"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." - Henry David Thoreau

Friday, June 25, 2010

...Philistine.


I am not what most would call a 'People Person.'

If you know me at all (and if you're bothering to read this, you probably do), this does not come as a Big Honking Surprise.

I really don't like people very much. I'm talking about groups of people. Specifically, groups who rally around a particular idea. Doesn't matter if it's politics, religion, sexual preference, eye color or flavor of ice cream (Give Me Kahlua Chip Or Give Me Death!), etc.

People are nasty, brutish, violent, uninformed and dangerous. I always think of the torch and pitchfork-wielding villagers in every Frankenstein movie. The whole 'we hate and fear what we do not understand' thing. It's true. With most persons you can usually have a sit-down conversation without conflict. But, you try to reason with a group of like-minded people who are all worked up over a cause or belief and you could find yourself on the business end of a very short rope.

There's an old saying that goes, 'There's safety in numbers.' Very true, but that can also give people the feeling that they can act out on their darker impulses if they are backed by the crowd. Look at the political landscape today. People used to complain about the difference between the 'haves' and 'have nots.' Now, it's the difference between the 'hates' and 'hate mores.'

I usually keep my politics pretty close to the vest, but it's no secret that I am pretty socially liberal on most issues, but I try to be a pragmatist. For example, I am vehemently anti-Death Penalty. Not on moral grounds, however. If you willingly take the life of an innocent human being, I do believe that your own life should be forfeit. For me, the issue lies within the imperfections of our judicial system. Unless you can be 100% certain of someone's guilt, you can't take the chance that even one person could be wrongly executed.

Now, I enjoy a good, well-reasoned debate on the issues like the one above, but you can't do that today. It's all static and any voice of reason gets drowned out among all the noise. So, people like myself, who fall somewhere in the middle of the pack don't get heard because we either get shouted down or simply realize the futility of trying to speak at all. Which is a shame because, when all you hear are the extremes, then the extremes seem like the norm.

The biggest perpetrator of all this nonsense isn't a person at all. It isn't Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann. It isn't Bill O'Reilly or Rachel Maddow. It's the Internet.

The anonymity of the Internet* has allowed us all to become those fearful villagers. Instead of torches and pitchforks, they wield their grammatically-challenged vitriolic hate speech against any target without consequence. This, more than anything else, lowers my opinion of the human animal to subterranean levels. Visit any news-oriented website and read the comments and you'll find the written equivalent of a low-budget horror movie; Lots of blood and guts with a generous helping of evisceration, a hint of racism and a touch of misogyny.

I used to believe it was all just theatre. A modern Grand Guignol for the masses. I'm not sure anymore.

In the meantime, I'm having a huge wooden door installed in my castle with one of those giant barricades behind it to keep the villagers at bay. Anyone know where I can get some alligators for my moat?



*

E-Playgrounds Can Get Vicious

Sunday, June 20, 2010

...Pre-teen.


I am a Dad.

How the hell did that happen?

It's my fifth year as an actual living, breathing, card-carrying member of the Father Club. It boggles my mind even now. Becoming a father is expected of most men, I suppose. The whole 'passing along the legacy' thing. I get it. Honestly. It's about leaving a part of yourself behind when you depart this world. You help create an entirely new person. A blank slate. It's an opportunity to pass along whatever meager knowledge and wisdom you've gleaned in your life to the next generation. I understand that.

However, (and if you ever read this Katie, don't take it the wrong way) it's not a job I ever really thought I'd have...or wanted. For most of my adult life, I could barely take care of myself, much less even consider taking care of a child. I'd see those horror stories about people who left their kids in the back seat of a car in the middle of summer to roast and think, 'Yup, that'd be me!"

Making sure that another little human being is fed, clothed, safe, healthy, housed, educated and most importantly, loved seemed like way too much responsibility for me. No thanks! As much as I loathe sports metaphors, life does have a way of throwing you curveballs when you least expect it.

Even after I married my wonderful wife, I didn't really see fatherhood in my future. We didn't talk about it much in the beginning. There seemed to be several obstacles in the way, mostly health-related. I honestly didn't mind the thought of not having a child if that was to be the case. After a couple of years though, my wife's biological clock was ticking like Poe's Telltale Heart.

Enter the Wonderful World of Fertility Science! Did you know that they can make a human baby with only some Scotch® Tape and pine wood shavings? Okay, so it's a bit more complex than that. All right, a LOT more complex. I will spare you the science-y details. Suffice it to say, after a few months of trying, the little + on the pee stick showed up and all of a sudden...

It. Became. Real.

My wife will recall that I promptly went outside, sat on the deck, and had an Orange-Level panic attack. Visions of sleepless nights, poopie diapers, non-stop crying danced like rotted sugarplums through my fevered brain. Fun's over! Th-th-th-th-that's all folks! There were so many things to worry about. Will it be healthy? Will it be ugly? Will it be FUNNY? Will it want to borrow the car keys? AAAAAAHHHHH!

Eventually, I calmed down. I think it may have been last week, actually. Anyway, after all the doctor's visits, the trips to Babies R Us, the vicious fights over names (arriving at 'Katherine' was easy. I wanted Katherine May, my wife wanted Katherine Aileen. Guess who won?), our beautiful baby was born. THEN came the sleepless nights, the poopie diapers and non-stop crying. I'm still waiting for her to ask for the keys.

Bottom line here is, for most of my life I could not imagine being a father to a child. Now, I can't imagine a life without her.

I am a Dad.

Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

...Sunscreen.

It was the best job I ever had.

It was the first job I ever had.

It was 1985.

What a great year that was. I graduated from high school that year. It was the year of Back to the Future, Live Aid, the MOVE/Police stand-off in Philadelphia and the debuts of Calvin and Hobbes, Tetris and, of course, New Coke.

It was also the year I started working at the Fun Shop. My parents had bought a house in North Wildwood, NJ back in '81. Wildwood was/is a party town on the South Jersey Shore that served as a place where teenagers from the Philadephia area learned to drink, take drugs and party themselves into a stupor. It was a kind of proving ground/training facility for future Spring Breakers who needed to perfect their drunken survival skills closer to home.

I, of course, was far too square to partake in any of it. After graduation, my folks were bugging me to get a summer job at McDonalds or some such awful place. I would rather douse myself in used french fry oil than ever work in fast food, so I stalled and stalled. Meanwhile, I was a Shore Rat, hanging out on the Boardwalk and playing videogames like Dragon's Lair, Tron, Dig Dug, Major Havoc and BurgerTime. I also hung out at the Fun Shop.

A few of the many pins I saved from my years at the Fun Shop!
I won't go into the long and fascinating history of the Fun Shop. Someone else has done an excellent job of that already. It was a Wildwood institution. As long as I can remember, my family has spent a week each year in Wildwood, staying at the King's Inn Motel. Back then, my days were spent in the motel pool, eating at one of the many Hot Spot restaurants on the boardwalk and drinking Lime Rickey's. But, the Fun Shop was an especially magical place, in more ways than one. They sold t-shirts, posters, buttons and novelties. 'Novelties,' usually meant cheap magic tricks, joy buzzers, fake poop and other assorted 'gag gifts.' There was even an 'adult' section in the back with the more risqué items.

By 1985, I had become a regular presence at the store, chewing the fat with the owner, Larry Graber. I am not sure of the sequence of events, but I guess at some point Larry figured if I was going to be there that often, he might as well put me to work. For me, it was like being selected Associate Pope or something equally exhalted. You have to understand, EVERYONE wanted to work at the Fun Shop. I guess for Larry, that was part of the problem. He wanted someone who didn't lobby for the job just because it was 'cool.' In fact, I was so uncool, that I wouldn't use the job to get stuff for my friends for free or abuse the position in other ways.

There I was...a nobody, a peon, lifted up from the primordial ooze to sit at the Round Table of Wildwood Royalty. It was a heady experience, no lie. I learned a lot. More than I ever expected from a job selling t-shirts to young Punks and Madonna-wanna-bees.

But, that was just the beginning...

Stay tuned for Part Two.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

...Gasoline.




Hate (verb)

-to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward;
detest

(from Dictionary.com)

I hate my neighbors. No, really. HATE them. I say this without exaggeration or hyperbole. Not all of them, of course, just a certain family that lives just around the corner from me. H.A.T.E. My loathing burns like the fire of a thousand dying suns. If I had a time machine, I would go back to when the very first mammal laid it's webbed foot upon the land and squash it under my Crocs™. Yes, that's right...I would prevent the human race from ever coming into existence if I could make sure these horrible people were never brought to being. This is how deeply my loathing runs here.

What could these subhuman reprobates have possibly done to earn such blinding rage? Have they caused irreparable harm to my life, family or property? No. Have they committed some terrible crime for which they can never be forgiven. Not really, I suppose. Has there been any kind of personal altercation between us at any time? Uh-uh. Do I even know their names? Nope.

So what then? Why am I so angry? What cold cause such a sweet, good-natured, easygoing fellow like myself to turn into a white hot, quivering mass of creamy hate-filled goodness?

Three words: Off Road Vehicles.

Yup. That's it right there. ATVs, dirt bikes, scooters, etc. If it makes a shitload of noise and kicks up a lot of dirt, then these inbred redneck townies own them. And ride them up and down my street. You know the type. The 'men' walk around in ripped jeans and no shirt. The 'women' have fake tans, fake hair and fake...you get the picture. They walk their spawn up and down the block in used, ratty strollers while they chain smoke and drink Rolling Rocks. I think their favorite game is called 'Let's See Who Can Swear The Loudest.' They frame their mug shots, because it's the only decent picture they have.

Now, lest you judge me too harshly, let me explain. I do not want to be the party pooper, the turd in the punch bowl, the Negative Nancy here. If these walking genetic throwbacks want to ride their crappy noisemakers without helmets and jump over ravines and such, more power to them. I hope all their future head and neck injuries are painful, yet not fatal. But, please...TAKE IT SOMEPLACE ELSE, YOU WHITE TRASH @$$HOLES!

I can't leave my windows open on a nice spring day because of all the noise of their un-mufflered motor vehicles. They kick up dust and dirt all over my car and home. They care not a whit about anyone else and act like they own the entire freaking neighborhood! Yet, I am powerless to do anything about it. I'd like to move, but thanks to the idiots at the other end of the class spectrum, my house has about two-thirds of the value it what when we bought it (up yours, Zillow.com!).

So I am stuck living in the middle of a glorified BMX track. My only hope is that one day karma will catch up with these defective cousin-humpers.

SIGH.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

...Caffeine.

This morning, after dropping my daughter off for her last day of pre-school, I was in need of something to occupy the next few hours. I couldn't go home because our cleaning lady was there, doing her usual amazing job (don't be too impressed, she only comes once every couple weeks to tackle the stuff my wife and I are too lazy to clean).

I decided to hang out at the coffee shop near the school* to pass the time. So there I sit, sipping a flavored water, having a lovely peach scone and surfing the web on my iPad. There are various types also enjoying their beverages of choice. There's the guy who sets up his small business office in one corner of the place. There's the attractive young college student, with her three books (textbook, MacBook & Facebook) and the Desperate Housewife sitting there because she has nothing better to do, but doesn't want to be stuck alone at home.

There is one coffee shop stereotype that's missing, however. One that I like to call the A.H.D. or Aging Hipster Douchebag. You know the type: Dresses too young too 'hip' for their age. Tries too hard to be cool by carrying around the latest tech. Wants to show off how eco-friendly and ethno-sensitive they are. Totally douchey, right?

Problem is, no one at this particular coffee shop seems to fit the profile. "Oh, well," I say to myself. "Maybe next time." It's at that moment, I catch a glimpse of myself in the window of the shop. Oh. My. God. No wonder I wasn't able to spot the A.H.D. in the place.

It's me...




*No, it wasn't a Starbucks. Those greedy bastards charge for Wi-Fi!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

...Routine.


The other day, my wife asked me if I thought our life was too boring. I believe my reply was something like 'excitement is overrated.' In all honesty, though, I've never led what anyone would consider an exciting life. I'm neither a thrill seeker or a risk taker. I'd much rather read or listen to music or watch a movie to occupy my free time. Sometimes I wonder if I should have been more proactive in my life. Did I waste my youth on missed opportunities by taking the path of least resistance?

I realize now that many of my life's decisions have been based purely on fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being humiliated and fear of getting hurt, both physically and emotionally. I look back at my twenties and wonder why I let those years slip by without accomplishing much of what I desired. I have no one to blame but myself. Sure, there were victories along the way, but they were small compared with where I wanted to be. I have regrets, to be sure.

The things I do not regret, however, are the people I've met and the friends I've made along the way. I've known some extraordinary people in my life and I am forever grateful for the impact they have made on me.

At the top of that list is my wife. She saved my life in so many ways. It's a rare thing when you find someone who cares about you in spite of all your flaws and faults. It's an ever rarer thing to find someone who does all that and doesn't try to 'fix' you, but instead provides a foundation for you to fix yourself. I'm extremely lucky in that regard.

I've grown a lot in the past several years. Enough to wish I'd done it sooner. Yes, another regret. But, I also look at it as a challenge. I want to be someone worthy of the woman I married and the daughter I care about more than anything in the world.

That is a far more powerful motivator than any fear that I will ever face.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

...Constantine.


I was raised in the Catholic faith. Got splashed on the head with the Jesus water. Got to wear the white suit and eat the cardboard wafer. Got to go to confession at the age of 8(?). Got to shake hands with whomever was sitting next to me for some reason I still don't quite understand. The Whole (Holy) Nine Yards.

To be honest, however, we were kind of 'Catholic Lite' at home. My family wasn't especially religious, but we went through the motions, because it was expected. We were liturgical mimes. Plus, my parents wanted me to attend a private Catholic school to get a good education, so attending mass once in a while looked good to the nuns.*

If you were a Catholic growing up in the 70's or 80's, you probably watched two things on TV;
Davey and Goliath (if you were raised in the Philadelphia area, D&G were part of a Sunday morning ritual...Captain Noah and His Magical Ark.) and an odd little show called Insight.

Each week, the show would present a different morality play. Some were deadly serious, others funny and even a few were fantasy-oriented.
Insight has been called the 'Catholic Twilight Zone' and for good reason. There was something kind of creepy about it. Something a bit off. The production values were very low, but they got the best actors to star in each half-hour episode. Martin Sheen, Carol Burnett, Walter Matthau, Bob Newhart, Ron Howard and Gene Hackman were among those who performed on the show. I found out later that they are/were all Catholics who offered their services for scale.

According to Wikipedia, the show was produced by the Paulists, a Roman Catholic Order of Priests whose brethren tend to be of a more liberal bent. The show reflected this philosophy by trying to be relevant and by staying away from preachy moralizing. It was a great show and deserves to be seen again. Unfortunately, there's been no word of any DVD release in the near future. That's a shame.

I really don't consider myself to be Catholic anymore. At least, not a very good one. As a child, I never felt any real connection with the church. As an adult, I have my share of gripes with the way they handle their 'business.'

But, I sure loved Insight...

If you've got a little time, check it out:

video


*My years of Catholic school will be the subject of another post. I don't have the energy to get into THAT right now.

...Tatooine.

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the best film in the entire Star Wars franchise. I saw the film opening night at the Hunt's Casino Theater in Wildwood, NJ (pictured). Much like the rest of the audience in attendance, I sat there, jaw agape, wondering how they could possibly end the film so abruptly and on such a downbeat note. Not to mention the only minutes-old shock of finding out that (spoiler alert) everyone's favorite Dark Lord of the Sith (until Darth Maul came along) was that whiny Jedi-wannabe's Dear Ol' Dad. Aside from my own memories and lifelong attachment to Star Wars, there's little I can add to what has already been said about Empire, so I won't even try.

Instead, I bring you this hastily-put together list:

FAVORITE STAR WARS-RELATED SONGS OF ALL TIME
(in no particular order)

"Yoda" -"Weird Al" Yancovic
The first Star Wars parody song I remember and still one of the funniest.

"Star Wars Gangsta Rap" - Bentframe

When I first heard this song, I played it over and over again, because I just. Plain. Loved it.

"Chewbacca" - Supernova
From the original Clerks soundtrack. The big fuzzball deserved his own song, don't you think?

"Star Wars Theme/Disco Version" - MECO
Yes, it's real. Yes, it was officially sanctioned. Yes, it's still AWESOME! You want to see really bad Star Wars-themed disco? Watch THIS drug-induced nightmare!

"Star Wars Cantina" - Richard Cheese
This guy put a lot of thought, time and effort into turning an awful 70's Barry Manilow song into three minutes of sonic joy. We applaud you wherever you are, Mr. Cheese!

"A New Hope" - Blink 182
Not my favorite band by a loooooongshot, but I like the song.

"Fett's Vette" - MC Chris
If Eminem inhaled helium while taking 'shooms and watching Empire, he might have recorded this... (Warning: NSFW) My backpack's got jets!

"O.B.1" - Thingy (song clip)
Possibly the most low-key and melodic of the songs listed from a very cool indie band.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

...Dexedrine.

Next week, I have an appointment with my Primary Care Physician. Just a routine checkup to see if everything is okay. It's been eight months since my GB surgery and I am feeling pretty good. I am down eighty pounds from my top weight and have stabilized nicely around the 200 mark. I am happy with that. No more Type 2 Diabetes, no more sleep apnea, no more high blood pressure. All is well. Sort of.

Now that my weight and all the ancillary problems that went with it are (hopefully) behind me, I feel that it's time to address another lifelong health issue I have been ignoring. A mental health issue. I want to be tested for ADHD. I've been a classic 'underachiever' type my whole life. Unable to concentrate on things that did not interest me, I was a poor student with terrible study habits. I have always 'lived in my head,' so to speak. Lots of stuff going on upstairs, but lacking the mental discipline to really utilize it properly.

It's been frustrating to say the least. There have been times I've been able to overcome it. Deadlines always helped me focus when I was a news producer or when I had to finish an article in time for publication.

So, I ask myself...am I lazy? Am I just not properly motivated? Am I looking for an excuse to justify wasting so much of my life not creating? I'm not sure.

I'd like to find out, though. Maybe I can find a way to help myself. So, I will ask my doctor for her advice. I feel like I may have bought myself some time by having my surgery. I don't want to waste it.