessel is this?” he asks.

“Mine,” I reply.

“What year were you born?” he asks, and glances at my wheelchair sitting behind the helm, then back at me.

“1971,” I reply, knowing that my age exempts me from needing a boating license. “But, I have my boater’s license, Coast Guard Auxiliary certification, and Auxiliary boat certification. And, my daughter over there has her Red Cross CPR and water certifications. Want to see all of them?”

“No, you’re fine,” he says, leaning over my wheelchair to read both the gauge on my helm-mounted fire extinguisher, and the tag on my throwable floatation device – required safety gear.

“How long is this vessel?” he asks?”

“Twenty-two feet,” I reply.

“Well, it’s good that the kids are wearing life vests,” he says, knowing that they legally don’t have to wear them all of the time on a boat this big.

“I need to see an emergency life vest for every adult on board,” he says.

Everyone stands up, opens all compartments, piling the deck with 20 assorted life vests – all high-quality ski vests, not cheap orange ones. “Why do you have so many vests,” he asks.

“I entertain a lot, so I have a few in every size,” I reply.

“Smart,” he says. “Do you mind if I look under the rear sundeck?”

“No,” I say, and my daughter and her friend scoot off of it.

The rear sundeck opens into a changing room that contains a commode, as well. The water cop fumbles around trying to open it, but no one gives him advice. Finally, he opens it, seeing the commode sitting there, the compartment otherwise empty. He shuts the sundeck, and returns to midship. “Did anyone have difficulty swimming today?” he asks.

“Nope,” everyone replies.

“We got a call that this vessel pulled a body from the lake, and put it in the rear of the vessel,” the water cop says. “The call was from a house on shore.”

We all look at each other, and know exactly what he’s talking about, but play dumb. “Sorry to disappoint the neighbors, but we’re just having a quiet family day on the lake,” I say.

The water cop thanks us for our patience, wishes us well, and heads off in his boat. And, we all laugh like heck, knowing that the neighbor saw my brother-in-law pull me from the water and drag me to the rear changing room so that I could put on dry clothes. “See how easy it is to get away with murder,” I say, and everyone laughs as they stuff life vests back into storage compartments.

The Jackass Chronicle

By Mark E. Smith

The first and only time that I met Jacki, I ate a cigarette. Everyone else in the group knew me, but Jacki and I didn’t know each other, and I immediately recognized that the impression that I made upon her was the wrong one. See, I performed a vaudeville trick, where if the weather is just the right temperature, you can eat a cigarette, take a deep, warm breath, and blow smoke. But, of course, it’s not really smoke, just breathing “frost.” Everyone who knew me understood that it was me goofing off, that there are mostly serious sides to my life, depth to my character, but I can be hilariously over-the-top when appropriate. However, not discounting Jacki’s own gracious character, I got the impression that she only saw me as a cigarette-eating jackass – which in the moment, I was. And, that soon troubled me.

Firstly, for me, “legacy” is a life-driver, where if I can have even a small, positive impact on a stranger’s life, it’s really important to me. And, every time I thought about Jacki for months, I cringed, realizing that I was nothing more than the jackass who ate the cigarette – not very impacting.

And, secondly, I was admittedly smitten with Jacki, where her eloquence struck me – the way she carried herself, you might say. Have you ever met someone in passing, and just thought, wow. Well, that was my moment seeing Jacki – only I was eating a cigarette like a total jackass.

So, for some time, when it came to my one and only encounter with Jacki, I saw myself as the underdog in every teen movie: I was the goofy guy who the really attractive, popular girl only saw as a dork. But, life went on, and I reckoned that, at least to Jacki, I’d forever just be a jackass.

However, I recently ran into Jacki again while working a trade show, and I immediately had to ask her out to dinner with friends. In fact, I openly prefaced the whole conversation with the fact that I wasn’t the jackass who I may have seemed before, that I was a far more serious guy. It wasn’t that I had anything to prove, per se, but I just wanted the chance to be me – the real me, not some jackass eating a cigarette – and I wanted the chance to likewise get to know her on a genuine level. I mean, maybe after spending an evening with me and friends, she’d still see me as a jackass, but at least she’d see the real jackass in me.

Now that you know the back story, let’s fast forward into present tense….

So, we meet for dinner in Los Angeles, and become fast friends, chatting each other up with a lot in common. And, Jacki is an amazing woman – smart, funny, successful, compassionate, and beautiful – and, at some point, it comes out that she has a boyfriend. But, I’m OK that she has a boyfriend because I’m a grown-up, and I’m pleased to be getting to know an amazing person on a totally sincere level. We have a great seafood dinner, and Jacki is kind enough to feed me raw oysters, which are forever challenging to balance on a fork. We learn a ton about each other – admittedly ignoring our friends to some degree throughout the eve – and end the evening with a hug. And, I, the once-jackass, feel like I was able to be my true self, not a seeming jackass after all. And, Jacki was, of course, a remarkable person to get to know.

As I fall asleep in my white-comforter, king-size hotel room bed, I feel like I’ve done right by all, and slip off into a sound sleep.

However, around 1:30am, I awake with my stomach boiling over – and it’s too late. Even if I was the world’s fastest sprinter, I couldn’t have made it to the bathroom. In the pitch black, I vomit toward the side of the bed – and it just keeps coming. I’m praying that I’m targeting the dirty clothes between the nightstand and my wheelchair, that I’m not hitting the bed, the nightstand, or my wheelchair – but likewise knowing that I’m probably nailing all three at once.

Finally, through the dry heaves, I turn on the lamp, scared to see what I find. I glance at the night stand: clean. I glance at my wheelchair: clean. I glance at side of the bed: covered in vomit. Damn, I missed everything but the all-white bed!

Now, I’m kind of panicked because I’ve vomited seafood all over a white hotel bed, and it’s a horrible situation. I begin racing through solutions on cleaning this up: a wash rag and soap; I’ll strip the bed and take the sheets and comforter to the cleaners down the street; or, I’ll just live with it till check-out another day, and skip-out of town. But, none of these strike me as valid solutions.

However, I have being a bachelor on my side. See, if a woman was with me, it would require immediate action. I’d have to act embarrassed, strip the bed, brush my teeth, and fawn being sicker than I was. But, I’m alone, where the only action required is scooting across the bed, to the clean side, and promptly going back to sleep. This is where being single on the road totally rocks. No, I’m not getting drunk or laid, but the fact that I can vomit on my hotel bed in the middle of the night, and do nothing about it till morning, going right back to sleep, makes being single the best lifestyle ever. And, so, I just go back to sleep – winning.

In the morning, I shower and dress – and know that I have to do the inevitable. I have to march up to the front desk and declare, “I’m Mark E. Smith, in room 318, and I’ve vomited on my bed….”

However, I realize that I’m only partly to blame. See, Jacki has to have some responsibility in all of this. And, so with little more than shame, I roll up to April, the woman at the front desk, and spill out my heart:

So, last year, I ate a cigarette as a prank, and made myself look like a jackass in front of this amazing woman. And, so to show her that I’m not a jackass, I took her and friends out for seafood last night. And, the woman is totally smart, funny, and caring – but, she has a boyfriend, and I respect that. So, long story, short, I made a new platonic friend, but the seafood, not so much, and I vomited all over my bed. …I mean, all over – the comforter the sheets, running down the sides….

“Oh, don’t worry about that, Mr. Smith – we’ll get that changed for you,” the desk clerk said. “At least you were sleeping alone last night, from what it sounds like.”

“Trust me, April, when it comes to women and me these days, I’m glad to be sleeping alone every night,” I replied, and headed off to start my day.

Spastic Half-Wit

By Mark E. Smith

I read that 92% of women and 56% of men struggle with some sort of low self-esteem, most commonly relating to “body image” or “feeling like one doesn’t measure up to others.”

In my experience, those statistics prove unfortunately true in everyday life, as I encounter many who confide in me – or indirectly suggest – such feelings of self-insufficiency. However, what’s striking is that it implies to me that I should be horrified by who I am: A spastic, half-witted guy with cerebral palsy, big ears, a goofy smile, and no talent, who doesn’t really fit in anywhere. I might as well put out a self-titled album, Rolling Disaster.

Really, I have attractive, intelligent, popular, able-bodied people tell me all of the time how insufficient they feel. Women who have model-like beauty and super intellects tell me that they’re disturbingly unattractive and unintelligent. Men who are brilliant tell me of their constant insecurities. And, it leaves me thinking that if all of these truly perfect people feel so horribly about themselves, I must really be a freakish wreck on wheels, where I truly do have many of the deficiencies that they wrongly project upon themselves. I mean, let’s be real – have you seen me? Again, I’m a spastic, half-witted guy with cerebral palsy, big ears, a goofy smile, and no talent, who doesn’t really fit in anywhere – who’s more of a literal mess than me? And, readers send me hate emails confirming those facts all of the time, so surely they’re true.

Of course, unlike the 92% of women and 56% of men with low self-esteem, I actually accept and embrace who I am. Indeed, I may be a rolling wreck, but I know that I can’t change aspects like having cerebral palsy, so rather than despising who I am, I make the most of who I am – much of which is based in gratitude for whatever I’ve been bestowed in life. Sure, I’m a spastic, half-witted guy with cerebral palsy, big ears, a goofy smile, and no talent, who doesn’t really fit in anywhere, but even those are traits not to be squandered. I say, why not be the best spastic, half-witted guy with cerebral palsy, big ears, a goofy smile, and no talent, who doesn’t really fit in anywhere, that I can be, right?

See, what I know is that our potential isn’t limited by what we lack; rather, our potential is maximized by what we have. And, too many of us count ourselves short, only seeing deficiencies – or, worst of all, buying into the criticisms of others – when we should be focused on our true potentials, our greatness within. We have this one body, mind, and life, and let’s make the most of them, where it’s not what we have, but what we do with what we have that makes all of the difference.

I could have looked at my life with spastic cerebral palsy and believed the pundits from birth, settling for an institutionalized life of physical dependency on others; but, instead, I sought to believe in developing whatever physical abilities that I could muster toward independence. I could have seen myself as having the cognitive deficiencies that doctors diagnosed me with when I was an infant; but, instead, I scored an I.Q. atop the charts, pursued a college education, going on to a successful career path serving others. I could have looked at myself in the mirror, seeing my cerebral palsied body – my undeniable “freakishness” – and never pursued relationships or a family; but, instead, I have a beautiful daughter, the center of my life. I could have presumed that I had no talent; but, instead, I write, give talks, and work in the wheelchair industry with great creativity. And, I could have looked at my power wheelchair as a device that prevented me from fitting in; but, instead, I combine my unique appearance with my personality to shine in crowds.

Indeed, every day I could write a thousand-line list as to how I’m not on par with everyone else, how I’m a spastic, half-witted guy with cerebral palsy, big ears, a goofy smile, and no talent, who doesn’t really fit in anywhere; but, instead, I recognize the positive attributes that I do have, and make the most of them, dedicating myself to family, career, and community.

Really, we’re a lot like old cars, where we may think of ourselves as clunkers, but with the right attitude, we truly shine as collector-quality classics. Take some time to look in the mirror, and see the shine in you – it’s there, you just have to open yourself to it. And, if it makes you feel better, you can say, At least I’m not a spastic, half-witted guy with cerebral palsy, big ears, a goofy smile, and no talent, who doesn’t really fit in anywhere, like Mark!

After all, if I’m doing great with all of my freakish flaws, you must be nothing short of a spectacular masterpiece of a person with your remarkable strengths, talents, and good-looks.