Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Both Families are Turkeys

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2011 at 7:54 AM

Dear Jack,

Sometimes I wish I didn't live in the same city as my parents and my fiancé's parents. When parents live in different cities, you only have to visit one of them on Thanksgiving. My fiancé and I have been engaged for a year and dating for three, so we've been through this a few times, but it doesn't get any easier. In fact, it seems to be getting worse.

My parents and my fiancé's parents hate each other. The fact that they are different races and political and social castes plays a big part. When it comes to Thanksgiving, they make no effort to time their dinners so we can attend both of them. They seem to try their best to schedule at the same time.

What makes things worse is that neither of us even wants to go. It's always tense, there's always an argument. His family is easier to get along with than mine, as they seem to like me if not my parents, but my family is just short of openly hostile towards him. After four years, you would think they would come to accept him and appreciate his many charms. The first time he met my mother she asked me if I was pregnant. Apparently that was the only way she could imagine I would bring home someone like him.

So here we are, once more trying to decide who we are going to offend, only this time we are arguing about it. I want to go to his house, he wants to try one more time to reconcile our families before the wedding.

—Sick of Pumpkin Pie

Dear Pumpkin,

So why not go away?

Seriously, hear me out. Why don't you and your fiancé go out of town for Thanksgiving? Take a trip somewhere and just be together and pretend it isn't a holiday of traditional family obligations. Have some fun for a change. When your parents file their inevitable objections, state that you've decided not to ruin their holidays again with your presence.

It has been one of my long-standing rules that past the age of majority you are under no obligation to attend family functions. Your presence should be a blessing to the event, a welcome addition to the table, like whipped topping on the pumpkin pie. If you treat it like an obligation, that's exactly what it will become. If you don't put your foot down now, these miseries will themselves become a part of the tradition.

However, if you can't be counted on to attend, then both sets of parents will be induced to provide enticements for you to join them, rather than reasons to dread the day. You just need to realize that you hold the power in this situation. They will try to guilt you, but you have no reason to feel guilt. Instead, as an adult, you have the right to start your own holiday traditions. And when you do, they will be forced to schedule around you.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Monday, November 14, 2011

His Old Soldier Won't March on Command

Posted By on Mon, Nov 14, 2011 at 8:07 PM

Dear Jack,

I recently went through a traumatic divorce. Well, not recently. When I look at the calendar, I see that it has actually been more than a year now since I signed the papers. But in some ways it feels like it still hasn't ended

Until I met Kathy. Kathy isn't her real name. She is younger than me by almost 10 years. When I first noticed her interest in me, I was shocked. She is, to be perfectly honest, the best-looking woman I've even known. I mean she is hot. Hotter than I deserve or that I ever thought possible.

Kathy is beautiful inside as well as outside. She saw something in me, something I didn't even know about myself. Because we were already acquaintances before she asked me out the first time, she was aware of the difficulties I had been going through. She's been extremely patient with me and my natural fear of getting too close to anyone.

We've been dating regularly for about a month now. It's been strange, to say the least, but in a wonderful way. It's been an amazing adventure. I feel alive again for the first time, I realize now, in years, since long before the divorce.

This past Saturday night. Kathy and I had dinner at her place. It was going to be a quiet night with wine and a movie, but it became so much more. And at the crucial moment, I failed. Big time. This has never happened to me before. She said it's ok, but it's not okay. It happens to men my age, she said. So Sunday night, I tested the machinery and it still wasn't working properly.

I haven't spoken to Kathy since. I don't want to hear her say it's okay again. I'm scared to death something is wrong with me. What if I have some disease? It would be just like God to strike me down at the moment I have finally found true happiness.

Weary Soldier

Dear Sad Sack,

First allow me to offer my congratulations and condolences on your divorce. Take it from an old campaigner, this too shall pass.

It is frustrating and frightening when that rugged old soldier, who has always done his duty so admirably, with such stiff determination, penetrating deeply into hazardous territory controlled by the enemy without fear of the consequences, suddenly fails to come to attention as expected.

At your age (which I have not disclosed), what you experienced is not uncommon, nor does it indicate a dire medical issue. A friend of mine with lower spine issues found that he was unable to perform while lying on his back. Something to do with a nerve being pinched. It could be high blood pressure or any number of other treatable medical problems. Don't be afraid to see your doctor. Or maybe you just had too much wine.

But I suspect your problem is you didn't have enough wine. You were trying too hard, my friend, trying to overcompensate for your low morale. You wanted it to be so perfect and you couldn't live up to your own expectations. One moment of doubt and suddenly your forces retreated in disarray. Try as you might to rally, you only turned retreat into rout.

My advice to you is to relax, forget about it. Don't build up huge expectations. Let things happen naturally and take your time. Don't think. Just be. Focus on your target and let the plane fly itself.

And if you're still worried, see our friend the pharmacist. He can do wonders for your morale.

Got a problem. Jack Waggon will set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jack Does a Three-way

Posted By on Sun, Oct 30, 2011 at 9:32 AM

Dear Jack,

My new girlfriend is a horrible singer, but she loves to sing. She sings in the car, she sings around the house, she sings at parties. She even sings in bed. She's so out of tune, it's pathetic. People cringe and look away, embarrassed whenever she breaks into song.

I don't know what to say to her. I really like her when she's not singing.

All Bleeding Ears

Dear ABE,

I don't want to get all Seinfeldian on you, but you might have to find a new girlfriend.

The only thing worse than listening to someone sing badly is listening to someone tell you how badly you sing. If you want to shatter her illusions and break her heart, go ahead and tell her. A more subtle approach might be to take her out for karaoke and let her experience the gruesome reaction of an impartial audience.

Dear Jack,

My mother recently divorced her third husband. Her whole life, she has been married to someone who could take care of her. She's very good at finding wealthy men, so she has money coming in monthly — quite a bit of it.

I'm the oldest of her kids and was the first to move out. I moved out pretty young, before she and dad divorced, because I couldn't stand to be around her. But over the years, we've reconciled and have grown quite close. Because of her declining health, she can't live on her own now and so I let her move in with me. I'm divorced myself. We pooled our money (most of it hers) and bought a nice place.

It has all come back to me — why I couldn't wait to move out, all those years ago. The woman is a nightmare, especially when she hangs her health issues around my neck and guilts me to death. I would leave today, but I can't afford to live without her. What can I do?

Maybe Moving into a Motel

Dear Norman,

Do you have a basement you can lock her in?

Seriously, you're both adults. Tell her you won't be treated like a kid anymore. You've grown up — now it's time for mom to grow up, too. Tell her if she doesn't shape up, she'll have to hire somebody to take care of her or else move into a home. If that doesn't scare her straight, nothing will.

Dear Jack,

We live in this wonderful little bungalow in Midtown. We were so lucky to find it, especially considering the price. It has some problems but all old houses have problems. The neighborhood is fantastic, and we have the best neighbors ever.

My boyfriend wants to leave. He is convinced our house is haunted. He says he can't stay there at night by himself and I work nights. He's a big guy and I never thought he'd be scared of anything, but he really doesn't like it there. I came home the other morning and found him asleep in his car.

I haven't felt anything in our house except peace. I love this place and don't want to leave. What can I do?

Afraid to Move

Dear Fearful Mover,

I assume this is a rental you're talking about, not a house you purchased. If so, why not move? Sure, it's a great place, but you can find another one, maybe even a better one.

You probably can't break your lease without losing the deposit, so agree to move but only at the end of your lease. Meanwhile, give him the job of finding your new place. Since he is the one insisting on moving, tell him it has to be just as good as the house you're leaving.

Because if you don't move, he might move without you, and then it will be just you, all alone in that empty house with a ghost.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Her Friend's Dating a Braggart

Posted By on Sun, Oct 23, 2011 at 3:34 PM

Dear Jack,

My best friend — we'll call her Shelly — has recently fallen for a compulsive liar. He's a sweet guy in nearly every way, but he has this weird need to spout the most outrageous bullshit. Usually the stories are about himself, what he's done in the past, the women he has dated, the people he knows or has met.

It doesn't seem to bother Shelly, but I just want to stab myself in the ears listening to him go on and on about his sexual conquests. If you know somebody famous, he knows somebody even more famous. If you've been somewhere exotic, he's been somewhere even more exotic and out of the way. If you talk about some band, he claims to have jammed with them before they became famous. He has even hinted that his mother was a groupie and his father is a famous rock star. Of course, he never has any proof of anything he says. The photos were lost, his computer with the emails was stolen, his account hacked, a jealous girlfriend threw it all away. His excuses are even more imaginative than his stories.

What bothers me the most about him isn't him. It's Shelly. She believes him. He wouldn't lie to her. It drives me nuts to listen to her tell his stories for him. It's like I can't get away from it, even when he's not there. One of our friends recently laughed in her face and she was really hurt, so now I'm afraid to say anything to her. But honestly, I don't know how much longer I can listen to his tales of slumming with sheiks and royals and nearly driving in the Monaco Grand Prix. He's only 23! He'd have to be 63 to have done all the things he's said he's done.

Buried in Lies

Dear Buried,

It's easy enough to laugh. When I was in the CIA, we used to run into these people all the time, so I know how you feel. If only I hadn't left my license to kill in my other pants ...

Shelly is hopeless. At the moment, she's smitten, but that will wear off. Eventually she'll wake up and smell the bullshit. Until then, all you can do is wait. If you confront her, you'll just lose her as a friend. For the sake of your bleeding ears, you might want to try not to spend so much time with her. Give her plenty of space and time with Mr. Bond to come to her senses.

When she finally does, be generous. She'll need an understanding friend. Don't shake your head and roll your eyes. Just accept her back as graciously as you can. In time, you'll both be able to laugh about him.

And just to sympathize with the devil, maybe his self-esteem is so rotten that he needs to make shit up rather than admit to the horrible ordinariness of his life. Thank God I don't have that problem. Maybe he could be as sweet as you say in every other way, if he could only discover that he can just be himself, that people don't need his BS to think he's a pretty swell guy. Probably not, but you never know.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hunting for Help

Posted By on Mon, Oct 17, 2011 at 8:05 PM

Dear Jack,

I recently changed schools and yes, it's my senior year and I had to make all new friends. I've always been good at making friends, so it wasn’t too bad. It wasn't long before I met this really sweet guy and we've really connected and fallen in love.

There's just one thing. When I fell in love with him, I didn't know he was such an avid hunter. Now that hunting season is here, he goes hunting with his friends every Saturday morning. Right now, all he can talk about is deer season, which is coming up soon. I guess I should have known, the first time I had dinner with his family and they served venison.

I hate hunting and I never thought I could love a hunter. I love him, but I don't understand how he can kill innocent animals for fun. I've tried letting him know how much I disapprove by changing the subject whenever he starts talking about hunting, but I don't think he gets it. Should I tell him how I feel? What if it drives us apart? His hunting never gets in the way of our relationship. He doesn't go hunting instead of being with me. I'm not one of these PETA people, but I can't stand the idea of him killing animals. He's too sweet at heart. I think he just does it to go along with his friends.

Soft-hearted Senior

Dear Softy,

When I was your age, I broke up with probably the best girl I've ever met when I found out she secretly listened to Wham! She'd just been posing as a hoodlum to get to me. At the time, I thought she was a complete fake, when all she had been trying to do was attract me by being what she (correctly) thought I wanted. So who was the real fake?

It actually is possible that he's a sweet guy with a heart of gold who enjoys bonding with other boys his own age by killing innocent animals. He may not be doing it just to go along. He might actually like it. If his family serves venison to honored guests like yourself, hunting it probably an important part of their family tradition. His desire to share his enthusiasm with you is a good indication that he doesn't see anything wrong with it.

He'll probably be hurt and confused if you continue to feign disinterest rather than speak to him directly and honestly about how you feel. But go slow. If you try to change him all at once, if you issue any ultimatums (which I don't think you will do, but it needs saying), you'll lose him. People can change, if given time.

After all, there was a time in my life when all I wore was camo. The last deer I killed was with a car, and that was fifteen years ago.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, October 9, 2011

She's Got Problems With Her Ex

Posted By on Sun, Oct 9, 2011 at 9:19 PM

Dear Jack,

My son is 16 and lives with his father, whose house is in a good school district. Almost two months ago, I bought my son a truck to drive to school and to his part-time job. He pays for his own gas and I pay half his insurance, his father pays the other half.

Last week, I learned that his father and older step-brothers have been driving the truck. They used it to pull his father's bass boat on their fishing trip. This fishing trip didn't include my son. Needless to say I was furious. True, he had to work that weekend and couldn't have gone on the trip, but I'm not sure they even asked if he wanted to go. They just took his truck and left him one of the step-brothers' junk cars, which broke down, which is how I found out because I had to go pick up my son from the side of the interstate.

I have told him that I don't want anyone else driving that truck. He says he doesn't mind them driving it, but I know how his father is. The man will take what he wants without even asking. The step-brothers bully him constantly. He's afraid to tell them no.

I'm tempted to take the truck back, but that will only hurt my son. If I say something to his father, the step-brothers are bound to hear about it and will make his life even worse than it is. I wish I could have him living with me, but that would mean changing to a different and much worse school - I can't afford to live where his father lives. So how can I stop them from driving the truck?

Angry Mother

Dear Mad Mom,

Your first mistake was buying your son a truck. If he were paying the notes on it, he'd be much less inclined to let anyone bully the keys out of him. I've had five cars in my lifetime. The first two were given to me and lasted a little more than two years each before they were ready for the pull-a-parts yard. I bought my third car myself and drove it for fourteen years, until the doors literally fell off. Then I had a windfall of money and bought a new car, which lasted less than a year before the lawyers confiscated it. I'm still driving my fifth car, which took me six years to pay off, thanks to the fact I no longer had a windfall. We value most what we pay for with our sweat. Also, ex-wives generally don't take eight-year-old Saturns in the divorce.

But now that you've given him the truck, you can hardly take it back. It's his to do with as he wishes. Just because you bought it doesn't mean it's still yours, even if you didn't buy it for his father to drive. Do you think my uncle, a contented old bachelor who worked like a dog all his life so he could retire to Spain and be dead within a year, would have willed me his fortune if he thought I would burn through it in less than a year on blow and hookers? Ok, so that's a bad example, though to be honest I only spent half of it. The other half was taken by my other half, even though she didn't know the man existed until the day the estate lawyer called from Barcelona.

You can't stop his father from driving the truck. The only card you have to play is your half of the insurance payments. You could offer to let his father pay the full cost of insurance. No doubt he will pass that cost along to your son. I doubt you want that to happen. All you can do is let your son know that you don't approve, and then drop it. Forget about it. Try to look at the good side - at least his bimbo isn't driving it, right? Life's too short to be obsessing over the actions of your former spouse. Don't let your continuing ill feelings toward the man damage your relationship with your son.

Also, if you really want your son to live with you, look into optional schools. He's old enough to drive himself to school, and now he has a truck to drive. Hopefully the optional school program will last long enough for him to graduate.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, October 2, 2011

His Roommate is a Wanker!

Posted By on Sun, Oct 2, 2011 at 7:39 PM

Dear Jack,

I recently moved to Memphis for my job. A friend of a friend recommended someone they knew who needed a roommate, so I met the guy. He seemed ok and the deal was pretty good so I moved in. I've been here for about three weeks now. About a week after I moved in, I came home from work one Friday and found him sitting in the den wanking. Unlike a normal person in a normal situation, he didn't try to hide it. He just said, "Hey," and kept on going. I retreated to my bedroom and stayed there all night.

The next morning he acted like everything was perfectly normal, but I couldn't get the image of him out of my head. I'm as normal as the next guy, so I'm not going to pretend I've never done it. But not in front of other people!

Three days later I walked by the hall bathroom and there he was, going at it. I kept on walking, right out the door. A couple of days after that, he was doing it again. Finally I said something to him and he apologizes. He said he wasn't really wanking, he was just sort of holding it. He said that he comes from a very open family and it wasn’t unusual. He said he didn't know it bothered me and promises to do it in private from now on. This past week, I asked out a woman from work. We had a nice date and went back to my apartment. We were in the den watching a movie and started making out, when all of a sudden I saw her looking at something behind me. I turned around and there was my roommate, wanking. He just kind of casually said, "Sorry, didn't know you were home," turned around and went back to his room.

My date was over. Worse, she accused me of setting the whole thing up with my roommate. Since the only people I know in town are the people I work with, I'm afraid to start asking around to see if anyone needs a roommate, especially if she has spread the story of my wanker around the office. I'm still the new guy and people don't really trust me. I can't afford to move out on my own, not until after I get a few paychecks and can save up a deposit.

So what am I supposed to do? Stick it out? I don't want to hide in my room for three months.

Stuck with a Wanker

Dear Sticky,

Dude. Seriously? Don't worry about what people might have heard around the office. Start asking today. Also look in the want-ads and Craigslist. Pawn your car title for deposit money if you have to. Find somebody with a room and GTFO. Your roommate has issues you really don't want to hang around and explore. It's just a shame you can't do like on Star Trek and leave a space beacon to warn other travelers away from his planet. Beyond this point monsters abide.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Her Kid's a Gaming Addict

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2011 at 7:49 AM

Dear Jack,

The other day I went to get my son up for school and found him playing on the computer. He hadn’t been to bed all night.

My son is an internet gaming addict. He’s a good kid, when he’s not immersed in his online roleplaying game. What friends he has left are also game addicts. If they’re not online at the same time, they’re over here, or he’s at their houses, watching each other play. If they’re not playing on the computer, they’re playing internet-linked video game console games. His grades are terrible.

I’ve talked to him and talked to him and it does no good. How can I get him to stop?

Fed Up

Dear Fed,

I have broken three addictions in my life. I have an addictive personality and I have made breaking my addictions something of a hobby. I pick a new one and quit every seven or eight years. The next one I plan to quit is my habit of getting married and divorced every five years or so.

I have known many people who have been addicts of one thing or another, and I know people who are still addicts. Each has his or her story of how they defeated their addictions. There’s no right way to stop. It all depends on the addict. The only way I am able to quit something is cold turkey. Many people can’t do it. My last wife quit smoking by using the patch and it worked for her. I just smoked while wearing the patch and doubled my nicotine intake.

Not knowing your son, I can’t tell you what will work. I can tell you what is true of all addictions – you can’t make him stop. He has to stop on his own, but you can help him by not setting him up for failure. The first thing you can do is take his computer out of his room. Move it to a common public area of the house so you can monitor his internet usage and nag the hell out of him when he’s playing too long. You can remove the internet access to his game console, either by taking the cable or blocking its wireless access.

That’s the easy part. He’s going to resent what you’ve done and hate you forever. He’ll go to his friends houses to play and feed his addiction. He’ll find ways to get around your blocks and checks — kids are like squirrels that way. You will have done nothing to stop him because you haven’t addresses his addiction at all. All you’ve done is punish him.

In order to adjust his behavior, you have to first create a shock moment of extreme emotion. That’s the taking-his-stuff part. Now, you must build ways to reward positive behavior rather than punishing bad behavior. When my kids were young, we used playing cards as a form of money. Each card was worth thirty minutes or an hour. If they did well, they got cards, which they could spend to buy television or game or movie time. They got cards, not just for good grades or cleaning their room, but also for things like going outside to play, reading a book, going to soccer and baseball practice and games. Anything that increased the time of their human social interactions or positive mental development. First we took away everything, and then we gave them the opportunity to earn the activities they craved. Before long, we no longer had to use the cards and video games weren’t their entire lives.

Your son is probably too old to use cards, but you can do the same thing on an honor system. Let him earn your trust and be rewarded for it. Let him lead a somewhat normal life and be rewarded for it. You’re not taking away his games forever, you’re giving him the opportunity to earn his game time. He’ll have to relearn how to live without it, because his access to it is strictly controlled. But at least he’s not quitting cold turkey. However, this will require a huge amount of discipline on your part. You are the one who has to quit cold turkey. You’re giving up the lazy parenting that allowed the situation to reach this point in the first place.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Monday, September 19, 2011

She's an Agony Aunt

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 8:58 AM

Dear Jack,

My girlfriend is what is affectionately termed an "Agony Aunt." I call her a loser magnet, and yes, I am aware of the irony.

Take a room full of people and put her in it. If one of those people has a mental disorder, he or she will find and latch onto her, track down her phone number and where she lives and move into the room above the garage, all before she has even left the room. They usually promise to clean the house in exchange for rent.

The phone at our house rings constantly. We screen all our calls. The current loser rings up five or six times a day just to chat. Chatting consists of hours spent describing in excruciating detail the latest melodrama of her worthless relationships. Relationships this human derelict would rather die than end, as apparently she needs someone to abuse her in order to feel alive.

For the most part, these emotional vampires are sane enough to avoid permanent institutionalization. Mores the pity. I say "for the most part" because there was one who used to call from her hospital bed. So far, we've gotten lucky in that she hasn't attracted the attention of someone truly dangerous. So far, they've been relatively harmless idiots. But that can't last forever.

I have offered, many times, to resolve these situations for her, but my girlfriend has a heart that just won't stop bleeding. She cringes at the sound of a ringing phone or knocking door, but she can't bring herself to tell these people to go away. The few times I've intervened, it only made her mad. My methods work, but they are not to her liking.

How do you get rid of a bloodsucking leech without hurting its widdle feelings? My girlfriend would like to know. She doesn't want to be an agony aunt anymore, and I don't want to wake up one morning to find our cat nailed to the door as a warning.

Riding Shotgun

Dear Rider,

Yes, I can see your girlfriend has quite the problem on her hands.

The first step to getting rid of unwanted visitors and callers is to give up the habit of telling pleasant lies in order to spare their feelings. Most of them have already heard every lie in the book and will ask right away, "Well, when will you be done? When can you talk again? Can I call back in ten minutes?" And then you're stuck. It's often easier to sit quiet than make up convincing lies. That's what makes her an agony aunt. She's an easy mark.

If she wants to stop being an agony aunt, she will have to understand that what would hurt her feelings probably won't hurt theirs. They're used to rejection. Maybe she's already noticed that after they've told her all their stories, they stop calling quite so often. She may not hear from somebody for weeks, until the next crisis happens. She feels relief, rather than rejection, but the truth is they've already found someone new. They're only using her, so she shouldn't feel bad about saying no. They are used car salesmen of their emotions. They hear no all day, every day.

There is a fine art to saying no. Not everyone can do it. To do it well requires a certain level of grace, charm, and ruthless self-discipline. You have to define the limits of your life and never let anyone cross them. Don't be an ass about it. You can tell someone no and even say it with a smile. When the phone rings, you say, "No thank you, I can't talk right now, I'm spending time with my boyfriend." And then say goodbye, and hang up. Do that a few times and it gets easier every time. Do that every day and the phone will stop ringing. Eventually.

But before you go transmuting her heart of gold into a heart of iron, be warned. You may not like the person you create. She might start saying no to you, too. One day, she might even kick you out of the room above the garage.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The End is Near!

Posted By on Sun, Sep 11, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Dear Jack,

These days I find myself thinking more and more about the end times. I'm not a religious person, though I did grow up going to church and reading Revelations. I don't really buy into the idea that there's going to be this massive battle between good and evil, Jesus and Satan, or whatever.

At the same time, I don't see how the world can keep going the way it's going. Things seem to be falling apart, don't you think? I just having a feeling that it's all coming to an end. I don't know how it's going to happen. Maybe an economic meltdown, maybe global warming or a new ice age, maybe the supervolcano in Yellowstone Park, or a comet, or something.

I don't know how it's going to happen, I just know it's going to happen in my lifetime. My kids are going to grow up in a world I can't even imagine, provided they get a chance to grow up at all. Sometimes I wonder what I need to do to survive, other times I wonder why anyone would want to survive.

I know I shouldn't dwell on this, but I can't help it. My wife doesn't understand my anxieties, or my desire to stockpile and prepare for the future. She says we have enough to worry about today without finding things to worry about that aren't ever going to happen. She says I need to talk to someone, but I don't know who. I don't want to see a preacher, because he will only try to stick my nose in a Bible, and a psychiatrist is just going to put me on some pill.

Anxious About the End Times

Dear End Timer,

Your wife thinks you need to talk to somebody and you thought of me? Maybe the first thing we need to address is your decision-making processes.

My advice to you is to turn off the Discovery Channel. They ought to call it the Apocalypse Channel. The fact that so many television shows are dedicated to speculations about the end of the world should tell you that you are not alone, nor are you very unusual. You just haven't found a way to make a profit off your imagination the way they have.

The human species seems fascinated by disaster porn. I think it's hardwired into our species. Scary stories are our way of mentally preparing ourselves to face the worst, and there's nothing worse than the Apocalypse, is there? Historically, there have been dozens of disasters that wiped out entire civilizations. From an evolutionary standpoint, those who were mentally prepared to survive were the ones who survived. So it could happen. But just because it has happened, just because it could happen, doesn't mean it will happen.

Every generation thinks it's going to be the last. As we begin to face our own mortality, we just can't imagine the world going on without us. So we construct elaborate fantasies about the world's destruction. Why this should give us comfort, I don't know, but religions are founded upon these fantasies. The Book of Revelations, for example, was probably written with the expectation that the end was nigh. The early Christians certainly believed Jesus was coming any moment. All the signs pointed to it. As long as people have been people, they've been convinced the world was about to end. It hasn't ended yet.

In the end (ahem), you have to recognize the contradiction of the human condition and accept it. Your fear convinces you that something bad is about to happen. It's difficult to accept that nothing is going to happen, because that would be to admit that your fears are irrational. Therefore, because you are afraid, you must have a good reason to be afraid, otherwise you would be crazy. But you're not crazy. You're normal. Crazy would be to go out and convince other people that your fears are real.

Accept it, live with it, dwell on it if you like, even stockpile if it makes you feel better - you can always use those supplies when the Big One hits. But don't forget to live for today, too. Love your wife, hug your kids, eat a peach.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Her Kid's Got an Attitude

Posted By on Sun, Aug 28, 2011 at 5:31 PM

Dear Jack,

My oldest just started fourth grade. He’s always been such a good student and seemed to enjoy learning, but something has gone terribly wrong. All of a sudden, he’s always talking about how bored he is and how much everything sucks. He plays, he has fun with his friends, but if you ask him what he did today, he snarls “Nothing!” and stalks away.

He used to be proud of his good grades. His grades so far have been mediocre at best. When I ask him what’s wrong, he says he doesn’t know what’s the point of taking all these tests, they’re stupid, and he doesn’t care if he fails. He wants to know why I make him go to school at all. He wants me to homeschool him, but I can’t.

I’ve talked to his teacher and she says she’s not seeing anything out of the ordinary. But I’m his mother and I know something’s wrong.

Worried Sick Mom

Dear Mom,

Fourth grade was the worst. We started out with a great teacher, but she was very pregnant and left in the first month. The nun who replaced her walked in the door with her hair pulled back in a celise, an crucifix made of staples and nails clutched in her claw. She wore a metal ruler in a scabbard on her right hip, which she drew like a Roman centurion. Sister Anne pretty much ruined me as a student. I still made decent grades in order to avoid the weekly edification, but I definitely flew on autopilot until the day I climbed the razor wire and fled that coop.

Anything could be going on here. He could the victim of bullying. His tough-guy shtick might be a cover for his fear. Question him about it. Let him know it’s okay, it’s not his fault. If he won’t talk to you, get him to talk to someone. Ask his teacher. If you suspect it’s happening, tell him you want to help make it stop in a way that won’t look like his mom is protecting him. To a fourth-grade boy, running to Mommy is almost worse than the bullying.

He might have fallen in with a bunch of fourth-grade hipsters. Let him invite his friends over, so you can see who he’s hanging out with. If they are too cool for school, point out how negative they are, and how their negativity is only going to make his life more miserable than it already is. Watch out for gangs. Yeah, even in fourth grade.

He might honestly be bored stiff. Every parent thinks their kid is brilliant, but let’s be honest, being bored in school is not necessarily a symptom of hidden genius. Either way, you need to find ways to fill up his day. Get him involved in things – sports, arts, music, dance, or my personal favorite, the martial arts.

Getting him involved will help with the other possible issues, as well. Activities create well-rounded, confident and assured children who are less likely to be bullied. Activities surround kids without other positive, goal-oriented kids, among whom he will hopefully make friends. Sure, filling up his day with soccer, taekwondo, and filmmaking classes also fills up your day, but that’s too bad. You only get one shot at this, because he won’t be nine forever.

However, I suspect is your issue here is that he’s a typical fourth-grader. When you’re in fourth grade, everything does suck. You’re nine years old, going on 14, you already know everything you’re ever going to need to know, and you’re smarter than just about everybody you meet. Patience and understanding are in order, but no coddling. Precocious fourth graders turn into unmanageable teenagers faster than you can say eyebrow piercing. Again, the best solution is getting him involved in something.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, August 21, 2011

His Father-in-Law's Got Control

Posted By on Sun, Aug 21, 2011 at 11:20 AM

Dear Jack,

My wife and I married when we were right out of high school, but not because we had to. Her family was not exactly happy about it, but we were old enough to make our own decisions. Her family is pretty wealthy; my dad never had any money.

We made it on our own for about a year but it was tough. My wife decided she needed to go to college. She couldn’t qualify for any scholarships, and we made barely above poverty line, so we couldn’t qualify for a Pell grant. The advisor told her that to qualify, she’d either need to have children or get a divorce. We started looking into a student loan, when her dad said he’d loan her all the money she would need to go to school, wherever she wanted to go.

It sounded like the perfect deal, so she picked her school, applied and was accepted. Every semester, her dad would deposit money into an account that she used to pay her tuition and books. She got her degree and a job.

When her dad gave her the loan, he made her sign a loan agreement. She thought it was just another one of his stupid gimmicks to make her be responsible, like when he made her sign a contract when she was 10, detailing her chores and what she had to do to get her weekly allowance. To make a long story short, her dad’s charging us interest on the loan. It’s been 10 years now and we still haven’t paid half of it off. It’s killing us. We’re stuck in a financial hole and can’t save any money. We’ve both spent months at a time out of work. Sometimes we’ve had to go to him for money just to pay our regular bills. We would like to buy a house and start a family, but not with the way things are now.

If we had got a regular student loan, it would have already been paid off. It’s not like he needs the money, but my wife won’t confront him. She’s afraid he’ll disown her. As nice as it would be to inherit that money someday, sometimes I think it’s not worth it. Do you think I should step in and tell him what he’s doing to us?

Deep in Debt

Dear Debtor,

Dad already knows exactly what he’s done. That’s why he gave her the loan in the first place. It’s called control. He couldn’t stop her from running off and getting married, so he found another way to control his daughter. He couldn’t care less about the money. All he cares about is knowing that she dare not piss him off. You could refuse to pay him back and let him try to sue you, but I doubt your wife would ever agree to that.

So he’s a bastard. But he couldn’t control her (and you) if you didn’t let him. You say that if you had had a regular student loan, it would have already been paid off. So why haven’t you paid off this loan? Is the interest rate that high? Or have you only been paying what you could comfortably afford, when you paid at all?

I bet dear old Dad never complains, he just sends you an occasional reminder of how much you owe, and that number never seems to get any smaller, does it? The longer he can drag out this loan, the longer he gets to control his daughter. He’s just like a credit card company. Easy money whenever you need it, and a lifetime paying it back. The more in debt you are, the more you need that card, and him.

If you want out from under his thumb, confronting him isn’t going to help. You have to stop taking his money. You have to pay the maximum, every month, until it’s paid off. That means you have to get rid of whatever other credit cards you have, too. No more credit, anywhere, from anyone, until your debts are repaid. It’s scary as hell, I know. I’ve been bankrupt half a dozen times, thanks to my wives and their lawyers. It means years of ramen noodles for dinner and broadcast television for entertainment. But when you’re free of his debt, then you’ll be free to decide whether or not you still want the bastard in your life.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, August 14, 2011

He Wants a Wife

Posted By on Sun, Aug 14, 2011 at 9:23 PM

Dear Jack,

I recently celebrated my 40th birthday with a large group of friends. It was a surprise party. We had a really good time, but at the end of the evening I went home alone, as I usually do. Most of my friends are in relationships. Many are married or have been married, some have kids. A lot of these people I’ve known since high school. It’s been a long time since they stopped trying to set me up with dates.

That’s not to say I’m always alone. I’ve had a few relationships, though I have friends who have had more spouses than I’ve had girlfriends. The longest lasted three years before we broke up. We met on the internet. It’s usually years before I find someone who interests me.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’ve been told I’m fairly good looking, though I am shy. I take care of myself. I make good money. For a long time it really bothered me that I couldn’t connect with anyone. I was desperate to find that special person in my life. I had a list of what I was looking for in a mate and I targeted my searches to places where I was most likely to meet someone who was interested in the same things.

Then I sort of grew contented. You might even say I gave up and focused on myself. I learned to be happy living alone, to not depend on others for my happiness. I didn’t feel like I had to be part of a crowd anymore. A few close friends was all I needed — and my cats. My cats have helped me through some tough times.

But now that I’m 40, something has changed. I’m no longer content. I wonder what I’ve missed out on. I see my friends and their families and I want to be a part of that, to share in that, but I don’t know how. I still have my list and I’ve started searching again. I feel desperate to meet someone who shares my interests, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone out there who does. The odds are, she’s out there somewhere, but she’s already in a relationship with someone else. The odds are, we’ll never find each other, and even if we did, I’d never be able to pry her away.

I don’t know what to do. How did you meet your wife?

Desperately Seeking Someone

Dear Desperado,

It’s lonely out there riding those fences, ain’t it, partner?

How did I meet my wife? Which one? The question is, how am I going to meet the next one?

The same way I met the first four (or is it five?) — it just happens. The best ones just happen. You never find what you’re looking for, but what you’re looking for sometimes finds you. It’s a Zen thing. The more desperately you reach for it, the quicker it slips from your grasp.

You need to let go. Throw away that list and just live your life. Be open to any possibility. Don’t look for someone with the same interests. Where’s the fun in that? If you go around trying to find someone just like you, you might as well date your hand.

Surfer Dude says, the sea of life is bigger and stronger than you, and all you can hope to do is pick your wave and ride it. But just like a wave, you’ve only got a moment to decide if it’s the gnarliest. You have to seize the moment — carpe diem, baby. You have to be willing to take a chance, the make the best of the wave while it lasts. There have probably been a dozen women in your life over the years that you let slip by while you weighed the pros and cons and looked around to see if there was a better one on the horizon.

You’ve been trying to control every aspect of finding the perfect mate, but I’ve got news for you: There are no perfect mates, and you can’t control anything except yourself. So allow yourself the freedom to make an emotional train wreck of your life. You sound like the kind of guy who has never taken a chance in his life. And that is why you’re still alone.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon can set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jack Doubles Down

Posted By on Sun, Aug 7, 2011 at 5:42 PM

Dear Jack,

A couple of years ago, I hurt my back. It wasn’t a bad injury. It wasn’t really an injury at all. I just did something to it and it has bothered me ever since. I’ve been to my doctor but she can’t find anything wrong. The pain isn’t horrible, but it’s there, all the time.

So I finally started seeing an acupuncturist a few months ago and have finally found some relief. My boyfriend, who is a very rational engineer-type (though he isn’t an engineer), says that only proves there is nothing wrong with my back. He says I am wasting my money. He wants me to see his back specialist instead, but I already know what his doctor is going to say. I like my acupuncturist and the relief he provides, but my boyfriend won’t leave me alone about it.

Pins and Needles

Dear Pin Cushion,

You say your boyfriend has a back specialist? That must mean he has back problems, too, but of course his pain is real while yours is all in your mind, right? You should do whatever makes you feel better, and tell your boyfriend to get off your back.

Dear Jack,

I’ve been married almost 10 years now. Over the past eight or so years, my husband has been slowly but steadily gaining weight. Lately, his weight has begun to affect his health.

On the advice of his doctor, I’ve been encouraging him to start some kind of exercise program. He has looked into a number of different things, even started a few only to quit after a couple of weeks. When I try to talk to him about it, he says he is still doing research. Meanwhile, he continues to gain weight.

I’m afraid of what will happen to him if he continues to do nothing. What can I do to motivate him? He doesn’t seem all that concerned.

Wondering What to Do

Dear Wondering,

Doing more research is his excuse not to start doing something. The longer that goes on, the harder it will be to get started if he ever makes a decision. My guess is he’s shy and self-conscious about his body. It’s been a while since I went to a fitness club, but most of those classes are filled with women. Maybe he feels those exercises are too girly. It could be he’s looking for something where there are more men involved. But of course, when he does find that manly fitness class, it will be filled with buff dudes strutting around flexing their muscles and making the fat boys feel like junior high turds.

I suggest finding something you can do as a couple. Maybe at first that’s just walking around the block a couple of times every night. The most important thing is to stick to it, no matter what he decides to do. Home fitness takes tremendous willpower. It’s too easy to skip a day. One day becomes two, two becomes a week, and before you know it you’re starting all over again. At that point most people give up and sell the rowing machine in the garage sale. That’s why I recommend taking a class.

He might give the martial arts try. They are a wonderfully manly activity, and when you first start out, you are usually in class with other people who are also just starting out. All the fat boys will be together. You can help motivate him to stick to it by taking the class together. It wouldn’t hurt you to learn to kick some ass, too.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why Not Get Married?

Posted By on Sun, Jul 31, 2011 at 12:01 PM

Dear Jack,

My long time, long-time unemployed boyfriend has finally found a job – in Minneapolis. It’s a great job that actually pays him more than he used to make at his old job. He moved up there a couple of weeks ago and has found an apartment. I’ve notified our landlord that I’ll be moving out and have started packing.

I’m what you might call a country girl. I grew up in a little town up around Dyersburg, moved to Memphis after I graduated to go to college here, and have lived here ever since. Some of my family lives in Memphis, but most of them, including my parents, still live back home, where I grew up. We’re very close.

I’m also very close to my boyfriend. We’ve been living together since college. I hate to even call him my boyfriend because that sounds so junior high, but if I call him my partner people think the wrong thing. This job is a once in a lifetime opportunity for him. In my line of work, I can find a job almost anywhere, so this move is no real hardship for me, other than the pain of moving. To be honest, it is a little intimidating, but we’ll be making enough so that we can fly home two or three times a year.

Here’s my problem. My family is utterly opposed to it. My mom, especially, is about ready to lock me up. She thinks I’m making a huge mistake. She says this is where my home is, this is where my family is, and I’d be a fool to leave my family and run off to Minneapolis. It’s not my boyfriend. We’ve been together so long, he’s practically one of the family. I think my mom is just afraid of letting go, but she’s being completely unreasonable. How can I get her to understand? I’m leaving. I’ve already quit my job.

Bon Voyage

Dear Bonnie,

I may be completely off here, but all things being equal, I’d say the problem is your boyfriend. Allow me to say what I think your mother would say if she weren’t too polite to say it.

“It’s not that he’s your boyfriend, it’s that he’s not your husband. You’re moving halfway across the country to be with somebody who can’t even put a ring on your finger. He may be practically one of the family, but until he’s family in the eyes of the law and the Lord, he’s not family, especially if he’s going to take you away from us. He’s been on probation this whole time, with the hope that he’ll make an honest woman of you one day. Now that you’re following him off into the blue, he’s on the shit list. If he had any consideration for you at all, he’d at least have the decency to set a wedding date.”

Do I agree with this sentiment? Not entirely, though I might if you were my daughter.

Is there any way you can change her? Not a chance, not with words, anyway. All you can do is live your life the way you think is best and not screw it up. Don’t put yourself in a situation in which they have to pay for your sorry ass to come home and move into the spare bedroom. Success and the passage of time will lead to true acceptance.

However, I do have one more thing to say, and not in your mother’s voice. If you might as well be married, you might as well get married.

Got a problem? Let Jack Waggon set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

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