Today's Reading


From the minute I laced up my Converse All Stars and walked out of the comfort of my childhood home and into Miss Conway's kindergarten class, I was keenly aware that I was different. This wasn't good. Suddenly, the orange corduroy pants I wore, the stuff my mom made for lunch and the dances I did so proudly at home were called out, mocked and turned into nicknames that I never asked for. I didn't want to be known as Tommy Salami. I wanted to blend in and be normal. I still do.

But as my grandmother would say while she fished a paper towel out of her bra to pat down her sweaty forehead, "There's no such thing as normal. Everybody's a mess."

Nana was kind of right. It's true that we're all a bit of a disaster, but I would argue that's precisely what makes us normal. Despite what the schoolyard bullies may have attacked you for, all our odd and quirky behaviors are universal.

So when you get dressed for work and reach into the pockets of what you thought was a clean pair of pants and you find a mix of dog treats, rubber bands and Hershey's Kiss wrappers, don't assume that you can't wear those pants. Sure, it's obvious they've already been worn, and you may not even have a dog, but how often do pants need to be washed, anyway? If you can't smell them from across the room, throw on your shoes, fix your hair and get going. Everybody does this; you're totally normal. It's also normal to see a good friend of yours on the street, stop, turn and run the other way. This may be someone you love. You've been to their home. You've celebrated holidays together. And now you're ducked behind a mailbox, just praying they don't see you as they pass by. Well, don't feel bad about what you did, because I promise you, they've walked away from you too. That's what friends do.

They see you coming at the farmers market and quickly hide behind a bunch of plantains. Does this mean they prefer the company of a strange banana to you? No, they just couldn't deal with you and all your stuff at that moment. Neither of you are selfish or antisocial, you're just people with issues and complicated faces and what you did was normal.

Being a person means that you contain a certain amount of rude self-interest that needs to be balanced with the interests of others, and sometimes they lose. I'd love to say that I constantly help everyone around me and put their interests first, but that's simply not true. I'd like to be the guy who brings in the neighbor's garbage cans or helps set up for the school play, but I'm not even that helpful to the family I live with.

I never stir the oil into a new jar of peanut butter. My family wants that all-natural stuff that comes with two inches of oil on top and requires a half hour of intense stirring that results in a greasy, slimy mess on me, the knife and the sides of the jar. Fine, I'll buy it, but I'm not stirring it.

"What is wrong with you? It's your turn," my wife will say.

"It can't be my turn, because I'm not playing that game."

"What game?"

"The stupid peanut butter game. I'd happily open a jar of Jif if you'd like."

This is when she walks away muttering something about her life choices.

My wife complains and the kids think I'm an idiot, but we all have to make a stand at some point, and I do it on the nut butter battlefield.

Have you ever found yourself unwrapping and eating an entire Clif Bar while shopping in the supermarket and it's not until you've eaten half of it and your blood sugar settles that you realize you haven't paid for it yet and a nagging little voice in your head that sounds a lot like your mother's starts calling you a thief? I have. But are you a criminal because you act like all this food is yours for the taking? Are you a dirty, no-good shoplifter because you never told the cashier about the Clif Bar and instead of showing her the wrapper and starting the whole transaction over again you just smiled and scanned your card? No, you're a good person, and that extra dollar you added to support St. Jude's proves it. Technically, you took something that didn't belong to you, and sure, maybe you grabbed more free cheese cube samples than you should have and scooped up some jelly beans from the bulk candy bins when no one was looking, but trust me, what you did happens all the time, so take a deep breath, smile at the security guard and hope the alarm doesn't go off when you leave the store.

When you're back in your car sitting at a red light, and you find yourself staring straight ahead but not really looking at anything and your mind drifts back to that time in high school when those bullies were picking on that kid who wore his night brace during the day and you thought that you should say something to stop them but you didn't, and all these years later you wish you could go back and protect him but then you hear car horns honking and people cursing at you, and you suddenly realize you're a grown-up driving a car and you're making everybody angry and really need to snap out of it, don't feel bad. It's totally normal. Everybody does this.

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