I am not a social person. For all of the bubbly, fun spirited, networky crap I put on the internet, my social skills are appallingly crude. To meet the real Andy, the one not hiding behind the keyboard and the Cookie Monster, is to meet a cave dwelling troglodyte of epically awkward proportions. Most of the time, I won’t look at you when speaking, and hugging is definitely verboten. It’s not that I don’t like you, it’s that I do. I’m not sure which is worse. The only thing I have a harder time with than polite human interaction and the genial hug is playing board games. Board games are the ultimate in socially awkward interaction. Part of my mojo derives from a strange aloofness born of not knowing what the blazes to say to you. My social coping mechanisms are completely broken down by having to spend two hours playing a board game with other people. Games mean eye contact and actively taking an interest in the mechanisms that separate humans from birds, or cattle. Games require cooperation and speaking in more than monosyllabic mumbles. Games require being able to gracefully lose, and to learn how to win without…I don’t know. Game playing never reaches that point with me.
When my daughter was little, she developed gamesmanship during family bonding times. Anna had a mechanized, magnetic fishing game, which I actually loved watching her play. At two years old, she developed a knack for clubbing the revolving, yap mouthed fish with a plastic pole until they bent to her will. This to me was a relatable game. Smackafish was great fun. In time, Anna adapted to the contraints of civilized society. She plays by the rules, because it preserves the entertainment value and integrity of the time together. I’m not there yet, although taping the Uno cards together in order to win has finally left my repertoire. The fun will eventually be in enjoying the closeness of friends and loved ones, and not poking them with magnetic fishing poles. We’ll see.
Lately, I’ve been downright well behaved. Lots of hours worked, followed by sitting quietly waiting until I can again get back in the car to go clock in for another day. Sometimes I enjoy a Creamsicle, or some cheap beer while sitting quietly. Sometimes both. Mmmm…cheapsicle. Once in a while, usually after my wife tells me stop sitting around drooling like a gibbering file clerk on a cheapsicle break, I look at words and colorful pictures on the magical blog writing box. Someone told me once that I was staring at a Coke machine, and come to think of it, there a lot of quarters under it. Anyway, the magical flashing blog writing box has featured lots of stories on the internets about new reality TV shows debuting this summer. Reality shows are a treat, because other people’s versions of reality tend to suck more than mine. This summer, there are new programs featuring most of the Palin family (Sarah, not Michael), General Wesley Clark, Puck Rainey, the remains of James Brown and a talking replica of Britney Spears’ lower torso (or it might just be her). Instead of writing letters to cable networks that begin with
Dear TV Land,
Can you please just re-run episodes of What’s Happening? The theme song is the only thing that helps my cheapsicles digest…
I’d rather suggest some new reality TV shows of my own. Here are a few:
Osmonds VS. Steamrollers. The concept is simple: A death match between Donnie, Marie and construction equipment.
B-List Reenactment. Hollywood’s “sort of” stars spend a half hour recreating their most famous (only famous) movie moments. Episode 1 would involve something about Denise Richards. What was she famous for? Oh, yeah. Champagne. Got it.
James Lipton Stunt Interviews. Why not ratchet up the old actor interviews with Jimmy and have the host ask his note card questions while wearing a loincloth and wrestling a bear? Danger Shmanger.
Are You Smarter Than an Inbred Comedian?
Swamp Blogger. My story, played by loincloth clad James Lipton.
Last Wednesday I posted about being a solitary person and having a need at times to step back from life and just think. Over the days that followed, I drove deep into the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, far past Mackinaw and the pasties, fudge and smoked fish that are meant to lure in us southern dwellers. Even though I am a Michigander by birth, my trips over the bridge to the U.P. have been few. The world of the Yoopers is different. Towns are few and far between and most consist of small grocery stores, or gas and bait shops that cater to hunters and fisherman on their way to lodges. Over a seventy mile stretch of two lane highway, a driver might only encounter five passing lanes. For the most part, if you get stuck driving behind tourists, there will be a grinding wait before being able to pass the slow vehicle in front of your bumper.
Each morning on my visit to the U.P., I made a habit of waking up at six a.m. and then watching through the window for the first “barely there” strains of dawn. At half past, I’d lace up my running shoes and head out into the woods. After a half mile, I’d reach a paved road that wound its way through the Hiawatha National Forest. There are few times in life when I’ve felt so absolutely alone. The further I’d traipse away from the cabin, the more isolated I began to feel. The trees seemed to grow around and over me, only allowing the sunrise to break just a bit over their tops. I smelled nothing but the cool scent of piney woods wafting on the breeze mingled with the fish smell rolling off of the lakes. Alone in the woods, I wondered what would happen if I ran across a bear. After twenty minutes went by on the road without seeing a car or any dwellings, there arose a flutter of panic in me. Then it vanished. For the first time since living in Grand Teton as a young man, or the year spent roaming the Delaware Water Gap, did I feel truly at home. In emptiness, as well as in quiet, did I find peace and the realization that I am infinitely small in the vastness of God’s world. The world is and will continue to be and my small footprint is just…small.
On its margin the great forest
Stood reflected in the water,
Every tree-top had its shadow,
Motionless beneath the water.
From the brow of Hiawatha
Gone was every trace of sorrow,
As the fog from off the water,
And the mist from off the meadow.
With a smile of joy and triumph,
With a look of exultation,
As of one who in a vision
Sees what is to be, but is not,
Stood and waited Hiawatha.H.W. Longfellow, The Song of Hiawatha.
A few months back I wrote a blog post offering some reasons for not getting naked, climbing into a fire truck and running over strangers (Naked, posted 2/25/12). Any time you can include a naked individual driving a stolen fire truck, Angelina Jolie and the end times in one tidy little blog, it’s a fun day. This week, most of the major papers and Time magazine picked up on a story from Miami involving a naked individual gnawing the face off of another equally unclothed person near a freeway on-ramp. The man, who could not be swayed from his cannibalistic ritual until fatally shot, was said to be under the influence of Bath Salts. This is a horrible, despicable story and the victim is barely alive as of this writing, but I did want to comment on the whole idea of calling whatever form of LSD/household cleaners the assailant was taking “Bath Salts.” Is there any reason for calling a powerful hallucinogenic agent “Bath Salts”?
When I think of bath salts, I’m reminded of some miserable housewife (of a bygone era. Miserability is really unfashionable these days) throwing up her hands and begging Calgon to take her away. Bath Salts seemed like a nice, quaint product. Of course, as kids we were told not to ingest any bathing products. “Don’t drinkMr. Bubble! For Heavens sake, child! You’ll hear colors!” Why even take a chance on imbibing a substance named after a tub time relaxant? What’s with the zombie apocalypse craze, anyway? Why are people getting naked and biting strangers? Is it because of TV shows like The Walking Dead? If Mad Men gets too popular, are people going to put on wool knit suits and hit secretaries with umbrellas? Are we going to become a nation in which Once Upon ATime is so popular that people dress as Pinocchio and lie to each other for fun? Oh, joy! Siri? Remind me to dress as Pinocchio on Saturday night!
Are people defined by their “isms?” As much as the look on our faces shows the world the way to our souls, it might be the little idio(t)syncrasies that are the real indicators of just who we are. Take for instance the tuneless tunes we choose to sing, or hum when happy. Sure, some people don’t ever have a go-to song. Many of those same people are generally unhappy tools, or they’re mannequins. When I’m truly at peace with the world, I become more annoying than usual. One of my little tells is that I sing the closing sting from ESPN’s Sports Center theme. The tune is literally just “duh na na duh na na Sports Center.” ESPN ( The Exaggerated Sports Pimping Network) has been using variations of the theme for over twenty years and it’s one of those ubiquitous riffs that just gets lodged in one’s gray matter. In our house, at least on most sunny Saturday mornings, every question asked of me is answered with this ism sliver. If someone asks for scrambled eggs, they get them served with “duh na na…” For some reason, I always end by announcing Sports Center like one of the public address announcers from Half Life. The nonsensical use of my musical ism became so out of control that I caught myself mindlessly duh na na-ing at work one day. “What that your humming? Maybe you should go back and sit in your cubicle and have some time alone to hum the batman theme.”
Leave it to the intuitively designed iPhone to be the buzz killer. The Sports Center app for iOS plays the show’s beloved sting at certain user ordained times. I set the app up to notify me during key points in baseball and football games as well as at their start and end times. The phone did so much “duh na na” over the first few months that I now keep it silent for the majority of the time. Certain moments in life don’t need the Sports Center theme, either from me or the phone. So, I have to break the ESPNism and find new ways to enjoy my happiness. The other night I found that I could “duh nuh” the entire Monday Night Football theme. Thus, a new ism was born.
Like many failed bloggers, I aspire to be a novelist. Some persistent voice in my mind shouts at me to write as if my life depends on it. No, I’m not actually hearing voices and the persistent encouragement may be the result of too much Sudafed (mmm…cold medicine). Every now and then one of the creative mash-ups that appear on these pages shows promise. A reader from Argentina mentioned that I’m funny (looking). During my college days, I imagined myself as a poet. One girl I gave original poetry to stopped taking my pizza order long enough to go and show my work to her manager. Sure, I’m banned from Pizza Hut in every state (except Alabama), but that just prompted me to learn to make pizza. While mowing the lawn, I thought of a list of life experiences that would be beneficial to my future career as a novelist. The neighbors were kind enough to give the mower back after it propelled itself through their roses. Qualifications:
I’ve previously worked naked (not in the film industry. I was a dish washer).
Good with titles. For instance, if the novel involved lawn care, I’d call it 5o Shades of Brown.
knowledgeable about romancelove cheeses of the world.
Formerly a dashing man of international intrigue. Well, I’ve been to Canada.
Great at putting words together in a way that simultaneously inspires rage and boredom.
I enjoy books. My favorite is the comic book version of Burn Baby Burn.
Wrote speeches for previous President George W. Bush. Needless to say, he never used them. Who can tell the difference, though?
Have flair for describing gritty, realistic life situations. Once such situation might involve a dark, stormy night on which my dog went pee in my shoe. Then again, maybe not.
I write in the same way I speak. Oh, wait. Neither of those are strong selling points. I may have to return to washing dishes.
The only thing wrong with dying is that the deceased has no control over choice of obituary photograph used. I can say without any trace of guilt that the sadness I feel when reading about the passing of some stranger is usually related to the picture accompanying that person’s death notice. I was struck by this yesterday while reading about a locally famous soul who’d parted ways with his breathing related obligations. While the column dedicated to the done-living was of interest, it was the terrifically bad picture that was upsetting. Had this individual made a miraculous recovery and then decided to purchase a newspaper (because defeating death naturally leads to the question “Well? What now? I guess I could see what’s in today’s paper…”) he would have been upset himself. The poor guy would have had to recall when in life he dressed like a rodeo clown and then posed for photos while smiling like a lobotomy recipient.
I’m opposed to the “In happier times” photo. There will be instructions for my family not to send the paper any pictures of what I looked like when happy. Not that I’ve spent life unhappy. Most of my existence has been quite amusing, but that could have just been indigestion. In my happier times, though, I never possessed the look of someone surprised by a giant-sized Publisher’s Clearinghouse check shortly after eating pizza from a restaurant on the health department’s watch list. There’s happy, and then there’s unbearably diarrhea stricken. I believe in happiness, but only to a point. When I go to McDonald’s, for instance, I always ask for a Pleasantly Subdued meal, because a Happy Meal is just overkill. Obit photos tend to look like the dearly dead has just eaten the happiest meal of all. Ah, well. Be wary of relatives with cameras and continue living as though you were alive.
One of the nice things about the era you grew up in is that it’s all yours. I went through the over-glorified attic of my memories and came up with 10 dusty memories of childhood in the polyester wasteland:
Wacky Packages. The lazy child’s form of graffiti. When they took our pens and paint away, we covered every available source of material with these creepy stickers.
The Muppet Show. The Muppet Show was better than any so-called variety show. You got to see borscht belt comedians, top music acts and puppets
telling corny jokes all on TV that was beamed into your house for free.
My daughter insisted a few minutes ago that Santa Claus won’t bring me anything this year due to my poor attitude. She said this in response to having a cartoon about moronic sea creatures turned off. For sea animals the characters on Sponge Bob are intelligent. Relative to humans they’re…still pretty smart. Maybe I should turn the show back on. The part about Santa not gifting me this year, however, isn’t worrisome. The modern* Saint Nick story has so many holes in it that it’s a wonder today’s tech savvy kids buy into it.
The story goes that each year a morbidly obese separatist who lives in a northern commune with his wife and followers makes lavish gifts for the world’s children. Santa and his height challenged minions track which children are deserving of baubles. One night a year Santa dons a costume and sets out to distribute the toys in a sled that flies because of specially trained petting zoo mule deer hitched to it. The deers’ ability to fly may be due to substance abuse, hence Santa lives so far north. Santa lands his deer team atop the homes of his chosen children and proceeds down chimneys. Although severely burned by fireplace embers, he forces his way into homes to leave gifts. Children are urged to leave sweets for the gentleman, despite his signs of diabetes (which isn’t checked, because he’s opposed to government health care). He then climbs through fireplace ashes and alights up the chimney and to his waiting sleigh. Riding in the sled behind eight deer who subsist on carbohydrates and emit ozone depleting methane, Santa finds his way to all of the world’s young people. The morning after Santa has visited is disheartening for parents, because he gets credit for gifts which they worked all year to purchase. This is of no concern to Father Christmas, who is already planning a vacation at Zucotti Park. Who am I kidding? I hope the jolly old guy brings me Sketches of Spain on L.P.
*The real Saint Nicolas is famous for burning heretics, circa 325 A.D.
Yesterday was supposed to be one of those grand and glorious half-marathon days. I’d run the summer out and planned to enter fall with a PR for the half. It never happened. Two weeks ago arthritis and age kicked me to the curb to the point that I called it a season. Whiffed and missed. I awoke to the sound of crappy weather and thought about all of those times that I’d relished running in rain and muck. As I got up and started moving, my swollen knees told me “Thanks, you old fart. Let’s go have some eggs and toast.”
I brooded for a few minutes by watching some TV. ESPN’s 30 for 30: Jordan Rides The Bus was playing. I continued to mope until I caught the message within the short film depicting Michael Jordan’s early retirement in 1994 from the Chicago Bulls, and his brief stint as a minor league baseball player. One of the central tenants of his decision to leave basketball and play for the White Sox farm club was that he wanted to live the life of no regrets. Had he not taken the opportunity to pursue baseball, Jordan might have forever regretted what might have been. Life is full of might of “might have beens.” I am at least temporarily sidelined from running, but now is the time to live without regrets. I don’t regret running marathons. I want to see what else there is to pursue and conquer in life. The possibilities are varied and endless. Jordan read a great statement in a 1997 Nike advertisement, which I wrote in my journal as I waited for a plane in Charlotte, North Carolina after my left knee failed me during Marine boot camp that same year. I don’t ever regret going to boot camp, but consider it one of life’s great adventures. The statement from the commercial?
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
No regrets. Life is good. If I can’t run, I’ll find a new way to challenge myself. Success is in getting up when you’re not able to run and walking to the next challenge.
I’ve never been a drug user. The strongest thing I imbibed regularly was Pepsi. Last year my neurologist (what a weird thing to be able to refer to a neurologist as one’s own. “Oh, yeah. That’s my brain guy. We’re tight”) prescribed a migraine preventative drug that took me on a wicked trip. The medication really didn’t impact the frequency or severity of headaches I experienced, but I was too tripped out to notice. I started to have dreams. The dreams started out in a good place. Walmart, actually. For two months I spent each night in a series of dreams I named “Celebrity Walmart Trip.” Each night, I’d stroll the isles of our local super-store with a famous person. Night one was Walmart with Kenny Rogers (the former Tiger’s pitcher, not The Gambler). I asked about what was on his hand during the ’06 World Series. The next night featured quality shopping with William Shatner. He didn’t appreciate being called “Shat” or the fact that I giggled every time I said the word “Shat.” After a month or so, the dreams became markedly weirder. The former Captain Kirk’s head burst into flames on a subsequent somnambulist Walmart visit and the fire consumed me. Fire became a recurring theme in these medication side effect night terrors. I’d be lulled into a conversation with some woman in a bar that could only exist in my dreams (because I like Pepsi) only to be consumed by her hell fire. At least I wouldn’t have to call those women back. Dragons, murderous chickens and devil women gave way after a few months to a sort of garbled terror montage. I stopped the medication eventually and went back to the safety of just living with headaches until another doctor prescribed me some well-behaved, sleep-flame retardant drugs.
A year later, I am having calm dreams of great beauty. I’ve tried to look up their meaning on popular internet dream databases only to find that every dream somehow means that I have a fear of sexual relationships with clowns. The thing that I like about my calm, reassuring dreams is that everyone I’ve ever known comes by for a visit at some point. A nightly talk show of the mind. Sometimes pianos mysteriously fall on friends, but I’d hate to look up the meaning of that on the internet for fear that it goes back to clowns. My dreams have evolved since I was a teenager when all they ever contained was Phoebe Cates or a Camaro. If those dreams ever return, I’ll invite her to the nightly talk show and keep an eye on the sky for pianos.
The arrival of Fall makes me weepy and emotionally irresponsible. I muddle through the Michigan weather and wait out the Seasonal Affective Disorder, all the while coming up with creative solutions. On days when the clouds are heavy and the world seems to recede into darkness that won’t fade until the January thaw, I go and stare at the gas station hot dog machine. The glowing light seems to afford my soul peace and tranquility. This doesn’t help with the seasonal weight gain, though. Part of the S.A.D. dilemma is that it causes increased appetite, sleepiness and the need to be on a constant sugar bender. We-ird. I eat and tear up like Sissy the Blogger. Every time someone mentions that the World Series starts tonight and that my beloved Tigers (sniff) are sending Justin Verlander to the mound against Barry Zito, the waterworks start (“Ahhh…get me some marshmallows! This is too much pressure!”).*
Lately I’ve started to take notice of advertisements for supplemental testosterone. For the most part, these seem to be just commercials sponsored by the inadequacy industry. I don’t need no stoopid testosterone! Give me some Turtle Wax and I’ll be fine. I’m a man, and that puts me in a fraternity of men. The fraternity of understanding the onside kick, the infield fly rule and Top Gear. The brotherhood of “If it ain’t broke, let’s break it on purpose.” The boost of testosterone might help with the obnoxious, seasonal emotional jags, though. Not that I can afford it. It’s more than likely that my insurance doesn’t cover hormones, even if my doctor’s chart states “necessitated because dumbbell can’t keep his big boy pants up.” What to do? I guess that I’ll turn to other, more homeopathic maleness supplements. Since we haven’t been to the grocery store in a while, the only items in the house that might do the trick are Vitamin D pills and Ramen noodles. Get my mortar and pestle. It’s time to mix up some mojo.
*After writing this, Justin gave me reason to tear up. I’m going to need a bigger bag of marshmallows.
Ichiro was traded to the Yankees earlier today and I don't feel so good myself. Watching Ichiro over the last ten years has been a reminder that workmanlike routine and consistency are rare and wonderful qualities in modern life.
Ichiro Suzuki was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Yankees this afternoon. To you, this may seem the routine business of modern professional baseball. There has never been anything routine about the very routine-ness that is Ichiro. He’s been a career .322 hitter with the Mariners since 2001, a workhorse of steadfast on base percentage. The very businesslike way he’s fielded his position and gotten on base doesn’t make the Sports Center highlights any more, because we’re used to his excellence. The fact that he finally played a major league season in 2011 not hitting .300 was only worrisome, because he’s Ichiro. I may be a Detroit Tiger homer for life, but Ichiro has been my one baseball infidelity over the years. When the Mariners and Tigers have squared off over the years, I’ve been in the habit of calling my daughter in to watch the TV. “C’mere, because you’re not going to see anyone like this again.”
I bleed Tigers blue and orange. A Summer’s Eve swilling mo-ron told me last season that I must have just jumped on the band wagon. Sure, except the bandwagon arrived around the time I was a toddler and could just pronounce Wockenfuss. My dad used to prop me next to the old Realistic stereo speakers and I’d sit and listen to Ernie. “Swiiing and a miss” is still rattles around my brain pan. All this having been said, I was an Ichiro fan. Even if he’d played for the White Sox, this would have been so. Tonight he’s batting eighth for the Yankees, which tests even my respect for the great, working man’s all-star. He played for some woefully crummy Seattle teams over the years and I don’t blame Ichiro for wanting to finish with a contender. In all the years Ichiro’s played for bad teams, this is the first I remember him publicly complaining. Hopefully, he finishes on a high note. Ichiro inspires what should be the best qualities in all of us: hard work, consistency, and presence at the plate.
A few weeks before the end of the school year I woke my daughter up one morning and told her we were going to see the Detroit Tigers. Who knew that this was such an effective way to get kids up for school? Sitting bolt upright, she asked without a trace of sleepiness
“No,” I answered “At Wrigley.’
“What’s a Wrigley?”
Taking my nine-year old to a ball game was part of my bucket list fatherhood plan. I figured that we’d do fun stuff that every kid should experience before adulthood. Never mind the logistics of taking a little girl into Chicago without the guiding hand of mom. We checked off quite a few bucket items on this trip. The first thing was learning to ride with drunks on the South Shore line for two hours. We had plenty of conversations the rest of the day about why people shouldn’t drink at 9:00 in the morning (let alone 3 beers before the train departs). Riding the Red Line from State Street to Addison was another lesson. Learn to embrace other people. More importantly, embrace being squashed into some stranger’s boobs (not me. I’m too tall and obvious). A lady asked me on the way down to the subway if I had a back up plan. “Yeah. I’m not going to let go of the child. Same as the original plan.” Learn to enjoy exotic restrooms. Wrigley’s best kept secret is the section 126 First Aid station and it’s locking bathroom.
The experience of going to good old Wrigley Field is lost on my daughter. As it should be. She’ll get the particulars later. I know that she’s was as awed as me by the sight of the field beyond home plate when you first walk through the gate. I don’t believe in baseball cathedrals, but Wrigley’s pretty close. Someday, the Cubs will have won numerous championships under the stellar management of Darwin Barney and the billionaire owners (the Olsen twins) will have the place leveled. She’ll look back and tell the kids how dad dragged her up to see Justin Verlander throw a five hit, two earned run game back in the good old days. A bucket list check-off for any kid, even at my age.