Sticky Notes - Rub some dirt on it.



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Uncle Mike was my grandfather's younger brother.

He stood a little under six foot and was so rail-thin you'd need good lighting and a pair of needle-nosed plyers to locate the fat on him.

He was a laborer and he wore his years of laboring on his face and neck and hands and arms, covered in a hardened skin so tough, that it made steer hide look like Kleenex.

His most memorable feature was his ears, which stuck so far out from each side of his head, that they looked like Bonnie and Clyde, attempting to make a run for it. 

And, for as long as I knew him, I never saw him without a cigarette hanging from his mouth; a lifelong habit that would eventually kill him. 

Uncle Mike fought in Vietnam and not unlike many American soldiers, found solace from the war in the arms of the Vietnamese women that called the place home.

I can't say for sure whether it was love or an exchange of currency to feint love for an evening but, we found out years later, after Uncle Mike had bit the dust, that he wasn't taking an awful lot of precautions during this lovemaking and wound up with a child over there.

As far as the family knows, Uncle Mike was completely ignorant to this fact. 

When my father later met his long-lost cousin, he was fifty-something and he looked like a Vietnamese Uncle Mike, with the same frontward-facing ears that stuck out like a pair of flippers. 

Uncle Mike was a tough sonofabitch that'd earn beer money at rodeos by jumping in and out of 50-gallon metal drums.

He'd stand there in his Wranglers and cowboy boots smoking a cigarette and bet some rich guy munching on a cigar that he could jump into the bucket and back out of the bucket without taking a single step. 

The rich guy would say "bullshit" through the plume of his cigar smoke and Uncle Mike would turn around and do exactly as he said. He'd jump into the 50-gallon drum and then he'd jump right back out. 

Uncle Mike wasn't fond of the doctor. I've inherited this trait. So much so, that he would avoid him at all costs. One day, he fucked up his knee real good on the job and it swelled up to about two times its size. 

He had a syringe lying around that you'd stick in a horse's ass to inject it with something or another and he went ahead and plopped the damn thing in his own knee, sucking out all the blood and water and then did away with the mess in the grass. 

My grandfather was this same way. There were countless times growing up where I'd watch him nick himself real good and he'd start leaking like a stuck pig because the doctor had him on blood thinners.

(The doctor put him on these after he had a triple-stent surgery because he salted his food like he was superstitious and because he buttered everything, even his Oreos...)

When he got injured on the job, he would just find a roll of duct tape, seal himself shut and get back to work: Southern Indiana stitches

When my grandparents first moved from Japan over to Francisco, Indiana, they were so dirt poor they'd take just about any job that would come their way.

To make ends meet, they both took up a side gig trimming the grass around headstones at the local cemetery. Every other week, this work left them with some "spending money" as my grandmother always called it.

Come Friday, my grandfather would take her to the salon, where she would have her hair done up any way she liked and the pair would then go out dancing, forgetting about just how poor they were.

Then, they'd come back home, my grandfather would set my grandmother in front of their mirror and with his callused fingers he'd start removing her bobby pins, one by one by one, and they'd laugh and they'd talk; her in broken English, he in broken Japanese. 

Like Uncle Mike, they were tough. But, on these nights, I'm so very thankful they didn't have to be. I'm so thankful they could escape the hardness of the world in the arms of one another. 

Nowadays, we live in a culture that is incredibly "woke", where feelings and empathy and sympathy and sensitivity are always at the forefront of every conversation.

I'm proud to be a part of a generation where being "tough" doesn't mean suppressing and ignoring feelings of sadness, anxiety and pain. 

I'm proud to be a part of a time in human history where the definition of mental toughness has expanded.

That mental toughness can mean being tough enough to swallow your pride no matter how much it hurts, being tough enough to admit when you're wrong no matter how badly you want to be right and being tough enough to know when you need to ask for help when your mind wants to go on but your heart knows you can't.

These were things my Uncle Mike and my grandparents were never good at.

But, some days, I do worry that we're in dire need of some of the shit my Uncle Mike and and my grandparents seemed to be born with, you know? 

I know a guy that works at Facebook. He says the company Slack channel over there is filled with guys and gals making $300,000 a year bitching about someone not restocking the juice bar. 

I'm sorry, but for better or for worse, those kinds of people will never be heroes to me; I'll never be able to look up to those people. 

Maybe it's because I grew up raised by a grandmother that worshipped the ground John Wayne walked on.

Maybe it's because I grew up following a grandfather around that duct-taped himself shut when the job got rough and then got back to work. 

Maybe it's because I'm damn grateful that I can make a living writing in an air-conditioned room in 2022 because my grandparents were willing to trim the grass around headstones in 1962. 

Whatever it is, some days I don't want to talk about feelings; somedays I want to tell the Facebook employee getting paid a quarter-of-a-million dollars a year to stop bitching about the juice bar, grab a granola bar, rub some fucking dirt on it and get back to work. 

But, I digress. 

By Cole Schafer.

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