The beauty of a new year is that it’s a fresh start for everyone. Regardless of how good or bad your previous year went, everyone gets a clean slate. If you’re so inclined, as am I, you can start anew and learn from your mistakes made in the year gone by. I awoke on January 3rd completely reinvigorated and with a newfound zest for life. I had just gotten the best night’s sleep I’ve had in years, and even some of the tension knots in my back had disappeared. I finished 2012 and spilled into 2013 riding an 8-consecutive shift, 85 hour work stretch that consisted of 7 closing shifts and culminated in an early morning, all day inventory and cleaning binge. Upon completion of which, I’m now on what I like to call, “sabbatical.”

It’s not a sabbatical in a sense that I’ll be doing any serious writing, or doing anything at all to better myself or society. It simply means that the restaurant is closed for the next month. Hence, I’m now free to partake in my favorite pastime, which is spending time with my kids, and of course, my wife. If all goes as I hope, I won’t be putting on anything with a lace, zipper, button, buckle, or even pockets for the next four weeks. My goal is to have to buy new work pants at least two sizes bigger when I return to the grind.

Were it not for my desire to take my children out to do fun things, I would shift into full-blown Howard Hughes mode. Given my incessant questioning of the future of humanity, I could easily become agoraphobic. I would happily barricade myself in my humble abode and become a hair farmer. But with this many dependants, I should probably aim a little higher. I’m still Daddy first, sloth second. I do plan to do quite a bit of writing in my time off, but fortunately, I don’t have to dress up or even shower for that.

Nearly one week into the new year I understand that many people have already failed miserably in sticking to their New Year’s resolutions. I’m happy to report that I’ve remained steadfast in my convictions and thus far have stuck to all of mine. I haven’t waivered in the slightest, and I feel great about it. The list of things I’ve sacrificed is rather lengthy, so I’m even more proud of the fact that I haven’t deviated from it at all. I gave up eating camel hump boloney, drinking white zinfandel, driving Yugoslavian made vehicles, subtlety, naked sky diving, Komodo dragon wrestling, insincerity, and my DVD boxed set of season two of The Facts Of Life. Oh how I do miss that Mrs. Garrett.

I tend to get a little emotional and nostalgic around the holidays, so my last few columns were a bit more touchy/feely than you’ve come to expect from me. But I wanted to let you know, (which you’ve probably surmised from my opener) that I haven’t gone completely soft on you. So now, I’ll get right back to the old me.

Several of my regular bar customers have not only become friends of mine, but are also loyal readers of the column. (I thank each of you for that by the way). They know me by both of my identities. That being said, I sometimes find myself being called out on my literary techniques by these nice folks. Many of the questions that have been asked have invoked a lot of introspection on my part as I search for their answers. Often times, I realize that my honest responses and rationalizations are actually pretty pathetic. I’ll give you some examples.

One person recently questioned my use of vocabulary in my writing. I was accused of having one of those 365 day, vocabulary word du jour calendars. This person said they’d known me for years, and never heard me use most of the verbiage I employ in my writing. The fact of the matter is, I do, in fact, possess this vocabulary, and I don’t write with a thesaurus and dictionary by my side. My answer to this line of questioning was multi-fold, and some of the reasoning was pretty pathetic.

  • The first part of my answer was that for nearly three decades I’ve been doing a job that requires me to “dumb myself down.” Nearly all of my conversations while on the clock take place over a bar and are with people who have been drinking quite a bit. If it makes the people who are directly or indirectly responsible for providing me with the funds to feed my family feel better to think that I’m an idiot who is beneath them, hell, I’ll play along. It’s a common misnomer that people in my line of work are morons who tend bar because we possess no other employable skills. Just don’t ever attempt it when I’m off the clock. I try to keep the blade of the sword sharp.
  • Part two of the answer to this question began to manifest itself when I was just a child. My saintly mother refused to acknowledge me when I used improper grammar or English. She would call me out on it repeatedly, so I learned early on that to get what I wanted, “I gotta talk good English.” Wink! As a direct result of this upbringing, I developed at an early age both a penchant for proper English, and a disdain for those who butcher it. I still possess these not-so-humble character traits.
  • Part three of the answer to this question is that when I would read as a child, I would keep a dictionary by my side. If I came across a word in a book that I wasn’t familiar with, I would look it up, and commit it to memory. This was so I could use it later in context and make myself seem more intelligent than I actually was. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would prove to be prophetic. Now, I find myself in my forties with my own weekly column, limited skills, intellect and education wielding this little gem like a weapon. Ha! Fooled ya.
  • Part four of the answer to the questioning of my vocabulary is where it starts to get pathetic. I wish I could say I was making this part up, but I most assuredly am not. Years ago I didn’t realize how sad it was, but I see it now. In any event, the end result worked out for me. It was my senior year in high school and my GPA was only slightly lower than a breathalyzer score I would obtain just a few years later. (Not proud of that by the way.) I was entering my final semester, and while my schedule was replete with required classes, some of which I was repeating, I still had to pick an “elective” to complete my schedule.

I carefully reviewed my options hoping to find the absolute easiest one. Then it hit me like someone striking an over ripe melon with the fat end of a pool cue. One of the options was a college vocabulary class. Now don’t think for a second that I went with this option because I wanted to expand my verbal prowess. I wasn’t that deep at the time. The truth is, the teacher of this class was drop dead gorgeous and recently divorced. Yeah, I know. I warned you in advance that this was the pathetic part. I had recently turned 18.

I was the quarterback and co-captain of the football team. I had a cool car. I was a waiter at a 4-star French restaurant, the best in the area, making great money for a teenager. And I was just stupid enough, and just arrogant enough to think I had a chance with her. Years later it would occur to me that in the time I was in that school, her last name changed three times (no exaggeration), and that each time she would come away with nicer jewelry and a better car. She had the only $70,000 vehicle in the lot of the public school. Keep in mind, this WAS 1988. Retrospectively speaking, I don’t think I was her target demographic. Still I was undaunted. I was determined to come away from that school, “the man”. Needless to say, my adolescent lust never came to fruition. But I busted my ass in that class futilely trying to impress her. To this day, I can say with conviction that it’s the only class I ever took at any level of education that I diligently studied for and actually retained the subject matter. The end result is that I can now use in context many words that I still would not known otherwise. Admittedly, I have been known to mix up the words oscillate, and vacillate. I may on occasion get confused regarding the difference between a euphemism and a metaphor. But that’s more because I flunked English and had to ace my final to graduate. Not because those words came up in Miss Hottie’s class. If she happens to be an unlikely reader of the Swill, I’m sure I’m the absolute last person she’d expect to grow up to be a writer of sorts.

Another question arose from a regular customer/reader of mine in regards to the validity of my stories themselves. I believe this was prompted by of one of my stories from my first summer. He said, “I gotta ask, how close to the truth are these stories you write?” I quickly decided that the only way to properly answer him was to create a comparative scale from 1 to 10. I told him that if the absolute truth was a one, a complete fabrication was a ten, and Oliver Stone was an eight, then my writing was a three. Please forgive me fans of JFK, The Doors, and Platoon, but I needed a viable perspective. Incidentally, I own copies of all three on VHS. I know I’m a hypocrite, but they are at least entertaining. I then explained to my friend that, much as I wish some of them were fabricated, that all of these stories did in fact happen. I may embellish slightly for entertainment purposes, or take a little creative license, but these are all in fact stories from my past. I’ve said it a hundred times before, and I’ll say it again…I’m not a writer, I’m a story teller. I hope you’ve been enjoying them so far. There are plenty more to come. Thanks for playing along.

Until next week,

Syd Nichols

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