Monday, December 31, 2012

"Press Start"

I've come to a decision. 

2012 is going to end in about 10 hours for those of us in the United States, and with it a new year will begin. A new year full of new possibilities, new experiences and unknown conflicts, joys and growth.

Screw that.

2012 was a difficult year, for a lot of people I know. So I decided that, instead of going on to 2013, I'm going to do 2012 all over again. Just like when you play through a video game a second time after finishing it once. It's the same experience, only this time you know all the right moves to make to get the best score. 

In Level 1, I'll know going into work that I'm going to get laid off in the first week of the year, and I'll go further out of my way to gather work for my portfolio. I won't have to waste several weeks struggling to get access to my work so I can start applying for jobs.

In Level 2, I'll be more aware of the state of my relationships. I'll reach out to those who need me but don't know how to say so, and I'll be more aware of my own shortfalls. 

In Level 3, I won't worry myself sick about not having a job or about having to move. I'll know that I'm going to find the job I need, and I'll have more than nine hours to find an apartment.

In Level 4, I'll already know which church to go to, where I'll meet some great people and get involved in a great community. Making friends will be easier and quicker and I'll get to know people a lot faster.

In Level 5 I'll be able to help out my friends more; I'll already know what's causing them pain and what might help them through the situation, and I can get right to helping them without wondering what they need. 

In Level 6, the boss level, I'll already know which house I want to buy, so we don't have to waste so much time looking at all the other places. I'll already know what it's worth and what needs to be done to it, so negotiating will be faster and much less of a headache.

That sounds like a great plan! I can't wait to get this year started over again. 

But then again... what if I'd played through 2011 again, instead of going through 2012 for the first time? I still probably would've been laid off at the beginning of 2012, which would've made everything I prepared for in my second-play of 2011 worthless. I'd end up in the exact same situation as if I'd just gone straight into the new year. 

So maybe, in the end, playing through the same year a second time wouldn't make a big difference in the long run. Ah, what the hell. I didn't play through Mass Effect a second time before starting Mass Effect 2. Might as well jump into 2013, too. 

So, go ahead. A new year, a fresh start, is right around the corner. 
Just press start. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Share that Kentucky gold!"

Hey, look! I posted twice in one calendar week! Shocking, I know. Anyway, I've been in a cartooning mood lately, and I've been reaching out to my Twitter followers for inspiration. My only real guideline is that the suggestion be Christmas-themed and entertaining. 

Here's a brand new one! 

Have a suggestion for me? Hit me on Facebook, Twitter or leave a comment!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Christmas Twitter requests part 1"

So my wife has been out of town since Sunday afternoon. I finished all my chores in the first two days, and in the evenings since I've been alternatively playing Borderlands 2 and watching TV shows on Netflix. Needless to say, I need something to shatter the monotony until she gets back.

So today I asked my Twitter followers (wait, you don't follow me on Twitter? Well why the heck not?) for some Christmas-themed inspiration. I only asked for it to be Christmas themed and interesting.

My followers did not disappoint. Here's the submission I chose to draw:

For my next post, consider this question: "Santa would've completed his rounds on time if it wasn't for __________". Answer in the comments, on my Facebook or Twitter and I'll draw the one that I find most entertaining. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 3, 2012


Well, first a few updates.
Rebecca and I found a house we like! We made an offer (well within our price range) and the seller accepted! Assuming the inspection comes through all right, we'll be homeowners! 

Beyond that I've been spending my time trying to get everything ready for Christmas- deadlines at work are creeping up, presents are still to be bought, lots to do. I typically have a difficult time getting in the "Christmas Spirit"; and don't get me wrong, I love Christmas. It's just that all of the planning and preparing and shopping gets to be too much to take in at once, and stress and anxiety tend to rob me of the pleasures of the season.

I took that idea and rolled with it, and somehow in the chaos of last weekend I managed to put together a Christmas story. Enjoy! 

Aaron Matthew Smith
December 2nd, 2012

“Remember, it’s the pink pony, not the purple one. Cindy likes the pink one.”
“I know which one she likes, Lydia,” I said a little too sharply.
“Just get it.”
“I will. Just make sure to tell Cindy it’s from me.”
Lydia hung up on me. I swallowed the nasty words that tried to crawl out of my mouth and crammed my phone back into my jeans. She knew damn well that I knew which pony Cindy liked best. Cindy was my daughter, after all.

The mall was an enochlophic’s nightmare. There were people pushing and shoving and squishing into every available space, herds of them moving in one direction or the other. I got caught up in the tide was and all the way to Christopher and Banks before I realized I’d bypassed the toy store altogether. I fought the current, scattering a pack of teenage girls like moths as I moved into the fold. I kept them at bay with my Sears shopping bag.

The toy store was so much worse. At least the adults had the courtesy to stand still when they got in your way; children were hurtling past my legs like housepets, no more aware of me than the shelves and displays. My Sears bag had no effect on them.

My phone buzzed, and I wedged myself into a corner of the store long enough to dig it out. Lydia’d sent me a text.

Going to your parents this year?

Yes, I typed, then added, Are you taking Cindy to your sister’s?

No, came the reply. Donna’s in Mexico. It’s just us two this year.

“Great,” I grumbled. Just my daughter and ex-wife together. Lydia’s probably use the alone time to try to convince Cindy that I was some kind of Grinch. Just because Lydia got Cindy at Christmas this year she thought herself mother of the year. My heart thumped angrily in my ears for a moment, but then I thought of Cindy. I wouldn’t get to see her until after the New Year. I’d be spending Christmas with my parents, and my brother and his new airheaded wife.

The very idea made me want to go drown myself in figgy pudding.

I found the pink isle easily enough. I did my best to avoid the stares of children and other parents as I started leafing through the display of pink plastic horse figurines until I found the one I was looking for.  I wished that they’d put the power tools on the other side of the pink isle to make dads feel less weird about being in it.

By the faces of the parents in the checkout line you might’ve thought that it was the waiting line for purgatory; even when you get to the end, you know there’s no real escape. I paid for the toy, tucked it into my trusty Sears bag and started the long wade through the child shallows to the exit.

My phone buzzed again. It was Lydia, again. Why wouldn’t she just leave me alone? She was obviously enjoying rubbing Christmas custody in my face.

Can I have your mom’s gingerbread recipe? It’s Cindy’s favorite.

Call her for it. I don’t know it, I replied.

As I put the phone away, I thought briefly about getting something for Lydia. Would she get anything for me? We hadn’t talked about the arrangement. We didn’t really talk at all, unless it was about Cindy, and then only who got to see her and when. I felt bad for Cindy. The divorce had been hard on Lydia and me, but it had been so much more difficult for our four year old. Seeing how hard it was on her made it that much worse for me, a vicious spiraling cycle of worsedness.

I’d buy a gift card, and if Lydia gave me a gift, then I’d give it to her. If not, I’d keep it. I’d make it a Sears gift card, just in case I did get to keep it.

I had too much time to stand in line at Sears. All I could think about was next weekend, the long five-day hell holiday (helliday?) with my parents. Unable to see my daughter, the only real thing that I wanted for Christmas (or out of my shattered marriage, for that matter). At least I had to go to work on the 26th. How sad was my life that I looked forward to working the day after Christmas?

By the time I’d checked out at Sears again (the people in the store looked at me strangely, since I was already carrying a Sears bag), it was dark outside and the crowd in the mall had somehow doubled. I expected to see people climbing on top of other people at any moment, literally swimming through a sea of humanity in order to reach the smoked nuts kiosk.

I’d had enough of Christmas by the time I reached Santa’s village at the entrance to the mall. I looked at the hordes of children lined up to sit on the fat man’s red felt lap, eager to tell him the doodads and selfish little items they want him to stuff down their stockings. They’d been fed the same old lie, that an obese unshaved man was waiting to rain down treats and joy upon them. That joy was really that easily. That happiness was delivered for free once a year by magical flying woodland creatures.

The whole idea of Christmas was giving me an ulcer.

The parking lot while clogged with traffic was blissfully empty of human life. I headed to my car as the cold wind picked up.

Something was moving in the parking lot a few cars down from mine. A transient was sitting with his back against the wall of the shopping center, asleep maybe. Hopefully. I approached my car and quietly unlocked the trunk, wary of disturbing him.

I heard footsteps on the concrete in the quiet evening and looked up to see a young man in a down coat jogging down the aisle. I headed for the driver’s door, but he stopped before he reached me. The young man had stopped at the homeless man and was kneeling down to him.

Oh, don’t bother the poor guy, I thought. He has it rough enough as it is, just let him be. I stood on my tiptoes to see over the cars at them. I’d call the cops if the kid did something to him, but I wasn’t about to get personally involved.

But the young man wasn’t accosting the homeless guy at all. It looked like he was talking to him. Which was fine, I guessed. After a few moments, the young man stood and began to jog away, back the way he’d come. But I didn’t hear his footsteps this time. I looked at the young man’s feet- he was barefoot.

I took a few steps back into the aisle so I could clearly see the homeless man again. He was sitting up now, rubbing his hand together. And he was wearing a pair of new, expensive-looking sneakers with thick wool socks.

The young man had just given this transient his own shoes. The shoes off of his very feet. A pair of expensive-looking sneakers, probably with some famous skateboarder or basketball player’s name on them.

Something seemed to rattle free in my chest, like a car engine starting on a cold morning. My Christmas was going to be pretty bad this year. I wouldn’t see my daughter, and my parents would probably tell me how much they liked Lydia, and my new sister-in-law would want to watch Honey Boo-Boo on Christmas Eve. The highlight of the season would be going back to work at my certainly empty office building on December 26th, and counting the days until I next received custody of Cindy.

But at least I had a pair of shoes.

I closed my truck without depositing my Sears bag and headed down the aisle to the space where the man was seated. When he noticed me, he looked up. His wrinkled features were smiling beneath his greying beard.

“Merry Christmas,” he said.

“Merry Christmas,” I said. I passed the Sears gift card to him. His eyes widened to the size of silver dollars as he looked at it in my hand. He didn’t reach for it.

“Mister… you don’t have to do that,” he said. “That young man just gave me a pair of shoes. That’s all I need. Don’t worry about me.”

The rattle in my chest turned into a hum. “I know, but Christmas isn’t just about getting the things you need. It’s about the things you want, too. Use that to get something you want.”

His eyes flickered between the card and my eyes. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah,” I said.

He took it. Tears were rolling down his weathered cheeks. I turned my head as he did, trying to keep from embarrassing him, though he didn’t seem to really care about that very much.

“Merry Christmas,” I said. I turned and headed back to my car, where I put my bags into my trunk. I got inside, started the car and just sat there a moment with Christmas music playing over the car radio as a single thought ground through my brain and something finally clicked into place.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and read through the text message log with Lydia. She never could come right out and ask for anything. She always had to hint around at what she wanted. I re-read the messages.

She didn’t want to be without family on Christmas, even if she had custody of Cindy. She was used to spending it with me and my family- my parents loved her. Hell, sometimes I thought they liked her more than me. She didn’t want to be alone on Christmas. She was asking for an invitation.

It would drive me crazy, spending five days and four nights under the same roof with Lydia. But it meant I’d get to see my daughter unwrap her pink pony on Christmas morning. And it would mean more to Lydia than anything I could’ve ever found in Sears.

It was going to be a hard gift to give, but it’d be worth it. I dialed Lydia’s number.