Friday, May 03, 2013

COLUMN: An Open Window Into My Soul

On Easter Sunday, I road-tripped home to spend the afternoon with my folks. Or, more accurately, to spend the afternoon as my mom's personal bad taste liaison, since I walked in the door and was immediately tasked to load up her new mp3 player with a vast array of the world's worst music. On the positive side, I've learned that I possess the inner strength and fortitude to survive the extended discographies of Kenny G, Barbra Streisand, and Michael Bolton. May the gods of good music have mercy on my soul.

But the visit itself wasn't as revelatory as the drive down. What I failed to mention is that all this came on the heels of a rather sleepless Saturday night, so the last thing I wanted to experience was the mind-numbing lullabye stretch of I-74 between here and Galesburg. Ergo, I decided to spice things up by traveling the entire journey via back roads. Aimless country driving is the most cathartic activity I know and my favorite way to recharge the battery of the soul. Give me a well-stocked iPod and a full tank of gas and I'll give you my idea of heaven.

The route I took was a travelogue of adolescent memories. There was the small-town grade school I attended as a kid... the bridge I used to drive out to and throw rocks off when I needed to think... the ditch I landed my Plymouth Horizon in when I first learned what happens when you drive too fast on fresh gravel... and hey, there's the dirt road I used to take my high school girlfriend down when we wanted to complete our homework and hold Bible study sessions and any other completely G-rated wholesome activities you can think of.

I should have enjoyed my backwoods cruise down many a memory lane, but a funny thing happened. It turns out that, despite my best intentions, I did NOT take the world in a love embrace, fire all of my guns at once, and explode into space. Instead of the bliss of the open road, my mind held other thoughts:

Whoa there, slick. You're going way too fast. Don't lose traction. No one knows that you're on this bumpy gravel road. What if the car breaks down and you can't get a signal on your phone? Your parents would be worried sick. You should have checked your oil. When was your last oil change? These rocks are probably doing a number to the underside of the car. What if one of them flies up and hits the windshield? P.S. That music's too loud, turn it down.

What's happened to me? I've dreaded this day, but it appears that my 42-year fight is over and I need to come to terms with it. My name's Shane, and I'm... I'm... a responsible adult.


Getting old sucks. The only reason babies cry is because they're too young to realize just how good they've got it. When I was a kid, I yearned for the freedom of independence. But it turns out the freedom I craved just gets stymied by the responsibilities of independence and/or the guilt that comes with being smart enough to know better. I know I sound ridiculous whining about this -- I'm sure many of you are parents who could give me a lecture or two about what REAL responsibility is. Truth be told, my only main obligation is making sure I wake up and get to work on a daily basis, but even THAT comes with its own peculiar set of challenges... which brings me to yesterday.

8:22 a.m. - I stride into the office eight minutes early. As someone who's admittedly a little challenged in the responsibility department, this feat alone should be worthy of celebration. And, of course, it turns out my boss is out sick and no one notices.

8:28 a.m. - As my computer boots up, I stare at the Windows logo and it hits me like a brick: The night before, the house was stuffy and I had opened the window over my kitchen sink. I had NO recall of ever closing it. My security system has a broken glass sensor but not an I-casually-removed-the-screen-and-wandered-on-in sensor. Yikes.

9:10 a.m. - The work day is progressing smoothly. I, however, have already envisioned at least twelve different scenarios of assorted imaginary bad guys breaking into my house and robbing me blind. One of them has an eye patch and speaks with a Hungarian accent.

9:45 a.m. - In the grand scheme of things, my cats are capable of little more than sleeping and meowing. One of them frequently confuses Kleenex for food. Yet in my head, I have now imagined a  scenario where they have collaborated to remove the screen from the open window (opposable thumbs be darned) and are now cavorting about the streets of Rock Island where they have presumably already turned to a life of crime and it's all my fault.

10:20 a.m. - A revelation: I don't remember shutting the window, but I DO remember refilling the cats' water bowl before I left for work. If the window had been open, I would have been met with a cold draft while doing so. Surely I would have noticed, right?

10:40 a.m. - I just remembered I once made it all the way to work before realizing I was only wearing a t-shirt and shorts. Never trust what I do and don't notice before I've had my morning coffee.

12:20 p.m. - Surely my neighbors would spot someone shimmying through my kitchen window, wouldn't they? And if someone DID break in, they'd have to go out the same window, because if a door opened, then the alarm would go off and I presume ADT-trained ninjas would swoop in and save the day, right?

3:05 p.m. - Someone just called me. I assume they wanted something newspaper-y. I wasn't paying attention - I was too busy in my CURRENT waking nightmare where I come home from work and get jumped by a conspiracy of neighbors, thieves, ninjas, and cats -- all of whom were just waiting for an open-window opportunity like today. And then my poor parents will have to hire Liam Neeson to save me, and the whole thing's just gonna snowball from there.

By the end of the day, I worried myself into a massive stomach ache. And I'm sure there'll be other stomach aches down the road, because I fear I've merely tested the waters of what it's like to have REAL responsibilities. Maybe one day I'll have PEOPLE to worry about instead of an open window or a broken-down car. Adulthood is a long and slippery slope. I might be a little late for the ride, but I'm getting onboard regardless -- just so long as the destination never turns me into a fan of Kenny G or Michael Bolton.

(And yes, the window was closed and locked when I got home. No ninjas. Liam Neeson can stand down.)