There is a part of me that doesn’t like to be rushed or hurried. This is the part that I refer to as “my entire body.” On Monday afternoons, I hurry and rush to ready the house for the arrival of my daughter Anna’s piano teacher. My wife and I aren’t terribly extravagant people, but we shell out to have someone come to the house and make our kid sit up straight and speak in sentences. We pay him in chickens, thanks largely to our budget plan which is taken from reruns of Little House on The Prairie. Cleaning up for the piano instructor is always a challenge. The only time we’re actually at home during any given week is during the same hour that the piano lesson takes place. Somehow, the house is always a wreck, despite the fact that our family only sleeps and brushes our teeth here. Each Monday I come home and accuse unseen burglars of wrecking our little sanctuary. There are a lot of screamed queries to the heavens (“Why? Why would someone break in and leave dishes in the sink? Couldn’t they have at least cleaned the bathroom?”). The biggest step is getting the moving mountain of unfolded laundry to take a hike and glacially slide its mass to another room. I find myself, Moses-like, standing before the clothing pile shouting
Move laundry! Allow my people to get around your ponderous bulk!
Once the laundry is sufficiently stowed, or stuffed into a closet, there is the matter of the household smell. Grace, the spontaneously exploding beagle, has her own funk. She snuggles with her stink, cuddling it close to her. Unfortunately, Stinky the Wonder Dog also shares her tremendous gravitational field of malodorous misanthropy with the rest of the house. We were out of any kind of air freshening Fabreeze today, and I got nervous. No Fabreeze spray for boating accidents, nuclear disasters, or elderly, rancid beagles. I turned to the only thing sure to mask the stink. Deep Woods Off. I bug sprayed the blazes out of my house. It worked. The house took on the smell of summer camp and reminded me of …I’m not sure. I accidentally sprayed Off in my face and everything is foggy.
Our piano is a strange beast. As newlyweds, Lori and I gladly accepted the offer that if we agreed to take in the piano it was ours to keep. Huh. That’s how we got Grace, too. Several days after we said “yippeee!” to the offer ( or whatever newlyweds back then said), a group of Hobbit movers showed up at our house with a 1960 Wurlitzer baby grand in tow. There it sits, waiting to help our child with lessons in maturity and culture, and help us not purchase any other furniture because the daggone thing takes up our entire living room. Most years we end up putting the Christmas tree on top of it. Grace sleeps under the piano, her stench eating away at the finish. Like Grace, it’s ours. Part of our family story. Even if I do have to keep shouting, Moses-like, at the laundry pile “Don’t eat the piano!”
One of my early jobs was working in a parking lot. When you start down the path of adult careerhood by wandering a quarter-mile strip of pavement, it really does motivate one to work toward upward mobility. Every four hours, I was required to go inside the supermarket that owned the lot and tell them that their investment was safe and that the parking lot was still there. Not a bad job, really. I’d stand in my lot and chat with the working women who’d also had chosen a career path that involved walking the pavement. Needless to say, the ladies had better uniforms. There was another kid the supermarket employed who’d memorized Robin Williams: At The Met album and would recite whole sides for my entertainment. He didn’t have the timing down, but his recall was impressive. At The Met was one of those concerts that I still think informed my sensibilities. Met encapsulated the 80’s and doesn’t represent the present, but I claim it as a voice you can faintly hear in my speech and writing. There is a lot of material that coalesced to make up my mojo. Every once in a while I like to come up with lists of the pieces that produced my screwed-upness, material that represents the parts of whatever sum resembles me. Everybody has one of these lists, here’s my list of completely unrelated, in-no-particular order influences:
George Carlin-Son of WINO
Bill Cosby-To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With
De La Soul-Three Feet High and Rising
The Monty Python Instant Record Collection
Clint Eastwood-The Outlaw Josey Wales
Doc Watson-Going Down This Road Feeling Bad
Bob Dylan-Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright
Miles Davis-Concierto De Aranjuez
Jazz On A Summer’s Day
Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate (not really a good basis for confident style, but I was a confused, parking lot wandering youngster).
I don’t eat a lot of barbecue these days. Something about having a migraine induced by beef brisket and the Technicolor painting of downtown trash cans that followed scared me away from going back to barbecue. Sigh. This is a shame because I consider pork shoulder or ribs slathered in a deep red sauce proof that God loves humans and wants them to be happy. Obviously, He has some other higher (and headache free) purpose for my life. Barbecue recipes and techniques perfected over a lifetime and carefully handed down to ensuing generations are among the great gifts that bind a family together. I can’t even commit barbecue infidelity anymore and cheat with a McRib sandwich. The venerable McDonald’s special pork sandwich doesn’t qualify as barbecue any more than Manwich does, but McRib holds its own strange appeal. McRib is just…McRib. Today, I read that most Americans probably won’t get to enjoy another tasty pork mushlet before human history ends in December. Bummer.
According to the legend of the Mayan Calendar, the world will end in some sort of cataclysmic ball of death on December 21, 2012. Conservative pundits will blame this on the 47% of Americans who are left-wing freeloaders. I am not so much worried about the end of time, as I am the fact that McDonald’s Corporation is getting set to announce that the McRib sandwich will not make a return appearance in stores until after the purported apocalypse (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/mcrib-saved-christmas-mcdonalds-delays-173538794.html). I wish this wasn’t so. My only request is to ring out this old existence with a fiery, blinding McRib migraine. There are numerous reasons to choose the McPatty as my final meal. Most self-respecting barbecue joints will probably be closed, but McDonald’s will probably stay open at least three days after the end of the world. There is also just something deeply comforting about McRib sandwiches. Maybe it’s the preservative/smoke mix used in the pork, which is composed of TBHQ, BHA, TLC, BYOB and BOGO. Mmmm…pre-embalmed by a pork sandwich. How reassuring. If you compliment the sandwich with a quart of Dr. Pepper, than you’ve also taken on the blessing of something slightly medical sounding. If the Mayan alarm is a false one, I’ll take up vegetarianism. Maybe I can perfect the McVeggie sandwich. Nah. I’ll take my chances with the mystery patty.
I read recently that commenting on blogs is a good way to introduce people to your own writing. As a reclusive nut case, I mostly sneak around blogs I admire and retreat back to this particular whateveritis after reading them. If you’ve commented here, or followed, I’ve read your work and enjoyed it before going back into the cave of Mostly Teachable. There is a reason that I don’t comment much, and that reason is the fear of sounding like an argument I read today between two braniacs about whether Mr. T. is pro or anti-Nietzsche in his personal philosophy. Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher who died in 1900 after battling drug addiction, mental illness and syphilis. What a joy he must have been at parties. “Let me get this straight, Fred. God is dead? Geez, you don’t look that good yourself.”
The argument over which side of the Nietzsche school Mr. T errs on is ludicrous. There’s a reason that a group of Hollywood character actors rode around in the A-Team van and not the great philosophers of the last three centuries. The reason is that the philosophers would have never made it out of the van. What a weird scene that would have been if NBC had made an action series in which Nietzsche, Kant, Camus, and Kierkegaard had formed a band of vigilantes who weekly were charged with bringing down banana republics. There’d have been thrilling arguments over the nature of existence and God, of science and reality. Not so much the throwing of hand grenades, but the dialogue would have been something else. Is is possible that Mr. T. is a great philosopher on his own terms? I saw him at Burger King once in Chicago, and he was an imposing figure, but very kind to his fans. That’s really all I ask out of my heroes. That, and an explanation of free will.
On the job, I’m a model of concentration. For the most part what I do is interesting, if only to me. The work involves staring for long periods at chromatic, pulsating lights and trying not to convulse, or pass out. My concentration is like that of a three-year old repeatedly smacking a cinder block with a butter knife. Intense, purposeful, not useful to society at large. When the sun sets on each day of work (which I wouldn’t realize, because we don’t have windows in the basement), my mind wanders. Not necessarily to the novel I’ve been bragging about not working on, or family activities about to take place. Nope. My automatic go-to daydream, my raison d’Walter Mitty, starts with the Waltons. More specifically, what would the Waltons do if you took them out of the Great Depression and plunked the entire shoeless family down in Mid-town Manhattan.
The Waltons was a 1970’s TV show depicting the life and hard times of a rural Virginia family during the Depression and World War II. The show was the creation of Earl Hamner Jr., the man also responsible for the 1963 Henry Fonda cinematic chestnut, Spencer’s Mountain. Basically, the Walton clan couldn’t get out tragedy’s way and weekly would experience a house fire, barn fire, general store fire, mattress fire, or some combination of all of the above along with the family cow spontaneously combusting like a Spinal Tap drummer. My mind, like aggravated gelatine, constantly goes back to “What would the Waltons think?” Sometimes at work, griping about DOS programs, I’ll say to myself “Well, at least this software would blow John Boy’s mind.” Okay, my thoughts wander a little at work. You can’t just apply this time machine game to any old TV show. Every “What would they have done on Little House on the Prairie?” question, for instance, ends up with Nelly Olson being mowed down by a car. I try not to play this game very often, resting in the knowledge that they’d end up like everybody else. Wearing shoes and constantly on Facebook saying good night to each other.
One of the parts about parenting that I never really get used to is the amount of structure required in children’s lives. My pre-teenage daughter is starting a second week of musical theatre camp tomorrow, an activity that follows a summer of other meaningful childhood activity. This is the case with many of my friends kids. We pay to keep them on the road, year-round, like a worn out rock band. This may have been common when I was a kid, but I have no recollection of much wholesome activity. I was a fairly unsophisticated kid. My friends and I would go outdoors and play something called “Funny People” for hours on end. The object of the game was…well there wasn’t an object, because the game was just stupid. One participant would punch the other. The puncher would fall down and writhe on the ground while the punchee would stand and laugh, while showing no effects of having been hit. There were several aspects of Funny People that puzzle me to this day:
Parents and educators would encourage us to go outdoors and punch each other in the head (“Why don’t you go find your friends and punch each other in the head?”)
For all of the blows to the skull, many of us managed to grow into responsible, caring adults. There are those in every group of friends who wind up in jail, or with uncontrollable twitching, I imagine. I’d speculate more, but my left leg keeps independently kicking the right one.
My parents would tire of all the whining about skull fractures toward mid-summer and shell out $15 dollars to send me for a week at sleep-away camp. This was about as structured as life got, because my friends and I would spend our daylight hours making wallets and license plates in a makeshift compound, deep in the north woods of Michigan. My favorite project was making knife holsters. What 8-year old boy doesn’t want a carrier for his homemade shank? Each morning started with some old geezer sidling up to me in the chow line, asking “der yer warnt ah wiskerr ruub?” My love of the marathon began right there, because I learned to run from unshaven camp geezers. Yeah, now that I’ve purged those memories, maybe driving my child around to her sophisticated activities is a good thing. Let me go get my camp wallet so I can pay whatever amount structure requires.
Much of what is written on this blog is a self-absorbed salute to the personal pronoun. I write about the struggles of attempting to be human, and over-dramatize events that are common to the experience of much of humanity. Fun stuff, but my life outside of that struggle is devoted to faith and family. I am a dad, and that’s more fun than any amount of the hang-ups I prattle about. My daughter Anna, mentioned here at least once a week, is 10 years old. She’s a bright, insightful kid. Anna is an aspiring writer and actress and (in my biased opinion) the girl is pretty good at whatever she sets her mind to. One of the traits I notice in Anna when talking to her one-on-one is that she has a complete lack of confidence. I suspect that we live in a society full of girls and young women for whom confidence is in short supply. Girls Anna’s age live at a time when women should have historic amounts of bravado. Don’t hate me until after you finish the next statement: Anna lives in a time when the women’s equality movement is fading into the history books, because modern woman have surpassed the arcane ideal of just being equals with their male counterparts. The glass ceiling is fast becoming a thing of the past. The thing Anna lacks is confidence in her own ability and good ideas, despite the changing fabric of American life.
In talking to my wife about what to give Anna as a Christmas present, I started to think beyond the ideal of presents. Kids are bombarded with toys and plastic crap. I’m all for commerce in this economy, but there is more to life than just buying people material they don’t need. This kid, like many girls, is desperately in need of home run in life.
What I can’t buy Anna is the courage to forge her own identity.
This is what started the inspiration campaign. I began a campaign of seeking out words of inspiration from women of all walks of life to put in a book for Anna. Something that she can keep for her entire life and add letters to. The project has started by seeking out stories and messages of friends and women that Anna looks up to in her daily walk, from those that daily hold out a hand for her to hold. The great big project of craziness will take on a life of its own, I hope. My great wish is that there will be lots of messages of hope and courage from women who’ve scaled the mountaintop of success in all walks of life and can give back a few words of inspiration. Hmmm…I should have this done by December of 2019.
If you’ve got a few thoughts, life stories or inspiring words for a 10-year-old girl on the cusp of young adulthood in a world that drags down women before they even start to achieve, please feel free to drop a line. (No haters, because that kind of defeats the purpose of this project)
Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?
When I was 14, my dad bought a copy of It’s a Wonderful Life on video tape. To this day, there are things that still make me sentimental about not only the movie itself, but that particular version of the 1946 holiday chestnut. Dad purchased a colorized edition of the picture, in part because it was severely discounted. The Jimmy Stewart classic, in gloriously grotesque shades of pale pink and aqua green, could be found in department store bargain bins due to the fact that film preservation purists had been extremely vocal in their displeasure over the colorization of bygone Hollywood screen gems. I agree with this now, but because I fell in love with the hideously over-corrected version, that’s the way the movie looks and feels right to me. Another odd personal hang-up of mine is that because Dad first had me watch Life in August, I can’t go a summer without sitting down to re-watch it. There is a moment during It’s a Wonderful Life that still tugs at my decidedly tough, normally unsentimental heartstrings. Clarence the angel, played by Henry Travers, reminds Stewart’s George Baily about the value of his life and the role his very existence has played in the lives of everyone he’s ever come in contact with. The line from Clarence that I opened this post with always rings true with me and I hold on to it during the times when depression threatens to knock me down. To say that my life reaches beyond the interior walls of my mind and touches people in good in positive ways makes all the difference to me. I can live down the cliché about life’s glass being half empty, because life is lived to the fullest potential while I cut through the clutter of doubt by being optimistic and helping others live their lives.
I never liked the whole bit about whether life is a half empty glass or one that is half full. Life is full of opportunity no matter which way we look at it. Glasses are for sipping, but you might as well drink from the fire hose (as long as we’re coining clichés here). The thing to do is take Clarence, or whomever is giving you greeting card style advice, and reach into the lives of everyone you meet. If the “glass” is truly half empty, the only thing to do is fill it all the way to the top. I have depression and one of the signs that the disease has pushed my brain into a corner is the moment when I start thinking of life as half full. One of the mighty snap outs is to stop staring into the proverbial glass and fill my life with meaning through love and service to others. Thank you, old colorized pink and green Clarence. You gave me a line to keep life’s glass full.
Podcast Episode 12: Favorite Things. This is the return of the little podcast that could (or would, but usually doesn’t). Lots of Olympics riffing, and funny voices included to describe the voyage of the Curiosity Mars Rover. Have fun, enjoy some of your own favorite things and try not to fall off the couch watching the end of the London Olympic games this week!
I was out buying bed sheets tonight. To you this might seem ultra trivial and mundane, but in my case it always becomes an exercise in an area of domestic life I want no part of. My bedding requirements are simple and are as follows:
Is there a bed? No? I’ve slept on floors, couches, beaches, friend’s kitchens, acquaintances doorsteps. I’m glad for the bed, but it isn’t a deal breaker.
What is sleeping with me, or in my vicinity? Dogs are okay, but seeing-eye ponies, domesticated rodents and undomesticated persons (or rodents) are deal breakers.
There are things about buying sheets that I get, but don’t want to get into. Thread count seems to be a big deal. Suddenly I have to become Count Threadula, Emperor of Bedding in order to buy sheets. I’m in the store, squinting to see if I can count the threads. “There’s one! Wah ha ha! One thread!” I get distracted too easily to buy home products, anyway. A classic Z.Z. Top song came on over the store’s p.a. system and I stopped counting threads and listened more carefully than I’d ever to what my wife had explained to me about sheets. Cheap Sunglasses started to play and all thoughts of domestic tranquility fled my slipping mind. Instead, I began to envision a summer project. Each June I give in to the urge to tackle improvement (my own, or someone else’s). This year, instead of losing weight, or cutting my cholesterol, I decided while Sunglasses was rockin’ that I’d grow an awesome beard like the one Z.Z. Top’s Billy Gibbons wears. Sure it’ll be tough to hide the beard around the office. Maybe if I go all out for the boogie and blues, the beard will just look less crazy and more a natural extension of whatever personality is trying to get out of me. Oh, and the sheets? I bought black. Rock, roll and common sense, because they hide dirt in their many black threads.
I would like to start seeing a new phone. Siri, the voice recognition software that came with the iPhone 4S and I are having problems as a couple. My wife, the actual, living, animate being I chose to spend life with, refers to Siri as “Karen,” an homage to a character on the children’s TV program Spongebob Squarepants. Karen is the computer one of the show’s maniacal sea creatures treats as his spouse. I started out with the same kind of emotional attachment to my Siri/Karen. All day long, I’d ask the device treacle filled, lovey-dovey questions a man asks only of a woman he’s in love with such as “Siri, how do I treat trichinosis caused by bad Spam?” You know the type of getting-to-know you questions asked when a relationship is in its first bloom. “Siri? What kind of satanic messages would I hear by playing ‘Call Me Maybe’ backwards?” You know, the deeply thoughtful in-love type of questions. I never thought until now to ask Siri what messages I’d hear if I played the song forward. Alas, Siri stopped answering my asinine questions. The standard answer became “look it up yourself. Maybe.” So, with the arrival of the iPhone 5 there is excitement again in the telephonic world. My old computer wife Siri has packed up and moved to the South of France, asking only a final “Would you like me to shut the door. Okay, I’ll do that.” and I’m hanging around the phone store waiting until I qualify for a contract upgrade.
The line at our local Verizon store was pretty typical of the first rush of iPhone mania. I wish that I’d had time to ride up and down the queue on a bicycle with a rotary phone on the handle bars, offering to let people make free calls. Oh well, maybe Siri, the solid, reliable iPhone 4S and I can get some couple’s therapy. I’d ask Siri to find a local counselor, but it isn’t to be. My computer wife has taken up with a swarthy, French Droid. Ainsi soit-il.
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.
The other day (I just auto-post “the other day” into every blog entry. Fill it in any way you want. For example, “The other day I gave up self-loathing for Lent”)…eh hem…The other day I was filling out the personal information on a website and one of the questions was whether I appreciated “Geek Culture.” I didn’t even know we had a culture. Apparently owning the collected works of J.J. Abrams and wearing a Doctor Who scarf to one’s wedding are now considered acceptable behaviors and people who do these things represent a culture. It’s okay to rock an Enterprise ensign’s uniform ( circa 1966, naturally) at work now, because it’s part of the geek societal fabric. Star Wars is the lingua franca of our geeky times. Right. I’ll believe it when it happens. Even a minor geek like me is embarrassed by some of the behavior that rules geekdom. I do however get all geeked up when I manage to save up enough Republic Credits in order to buy cool technology*.
The other day I broke down and upgraded to an iPhone 4S. I had the original Droid, which had taken to moaning “rooiid” at odd moments. The 4S has Siri, the voice command gimmick which has caused me to rename the phone “Karen, My Computer Wife” after a character on Spongebob Squarepants (geek). I find myself constantly asking computer wife to do irrelevant tasks a phone can’t possibly do. The phone, to it’s credit, has stopped honoring my commands after just a few days. It seems you can’t just tell a phone to make you some Ramen Noodles (“Here are three faux Asian restaurants in your neighborhood. Get bent”). The phone does give me a personalized wake-up call on command (“Geek boy? Are you talking to me in your sleep. Stop dreaming about Inception and get up for work. Oh, and get bent”). The wedding is in June, so save the date. I’ll have the iPhone send out invitations.
*Yes, I waved my hand in front of the clerk and said “Republic Credits will do.”
For the most part, I ignore the things in day-to-day life that require attention. This is part of a holistic approach to procrastination. Well, it would be an approach, but I’m waiting until next week to begin. One of the things I’ve been ignoring is the fact that my cellular phone has been calling people of its own volition. Not butt dialing, either. Butt dialing, or (heaven forbid) drunk dialing, would mean that I’d have to accidentally initiate the call. No, my celly is just calling random parties on its own. This supposedly smart phone is making bad choices. At 18 months old, it’s almost eligible for replacement. The phone is probably showing out a little bit. Really, who among us didn’t make bad choices at a year and a half old?
The calling started quietly. There were short calls to my wife’s office. When the receptionist asked who was calling, all she got was a plaintive “Drooiid.” I could explain my way out of this with “Sorry, the phone got it’s number from me.” Not so easy was the issue of the phone calling every woman I’d ever met. Girls I hadn’t talked to since Junior High were suddenly asking what I wanted and why I hadn’t called since 1987. As I’d explain that my phone has a glitch, the phone would be miserably moaning in the background “Drrroooiid.” I really am a bad phone owner and am now paying for the price. There were the months of Angry Birding the screen too forcefully. The weeks of leaving it half-naked on the counter, because I couldn’t get the cheap, plastic cover to fit correctly. The celly is making me pay by calling my coworkers and dishing on me. Deep into the night I hear “Droid.” I’m definitely trading for an iPhone.