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Greenlights / (by Matthew McConaughey, 2020) -

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Greenlights /   (by Matthew McConaughey, 2020) -

Greenlights / (by Matthew McConaughey, 2020) -

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Greenlights / (by Matthew McConaughey, 2020) -
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2020
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Matthew McConaughey
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Matthew McConaughey
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upper-intermediate
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06:42:30
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Greenlights / :

.doc (Word) matthew_mcconaughey_-_greenlights.doc [90.75 Mb] (c: 70) .
.pdf matthew_mcconaughey_-_greenlights.pdf [74.01 Mb] (c: 125) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: Greenlights

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THIS IS NOT A TRADITIONAL memoir. Yes, I tell stories from the past, but I have no interest in nostalgia, sentimentality, or the retirement most memoirs require. This is not an advice book, either. Although I like preachers, Im not here to preach and tell you what to do. This is an approach book. I am here to share stories, insights, and philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life. Adventures that have been significant, enlightening, and funny, sometimes because they were meant to be but mostly because they didnt try to be. Im an optimist by nature, and humor has been one of my great teachers. It has helped me deal with pain, loss, and lack of trust. Im not perfect; no, I step in shit all the time and recognize it when I do. Ive just learned how to scrape it off my boots and carry on. We all step in shit from time to time. We hit roadblocks, we fuck up, we get fucked, we get sick, we dont get what we want, we cross thousands of could have done betters and wish that wouldnt have happeneds in life. Stepping in shit is inevitable, so lets either see it as good luck, or figure out how to do it less often. IVE BEEN IN THIS LIFE for fifty years, trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. Thirty-five years of realizing, remembering, recognizing, gathering, and jotting down what has moved me or turned me on along the way. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to get what I want. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me. I never wrote things down to remember; I always wrote things down so I could forget. The idea of revisiting my life and musings was a daunting one; I wasnt sure if Id enjoy the company. Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries and have a look at the thirty-five years of writing about who Ive been over the last fifty. And you know what? I enjoyed myself more than I thought I would. I laughed, I cried, I realized I had remembered more than I expected, and forgot less. What did I find? I found stories I witnessed and experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, answers to questions I had, reminders of questions I still have, affirmations for certain doubts, beliefs about what matters, theories on relativity, and a whole bunch of bumperstickers.* I found consistent ways that I approached life that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still. I found a reliable theme. So, I packed up those journals and took a one-way ticket to solitary confinement in the desert, where I began writing what you hold now: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. Things I witnessed, dreamed, chased, gave and received. Truth bombs that interrupted my space and time in ways I could not ignore. Contracts I have made with myself, many of which I live up to, most of which I still pursue. These are my sights and seens, felts and figured outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Initiations, invitations, calibrations, and graduations. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets trying to dance between the raindrops. Rites of passage. All between or on the other sides of persistence and letting go, on the way to the science of satisfaction in this great experiment called life. Hopefully, its medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilots license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears. Its a love letter. To life. * Ive always loved bumper stickers, so much so that Ive stuck bumper to sticker and made them one word, bumpersticker. Theyre lyrics, one-liners, quick hitters, unobtrusive personal preferences that people publicly express. Theyre cheap and theyre fun. They dont have to be politically correct because, well, theyre just bumperstickers. From the font theyre in, to the color scheme, to the word or words they say, a bumpersticker tells you a lot about the person behind the wheel in front of you. Their political views, if theyve got a family or not, if theyre free spirits or conformists, funny or serious, what kind of pets they have, what kind of music they like, even what their religious beliefs might be. Over the last fifty years Ive been collecting my bumperstickers. Some Ive seen, some Ive heard, some I stole, some I dreamed, some I said. Some are funny, some are serious, but they all stuck with mebecause thats what bumperstickers do. Ive included some of my favorites in this book. IVE EARNED A FEW SCARS getting through this rodeo of humanity. Ive been good at it, Ive been not so good at it, and ultimately, Ive found some pleasure in all of it, either way. Here are some facts about me to help set the table. I am the youngest brother of three and the son of parents who were twice divorced and thrice married, to each other. We grew up saying I love you to each other. We meant it. I got whipped until my butt bled for putting on a Cracker Jack tattoo when I was ten. When I first threatened to run away from home, my parents packed my bags for me. My dad wasnt there the day I was born. He called my mom and said, Only thing I have to say is if its a boy, dont name him Kelly. The only thing I ever knew I wanted to be was a father. I learned to swim when my mom threw me in the Llano River and I was either going to float off the rocky waterfall thirty yards downstream or make it to the bank. I made it to the bank. I was always the first one to wear out the knees in my Toughskin jeans. For two years I led the Under-12 soccer league in red cards, as a goalie. When I kept whining about my lone pair of tennis shoes being old and out of fashion, my mom told me, Keep griping and Ill take you to meet the boy with no feet!! I was blackmailed into having sex for the first time when I was fifteen. I was certain I was going to hell for the premarital sex. Today, I am merely certain that I hope thats not the case. I was molested by a man when I was eighteen while knocked unconscious in the back of a van. Ive done peyote in Real de Catorce, Mexico, in a cage with a mountain lion. Ive had seventy-eight stitches sewn into my forehead, by a veterinarian. Ive had four concussions from falling out of four trees, three of them on a full moon. Ive bongoed naked until the cops arrested me. I resisted arrest. I applied to Duke, UT Austin, Southern Methodist, and Grambling for my college education. I got accepted to three out of the four. Ive never felt like a victim. I have a lot of proof that the world is conspiring to make me happy. Ive always gotten away with more in life than in my dreams. Ive had many people give me poems that I did not know I wrote. Ive been na?ve, evil, and a cynic. But I am most fearless in my belief of my and mankinds benevolence and the common denominator of values among us. I believe the truth is only offensive when were lying. I was raised on existential outlaw logic, a carnation of malaprops, full of fictitious physics, because if it wasnt true, it ought to be. There was nothing fictitious about the love, though. The love was real. Bloody sometimes, but never in question. I learned early on how to get relative: how to deal. I learned resilience, consequences, responsibility, and how to work hard. I learned how to love, laugh, forgive, forget, play, and pray. I learned how to hustle, sell, charm, turn a tide, make a downfall my upfall, and spin a yarn. I learned how to navigate highs and lows, hugs and blows, assets and deficits, love songs and epithets. Especially when faced with the inevitable. This is a story about getting relative with the inevitable. This is a story about greenlights. This is the first fifty years of my life, of my r?sum? so far on the way to my eulogy. GREENLIGHTS MEAN GOADVANCE, CARRY ON, continue. On the road, they are set up to give the flow of traffic the right of way, and when scheduled properly, more vehicles catch more greenlights in succession. They say proceed. In our lives, they are an affirmation of our way. Theyre approvals, support, praise, gifts, gas on our fire, attaboys, and appetites. Theyre cash money, birth, springtime, health, success, joy, sustainability, innocence, and fresh starts. We love greenlights. They dont interfere with our direction. Theyre easy. Theyre a shoeless summer. They say yes and give us what we want. Greenlights can also be disguised as yellow and red lights. A caution, a detour, a thoughtful pause, an interruption, a disagreement, indigestion, sickness, and pain. A full stop, a jackknife, an intervention, failure, suffering, a slap in the face, death. We dont like yellow and red lights. They slow us down or stop our flow. Theyre hard. Theyre a shoeless winter. They say no, but sometimes give us what we need. Catching greenlights is about skill: intent, context, consideration, endurance, anticipation, resilience, speed, and discipline. We can catch more greenlights by simply identifying where the red lights are in our life, and then change course to hit fewer of them. We can also earn greenlights, engineer and design for them. We can create more and schedule them in our futurea path of least resistance through force of will, hard work, and the choices we make. We can be responsible for greenlights. Catching greenlights is also about timing. The worlds timing, and ours. When we are in the zone, on the frequency, and with the flow. We can catch greenlights by sheer luck, because we are in the right place at the right time. Catching more of them in our future can be about intuition, karma, and fortune. Sometimes catching greenlights is about fate. Navigating the autobahn of life in the best way possible is about getting relative with the inevitable at the right time. The inevitability of a situation is not relative; when we accept the outcome of a given situation as inevitable, then how we choose to deal with it is relative. We either persist and continue in our present pursuit of a desired result, pivot and take a new tack to get it, or concede altogether and tally one up for fate. We push on, call an audible, or wave the white flag and live to fight another day. The secret to our satisfaction lies in which one of these we choose to do when. This is the art of livin. I believe everything we do in life is part of a plan. Sometimes the plan goes as intended, and sometimes it doesnt. Thats part of the plan. Realizing this is a greenlight in itself. The problems we face today eventually turn into blessings in the rearview mirror of life. In time, yesterdays red light leads us to a greenlight. All destruction eventually leads to construction, all death eventually leads to birth, all pain eventually leads to pleasure. In this life or the next, what goes down will come up. Its a matter of how we see the challenge in front of us and how we engage with it. Persist, pivot, or concede. Its up to us, our choice every time. This is a book about how to catch more yeses in a world of nos and how to recognize when a no might actually be a yes. This is a book about catching greenlights and realizing that the yellows and reds eventually turn green. GREENLIGHTS. By design and on purposeGood luck. A WEDNESDAY NIGHT, 1974 DAD HAD JUST GOTTEN HOME from work. Greasy blue button-down with Jim on the left chest patch already thrown in the washer, he sat at the head of the table in his sleeveless undershirt. He was hungry. My brothers and I had eaten already and Mom pulled his reheated plate from the oven and shoved it in front of him. More potatoes, honey, he said as he dug in. My dad was a big man. Six foot four, 265 pounds, his fightin weight, hed say, Any lighter I catch a cold. At forty-four years old, those 265 pounds were hanging in places that, at this Wednesday evening dinner, my mom didnt fancy. Sure you want more potatoes, FAT MAN? she barked. I was crouching behind the couch in the living room, starting to get nervous. But Dad, head down, quietly continued to eat. Look at ya, that fat belly of yours. Sure, eat up, FAT MAN, she yapped as she scraped overwhelming amounts of mashed potatoes onto his plate. That was it. BOOM! Dad flipped the dining table into the ceiling, got up, and began to stalk Mom. Goddamnit, Katy, I work my ass off all day, I come home, I just want to eat a hot meal in peace. It was on. My brothers knew the deal, I knew the deal. Mom knew the deal as she ran to the wall-mounted telephone on the other side of the kitchen to call 911. You cant leave well enough alone, can ya, Katy? my dad grumbled through gritted teeth, his forefinger raised at her as he closed in across the kitchen floor. As he closed in, Mom grabbed the handheld end of the phone off the wall mount and raked it across his brow. Dads nose was broken, blood was everywhere. Mom ran to a cabinet and pulled out a twelve-inch chefs knife, then squared off at him. Cmon, FAT MAN! Ill cut you from your nuts to your gulliver! They circled each other in the middle of the kitchen, Mom waving the twelve-inch blade, Dad with his bloody broken nose and snarling incisors. He grabbed a half-full fourteen-ounce bottle of Heinz ketchup off the counter, unscrewed the cap, and brandished it like her blade. Cmon, FAT MAN! Mom dared him again. Ill cut you WIIIIDE open! Assuming the stance of a mocking matador, Dad began to fling ketchup from the open bottle across Moms face and body. Touch?, he said, as he pranced right to left. The more he flipped ketchup on her and dodged her slashing chefs knife, the more frustrated Mom got. Touch? again! Dad teased as he splattered a new red stripe across her while eluding another attack. Around and around they went, until finally, Moms frustration turned to fatigue. Now covered in ketchup, she dropped the knife on the floor, stood straight, and began to wipe her tears and catch her breath. Dad dropped the bottle of Heinz, relaxed out of his matador pose, and wiped the blood dripping from his nose with his forearm. Still facing off, weapons down, they stared at each other for a moment, Mom thumbing the ketchup from her wet eyes, Dad just standing there letting the blood drip from his nose down his chest. Seconds later, they moved toward each other and met in an animal embrace. They dropped to their knees, then to the bloody, ketchup-covered linoleum kitchen floorand made love. A red light turned green. This is how my parents communicated. This is why Mom handed Dad an invite to their own wedding and said, You got twenty-four hours to decide, lemme know. This is why my mom and dad were married three times and divorced twice to each other. This is why my dad broke Moms middle finger to get it out of his face four separate times. This is how my mom and dad loved each other. The McConaughey clan migrated from Ireland to Liverpool, England, to Little Rock, West Virginia, and New Orleans. There is no royalty in our past. There is, however, a lot of cattle thieving, riverboat gambling, and an Al Capone bodyguard. Dad is from Patterson, Mississippi, but grew up and felt most at home in Morgan City, Louisiana. Moms from Altoona, Pennsylvania, but always said she was from Trenton, New Jersey, because whod wanna be from a place called Altoona? I have two brothers. The oldest, Michael, has been going by Rooster for forty years now because even if he goes to sleep at 4:00 A.M. he always wakes at sunrise. When he turned ten, he wanted a little brother for his birthday present, so Mom and Dad adopted my brother Pat from the Methodist home in Dallas, in 1963. Every year Mom and Dad offered to take Pat to meet his birth parents. He declined until he turned nineteen and took them up on their offer. Mom and Dad arranged the meeting and the three of them drove to the home of Pats birth parents in Dallas. Parked curbside, Mom and Dad waited in the car while Pat rang the doorbell and went inside. Two minutes later Pat walked out of their house and jumped into the back seat. What happened? they asked him. I just wanted to see if my dad was bald cus my hairs thinning. Me, I was an accident. Mom and Dad had been trying to make a baby for years to no avail, so Mom thought I was a tumor until the fifth month of pregnancy. Dad went to the bar instead of the hospital the day I was born, because he suspected I wasnt his anyway. But I was. I got my first ass whupping for answering to Matt on the kindergarten playground (You werent named after a doormat! Mom screamed), my second for saying I hate you to my brother, my third for saying I cant, and my fourth for telling a lie about a stolen pizza. I got my mouth washed out with soap for saying shit, damn, and fuck, but I only ever got in real trouble for the using or doing of the words that could harm me. Words that hurt. The words that helped engineer who I am because they were more than just words; they were expectations and consequences. They were values. My parents taught me that I was named my name for a reason. They taught me not to hate. To never say I cant. To never lie. GREENLIGHT. My parents didnt hope we would follow their rules, they expected us to. A denied expectation hurts more than a denied hope, while a fulfilled hope makes us happier than a fulfilled expectation. Hopes got a higher return on happiness and less debit on denial, its just not as measurable. My parents measured. And while I am not advocating for physical punishment as a consequence, I do know that there are a lot of things I didnt do as a kid that I shouldnt have done, because I didnt want to get my ass whupped. I also know that I did a lot of things as a kid that I should have done, because I wanted my parents praise and adulation. Consequences, they work both ways. I come from a loving family. We may not have always liked each other, but we always loved each other. We hug and kiss and wrestle and fight. We dont hold a grudge. I come from a long line of rule breakers. Outlaw libertarians who vote red down the line because they believe itll keep fewer outlaws from trespassin on their territory. I come from a family of disciplinarians where you better follow the rules, until youre man enough to break em. Where you did what Mom and Dad said because I said so, and if you didnt, you didnt get grounded, you got the belt or a backhand because it gets your attention quicker and doesnt take away your most precious resource, time. I come from a family who took you across town to your favorite cheeseburger-and-milkshake joint to celebrate your lesson learned immediately following your corporal correction. I come from a family that might penalize you for breaking the rules, but definitely punished you for getting caught. Slightly calloused on the surface, we know that what tickles us often bruises othersbecause we deal with or deny it, were the last to cry uncle to bad luck. Its a philosophy that has made me a hustler in both senses of the word. I work hard and I like to grift. Its a philosophy thats also led to some great stories. Like a good southern boy should, Ill start with my mom. Shes a true baller, living proof that the value of denial depends on ones level of commitment to it. Shes beat two types of cancer on nothing more than aspirin and denial. Shes a woman that says Im gonna before she can, I would before she could, and Ill be there before shes invited. Fiercely loyal to convenience and controversy, shes always had an adversarial relationship with context and consideration, because they ask permission. She might not be the smartest person in the room but she aint crying. Shes eighty-eight now, and seldom do I go to bed after her or wake up before her. Her curfew when she was growing up was when she danced holes big enough in the feet of her pantyhose that they came up around her ankles. Nobody forgives themselves quicker than she does and therefore she carries zero stress. I once asked her if she ever went to bed with any regrets. She quickly told me, Every night, son. I just forget em by the time I wake up. She always told us, Dont walk into a place like you wanna buy it, walk in like you own it. Obviously, her favorite word in the English language is yes. In 1977, Mom entered me in the Little Mr. Texas contest in Bandera, Texas. I won a big trophy. My mom framed this picture and put it on the kitchen wall. Every morning when I came to breakfast shed gesture to it and say, Look at you, winner, Little Mr. Texas, 1977. Last year I came across the picture in her scrapbook when something caught my eye. Curious, I zoomed in on the nameplate on the trophy. It said Runner- Up. I called the queen of relativity, my mom, and said, Mom, all my life you told me that I was Little Mr. Texas but I was really runner-up? And she said, No, the kid who won it, his family had a lot more money than us and they bought him a fancy three-piece suit for the contest. We call that cheatin. No, youre Little Mr. Texas. Then, in 1982, I entered the seventh-grade poetry contest. The night before the deadline, I showed my poem to Mom. Not bad, keep working, she said. I headed back to my room to work on the next draft. A couple hours later, happy with my progress, I took my poem to Mom again. She read it. Said nothing. Well, what do you think? I asked She didnt answer. Instead she opened up a hardcover book to a premarked page, put it in front of me, pointed, and said, What do you think of that? if all that I would want to do, would be to sit and talk to you would you listen? It was from a poem by Ann Ashford. I like it, I said. Why? Then write that, Mom said. Write this? What do you mean? Do you understand it? Yes, but If you like it and you understand it, then its yours. But its not really mine, Mom, its Ann Ashfords. Does it mean anything to you? Yeah, its like when someone you love just wants to sit and talk with you. Exactly. So if you like it, and you understand it, and it means something to you, its yourswrite that. And sign my name to it? Yes. I did. And I won the seventh-grade poetry contest. My mom had no upbringing, and since she didnt like her life growing up, to survive, she denied it and constructed her own. Shes always believed that if you understand something, then you own it, you can sign your name to it, take credit for it, live by it, sell it, and win medals for it. Plagiarism? Shit, theyll probably never find out and if they do all they can do is blame you and take your medal back, so fuck em, she says. Obviously my mom was prepping me to be an actor long before it became my vocation. GREENLIGHT. While Mom taught us audacious existentialism, Dad taught us common sense. He was a man who valued sirs and maams, discipline, loyalty, persistence, work ethic, humility, rites of passage, respect of women, and making enough money to secure your family. He also painted; took ballet; played for the Green Bay Packers; loved to roll the dice, chase Ponzi schemes, win something instead of buying it; and dreamed of opening a gumbo shack on the beach in Florida if he could ever hit a lick big enough to retire. Deconstructing to construct his three sons, Dad respected yellow lights, and he made sure we learned the fundamentals before we expressed our individualism. To use a football term, he taught us to block and tackle before we could play wideout. It was clear who the man of the house was and if any of his three boys wanted to challenge that notion, You know where to find me, hed say. We feared him. Not because he ever hurt or abused us but because he was our father. We looked up to him. He was above the law and government, and he didnt suffer fools, unless you admitted to being one. A bear of a man with a soft spot for the underdog and the helpless, he had a rowdy wit about the world and himself. Id rather lose money havin fun than make money being bored, hed say. He was also a proud man, and if you gave him a second chance, hed never forget it. One time in the late 80s, after a banker declined a loan to bail him out of debt, he said, Now you can shut that door on me or we can walk through it together. He got the loan and they walked through it. He loved to host a party, drink beer, and tell stories, and he was a hand at all three. His eldest son was Mike. He had more to do with raising Mike than Pat or me because one, Mike was his first, and two, Dad had to work from the road more often later in life. Mike was a confident, scrappy, hardworking, savvy guy, with a hippie heart full of compassion for the runts of the world. Cool under pressure, with the pain threshold of a badger, hes the first person youd want with you when the going got tough. Hes survived so many near deaths, Mom always said about him. You and Pat need prayin for, with Mike it dont matter. Raised on a reverence for the Old Testament, we were a religious family, but it wasnt all fire and brimstone. No, the more merciful teachings of Jesus also had their place in our parents principles. When Mike was in high school, he started to grow long hair. It grew long enough that the coach of his football team, Jim Caldwell, asked him to get it cut. My dad agreed, but Mike refused. Driving Mike to school the next day, my dad said, You look like a hippie, son, and if you dont cut your hair, Coachs gonna cut you from the team. I dont care, Pop, its my hair and if he wants to cut me from the team, then he can cut me, Im not cutting my hair. Now, son, listen to me now, quit being stubborn and just cut your damn hair. Indignant, Mike said, No sir, Dad. Im not doing it. Son, Im tellin you Well, Jesus had long hair too! Mike blurted. Quiet. Playing the religious card was a crafty move and Mike knew it might have sealed the deal in his favor. Dad, in silence, just continued to drive. Just as they were about to arrive at the school entrance, Mike believing his Jesus tactic had worked, Dad hit the gas and sped by. What the hell, Dad, what are you doin? Mike asked. Dad proceeded to drive eight miles past Mikes school, not saying a word. Suddenly he pulled off to the side of the road, leaned over and opened the passenger door, pushed my brother out the door, and said, Yeah, well, Jesus walked everywhere, too, boy! My brother was late for school that day. Not only because my dad dropped him off eight miles from it, but because he stopped by the barbershop on his way there. Dad had worked his way up from a Texaco gas station manager, to pipe hauler, to pipe salesman in a local company called Gensco. He was a damn good pipe salesman. He got Mike a job selling pipe at Gensco as well. My brother became a great pipe salesman, and quickly. In less than a year, at twenty-two years of age, Mike was the top salesman in the company. The boss put him on their biggest account: a buyer named Don Knowles. Dad was truly proud of Mike, but Mike was still his son. We had an old wooden barn in the back of our house by the dirt alleyway where Dad kept an unloaded eighteen-wheeler from his pipe-hauling days. It was a Saturday night. Lets drink some beer and throw knives in the barn tonight, son, Dad told Mike. Sure, Pop, see you there around sundown. Around ten oclock, and after quite a few beers, Dad finally bellied up, Lets go roll some pipe like we used to, son, its been a while. Rollin pipe is when you take an unloaded eighteen-wheeler to someone elses pipe yard, load their pipe on it, drive away, and steal it. Dad and Mike used to do it on certain Saturday nights back when Dad was hauling. Whose pipe you wanna roll, Pop? Dad squared off at Mike and said, Don Knowles. Oh shit. Nah, Dad, Im not doin that. I just got Don Knowless account, you know that. I do know that. I got you that job at Gensco, boy; you wouldnt have that account if it wasnt for me. Wheres your loyalty lie, son? With your old man or Don fuckin Knowles?! Now, Dad, you know that aint fair. What aint fair, boy?! You too good now to roll pipe with your old man like we used to? Huh? You too big-time now, boy?! Oh shit. Now, Dad, easy Dad took off his shirt. No, lets see how big-time you are now, boy. You think youre man enough not to listen to your old man? You gonna have to whup him to prove it. Now, Dad, I dont wanna Whop! Dad walloped an open-palmed right hand across Mikes face. Mike stumbled a step back, then straightened up and started rolling up his sleeves. So this is how its gonna be? Mike said. Yep, this is how its gonna be, cmon, boy. Dad was six four, 265 pounds. Mike was five ten, 180. Oh shit. Dad, now crouched, stepped in with a right hook across Mikes jaw. Mike went down. Dad stalked toward him. On the ground, gathering himself, Mike saw a five-foot 2 x 4 lying on the ground next to him. Just as Dad came in for another blow, Mike grabbed that 2 x 4 and baseball- bat swung it across the right side of Dads head. Dad stumbled back, sincerely dazed but still on his feet. Now stop it, Dad! I dont wanna fight you and I aint stealin Don Knowless pipe tonight! Dad, bleeding from his ears, turned and leveled Mike with another right hook. Like hell youre not, boy, he said as he prowled in on his son on the ground. With the 2 x 4 out of distance and Dad bearing down on him again, Mike grabbed a hand full of sandy gravel from the ground and slung it across Dads face, blinding him. Dad stumbled back, struggling to get his bearings. Thats enough, Pop! Its over! But it wasnt. Unable to see, Dad lunged toward Mikes voice. Mike easily sidestepped him. Thats enough, Dad! Dad, now a blind groveling bear with bleeding ears, came at Mike again. Where are you, boy? Wheres my son who wont roll Don Knowless pipe with his old man? Mike picked up the five-foot 2 x 4 and held it at the ready. Dad, Im tellin ya, its over. If you come at me again, Im gonna knock you out with this 2 x 4. Dad heard him clearly, steadied himself, then said, Give it your best shot, boy, as he blitzed Mike. Whh-ooo-pp! The 2 x 4 went across Dads head. Out cold, Dad lay in a heap on the ground. Damnit, Dad?! Mike said in shock, wondering if hed killed him. Mike, crying now, knelt down over Dad and yelled, Damnit, Dad! I told you not to come at me again! Dad lay there, unmoving. For four and a half minutes Mike knelt over his fallen pop, weeping. I didnt wanna do it, Dad, but you made me. Dad then came to and slowly got to his feet. Im sorry, Dad! Mike shouted, Im sorry! My dad stood straight and wiped the gravel from his eyes. Mike, crying tears of shock and fear, readied himself for the risk of another round. Dad, eyes now clear, focused in on the young man who had just knocked him out cold, his first son. The fight was over. Tears ran down my dads face as well. But these were tears of pride and joy. Dad stepped toward Mike with open arms and took him into a loving bear hug, declaring into Mikes ear, Thats my boy, son, thats my boy. From that day on Mike was an equal to Dad and Dad treated him as such. Dad never challenged Mike again, physically, morally, or philosophically. They were best of friends. You see, rites of passage were a big deal to my dad, and if you were man enough to take him on, then you had to prove it. And Mike just did. Second in line to the privilege of my dads methods of turning his boys into men was Pat. Over the past forty years, while Rooster has been chasing a career in the oil business in West Texas and Ive been chasing one in Hollywood, Pat has been the fiercely loyal heartist of the family, the one whos always stayed closest to Mom. Growing up, he looked after me, took up for me, let me hang out with his friends, introduced me to rock n roll, taught me how to golf, how to drive, how to ask a girl out on a date, and bought me my first beer. Pat was my hero. His was Evel Knievel. Pats night with Dad came on a Friday in the early spring of 1969, eight months before I was magically born. Dad was out at Fred Smithers hunting camp with some friends a couple hours drive from home. Their nights entertainment had segued into who could piss over whose head the highest. Each man, from shortest to tallest would stand on the barn wall, put a mark over his head, and the rest of them would see if they could flat-foot piss over the mark. Dad won when he was the only man who could piss six feet, four inches high, the mark hed just put over his own head. The prize? Bragging rights. But Dad wasnt the tallest man in the barn that night; at six foot, seven inches tall, Fred Smither was. And even though Dad had already won the contest, he had to see if he could piss over Freds head. Fred stood up, marked the wall. Cmon, Big Jim! You can do it! his buddies cheered. Pop chugged another beer, leaned back, and let it fly. Nope, six four was as high as he could piss. I knew it, knew you couldnt piss over my head, Big Jim, hell, nobody can do that! Fred Smither declared. To which Dad quickly replied, My boy can. Shit, Jim, aint no way your boy or anyone else can piss over my head, Fred sneered. Like hell he cant; whadda you wanna bet? Whadda you wanna bet? Dad eyed a used Honda XR-80 dirt bike leaning against a hay bale in the corner of the barn. You see, Pat had been asking for a dirt bike for Christmas all year long but Dad knew he couldnt afford to buy one, used or not. Ill bet you that little dirt bike over there my boy can piss over your head, Fred. The gang all cracked up at the proposition. Fred looked at the dirt bike then back to Dad and said, Deal, and if he dont, you owe me $200. I aint got $200 to lose, Fred, but if my boy cant piss over your head, then you can keep my truck, Dad said. Deal, Fred replied. Deal. Ill be back with my boy by sunrise, dont yall go to bed on me. And with that, Dad hopped into his beat-up pickup truck and drove 112 miles back to our house in Uvalde to pick up Pat. Wake up, little buddy, wake up, Dad said as he quietly shook Pat from his slumber. Put a coat and some shoes on, were goin somewhere. Eight-year-old Pat got out of bed, put on a pair of tennis shoes and a coat over his tighty-whities, then headed for the bathroom. No, no, no, son, I need you to hold it, Dad said as he rushed Pat out the door. Dad drove Pat the 112 miles back to Fred Smithers hunting camp and made him drink two beers on the way. When they finally got to the camp at 4:40 in the morning, Pats bladder was full of potential. Dad, I really gotta go bad. I know, I know, son, just hold it a few more minutes. Dad and Pat, in his tennis shoes, coat, and tighty-whities, walked into the barn. The boys had quieted down but were still awake. Fred Smither, too. Boys, this is my son Pat, and hes about to piss over Freds head! They all broke out in laughter again. Game on. Fred sauntered over to the pissing wall, stood up tall, and chalked a fresh line above his head, all six foot seven of his height. Whats goin on, Daddy? Pat asked. You see that mark on the wall Mr. Fred just left? Yes, sir. Think you can piss over it? Hell yeah, Pat replied, then dropped his tighty-whities below his knees, put both hands on his pecker, aimed it at the mark, and let it fly. Pat cleared Fred Smithers six-seven mark by two feet. Thats my boy!! I told yall my boy could piss over Freds head! Dad hustled over to the corner of the barn, grabbed the Honda XR-80, and rolled it over to Pat. Merry Christmas, son! Then they loaded it in the back of Dads truck, hopped in, and drove 112 miles back home just in time for breakfast. Fourteen years later, Pat became the number one golfer on the Mississippi Delta State Statesmen golf team. A scratch golfer known as the Texas Stallion, Pat had just won low medalist at the SEC tournament on the Arkansas Razorbacks home course. The coach called a team meeting on the bus ride home. Tomorrow morning, my house, eight A.M. sharp. The next morning Coach gathered the team around him in his living room and said, I have a concern that some players on our team were smoking marijuana in the city park of Little Rock yesterday before the tournament. Now, what we need to do is find out who it was that brought the marijuana from Delta State to Little Rock, and who was smoking it. He was staring at Pat. Pat, raised by my dad to know that telling the truth would save your ass, stepped forward. Coach, it was me. I brought the weed, and I smoked it. Pat stood there, alone. None of the other teammates moved or said a word even though three of them had passed the doobie with him the other morning in Little Rock. Nobody else? Coach asked. Nothing. Ill let you know what my decision is tomorrow, Coach said. Youre dismissed. The next morning, Coach showed up at Pats dorm room. Im telling your father and youre suspended from playing golf next semester. Pat caught his breath. Come on, Coach, I told you the truthand Im the best golfer on the team. Doesnt matter, Coach said. You broke a team rule about drugs. Youre suspended. And Im going to tell your father. Look here, Coach, Pat said. You can suspend me, but you cant tell my dad. You dont understand, a DWI you could call him about. But marijuana? Hell kill me. Pat had gotten busted with weed a couple times in his late teens, and after being on the receiving end of Dads brand of discipline and disdain for Mary Jane before, he was going to make sure there wasnt a third. Well, thatll be between you and him. Coach didnt budge. Pat inhaled deeply, Okay, Coach, lets go for a ride. They got in Pats 81 Z28 and headed out for a drive across the Delta. After about ten minutes of silence Pat finally spoke up: Let me make this real clear, Coach. You can suspend me, but if you call my dadIll kill you. Pat got suspended. My dad never found out. Create structure so you can have freedom. Create your weather so you can blow in the wind. Map your direction so you can swerve in the lanes. Clean up so you can get dirty. Choreograph, then dance. Learn to read and write before you start making up words. Check if the pool has water in it before you dive in. Learn to sail before you fly. Initiation before inaugurations. Earn your Saturdays. We need discipline, guidelines, context, and responsibility early in any new endeavor. Its the time to sacrifice. To learn, to observe, to take heed. If and when we get knowledge of the space, the craft, the people, and the plan, then we can let our freak flag fly, and create. Creativity needs borders. Individuality needs resistance. The earth needs gravity. Without them there is no form. No art. Only chaos. As I said, I was an unplanned surprisean accident as my mom still calls me and my dad has always half jokingly told her, That aint my boy, Katy, thats your boy. Dad was on the road a lot when I was growing up, working to take care of the family, so I spent most of my time with Mom. It was true. I was a mommas boy. When I did get to spend time with Dad, I relished every moment. I wanted and needed his approval, and on occasion he gave it to me. Other times, hed rearrange my considerations in extremely colorful ways. As a kid, my favorite TV show was The Incredible Hulk starring Lou Ferrigno. I marveled at his muscles and would pose in front of the TV with my shirt off, arms bent, fists high, doing my best bulging body-builder biceps impersonation. One night Dad saw me. What are you doin, son? he asked. One day Im gonna have muscles like that, Dad, I said, motioning to the TV screen. Big baseball-size biceps! Dad chuckled, then took off his shirt, matched my pose in front of the tube, and said, Yeah, big biceps make the girls scream and they sure look good, but that ol boy on the TV, hes so muscle-bound he cant even reach around to wipe his own assthe biceps? They're just for show. He then slowly lowered both his arms in front of him, straightened them out with his fists to the floor, then he twisted his arms to the inside, and flexed a pair of massive triceps muscles. Now the tri-cep, son, he said, this time pointing his nose back and forth toward the bulging muscles on the back of his upper arms, thats the work muscle, thats the muscle that puts food on the table and the roof over your head. The tri-ceps? They're for dough. My dad would take the stockroom over the showroom any day. It was the summer of 1979 when Dad moved Mom, me, and Pat from Uvalde, Texas (pop. 12,000), to the fastest-growing oil boom East Texas city in the nation, Longview (pop. 76,000). Where Uvalde taught me to deal, Longview taught me to dream. Like everyone else, we moved for the money. Dad was still a pipe salesman, and Longview was the place to make it rich in the drilling business. Soon after arriving in town, Pat went away to a golf camp, and Mom went on an extended vacation at a beach house in Navarre Beach, Florida. Rooster, already a multimillionaire in his midtwenties, had moved to Midland, Texas, so it was just Dad and me living in a double-wide trailer on the outskirts of town. My dad could hurt with his hands, but he could also heal with them. Painkillers were no match for his hands on my moms head when she had migraines. Whether it was a broken arm or a broken heart, Dads hands and his hugs could heal, especially when in service of an underdog or someone who couldnt help themselves. The other inhabitant of that double-wide trailer Dad and I were living in that summer was a pet cockatiel named Lucky. Dad loved that bird and that bird loved Dad. Hed open her cage each morning and let her fly around the trailer, shed roost on his shoulder while he walked around, and perch on his forearm while he petted her. He talked to Lucky. Lucky talked to him. We only put Lucky back in her cage at night to sleep. The rest of the time, Lucky was loose in the trailer morning until night. The only rule was, you had to watch it when you exited or entered the door so Lucky didnt get out. One late afternoon, after a July day of exploring the countryside on foot, I got back to the trailer at the same time Dad got home from work. When we got inside, Lucky wasnt there to greet Dad like she always did. We looked all over. No Lucky. Shit, I thought, did I accidentally let her out this morning when I left? Did anyone else come over today while we were gone? Seconds later, I heard Dad in the back of the trailer, Oh god, oh god, noooo, Lucky. I ran to the back and found Dad on his knees leaning over the toilet. There, floating in circles in the bottom of it, was Lucky. Tears dripping off his cheeks, Dad reached with both hands into the bottom of the bowl and gently cradled Lucky out. Oh, no Lucky, noooo, he groaned through sobs. Lucky was dead. Soaking wet. Motionless. She must have accidentally fallen into the toilet and gotten stuck beneath the seats edge trying to get out. Dad, still weeping, brought Luckys soggy and lifeless body closer to his face where he examined her hanging head. Then, he opened his mouth wide and slowly put Lucky into it until the bottom half of her wings and her tailfeathers were all that was outside it. He started to give Lucky mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Only breathing through his nose so to keep constant airflow into her lungs, he made sure his breath was measured, enough, he hoped, to revive her, but not so much to burst her tiny lungs. On his knees, over a toilet, cradling the bottom half of a cockatiel named Lucky with the top half of the same bird in his mouth, he breathed into her with the perfect amount of pressure. One exhaleTwo exhalesThree exhales. His tears soaking the already saturated bird. Four exhalesFiveA feather quiveredSix exhalesSevenA wingtip fluttered. EightDad lightly loosened his grip and released some pressure from his lips. NineAnother wing tried to flap. He opened his mouth slightly wider. TenAnd thats when we heard, coming from inside my fathers mouth, a small chirp. Now, with tears of pain turning to tears of joy, Dad gently removed Luckys torso and head from his mouth. Lucky twitched some toilet water and saliva off her head. Now face-to-face, they looked into each others eyes. She was dead. Now she was alive. Lucky lived another eight years. That same summer, while Dad was at work every day, I explored the endless acres of the Piney Woods, barefoot and shirtless, wearing a shammy roped around my waist, with my Daisy BB gun in hand. Coming from Uvalde, Id never seen trees like this. Towering pines shooting straight up into the sky, thousands of them. I was in awe of one in particular, a white pine among the ponderosa, six feet wide at its base, its peak trespassing the airspace. One late afternoon while chasing down a squirrel with my Daisy a half mile from home, I came across a fence, about ten feet tall. It was strangled with vines and overgrowth and a few faded No Trespassing signs. I crouched, pulled back some foliage, and peeked through. On the other side was a lumberyard. Men in hard hats, a couple of forklifts in action, and mountainous stacks of 2 x 4s, 4 x 4s, and plywood. Perfect, I thought. For a tree house. And I knew just the tree. I stayed there until they shut down the forklifts, packed up, and closed down for the day. It was about 6:00 P.M. I ran home with a plan. A plan I couldnt tell Dad. A plan for the next three months of my summer. The next morning after breakfast, Dad went to work at 6:30 like he always did. As soon as he left, I went to our toolbox and found what I was looking for, a pair of wire cutters. I put on my shammy, grabbed my Daisy, left my shoes in the closet, and ran to scope out my mark. How was I gonna do this? There were people working at the lumberyard all day, so Id have to come at night, I plotted. What if I got caught by someone at the lumberyard? What if I got caught sneaking out at night by Dad? And what if he then found out I was stealing lumber from a lumberyard half a mile from home? I was nervous. I was excited. That night after dinner and watching The Incredible Hulk like I always did, Dad and I said our good nights. I lay in bed, wondering how long I should wait before I opened the double-wide bedroom window to sneak out. I could hear Dad still moving around on his end of the trailer so I waited until the slightest creaks had been silent for at least an hour before I made my move. Slowly, quietly, I got out of bed. I wrapped on my shammy skirt, left my shoes in the closet, grabbed my Daisy, a small flashlight, and the wire cutters. I tossed them all carefully out the window onto the lawn below, then snuck myself out the window and headed to my secret stash. It was around 1:00 A.M. I figured I should be back home in bed before five, so I had a few hours to work. The yard was quiet. I threw a couple of rocks over the fence to see if any guard dogs were around. Nothing. I pulled back some vines and bushes, then, with the flashlight between my chin and chest, I brought the wire cutters to the first chain link with both hands. Clip. It took all my double- fisted might to cut through it. Clip. Clip. Clip. Clip. Until I had cleared a space about six feet wide and a foot tallwide enough to get those plywood planks through, small enough to go unnoticed. I hoped. Adrenaline pumping, I lay on my back and shimmied under the fence onto the private property. I went to the stack of 4 x 4s, pulled one off, and dragged it to the opening in the fence. I pushed it through as far as I could, then crawled under the fence and pulled it out from the other side, where I then dragged it the few hundred yards deep into the forest and left it at the base of the big white pine. Then I ran back to steal the next one. Once I got my second load to the tree, it was already a little after 4:30 A.M. so I raced back to the fence, replaced all the brush and vines to conceal the hole Id cut, then ran back home. I snuck in the window, put my Daisy and the flashlight back on the shelf and the wire cutters under my mattress, got under the covers, and slept until Dad woke me up at 6:00 to make breakfast. It went on like that for over a month. Getting little sleep at night, Id take catnaps under that white pine next to my growing stack of lumber during the day, then make it home for dinner, and do it all over again. I did this every night until I had enough 2 x 4s, 4 x 4s, and plywood planks to build the biggest and tallest tree house in the world. With the most dangerous part of my plan behind me and two months of summer left, it was time to start construction. Id also stolen about forty feet of 15-gauge Steel Trim Pin Nail gun nails from the yard and I already had a hammer and a twenty-six-inch handsaw from our toolbox at home. All I needed was daylight. Up at six and out the door by seven, I worked on that tree house until dark seven days a week for the next two months. Shirtless and shoeless in my shammy I crisscrossed two paper collated clips of the nails over my shoulders and across my chest. Half Comanche Indian, half Pancho Villa, with hammer in hand, I went to work. I started with the bottom floor then built up. I cut a two- by-two-foot hole in each floor next to the trunk of the tree where I nailed pieces of 2 x 4s for ladder steps to get from floor to floor. I also made a pulley system that I raised with each floor. Id pack my lunch each morning and take it to my construction site, put my brown bag in the trough, climb up to the highest floor, and hoist my sandwich up to eat during my lunch break. Six weeks later when I was done, my tree house was thirteen stories high. The thirteenth floor was over one hundred feet above the ground. From there I could see all the way to downtown Longview, fifteen miles away. For the next two weeks I spent every day up there, above the rest of the world, where I hoisted up my brown bag lunch and daydreamed, swearing I could see the earths curve on the horizon, now understanding where and why the city of Longview got its name. It was the best summer of my life. GREENLIGHT. Then September came and I had to go back to school. Mom came back from Florida and we soon moved into a neighborhood house on the other side of town. I never saw that tree house again. I often wonder if its still there today. I thought of that tree house when I was making the movie Mud. My tree house was those boys Boat in a Tree. A secret, a mystery, a place of danger, wonder, and dreams. If Mud had been released in 1979, my dad would have come to me and said, Hey, buddy, theres this movie called Mud I saw, we gotta watch it together, damn its a good one. Then I might have said to him, Dad, theres this tree house in the woods I built, I gotta show it to you, damn its a good one. Oh yeah, that extended vacation in Florida my mom was on? It would be twenty years before I learned that in fact she was not on vacation, rather, she and Dad were in the middle of their second divorce. During high school, we still lived in that same house on the other side of town in Longview. Mom had just started selling a product called Oil of Mink, a facial cosmetic that she peddled door to door. It was touted as a breakthrough skin care treatment that would bring out all the impurities in your skin and saturate your face with beautiful mink oil so you would have a clear, glowing complexion for the rest of your life. At the same time, I was entering adolescenceyou know, pubic hairs growing in, balls dropping, voice lowering, anda few pimples. One day my mom looked at my face and said, You should use the Oil of Mink! A fan of self-regard and looking my best, I listened to her and started applying Oil of Mink to my face each night before bed. The result? More pimples. It must be bringing out the impurities! Mom said. I listened to her again and continued to slather more Oil of Mink on my face each night. A week went by. More pimples. Twelve days passed. Now I had what looked like full-blown acne. Mom, are you sure this is okay for me to be using? I asked. Of course it is, but lets call my boss, Elaine, to come over and have a look just to be sure. Elaine came over and took a look at my swollen, zit-infested face. Oh, wow! she shrieked. Yes, the product is doing exactly what its supposed to do. Its bringing out all the impurities! And my oh my, you must just have a lot of impurities, Matthew! Just keep applying the Oil of Mink each night, and eventually itll pull all the impurities out, and then youll have a clear, glowing complexion for the rest of your life. Well, shit, okay. Sounded like I just needed to weather the storm. I stayed at it. Three weeks in, my entire cheeks were swollen, red pustules. Huge whiteheads. Blistering geysers of pus. I looked like a different person. Against my mothers counsel, I decided to see a dermatologist. Dr. Haskins looked at my face. Oh my, Matthew, what thethe pores on your face are clogged and holding oil and grease in. Theres no room for them to breathe. What are you putting on your face? he asked. I pulled out a bottle of the Oil of Mink. He examined the label. How long you been using this product, Matthew? Twenty-one days. Oh my god, no, no, no! This is for people that are at least over forty years old, definitely not for a teenager going through adolescence when your skin is secreting more oil. This product has completely blocked your pores, Matthew; you have severe nodular acne. You are ten days away from having ice-pick scars in your cheeks for the rest of your life. I am going to prescribe you a pill called Accutane. Hopefully weve caught it in enough time that the Accutane will dry you out to such an extent that maybe you can get rid of the acne within a year and hopefully not have lifelong damage. Well, that Oil of Mink didnt work at all, did it, Matthew?! Mom innocently proclaimed. No, Momit didnt. I immediately got off the Oil of Mink and got on the Accutane, which came with its own set of side effects. After a few weeks, my skin started drying out, my face began to scale and flake, the creases in my lips dried up and bled, my knees got arthritic, I got headaches, my hair started falling out, I got hypersensitive allergic reactions, and I looked like a swollen prune. All side effects I was more than happy to live with to get rid of my Oil of Minkinduced acne. But thats not the end of the story. No, not in the McConaughey household. My dad smelled an opportunity. Were gonna sue em!!! That goddamn Oil of Mink company! Thats what well do. Were gonna sue em and make some money off this whole deal. I mean, look at you, son, that product should have never been given out to you, boy, and that lady Elaine, she shouldnt have been telling your mother to give it to you! Im tellin ya, we got a case. Dad took me to meet his lawyer, Jerry Harris, a good-looking, erudite middle- aged man who had an air of confidence about him that made you think he was from Dallas, not Longview. Damn right, we got a case, Jerry said. This product should have never been administered to a teenager, theres no disclaimer or warning on the bottle about its possible harms either, and I am sure that besides all of the physical pain youre goin through Jerry and my dad homed in on me. You are under great emotional distress as well, arent you, Matthew? Uhhyes. Jerry pulled out a cassette recorder and pressed the red button. Yes, what? he asked. I amunder great emotional distress at this time. Why? he asked, nodding. BecauseI now have bad acne on my face that I never had before using this Oil of Mink product? Exactly, Jerry said, and has this predicament affected your confidence? Yes, sir. In what way? Its lower. Good. Has it affected your relationship with the girls? I mean, I was doing really good with the girls before I had the acne, and Im not doing as well now. Exactly, Jerry said, stopping the tape recorder. We got a case, Jim. Emotional distress is a strong tack for prosecution, and hell, look at him, hes all swole up, looks like shit. I think we can get thirty-five to fifty grand out of this deal. A big gunslingers grin spread across Dads face. He gave Jerry a heavy attaboy handshake and patted me on the back. Good job, boy, good job. Well, as you know, lawsuits take a while. Two years had passed since the Oil of Mink applications, and with my acne long gone, not a pimple on my face, and no side effects in sight, the Accutane had worked. I was now being called into a deposition with the defense attorney representing Oil of Mink. Cassette recorder on the desk, red button pressed. Matthew, how are you, son? Im doin better, thank you. Im just so sorry that this all happened to you, Matthew, it must have been such an emotionally distressful time for you. I couldnt believe it. The defense attorney just lobbed me a softball and I was ready to crush it over the fence. Oh, yes, sir. It was an emotionally distressful time. I mean, I looked like the Elephant Man, and my scalp was dry, my hair was falling out, my knees hurt, my back hurt, my face flaked, I didnt have any confidence, and I wasnt doing any good with the girls. I mean, that Oil of Mink almost scarred me for life. Oh, bless your heart, young man. I can only imagine how tough it mustve been and still is on you. I doubled down, Yes, sir, thats right. He stared at me a moment and then the slightest Cheshire grin began to creep up on his lips as he reached under the table and pulled out a high school yearbookmy high school yearbookfrom that year, 1988. He slowly opened it and turned to a flagged page, swiveled the book around to face me and slid it in my direction. Then, reaching across the table, he put his finger on a particular picture and said, Is this you? It was. It was a picture of me with Camissa Springs. We both had a silk sash draped across our chests from shoulder to hip. Hers read Most Beautiful. Mine read Most Handsome. Shit. I knew right then and there our case was done. He had me. Scarred for life, huh?Sooooo emotionally distressed, he said, as his grin got wider. I was right. We were done. Case dropped. My dad was inconsolable, he went on about it for weeks, muttering Goddamn you, boy!!! Here I am, I got a chance to make thirty-five to fifty thousand dollars on a lawsuit that we coulda won!!! And you gotta go off and win Most Handsome! You screwed up the whole lawsuit, son! Damn you, boy! A few months later, with Mom on her second extended vacation to Navarre Beach (not another divorce, just a little break from each other), it was just Dad and me living together again, this time in our three-bedroom house instead of the double-wide. I got home by my midnight curfew. Unexpectedly, Dad was awake, and on the phone. Sure, Mr. Felker, he just got in. Lemme ask him, I heard him say as I entered his bedroom. The lights were on and he was sitting on the side of his bed in his underwear. He lowered the phone from his ear and held it between his neck and shoulders. Whatd you do tonight, son? I should have known I was busted but instead chose to try and hustle the man who had taught me to hustle. Uh, not much, me and Bud Felker went to Pizza Hut then he dropped me off here at home, I said. You pay for that pizza, son? He was giving me a second chance to come clean and avoid getting punished for the one thing worse than getting caught misbehaving, lying about it. But rather than admitting what I had done, and instinctually knew he knew I had done, I chose to double down on my grovel. Well, I think so, DadI mean, I went to the car before Bud, and Im pretty sure he was supposed to pay for it. Digging my own grave, I was in too deep to climb out now. Dad took a deep breath, a delayed blink, and looked distraught for a moment, then he lifted the phone back to his ear. Mr. Felker, thank you, sir, Ill handle mine from here, then he placed the phone back in its holster. I was now starting to sweat. Dad calmly put his hands on his knees and raised his chin to look me in the eye when I saw his molars meet. Im gonna ask you one more time like this, son: Did you know you were gonna steal that pizza? All I had to do was say, Yes, sir, Dad, I did, and he would have only cussed me about not committing a crime thoroughly enough to get away with it and lashed my ass with his leather belt a couple of times because I got caught, but no. My eyes widened, a quarter-sized spot of urine now showing on the crotch of my jeans, I stuttered, No, sir, li-like I said I Whoppp!! The back of my fathers right hand crashed across my face as he leapt from the bed and interrupted my pitiful plea. I hit the ground, not so much from the force of his strike as from the instability of the cowardly, panic- stricken, lactic acid legs I was wobbling on. I deserved it. I earned it. I asked for it. I wanted it. I needed it. I got it. I lied to him, and it broke his heart. Stealing a pizza was no big deal to him, hed stolen plenty of pizzas in his life and then some. All I had to do was admit it. But I didnt. Now on my knees crying from shock and fear just like my brother Mike had done but for different reasons, I was ashamed. Unlike him at the barn, I was a rat, a fink, a pussy, a coward. Thats not my boy, Katy, thats yours, is all I could hear in my mind. He stood over me. The waitress at the Pizza Hut recognized Bud. She looked up his number and called his house, asked his dad to have him just bring the money for the pizza by tomorrow. Bud told his dad it was all his idea to steal it and that you just went along with it. But you lied to me, son, told me you didnt know. All he wanted me to do was stand up like a man, admit I had fucked up, look him in the eye, and shake it off, but no. I cowered, made excuses, and whimpered as he looked down on me. The piss stain on my jeans now spread to my leg. Getting more furious with my spinelessness, he dropped on all fours like a bear in front of me, then taunted me, Cmon, Ill give you four to my one. Four of your best shots across my kisser to one of mine across yours! Paralyzed, numb, I didnt take the offer. The idea of striking my dad made my hands feel like papier-m?ch?. The thought of him striking me again made my brain drain. Why?! Why?! he raged. Unable to answer, I just stumbled to knee level and crawled to the nearest corner where I stayed until he finally stood up and shook his head at me, wondering what hed done wrong to raise such a coward of a son. Ive often regretted what I didor didnt dothat night. I had my chance at my rite of passageto become his boy or a man in his eyesbut I got stage fright, pissed my pants, and failed the test. I choked. SPRING 1988 MY SENIOR YEAR IN HIGH school. I was rolling. I had straight As, a job that kept forty-five bucks in my back pocket at all times, a four handicap in golf, Id won Most Handsome in my class, and was dating the best-looking girl at my school and at the school across town. Yeah, I was catching greenlights. Never the too-cool-for-school guy who leans against the wall and smokes a cigarette at the party, no, I was the guy who danced at the party. The guy who chased the girls and worked his way to the front row of every concert, no matter how late I arrived. I gave effort. I was a hustler. I drove a truck. I took the girls off-road muddin*1 after school in that truck. I had a megaphone in the front grille, and in the school parking lot in the mornings, Id crouch down in the cab and say through the speaker, Look at the jeans Cathy Cooks got on today, lookin goooooood! Everyone loved it. Everyone laughed. Especially Cathy Cook. I was that guy. I was the fun guy. I engaged. One day I was driving past our local Nissan dealership and I saw a candy-red 300ZX for sale. Id never had a sports car before, and this one even had T-tops. I pulled my truck onto the lot to inquire. The dealer was motivated to sell. On the spot, I traded my truck in for that candy-red 300ZXwith T-tops. I had a red sports car. Every Sunday afternoon Id polish and wax that red sports car. It was my baby. At school, I started parking in the third parking lot, that empty lot way in the back, where no other car doors could dent or scratch my new babys paint. I knew the chicks were going to dig my red sports car even more than my truck, and hence, dig me more. Id arrive early to school every morning, park in that third parking lot, and just leeeaaan against it. I was so cool. My red sports car was so cool. A few weeks passed and I started noticing some changes. The chicks, they werent digging me like they used to. It was like they were bored with me leeeaaanin against my red sports car. After school they went muddin off road in someone elses truck instead of cruisin the streets T-tops down with me. I wasnt getting near as many dates as I used to. The girls seemed to lose interest in me. What happened? I wondered. Then one day it hit me. I lost my truck. I lost the effort, the hustle, the mudding, and the megaphone. I lost the fun. I was too busy leeeaaanin against that candy-red 300ZX with T-tops in the third parking lot. Id gotten lazy, started looking in the mirror at my hair too often, relying on that red sports car to do the work for me, and it was doing a shitty job. Id outfoxed myself when Id traded in my truck for that red sports car, and I lost my mojo when I did. The next day after school, I went back to that Nissan dealership and traded it back in for my truck. The day after that I pulled into the first parking lot again, flirted with the ladies from the megaphone, and took them off-road muddin after school. And like clockwork, I was back. Fuckin red sports car. GREENLIGHT. On my eighteenth birthday, my parents said to me, If you havent learned it yet, youre not going to. In my family, the eighteenth birthday was a seminal moment. It meant no more rules. It meant no more curfew. It meant independence. It meant freedom. I graduated from high school, and like most kids, I wasnt sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I mean, I thought I wanted to go to law school and become a defense attorney, but I wasnt absolutely certain. My mom came up with this radical idea: Hey, you love to travel, Matthew. What if you become an exchange student? Immediately I was up for it. Sounds adventurous and wild, Im in. We went to the local Rotary Club that ran the exchange program and learned that they had two openings for a foreign exchange: one to Sweden and one to Australia. Sun, beaches, surfing, Elle Macpherson, English-speakingI chose Australia. Next thing I knew I was sitting at a boardroom table in front of twelve suits at the local Rotary Club. After they approved my background papers, a man said, We think youd be a great ambassador of the State of Texas and the United States in the faraway land of Australia. Wed love for you to go, but before you do, we need you to sign this paper saying you will not come back until your full year of this exchange is over. That seemed odd. But I am going the whole year, thats the plan. Everyone says that, he retorted. But the reason we need you to sign this contract is because every exchange student gets severely homesick and tries to come home early. We cant have that happen, which is why we need you to sign this document stating that, I, Matthew McConaughey, promise not to come home early unless there is a tragedy or death in my family. Look, I said, Im not signing that paper, but Ill shake on it. Im not gonna quit and come home, Im in for the entire year. I looked him in the eye. Deal? He agreed, we shook, and soon I was packing up to go to Australia for a full year. Id leave in ten days. A few days later I got my first letter from my Australian host family, the Dooleys. It read: We cant wait to meet you and are so looking forward to having you in our home, Matthew. We live in paradise. Near the beach, on the outskirts of Sydney, youre going to love it. Yes. Outstanding. Everything I was hoping forthe beach, Sydneythis was going be a blast. Australia, here I come. Day 1 I arrived at the Sydney International Airport terminal. Duffel bag over my shoulder, I was walking down a long ramp toward a huge room with thousands of people awaiting their arrivals when I heard, through the sea of people chatting and greeting their guests, Matthew! Matthew! Matthew! My eyes went to the sound. I saw a hand popping up and down above all the other heads and moving toward the end of the ramp, Matthew! Matthew! Matthew! As I reached floor level, the owner of that bouncing hand who was yelling my name was there to greet me. With an eager smile he lowered that hand and I shook it. Meet Norvel Dooley. Five foot four, 220 pounds, mustache, balding head, and a bit of an English accent I would later come to find out was an affectation he used to appear more proper. Awww, there he is, look at him, strong, handsome American boy. Welcome to Australia, son! Youre gonna love it. He introduced me to his wife, Marjorie. Wearing a white polyester dress with big green polka dots, she was four foot ten, and using a walker because of a kyphotic spinal deformity (which back then wed have called a hunchback). I leaned down and gave her a big hug and kiss, and she reached up and held my face in her hands, then warmly said, Welcome to Australia, Matthew. Welcome to your new family; meet my son Michael. His shirt buttoned down and tucked in with a pocket protector, Michael wore a key ring around his right belt loop that held fifty keys, forty-eight of which I would later find out were unnecessary, but like his fathers accent, healthy for his ego. As I reached out to shake his hand, he sidestepped it in favor of a hearty embrace, before he stepped back and began giving me extremely firm stiff-arm slaps to the middle of my back, singing, My little brother! My little brother! Meet the Dooleys. We loaded into the car and left the airport. I was riding shotgun, Norvel was driving, Marjorie and Michael were in the back seat. After about an hour, I noticed the skyline of the metropolitan city of Sydney was well behind us in the rearview mirror. Even the outskirts seemed out of sight. I asked Norvel, So technically, its not Sydney that you live in, right? No, mate, he proudly replied. Thats the big city. Sin, sin, sin going on over there, mate. You dont want to be living there, its no place for civilized men. We actually live in a little place down the road here called Gosford on the Central Coast. Great spot, beautiful beaches, youre gonna love it. We continued our small talk and drove another forty minutes when we made it to Gosford. Its population looked to be a couple hundred thousand; it was on the coast with miles of beaches, a pretty happening place. This is going to work, beautiful, I said aloud. They said nothing. We continued driving through downtown another fifteen to twenty minutes when I noticed Gosford was now in the rearview mirror. Odd. I once again respectfully asked, Soits not actually Gosford that you live in, is it? To which Norvel once again protested with pride, Oh, no, still a bit too citified, mate, loose morals; country livins a lot better than that place. We actually live just down the road here a bit in a place called Toukley. You're gonna love it. We drove another forty minutes then got to the town of Toukley. Population 5,000. It had one red light, one bar, and one small supermarket, but it was still on the coast, and a very pretty place. Okay, I said aloud, small-town livin, reminds me of where I was born, I can dig it. They had no comment. Norvel continued driving. We drove six or seven more minutes and came to the roundabout on the other side of town. Now quite confused, I asked, Soits not really Toukley that you live in either? Without hesitation and with just as much determination Norvel replied, Nah, Toukleys a nice spot, mate, but a bit big for our taste. We actually live in a little gaff down the road here a bit, Matthew, beautiful little spot called Gorokan. Youre gonna love it. The pavement turned to blacktop. A few minutes later we then came upon Gorokan, population 1,800, a sleepy inland one-street country town. No beach in sight. A couple of small one-story wooden houses to the right and left of Main Street. I took a semideep breath and before I knew it we were going through another roundabout on the other side of town, the blacktop turned to dirt road, and Gorokan was in the rearview mirror. Now a bit peeved, I stated more than I asked, Soyou dont live in Gorokan, either, do you? No. Norvel grunted with excitement. But were veee-rry close, mate, just down the trail here a spell, beautiful little country spot, mate, youre gonna love it. We drove down that dusty trail for about five miles. I was staring out the window at the countryside, trying to recalibrate my expectations, when a green roadside sign intercepted my view. It read WARNERVALE, POP. 305. With no civilization in view, we drove another mile past that sign, and took the first left turn we could, then the first right, then pulled into a gravel driveway up to the garage door of the only house in sight, came to a stop, and turned off the ignition, when Norvel said with great fanfare, Welcome to Australia, Matthew. Youre gonna love it. Day 4 I was washing after-dinner dishes when Norvel and Marjorie entered the kitchen. Matthew, wed like to have our extended family over this weekend and we thought you could cook us something, maybe something quintessentially American. Id love to, I said. But what to cook, I wondered. Ah, nothing more American than a hamburger, thats it, were having good old American hamburgers this weekend. Top choice, Matthew, Norvel said as they turned to leave. Actually, no! I raised my voice. I take that back. Were having cheeseburgers, cus the man who invented the hamburger was smart, but the man who invented the cheeseburger was a genius. I started writing down a grocery list for my culinary masterpiecesoft white buns, dill pickle slices, cheddar and American cheese, red onion, avocado, jalape?os, real mayonnaise, good ketchupwhen I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Norvel. Matthew, would you come with me, please? Id like to talk to you for a second. We exited the kitchen, walked across the living room, and down a hallway where he opened the second door on the right. This way, please, he said as he ushered me into the room. It was his office. He then shut the door behind us and pointed to the seat in front of the desk. I sat down. He then went behind the desk and stepped up onto a platform where his chair was perched, then sat in it. Oddly, Norvel, who was five foot four, was now sitting about a foot and a half higher than I was. He settled in and leaned forward. Placing his elbows on the desk, he crossed his hands knuckle for knuckle, looked me in the eye, and sternly said, Matthew, Id like to talk to you about your choice of words. Yes, sir, I said, whadda you got? Chin on those knuckles, he turned his eyes to a portrait of Winston Churchill on the wall, took a composing inhale, and said, YOU said that the man who invented the hamburger was smart, but the man who invented the cheeseburger was a genius, did you not? Yes, sir, I did say that. He took another aristocratic breath. Matthewthat is merely your opinion. And in your time here with us, you will learn to appreciate fine wines, fine cheeses, and NOT to voice your opinion for the masses. Norvel, its a figure of speech, I said. It just basically means I like cheeseburgers more than hamburgers. Ah!, ah!, ah! he chided as he waved his finger at me. As I said, for the duu-ration of your stay in Australia, with us here in the Dooley household, you will learn to appreciate fine wines, fine cheeses, and NOT to voice your opinion for the masses. He was dead serious. Other than the Dooleys thinking that more than a couple of hours away was still the outskirts of Sydney, this nonsensical lecture was the first odd thing that happened to me in Australia. I was puzzled, but I chalked it up to cultural differences. Day 8 I started school. I had already graduated in America, but this school decided to enroll me with the junior class since I had arrived midterm. The thinking was, I could go into my senior term next year with the same group of kids. Two weeks into the curriculum the year-and-a-half-old syllabus seemed like a breeze to me. Math was so easy it was boring, but I was enjoying my creative writing in the English classes. The teachers, on the other hand, were not. They red-pen marked up everything I wrote and gave me F minuses across the board because of my use of contractions, euphemisms, made-up words, and occasional profanity. Look, I know how to write, I passed those tests. I am deliberately writing how I am, Im being creative, expressing myself, I said. Their response? F minus! Socially the school was awkward as well. Everyone wore uniforms and played tag at lunch. No one had a drivers license, no one wanted to party, and the chicks were not digging me. I felt like I was back in junior high. I started missing my truck, my friends, those girlfriends, my freedom, Texas. But I told myself everything was fine, all part of the adventurecultural differences. I soon started skipping class daily and going to the library instead, where I discovered the great English poet Lord Byron. I had three cassettes: INXSs Kick, Maxi Priests Maxi/Maxi Priest, and U2s Rattle and Hum.*2 Id listen to them on my Walkman while I read about romance. Two weeks later the principal came to me in the library. Matthew, he said, it doesnt seem like this school thing is working out for you, mate. I was thinking that maybe you could transfer into our work experience program where you would practice a trade off campus. You wouldnt get paid, but you would get school credit. Fuck yes. Im in, I said. My first job was as a bank teller at the Australia and New Zealand Bank. Being around adults was refreshing. I became friends with the manager of the bank, Connor Harrington; we enjoyed lunches and a few pints together after work. Back home with the Dooleys, peculiar things were still happening. Per usual, we ate an early dinner, 5:005:30 P.M. at the Dooley household. It was always me, Norvel, Marjorie, Michael, and Michaels girlfriend, Meredith, at the dinner table in the kitchen. Meredith was twenty-two years old and had a slight developmental disability that didnt allow her to drive a motor vehicle. She also had a habit of five-finger squeezing the whitehead pimples that were sometimes on her cheeks when she got nervous. I liked Meredith, we got along well, and she had a great sense of humor. While at the dinner table one late afternoon, I had the Summer Olympics on the television just in view from the living room. The US was about to race in the finals of the Womens 4 x 100 meter relay. I seemed to be the only one interested. Bang! The starting gun went off and less than forty-two seconds later the US women had won gold. I clenched my fist in pride and patriotism and let out a muttered Yes!, mostly to myself. Norvel evidently saw this as an ideal moment for a history lesson. He leapt from his chair and scampered into the living room where he shut off the TV mid- post-race celebration and then marched back to the kitchen. Standing over me, he said, Matthew, would you come with me, please, Id like to talk to you for a second. Uh-oh. He escorted me out of the kitchen, across the living room, and down the hallway to the second door on the right. Yes, back to his office where this time he grabbed an encyclopedia off his bookshelf, sat upon his high chair, glanced at Winston on the wall, opened the encyclopedia to a dog-eared page, and began to lecture me. A real athlete, Matthew, a great athlete, was this young chap from Great Britain named David Broome, who, in the 1960 Summer Olympics, won a bronze medal in the equestrian event of show jumping! Okay, thats cool, Norvel, I said. And another thing, Matthew, that silly movie Stripes you were watching the other nightits brainless and imma-tur! It is a fuu-rther example of the inferiority of American humor to that of the English. Wow. OkayMind if I go finish watching the Olympics? I was starting to feel pretty uncomfortable at the Dooleys. But hey, I told myself again, its just cultural differences. Day 90 Now getting my work experience as a barristers assistant, I was enjoying my days in court, helping write closing arguments, studying the jury, researching law history, and taking notes for the jurist I was assisting. It was also great preparation for my future plans to become a lawyer. Still, back at the Dooleys, the cultural differences were starting to get to me. My identity shaken, I needed some resistance to find my footing, something to overcome, a discipline to adhere to, a sense of purpose, so I could better maintain my sanity in the strange place I was in. I decided to become a vegetarian. The problem was, I didnt know how to be a vegetarian, so I began eating a head of iceberg lettuce with ketchup on it for dinner every night. I also began running six miles a day after work. I got very thin. I also decided to become abstinent for the rest of the year, which still had nine months in it. I started to believe that my lifes calling was to become a monk. I made plans to go to South Africa after my years exchange and free Nelson Mandela. I wrote letters to my mom and dad, friends, and old girlfriends. My very first letter, which I wrote my first week at the Dooleys, was scrawled in a big black Sharpie, But now, my letters were becoming nine, ten, eleven, twelve, sixteen pages long, with minute and meticulous handwriting and eight-line run-on sentences full of too many adjectives and adverbs. Other than my mom, my childhood friend Robb Bindler was the only one who would write me back. A writer himself, he accepted my manic filibusters on the page and returned them with equal length but less derangement. Mostly though, I wrote to myself. But I was fine, right? Just a little homesickness. Cultural differences. I got this. we must first remove that which causes the most friction to our core being. This process of elimination creates order by default, therefore rendering more to go toward, for instance, and less to back away from. We then embrace these affirmations because doing so brings us pleasure and less pain. So we cultivate them until they become habits, and form our constitution, then they proliferate and become emanations of our essence. This is where true identity is born. We fool ourselves in freedom if we think it means getting rid of the constraints around us. This is the art of livinof self-satisfactionin a thread of lineage with our past, looking forward to our future, we need to deal with our present, and choose. Day 122 5:15 P.M. I was quietly eating my lettuce head and ketchup at the dinner table with Norvel, Marjorie, Michael, and Meredith, when the mint jelly came around with the lamb and I immediately passed it on. Seeing this, Norvel abruptly stood up and addressed me, Matthew, you are a young and imma-tur American, and you will appreciate that duuu-ring your stay in Australia, with us in this household, you will learn that mint jelly goes with lamb. Ive had mint jelly, I said. I dont really like it. And besides, Im not eating meat anyway. A couple of weeks later, at the end of another extended family Saturday barbecue (no burgers this time), Marjorie called to me in the kitchen where I was washing up the dishes. Matthew! Come here, she shouted. Matthew! Come here. As I entered the living room, I saw the whole familyaunts, uncles, and cousins, all eighteen of themstanding in a line up against the wall. At the very end of the line was Meredith, bashfully looking down, a couple of fingers tickling her brow. Everyone was awaiting my arrival. Whats up? I asked. Michael was on the opposite side of the room standing in a corner, nervously twiddling those fifty keys. Then Marjorie, whod been sipping her wine all day, giddily said to me and everyone in the room, Matthew, Merediths about to leave, why dont you give her a kiss goodbyeon the lippies! Everyone oohd and ahhd and giggled with mischief. Meredith kept her head down, five fingers now at her cheek. Michael held his clenched fists at his side and began to pace. I already said goodbye to Meredith, Marjorie. I gave her a hug, too, I said. Not to be denied, Marjorie swooned, No, no, Matthew, go on now, give her a kisson the lippies. What? I said, then glanced to the end of the line at Meredith, who raised her chin just high enough to catch my eye, then quickly lowered it again. I tried to understand what was happening. Had Meredith, over the past few months, mistaken my warmhearted humor and goodwill as romantic advances, and in doing so, formed a crush on me? Or had Marjorie just had a few too many and decided to try to pull off a tasteless prank to humiliate me, Meredith, and especially Michael? I didnt know, but either or both ways, handling it this way was wrong. My big brother Michael was now pacing with more disgraced spite, twirling those fifty keys even faster. Everyone else started goading me, Yeah, do it, Matthew! Do it! How am I going to alleviate this situation? I thought, then took a deep breath and walked over to Meredith and calmly said to her, Meredith, did I already give you a hug goodbye? Meredith, too embarrassed to look up, said nothing. I then put two fatherly hands on her shoulders and waited until she finally raised her eyes to me. The room had started to sober up. I already gave you a hug goodbye, didnt I, Meredith? She slowly started nodding yes. Thank you, I said. Thank you, she said under her breath. Then I turned to Marjorie and sternly spoke my mind. Marjorie, dont ever do that to me again. It is not fair. Its not fair to me, its not fair to Meredith, its not fair to your son Michael. Then I walked out of the room and back to the kitchen to finish the dishes. Damn cultural differences. Day 148 I was down to 140 pounds, and my nose was constantly running. For the last month, every night after dinner, Id go back to my restroom, run a hot bath, listen to one of my three cassettes on my Walkman, write another fifteen-page letter to myself, and jack off to Lord Byron. Every night. I was now on my sixth job. Id been a bank teller, a boat mechanic, a photo processor, a barristers assistant, a construction worker, and an assistant golf pro. I was sitting at the dinner table again, head down, eating my head of lettuce with ketchup, biding time until 5:45 when I could head back to the bathroom for my evening ritual, when, out of nowhere Norvel said, Matthew, Marjorie and I have decided that for the duur-ation of your stay here in Australia with us, youll refer to us as Mum and Pop. Now, this one caught me off guard. I was speechless for a few moments as I considered how to respond. Thank you, Norvel, I said. Thank you forthinking of me in that way, butI have a mom and a dadand theyre still alive.*3 Norvel quickly snapped back, As I said, Marjorie and I have decided that for the duur-ation of your stay in Australia with us, in this household, you will refer to us as Mum and Pop. I said nothing and instead returned to finish the last of my ketchup-covered lettuce. When I was done, I politely cleared everyones plate, took them to the kitchen, and washed them, then stopped at the dinner table to clearly address everyone before I headed back to the privacy of my evening protocol. Good night, Nor-vel; good night, Mar-jor-ie; good night, Michael; good night, Meredith. For the first time in 148 days, my head, heart, and spirit immediately agreed on something: No. There is no way Im calling anybody other than my own mom and dad Mum and Pop. That is not negotiable. This is not a cultural difference, and if it is, then Im not sorry, Im just different. Alone in this foreign country, on my own in this uncomfortable world, I took responsibility for who I was and what I believed in. I made a judgment, and I chose. I did not need reassurance, and the clarity gave me identity. I was not going to lose my anchor, both on principle and in order to survive. The next morning, my alarm clock was the sound of a shrieking woman from the other end of the house. It was 6:00 A.M. He!Wont!Call!Me!Mummmmm!!!!He!Wont!Call!Me! Mummmm!!!! I jumped out of bed and ran to find Marjorie, bawling her eyes out, puddles of tears on the table, shrieking to the heavens. I put my arm around her. Cmon, Marjorie, its not personal. How would you feel if your son, Michael, called someone else Mum and Pop? We had a good cry together, for different reasons. Thats when I decided that maybe it was time for me to find another family to live with for the duur-ation of my stay. That afternoon there was a tornado. There wasnt a car on the street. It was raining sideways, 45 mph winds, the sky was deep pink and yellow. I went on my daily run anyway, all the way to the house of the president of the local Rotary Club, Harris Stewart. He answered the door. Mate, what are you bloody hell doing? Whats goin on? Im just out for a run, Harris, want to see you about something. Well, get your ass inside, were under a tornado warning, and youre out for a jog? I stepped in and toweled off. Whats up, mate? he asked. I took a deep breath. Listen, man, if its possible, I was wondering if theres another family in the Rotary Club that could take me in? Everything all right over at the Dooleys? Yeah, yeah, everythings fine, I said, not wanting to be a tattletale. I just want to experienceanother family if I can. For a family to take you in, it means feeding another mouth, Matthew, he said, and the economy hasnt been so good around here for a while, butIll see what I can do. God bless Harris Stewart. He reached out to Connor Harrington, my friend who managed the bank Id worked at as a teller. Connor and his wife agreed to take me in. God bless Connor Harrington. That Thursday, at the weekly Rotary meeting, Harris Stewart declared, over the microphone, to the entire room, that, Our exchange student, Matthew, has been happily living with the Dooleys for the past six months thank you, Norvel. Big applause. And he is now going to be moving in with the Harringtonsthank you, Connor. More applause. The meeting adjourned, there were glad hands all around. It was all wrapped up, no drama. Norvel Dooley was right there in the meeting, sitting next to me during Harriss announcement. Now he was shaking hands in agreement, singing my praises to the rest of the Rotary members, fully aware of, and in accordance with, the new plan. Ill be by to pick you up this coming Tuesday at 6:30 P.M., Connor said to me in front of Norvel. Fair dinkum,*4 Connor, well see you then, Norvel replied. Great, all set. Norvel and I rode home togetherhe said nothing to me. That night I said good night to Norvel and Marjorie before bed, they said good night back, nothing more. The next morning, I woke up, had breakfast, went to work, came home, had dinner, and said good night again before bed. Nothing. Saturday camethere was no family over for a goodbye party, no what are we gonna do on your last days herenothing. Sundaynothing. Mondaynothing. Tuesday morningnothing. I came home from work early, my two suitcases having been packed since last Thursday night, and triple-checked that I had everything ready to go. Five days had passed with not one word of acknowledgment of my leaving when we sat down at the dinner table to have our final 5:00 P.M. supper together me, Norvel, Marjorie, Michael, and Meredith. I chomped on my lettuce head with ketchup. They ate in silence. At 5:30 I got up from the table and went to wash the dishes. Nothing. When I was done, I walked back to my room to quadruple-check that I had everything packed. Connor was going to be here in less than thirty minutes. He couldnt come soon enough. I paced my bedroom floor, checking my watch every thirty seconds. Then I heard a knock on my door. I opened it. And there in the doorway stood Norvel Dooley, hands on his hips, legs slightly apart, in a sturdy squared-up stance. Hey, Norvel. Whats up? Without flinching, he said, Matthew, Marjorie and I have decided that you will be staying with us for the duur-ation of your stay in Australia, in this household, with us. Unpack your bags. In the twilight of my Twilight Zone, shocked, I rallied and took the high road once again. Uhhthank you, Norvel, for offering your home to me for the rest of my stay here in Australia, I said, trying to remain calm. But I have a full year here in your country, in Warnervale, and I want to experience as much as possible, andlivin with a different family will be another experience for me. He raised his chin and settled his heels into the floor. Matthew, unpack your bags. Marjorie and I have decided that youll be staying with us for the duur- ation of your stay here in Australia, he repeated. I lost it. I reared back and sent a vicious left hook through the bedroom door so forceful that my fist came out the other side. I pulled my arm out, bloody and pierced from shards of plywood. I was shaking, full of rage, confused again. Norvel started to shake as well, his eyes bulging in shock. Norvel, I growled, you get your fat fucking ass out of my way or I am going to beat you to the ground and drag you across your gravel driveway for so long that you are gonna be pullin rocks outta your back until the day you fucking DIE! He started twitching, his mouth began to tremble and drop open, then he began to back up. I stood there, staring him down, fists clenched, with a bloody arm, about to piss my pants I was so livid. Thats when he turned around and ran off down the hallway. I removed the splinters from my arm and washed it in the bathroom sink. I soaked a towel with cold water and wiped my arm and face. I paced the room trying to bring my heart rate down and figure out what the fuck had just gone down, when I heard the sound of a car horn. I looked at my watch. It was 6:30. I rolled my bags down the hallway, past Norvels office, across the living room, through the kitchen, and out the garage to the driveway. There was Connor Harrington in his Land Cruiser. Norvel was there, too, along with Marjorie, Michael, and Mereditheverybodyhugging and carrying on like they were sending their last son off to join the army overseas. Marjorie wept on her walker. Michael was crying like a baby as he gave me a bear hug. Meredith sobbed and tickled her cheeks as I kissed her on the forehead. Even Norvel dried a tear. They loaded my suitcases in the back of the Land Cruiser and Connor and I drove away. In the rearview mirror the Dooleys were lined up at the top of the driveway, standing in the very place where I had stood when I first arrived, arms around each other, shedding tears and waving goodbye until I was out of sight. Day 326 It was a Saturday night, and my last in Australia. The next day Id be boarding a plane home. Id been there one day short of a calendar year. Now livin*5 with the Stewarts for the last few months, Id stayed with a family called the Travers for the two before that, and the Harringtons the one prior. All of them were outstanding people and also best of friends with one another. Tonight, they were all gathered at Harriss house for my farewell party. We were doing what we always did on Saturday nightsHarris played guitar while we all took turns reading Woody Allens Side Effects out loud, laughing our asses off, drinking port wine until three in the morning. It was just past midnight when Connor Harrington blurted out of nowhere, Hey, Macka (his Aussie nickname for me), how in the bloody hell did you live with the Dooleys for that long? Partially stunned, I asked, What do you mean? The room started to giggle. I mean theyre out of their bloody minds! he hooted. The whole room broke out into belly laughs, a cacophony of hysteria. My mouth dropped, I looked around at each one of them, dumbfounded. They were curled over with laughter, thought it was hilarious. Finally I cried out, You motherfuckers! You KNEW all along! You KNEW they were crazy! And you let me stay there!? I almost lost my mind! They laughed even harder. Then I began to laugh, and soon we were all rolling on the floor. It was a big Australian prank. In fact the time at the Dooleys was torturous. A livin mental hell. A true red light at the time. All my visions of grandeur were a mirage. But a handshake deal never gave me the option of returning home, so I endured. Only later did I come to realize that the suffering and loneliness I experienced would be one of the most important sacrifices of my life. Before my trip to Australia I was never an introspective man. On that trip I was forced to look inside myself for the first time to make sense of what was going on around me. The life I had left back home in Texas was summertime year-round. Most handsome, straight As, dating the best-looking girl at my school (and across town), a truck that was paid for, and I. Had. No. Curfew. Australia, the land of sunny beaches, bikinis, and surfboards I never saw, gave me the ability to respect winter. I was on my own, for a full year. I was in the bathtub every night before sundown jacking off to Lord Byron and Rattle and Hum. Telling myself daily, Im okay, Im good. You got this McConaughey, its just cultural differences. I was a vegetarian, down to 130 pounds, abstinent, planning to become a monk and free Nelson Mandela. Yeah, I was forced into a winter. Forced to look inside myself because I didnt have anyone else. I didnt have anything else. Id lost my crutches. No mom and dad, no friends, no girlfriend, no straight As, no phone, no truck, no Most Handsome. And I had a curfew. It was a year that shaped who I am today. A year when I found myself because I was forced to. A year that also planted the seeds of a notion that continues to guide me: Lifes hard. Shit happens to us. We make shit happen. To me, it was inevitable that I was staying the entire year because Id shaken on it. Id made a voluntary obligation with myself that there was no goin back. So I got relative. I denied the reality that the Dooleys were off their rocker. It was a crisis. I just didnt give the crisis credit. I treaded water until I crossed the finish line. I persisted. I upheld my fathers integrity. And while I was going crazy, I kept telling myself that there was a lesson I was put there to learn, that there was a silver lining in all of it, that I needed to go through hell to get to the other side, and I did. We cannot fully appreciate the light without the shadows. We have to be thrown off balance to find our footing. Its better to jump than fall. And here I am. GREENLIGHT. P.S. The Dooleys son Rhys was also in the exchange program, and he came over to live at my house with my parents while I was with his. What kind of time did he have? My parents took him to NASA, to Six Flags, and to Florida for the summer, where he threw parties every weekend. Clearly taking advantage of his accent, he took an ex-girlfriend of mine on dates in my truck, and I was told that his seed found purchase in the private parts of two particular swooning American girls. The liquor cabinet was drained. He had the time of his fucking life. Back home in Texas, I was nineteen years old, had a year in Australia under my belt, and was now drinking age. On the way home from buying dog food and paper towels at Walmart one night, Dad and I stopped by a neon-lit pool hall in a strip mall on the southwest side of Houston. We had a few beers, I met a few of his friends, mostly kept to my yes and no sirs, but had enough confidence and experience to chime in to some of the tall tale telling. A couple hours later we paid the tab at the bar and started to leave. As I stepped out of the entrance door, my dad behind me, the big-bicepped bouncer who was standing just outside stepped in front of my dad and said, You pay your bill? Without slowing his pace, Dad said, Sure did, pal, and continued walking. Thats when the man at the door did something that my minds eye can still see in slow motion today. In an attempt to slow my dads passage, he put his hand on my dads chest. Another mans hand on my dad. Before Dad could correct this wannabe muscleman with his own hands, I did with mine. The next thing I remember: I was on top of this bouncer who was now splayed across a table fifteen feet back inside the bar. I pounded down on him with vicious right fists until the drunken jeers of a good bar fight slowly turned to murmurs. The fight was over. It had been over, but not for me. Then I felt myself being pulled off the man and held back. I continued to kick and spit at the doorman on the floor until I heard a strong, calming voice in my ear, Thats enough, son, thats enough. That night was my rite of passage. Dad let me in. It was the night I became his boy, a man in his eyes. The night we became friends. The night he called every one of his buddies who knew me and said, The youngest ones gonna be okay, boys, you shoulda seen him take this big ol boy out last night at the bar, just decked himWe gotta keep an eye on him, though, hes got a berserker switch, hes a little bit crazy. From that night on I could go to the bar with him, my brother Mike, and all the men Id been calling Mr. all my life. It was a primitive initiation into my fathers regard, but finally, instead of only hearing about the stories from last night the next day, I could be a part of them.

  • Gullivers Travels /   (Swift, 2014)    Gullivers Travels /
  • Atomic Habits /   (by James Clear, 2018) -   Atomic Habits /
  • The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts /   :    (by Gary Chapman, 2010) -   The Five Love Languages: The
  • The Universe in a Nutshell /     (by Stephen Hawking, 2001) -   The Universe in a Nutshell /

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