The hills are not alive. Probably lying about other things too

 

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens                                                                                                                                                       Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens                                                                                                                                             Brown paper packages tied up with strings”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know what you are thinking,”What the hell is Mary Poppins doing  in the mountains?” I wondered the same thing. I love the classic movies that I was exposed to in  childhood. But for every Old Yellar and Wizard of Oz, there are hundreds of other films that everybody refers to as “classics”, because calling them good films would be false advertising. Now, I love Julie Andrews and always will and it amazes me how she still looks so great after all these years, but as much as I admire her, I just can’t stand the Sound of Music. Maybe I am just too cynical, but the whole things just doesn’t add up. Despite my misgivings about the film, I have to admit that I admire the way that it has been implanted into every one’s cultural consciousness. Right now, as you read this, you are envisioning a young Julie as Maria spinning around on a hillside singing. The only problem is that when I think of that scene, all I can see is Chevy Chase in lederhosen singing, “The hills are alive with the sound of Griswald…..”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First about the basics. Her name is Maria? I thought this was a movie filmed in Bavaria, not the south side of Los Angeles. If I can’t suspend my disbelief longer enough to get past the opening credits, good luck getting me to buy into the actual hackneyed plot this movie has. O.k., O.k. Her name is Maria. I will try to move on. The film is a romantic musical set in the Austrian area along the German border. I don’t know about you, but when I think romance, I think Germany. I know it was in Austria and no offense was meant but you see I went to public schools and I my only source of geographical knowledge came from a school with a globe that still referred to our country as The Colonies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, back to the movie. Maria is a nun living in the convent who basically is just a bad fit in the sisterhood. Two things. First of all, like there are just sooooo many nuns in the world that any group of them would turn away anyone even remotely interested in joining. Hell, these sisters are more selective than Augusta National. Secondly, the way the nuns were portrayed in the movie, specifically the way they mistreated Maria, it looked less like a holy order and more like Delta Delta Delta. So here is young Maria ready to confirm her devotion to a holy order and the best advice they have for her is that she needs to go live with a lonely man who has more kids than the set of Cheaper by the Dozen.And what’s with Maria singing every time she goes anywhere? That’s not moving the story along, that’s an emotional disorder and it’s not exactly the type of person that you want taking care of your kids. Of course, the dad wouldn’t know that because he doesn’t show up until the movie is half over. The first actual male character we meet is Rolf, no not the dog that played piano on The Muppets, but one of the older daughter’s love interest, who is seen as a sympathetic character, even after he ends up being a Nazi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s another problem. The Nazis, granted they are the bad guys in this story, are portrayed less as the embodiment of pure evil, which they were, and more like some really irritating neighbors. In Sound of Music, they appear to be little more than Kramer in a brown uniform and jack boots. Except this time, Kramer’s latest hair brained scheme involves the annexation of  an entire country and the elimination of the Jewish race, actually that part of the Nazi’s plan was never referenced in the Rodger’s and Hammerstein play nor the movie that followed it. I guess it is just hard to find a word that rhymes with genocide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So now we get to the part where the absent father of this brood finally returns home. However, he has a great excuse. He is a captain or baron in the Austrian Navy. HOLD UP! WAIT A MINUTE! The Austrian Navy? O.k. Granted that I did attend Florida State University and it is not the most prestigious center of learning in the United States but, the last time I looked, Austria was a land locked country . And yet, they have a navy? That makes about as much sense as being a member of the Iowa Coast Guard. So Count Chocula…I mean Baron Georg von Trapp, personally I wouldn’t trust a guy who dropped the “e” off of his first name anyway, returns to the family with the woman Elsa that he intends to marry. Her come the kids in…get this…play clothes that Maria has made from curtains. I loved this scene the first time I saw it…in Gone with the Wind. Elsa is immediately suspicious of Maria, who enters the room wearing a bikini made out of venetian blinds.(just kidding). I love the subtle way that the producers let everyone figure out that the Baron is going to kick Elsa to the curb and the only question is when. Right along this point in the movie there is introduced some random creepy uncle/music producer/ Guest on How to Catch a Predator named Max that says something about showcasing the kids talents in singing at a festival and I think that is when Maria suggests that  little Michael should be lead singer and then Marlon and Tito go off and pout until they find out how they are needed for the song” A.B.C.1.2.3.”, or I think that’s what happens. Sorry, but I kept flipping between the Sound of Music and The Jacksons miniseries over on VH1, so I might have gotten it a little confused.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this time, Maria gets all whiny and runs back to the convent, sisters should have changed those locks, and decides to take her monastic vows. That is until, the Sister Superior( which by the way is what I am going to name my punk band so don’t steal it) explains to her that in reality she loves the Baron von Trapp and should go back to him and declare her love. And she does. Because if there is one person in the world that knows about all the delicate intricacies of the male and female dynamic it is a nun that has spent her whole life in a convent. I swear a convent is just like a life long version of Girls Gone Wild.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Act1 ends and he is where we are. The kids can sing. The Germans want to make the Baron a German officer. He hates the Germans. Elsa loves the Germans. Maria loves the Baron. The Baron loves Maria. Like Chuck Cunningham on Happy Days, Elsa goes upstairs and is never seen again. And I hate all of them.Since the Germans are known for their power of persuasion, they inform the baron that he is to report to some German place  that I can’t spell to begin his duty. He explains that the entire family has to perform at a festival(worst Lollapalooza ever) and that he will report after their performance. The Germans agree because if it’s one thing that the Nazis were known for it was their patience.

 

So the family sings on what can be described as an early version of Austrian Idol and although Simon Cowell makes the youngest von Trapp girls cry, they win. Please stop the suspense it is killing me. But, when the Seacrest tries to present the family with their prize, they are nowhere to be found. They have fled and are crossing 300 hundred miles of German occupied mountainous country on their way to freedom in neighboring Switzerland. They stop to rest and are discovered by Rolf, the Nazi not the Muppet, who shoots them all dead. No wait, that was just a dream I had. Rolf lets them go and they safely reach Switzerland where they spend the rest of their lives getting fat off Swiss chocolates, wearing Swatch watches and having migraines from the continual noise from the thousands of cuckoo clocks in the country.

 

Everybody lives happily ever after. Especially me because the movie is over. I have been thinking a lot about how to improve this movie and during my research I learned something very disturbing. The von Trapps were actually real people. Their story is the actual inspiration for this movie. I felt a little better about the movie until I read that almost nothing in the movie was historically accurate. First of all, the Baron was not quite the noble sailor that he is portrayed to be. He was actually a submarine captain in the Austro-Hungary navy (an ally of Germany) in World War 1. He sank not only enemy vessels but also over 11 unarmed merchant ships. His luxurious house and money came not from his war honors but rather from his first wife who happened to be the granddaughter of the inventor of the torpedo and when she died of cancer, he got paid. “I’m not saying he’s a gold-digger, but he ain’t messin with….”

 

Maria was not hired as the governess to all the kids(there were in fact 10) but rather as a babysitter to watch one who was suffering from scarlet fever. Not exactly the hardest babysitting job in history. Maria, by her own words, didn’t love the baron but instead was crazy about the kids. Not the first marriage to stay together because of kids. And the reason she probably didn’t love him was….drum roll please……..he was 25 years older than her. What’s the male Austrian version of a cougar? I know what it is. It’s Baron.  (I was going to do a joke about musical older men who marry what are basically children much to the chagrin of the rest of the world but wasn’t sure if I was going to use Jerry Lee Lewis or the guy from Nickelback as the punchline)

 

The movie events also weren’t accurate in terms of time. The von Trapps did not get married on the eve of World War 2 but rather back in 1927, thank God I didn’t have to suffer through 10 years of plot filler if they had actually portrayed the correct timeline. Finally, the family did not escape by foot into Switzerland but rather by train into Italy where von Trapp was also a citizen. Let us digest that fact for a moment. They escaped into the country run by Mussolini. Really makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

 

So before I leave this subject let me tell you what I would have done to make this movie not just good, but awesome. There are three things to fix it. They are…….

 

Dick…..Van….Dyke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Here I am. Rock me like a…….

They say you never forget your first time.

He was born in the Cape Verde islands. He grew up fast and rugged. He was strong and tenacious and he set out for the New World. I was a meager young elementary student just starting to find my way in the world. He arrived in the isle of Santo Domingo in late August and tore the place up. I sat at home and waited for his arrival, slightly nervous at his approach. His Caribbean stop was but a minor delay and soon he was on a direct path to my home here in Jacksonville. Although anxious, I was also quite mesmerized by his power and wonder what it would mean for me and my friends. He continued to grow nearer, and my excitement turned to dread. Then,just like every major rock band in the last 20 years, Hurricane David in 1979 decided to skip Jacksonville all together.

I am a Florida boy and hurricanes, and their short bus riding cousins,  tropical storms, have always been a part of my life. From that early memory of the storm that bullied its way past our city and on into Savannah Georgia, I learned how to deal with them. First, a word about Jacksonville geography. Our fair city sits in an indention on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and is  less than 130 miles from the Gulf of Mexico making us the meat in a rather  unpleasant tropical weather sandwich. Additionally,  we are on the Gulf stream, that expressway of warm water that runs along the eastern coast of the United States, which as anyway that has ever had the misfortune to stay in Motel 6 will confirm, sleeping next to the expressway just plain sucks.

From June to October, tropical weather systems are life pawn shops in Vegas and white people in Wisconsin, simply a fact of life. I have a healthy respect for nature’s power as regards wind and rain and as I learned that time I peed on the electric fence, the awesome power of electricity is nothing to trifle with(it still burns a little). But for all the majesty of natural storms, having to deal with the b.s. that comes with it, is sometimes too much to bear.

As we are approaching the anniversary of Katrina and since there seems to be another storm heading toward New Orleans.  I feel that I must confess that I find the almost criminal way that the U.S. government failed the people  in Katrina’s aftermath to be appalling. However, that being said, if you are harmed by a hurricane, you’re a dumb ass. Unlike the other major natural disasters that affect the U.S., namely tornadoes, earthquakes and the Kardasians, there is always ample warning before a hurricane strikes. I like to think of each version of natural disasters as kind of like  street crimes. Earthquakes are basically like being in a liquor store robbery, if you go to that kind of store there is always a chance that one is going to happen and occasionally someone is going to get hurt. Tornadoes are gang drive by shootings. There is no warning, they could happen anywhere and if you happen to stumble into one, odds are you are going to die. Hurricanes are bank robberies done by polite professionals who do carry guns but they call the bank three days ahead and even tell you what time a time the robbery is going to happen. So if you decide to go turn in your rolled up pennies at that time because you didn’t heed the warnings, you really can’t say you were a victim. It’s like a hurricane is a birthday party that sends out invitations and requires a r.s.v.p.

Normally this would be the point where I would point out how the advancements in meteorology and its related sciences have led to the advanced warning system that have taken much of the danger out of tropical weather systems. But let’s face it. Meteorology is a crock. No, not the scientific study of weather, but rather the bastardized version of that science that is propagated by those charlatans on the 6 o’clock news, namely weatherman and women. Now, I appreciate that I can use my smart phone to see whether there is rain on the way but I can thank the fine people at Apple or Samsung for that ability not some j.a. in a plaid sport coat in front of a green screen. You know what my app calls the weather radar? Weather radar. Then please tell me why the same technology, when it is on the news, has to be referred to Super-mega-Doppler 25.365.25B. I understand the need to brand your newscast but I just need enough info to find out if I can play golf tomorrow, not arrange a missile launch. I would even overlook the apparent ego that goes into the radar naming if the thing actually worked correctly. Have you ever turned on the weather on a perfectly clear day and they show that there is something on the radar? Instead of excusing that obvious mistake or calling it technical issues, they say,”Oh, that’s just ground clutter”. Ground clutter? I am sorry but that sounds fairly ominous. I am sorry but if there is something called “ground clutter” outside I don’t think I would be wearing open toed shoes. This really causes me to doubt the entire “Weather team”. Boy, that sure sounds impressive. I guess it beats what I call them,”Club Suck”. I am quite convinced that, in reality, none of that electronic equipment that they pensively look into when they do the pre-weather weather report actually works. It’s like they just went into radio shack and told the salesman to fill up the cart with everything with blinking lights. That’s right there is no Doppler. Speaking of Doppler, my high school physics teacher taught us that the Doppler effect was the thing that explains why a car horn seems to get louder as a car gets nearer. So, can someone please explain what in the holy hell that has to do with the sweeping screen showing that it is apparently going to rain in blue and fuchsia for the rest of the day.

So since Doppler is just a prop, how do they forecast the weather? The ugly little secret is that every television station has a “weather dog”. About 10 minutes before its time for the weatherman to go on camera, they send the dog outside. If the dog comes back shivering, they saw it is going to be cold. If he comes back wet, they say it is going to rain. And if he doesn’t come back at all, they say it is probably going to be windy. It’s not just the technology of local weather that irritates me, it’s the personalities. First of all can we stop with the meaningless banter between anchor person and the weather dufus. Ha ha ha. Yeah, you guys are a regular Abbot and Costello with your jokes about umbrellas. Actually they are more like a Jeff Dunham act in that one of them( the anchor) is an overpaid clown and the other one (weatherman) is just a dummy. Secondly, as bad as the “Chief Meteorologist” is, talk about being king of the d.b.’s, his underlings are even worse. I am totally convinced that the weekend weather guy may be the lowest form of sentient life on this planet. But at least we now know what happens to the people who couldn’t quite cut it at Devry or ITT  Tech. Not that I blame them. Especially around this part of the country, being a weatherman is basically just assisted suicide. I don’t know how many times I could go on camera between the months of May and September and say the same thing over and over. Personally, if I had to say,”Highs in the 90s with a 30% chance of rain” for 5 months straight I would probably be looking for a bus to jump in front of too. I’s not just the monotony of information that they relay that is so boring, it’s also the way they deliver it. But, it’s not really their fault, it’s just the type of people the stations hire. Since 13% of the  American population is African-American, then will someone please tell me why 98% of weatherman are white, not just white but ultra-white. And don’t give the whole “What about Al Roker?” thing because even I have more SWAGG than Al Roker.

I know that the powers that be have tried their best to spice up the weathercast by injecting the occasional hottie into the mix but it doesn’t really help. These girls are usually under 25 with a body built for sin. Confession time: When the 90 pound ex-cheerleader in the ultra-tight mini skirt and the push up bra is talking about “colliding air masses”, relative humidity is the last thing on my mind. I am also convinced that most of these nubile young things lack shall we say the proper scientific training. Let’s face it, they went from working where guys were “making it rain” to a place where they have to talk about rain. Just seems like a logical progression to me.

Seeing how much of a soul killer that job can be, it is not so surprising that anything that will enliven the experience is grabbed onto like a lifeboat in shark infested waters. So now when a single puffy cloud appears off the coast of Africa, it is plotted and named and they create a graphic just for it. I do believe that the weatherman over emphasize the danger of even the most remote and unorganized storm just to heighten the importance of preparing for even a minor storms possible damage but, enough is enough. Can we not have twice hourly updates about Tropical Storm Edward and please stop referring to it as “The Coming Ed-pocalypse”.

Speaking of names, one of the reasons that people don’t head the warnings about storms is that the names just don’t inspire fear. Names like Guillermo and Ivan and Skippy just don’t send a strong enough message. But I guarantee you that if Hurricane Velociraptor was on its way of Tropical Depression Grizzly Bear was en route, your ass would sure as hell be gassing up and heading out-of-town. And I don’t want to hear anyone say that they didn’t know a storm was coming. When was the last time that you heard of an Amish person being killed in a hurricane? Exactly. If a group of people who think the zipper is new technology can stay out of the path of storms, then maybe you should quit watching Maury and maybe you would be safe too.

The only good bit of technology that anyone has come up with regarding weather is the way the give you a “cone of probability” as to where the storm will strike. Way to c.y.a. weather people. Really? So its going to hit land somewhere between Key West and…the Moon? Nice job of not going out on a limb there. Why don’t you go to Vegas and bet on “a horse” to win the Kentucky Derby. However, I do find it is a  handy tool to use. Each week I draw a similar cone on the calendar at work and tell my boss that I may show up sometime between Monday and Friday. “Better prepare just in case”.

So the storm comes and all you hear  about is evacuations and safety precautions and staying indoors throughout the storm. And as the storm approaches and you turn on the weather channel, where do you find the weather guy? On the beach getting sandblasted and pelted with sideways rain. Nice job Mr. “Do as I Say but not as I do”. That makes about as much sense as me setting myself on fire in order to remind my kids to not play with matches.Which brings me to the stupidest part of Hurricane Season, storm preparation.

I know that every Spring I should assemble a storm prep kit. Yes that is EXACTLY what I want to spend our tax return on, bottled water and flashlights. Even if I did plan on doing it, assembling such a kit is just a waste of time. This is what a kit should include and the reasons why I don’t bother.

  • First Aid Kit- Oooo. Band aids and aspirin are exactly what I need in case of emergency. If a storm so disrupts civilization that I have to tend to my own wounds, I am going to do whatever every body else does. Claim it was a slip and fall and then call 1-800-ASK-GARY.
  • Baby supplies( formula, diapers)- You mean there are going to be screaming babies at the shelter? No thanks. I think I will just board up my windows and ride this one out. After all isn’t it about time to find how mobile this mobile home actually is. No, I don’t live in a trailer but the truth is that if the wind blows hard enough, every home becomes mobile.
  • Medicines- Cause that’s just what desperate people who may have just lost every one of their physical possessions need, lots of Oxycotin
  • Cell phones- Yes I know the dog drowned and my family is now penniless and homeless, but look at this great casserole recipe I just found on Pinterest.
  • Plenty of cash- I am sorry. I though the sign out front said “Evacuation Center” not the “Ritz Carlton”
  • Battery operated flashlights -Unfortunately for a light to be of any use it uses one of those gargantuan hulk batteries that costs more than my first car and puts off more ambient radiation than Chernobyl. No thanks. I will just use candles. I know the experts say that using candles are a safety risk but the way I see it. If its been raining for 4 days and I have a foot of water in my living room then fire is not really a major concern of mine.
  • Battery operated or hand crank radio- On the bright side, it is the only time you will hear someone on N.P.R. get excited about anything. However, here comes the whole battery issue again. I am beginning to think the entire Hurricane  was just a scam by EverReady to bilk us out of our money. And you can forget the hand cranking of the radio.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   “I heard you were injured during the storm.””I was.” “What was it?” “Carpal Tunnel”
  • Lots of water- If the storm is bad enough, there is only one liquid I am going to be ingesting and it isn’t Evian. They also recommended filling your bath tub with water . Sorry, its gonna take more than some Clorox Cleanup and a Magic Eraser before I start taking sips of anything in my tub.
  • Prepared Canned foods and meats- If we are going to have to eat Vienna sausages and Spagetti-os in order to survive then I am going to go swimming with my toaster oven. I know there are other prepared food items available but if it is anything on the culinary scale below pizza rolls, then I am not interested. And don’t mention Spam. Despite what the Hawaiians think, Spam is not edible. In fact, I believe that Spam  was the direct cause of our involvement in World War  2. Everybody knows that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor but does anybody know why? My theory that a land like Japan that takes food to be more than sustenance but is actually an art form just could sit idly by any longer. I figured that a country that developed Kobe beef and Sushi Grade Blue fin Tuna could not share the same ocean with an island that saw Spam as gourmet.

Even when you are all prepared, sometimes the storm doesn’t come . So you emerge from your shelter and are relieved that the most you will clean up is a couple of empty beer cans. You feel lucky and you are. And your heart goes out to the cities that aren’t so fortunate. Because you know next time…..

There is always a next time.

More than Movies

“I’m your huckleberry”

I love this movie. It’s called Tombstone and unlike that Kevin Costner Wyatt Earp movie that came out at the same time, it is very entertaining. It is well documented that I love movies. I love the magic of spending two hours completely enthralled my characters and events that are pure fantasy, even when that fantasy is loosely based on historical figures. Of all the films that I have enjoyed during my life, there is a small family of films, recently included was Tombstone, that hold a special allure to me. They have earned a place of honor in my life such that even if I have the movie on VHS and DVD and the movie happens to come on t.v., I can’t help but watch it. Most of these movies are from my childhood. They are the old war movies I used to watch as a kid on Saturday afternoons like The Dirty Dozen and The Great Escape. They include the Disney movies like Jungle Book and Peter Pan. They include the vast collection of Batman films from the original relaunch featuring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson to the entire Christopher Nolan reinvention , however this does not include that George Clooney slop fest Batman and Robin because it was just awful.  And of course they include the Original Star Wars saga and to a slightly lesser degree the prequels that followed, proof that this is about the films I loved even when I recognized that they weren’t as good as they could have been. This may seem like an eclectic mix of films to hold in such high regards and I had never really been able to connect them before. But as I am in an introspective mood this morning, I think I have found their common thread and that which connects them to me. It’s about heroes.

I am not sure if it was because of the era that I grew up in or if the truth is that everybody regardless of age feels the same. Personally I have always sought out heroes and like  most people the search for them took me into the world of entertainment.I remember spending Sundays as a child watching old reruns of shows like The Lone Ranger and Tarzan. These heroes were without flaw. They were brave. They were noble. Their reputations were without reproach. I held them in the highest of regard and then I started to outgrow them.

The ones that I chose to replace them as I grew older were never as brave, as noble, nor as pure as the ones I had as a small child. This is probably due to the fact that the world that I was growing older in was showing itself to not be as pure I believed it was when I was young. But luckily for me, I lived in a time when there were some real life heroes that I encountered in my life and this did a finer job at giving me hope than any fictional character ever did.

My mom was always looking in on elderly people that she knew and helped take care of. To a small child this was, at first sight, was a random collection of strange old men and women who dressed well even when they weren’t going anywhere, used to grandest of manners ever to strangers and spoke often about vague concepts like honor and appreciation. As we lived in a world where kids were never left home alone, I accompanied my mother on these visitations. And as Mom performed simple household duties, I would sit there and talk to the elderly citizens which we visited. They enjoyed having someone young to talk to and they told me these great fantastic tales. It was not until I grew older and recalled these tales that I learned who these people were. They were heroes.

There were the pair of brothers who survived the sinking of the Titanic, by being given the spot on the lifeboat that their mother let them have instead of her. There was the century old woman who told me tales of her father’s time as a Civil War soldier. Even the least senior of those we visited, barely in their sixties, told me of battles in places like Iwo Jima and Bataan. These stories served to do more than just entertain me, they formed a new set of criteria as to what qualified as a hero. It was from that point on that I searched for my heroes, not on the television nor in the theater but rather in everyday life.

Still, occasionally there would be a hero from the larger realm of celebrity that would fit all my requirements and unfortunately one of the greatest on of these passed away yesterday. His name was Neil Armstrong and he was everything a hero was supposed to be and more. I was born 3 years after Neil became the first man to step on the moon, but had the good fortune to live in a time and in a state where astronauts were not relics of a history book but rather where the most popular answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up”. I even attended a high school named after an astronaut who had perished during the Space Race. Armstrong was brave and noble and the embodiment of the power that science had over our dreams as children. He was the hero we never outgrew, not because of what he did but because of what he didn’t do. He never cheapened his image by showing up on a game show or some ill-advised sitcom role. Most importantly, he never tried to cash in on his fame by trying to sell a veggie steamer or indoor grill. When he retired from NASA, he continued to be a hero. He became a teacher, and when that career was finished he quietly drifted off into his own quiet world of solitude. His passing is truly sad in that it was preceded by the death of that which made him famous, the American quest for manned space exploration.

Although my need for heroes is something that I thought I would have grown too old for, the truth is that we need heroes now more than ever. I still have them, and I still need them. However, the ones I now choose are far more terrestrial and far less famous. They are the teacher that promises to challenge the kids and open their world. They are the extended day worker that treats your kids like they were your own. They are the state trooper who despite not getting a pay raise in three years, still does his job with professionalism and valor. They are the friends that treat you like family and the family that acts like your friends. They are the mom that is devoted to finding a way to let her allergic son have a normal life and the mom who despite the pains she has had in her life greets each day with hope and a smile. And they are my kids, not because of the heroic deeds that they have already done…

But the heroic deeds they are yet to do.

Ain’t skeered

Not bad for a guy with a monocle.

No, I am not talking about the Monopoly guy, although he has always been a much overlooked American hero. I mean consider his attributes. This is a man who has four railroads, two utility companies and one hell of a free parking lot but that always made me wonder. How much parking do you need for a horse, an iron and a thimble? I know he has a place on Park Avenue but consider the bright green houses and bright red hotel and it’s pretty obvious that he has spent some time in the hood. He is the American dream, and the whole “get out of jail free” card is absolute brilliance. However, that card is not nearly as effective with modern-day law enforcement as one might think.

But, he is not who I am talking about. I am talking about a president. He was a man who was elected in the midst of an economic crisis. He had been left a nation divided by years of political squabbling and a financial system that had been rocked by graft and accusations of corrupt practices left by the previous republican administration.He expanded government in ways never seen before. He involved the government into the economic system in ways that horrified parts of the society. He was accused of being everything from a womanizer to a secret communist. No, not Obama. I am talking about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I know what you are thinking. You don’t remember ever seeing a picture of FDR in a monocle. Well the truth is that he didn’t wear one. However, if he could serve four terms as President and pretend he wasn’t in a wheelchair, which he was, then I can say he wore a monocle. It’s only fair.

I don’t want to get into an argument about his policies as president and maybe the country would have pulled itself out of the Depression and won World War 2 even if Wendell Wilkie would have won the presidency. However, I imagine that the Wendell Wilkie memorial would have been really lame. What is not debatable is the effect that FDR had on the psyche of a wounded nation. He single handedly instilled confidence into a nation that was shaken after years of economic turmoil. While his ability as a politician and president may be debatable, his skill as an orator is unquestioned. From his first inaugural address through all of the weekly Fireside chats, he spoke to a nation in a way that reassured the people of how they could save their country from the edge of collapse. Of all his many, well-known lines, there were two examples of his talent with the American language that truly impacted the country. The first was,”So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” and the second was,”You have to keep your pimp hand strong”. I am sure the second was some sort of veiled threat aimed at Hilter and Mussolini but we will leave that for the scholars to sort out. However, the first quote is the one that makes me think. Not about war or the Depression of an era long since passed. But rather, it makes you think that most basic of emotions. That which has been dominating the human soul since we first climbed out of the primordial ooze. It’s about fear.

First, it is necessary to establish as to what are we referring to when we speak of fear. This would be a great time for me to cite something about the historical origin of the word fear or at the very least give a definition that I culled from the Oxford Dictionary. However, since my daughter is using our “good” computer, I am forced to type this on a computer that has been in the family since Friends was on the air and if I have to open one more tab in this browser the computer will freeze like an ice cube in the Arctic, leaving me to stare at the locked up computer screen like a dog trying to decipher algebra. Since I have established the rule that there is no crying on Fridays, I will just skip the well researched and properly documented evidence and just tell you what I think about fear. After all, this blog is called “the things I have learned” not “stuff I just looked up so I could copy and paste”.

Despite what anthropologists may tell you, and yes you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an anthropologist, fear is a relatively new concept. Oh, by the way, if you swing a dead cat and hit a veterinarian, they get really mad. Imagine yourself in the ancient prehistoric world, and despite what that song says,  you will not have a yabba dabba doo time,
a dabba doo time, nor a gay old-time. The truth is that it is a world without medicine and limited food and not a single Redbox in the whole damn town. So when cousin Ogg leaves the communal cave to go “drain the velociraptor” , if you know what I mean, and ends up being the hors d’oeuvres at the dinosaur version of Olive Garden you don’t feel fear. Since danger is part of the world you live in, it is accepted as just part of life and fearing things that you cannot avoid is pointless. So when something like that happens, you just shrug your rather hairy shoulders and realize that it means every body get an extra Mammoth meatball at dinner.

As society grew  more and  more safe and advanced, the knowledge that the world was filled with things that could and probably would eat you began to be replaced with the belief that the world is a safe place and that allowed the brain to develop unreasonable concerns about things that were very remote dangers. That distance from peril was just enough room for the common human psyche to create, all too often, our greatest predators. These predators are our own fears. If you want to see this in action, travel to the deepest remotest jungles of the world. Go to a place that has 86 words for grass and dirt but not a single one for the “over the shoulder boulder holder“. These people eat what nature provides and wear nothing more than a smile. Take one of the fine people who are completely in harmony with nature and have no fear of the world in which they live  and put them on a plane for America. You know what they will say? “AH! Big silver sky bird!” After that, and after you teach them English, they will tell you that in their own world they feared nothing. So you take them to any random city,and for God sakes put some clothes on them, and as you begin to indoctrinate them into our civilized culture they begin to let fear creep into their lives. Before you know it, that same fearless jungle man who used to keep a jaguar as a house pet and used a green mamba as a jump rope is now crying like he lost a limb because the sushi place doesn’t have free wi-fi. By distancing ourselves from real dangers, we have allowed artificial fear to enter our  lives.

Look at our entertainment choices. Horror movies, documentaries about shark attacks, The Kardasians. We have inundated our culture with things that frighten us. Just last night when watching the Ravens stop the life out of my Jaguars, talk about scary, got to be too much I flipped over to see that the alien movie Signs was on. There is absolutely nothing realistic about an alien invasion but watching the scene where the alien is first seen still gave me the shivers. I shouldn’t fear aliens and I don’t, but for just that moment, my brain served me up a piping hot bowl of scared soup. And you know the most unrealistic thing about the whole movie? If the Mel Gibson character had acted in the movie the way the real Mel Gibson acted on those taped phone calls with his girlfriend that TMZ was playing a couple of years ago, the aliens would have never gotten off the ships.

It is these unrealistic fears that so debilitate us that we can’t do the things necessary to make this world a better place. Take this for example. If you have ever seen the movie Silence of the Lambs, let me ask you a question,”If today, you saw a guy with a cast on his arm trying to load a couch into the back of a van, would you help him?” HELL NO! You would be running the other way faster than Usain Bolt. Because, although the guy may be completely innocent, in your mind you are convinced that 10 minutes after walking up to that van you would be in a basement being told “to rub the lotion on its skin”. I am a completely reasonable, o.k. an occasionally reasonable human being, but I know that if I was standing in a field with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman  that there is no way on God’s green earth that I am going to sign for any U.P.S. package. It’s not just recent cultural entertainment that causes us fear, it is things from the far past that give us all the collective willies. For example, has any one ever seen a single painting of a clown that wasn’t absolutely creepy? And we all know that creepy is just fear with training wheels.

We don’t even have the luxury about being nostalgic  about the entertainment that we saw as children. Recently I rewatched the worst of the Jaws films, Jaws 3. To my modern-day brain, it looks like the visual effects were made by  pre-schoolers with scissors and construction paper. However, you know that you are going to double check the strength of the glass before you go into that tubey walkway thing through the shark tank at Sea World. I know that sharks are real and always a concern when going swimming in Florida but I shouldn’t have to take a Valium to relax enough to enjoy swimming…..especially when I am in the pool at the gym. But that is what fear does to us, it robs us of our quality of life by making us irrationally concerned with things we can’t control. It even controls how we create our values system. I believe in medicine. I know that there are great men now in labs working to improve the quality and quantity of our years by finding new and unique ways to combat disease. I am all in favor of these innovations. However, I am fanatically opposed to any kind of genetic engineering. No, I don’t fear clones. No, I have no religious objections. My only greatest fear is that somewhere, some genetic engineer will find a way to alter the basic genetic code of primates. And the one thing more scary than a poo flinging Planet of the Apes would be that he could create flying monkeys. Sorry, I just got the shakes.

My fears also follow me into the real world. Recently, I have had to deal with a drug bust in my neighborhood and the Hazmat teams coming out to clean up a large diesel engine oil spill in our storm drains. But, does that scare me? Not at all. What scares me is that when he was moving in, I swear that the new neighbor looks a heck of a lot like Micheal J. Fox. Oh what, that doesn’t scare you? It frightens me to death. Here is a guy that could both travel back in time and turn into a werewolf, and  I am pretty sure that the Parkinson’s is just an act to lure us into a false sense of security. Even scarier is the idea is that I could run into the guy who played “Skippy” on Family Ties. I am sorry, it is just too much for me to deal with.

Luckily, any scientist that is reading this, and if you are a scientist reading this then I have to ask what the hell is wrong with you, will tell you that luckily our brains have a technique for dealing with this emotional state of fear. It is called the Fight or Flight response. What this means is that our brains have wired us in one of two ways to deal with scary situations. Either we will fight, stand up and face our fears, or we will take flight, and run away from them. I have always said that ,”I am a lover not a fighter” but I think it’s time to change than tune. I have to stand up and face my fears and defeat them where they live. Besides, I can’t take flight. With my luck it will be like every other flight I have ever taken….

And there will be a kid behind me, kicking my seat the whole way.

You gotta have friends…..

 

I have enough friends.

It inevitably happens.When ever my  friends and I get together  and the liquid libations start flowing it is only a matter of time that we start discussing the bigger issues in life. This usually disintegrates into just a venue for each of us to hurl insults, make jokes and generally say strange things for entertainment purposes only. These usually begin with a question. Chicken or the egg?  Democrat or republican? Tastes great or less filling? Paper or plastic?Butter pecan?(I choose pecan) However, every once in a while one of these conversations turns into one of those unanswerable questions that are really fun to discuss in that depending on how you answer it reveals , at least for a moment,  who you really are and what do you believe in.  And since every one of us are parents in some way or another, the question arises,” Are you your child’s friend or are you their parent?”

This question has always perplexed me and as I grow older it is still no easier to decipher.  My parents, however, faced no such doubt as to their answer. They were my parents first, last and always. Maybe it was just the generational differences. I have often heard that each generation is twice as smart and half as strong as the one that preceded them and I cannot argue with that statement. When I was a kid, there was absolutely no doubt as to who was calling the shots. As my mom was a stay at home mother she had the misfortune to have to spend her every waking hour with me and I understand how miserable that can be. Hell, I only spend half my time with me and I want to kick my ass. Mom also grew up in the era of discipline. She was never abusive but did believe in the biblical adage,”Spare the rod, spoil the child”. She believed in it so strongly that she actually had a “spare” rod in case the one she was using broke. Now mom never used corporal punishment in a way that was cruel nor inhumane and it was necessary to use something other than just words with me, because as my wife can fully confirm, I’m not real good with the whole “listening” thing. It was always surprising to my childhood friends…er…hoodlums… that such a small woman could be so good at keeping my Jethro Bodine sized self in line. How? The answer was simple. Hand speed.

My mom was a little 5 foot 2 woman from the mill towns of North Carolina but she could move her like Sugar Ray Leonard. If every house is like a baseball team, my mom was definitely the Designated Hitter.  My mom could be driving down the street in that aircraft carrier on wheels that they called a ’75  Chevy Impala, while my sister and I were riding in that backseat begin enough to run a 5k in and the minute my sister and I begin to fight, and we always fought, mom could reach back and smack us both so fast that we never saw her hands leave the steering wheel. She took these skills outside the car also. When I was in elementary school, she was the neighborhood champ in both “pencil-break” and “slaps” four years running. She was a lot of fun to grow up with and she kept me from becoming that wild little animal that every young boy can be. She was strict and fair but had one flaw. My mom was really naïve.

For the adults   out there that grew up in homes with strict but naïve parents you know that means. It means do whatever you want to, just don’t get caught. And boy, did I do some stuff. Since the statute of limitations has not expired on some of my more reckless adventures and due to the fact that I would rather not record my activities for fear of losing future job opportunities, let’s just say that my (frequently bloodshot eyes) chronic “Pink-eye” condition that I developed while in high school was not viral in nature. My need to not get caught also created a certain need for me to be,shall we say, flexible with the truth. Let’s face it. I was a one man Thespian association. While my actor friends at school were rehearsing their lines from Grease and Death by Chocolate, I was at the house successfully explaining how the 125 cigarette butts in the yard were not the result of a party but rather the left over evidence of an extremely pushy door-to-door salesman.

The basic picture that I am trying to portray is that my parents were parents. They were in charge. They had all the answers and they already knew all the questions. They had mom and dad tattooed on their souls. So,why do I always feel that any time I have to make a parenting decision for my own kids that I should be wearing a paper hat and a name tag that says,”Trainee”? I know that I say “I don’t know” so much that until the age of three my daughter thought that was my first name. I want to raise my kids and guide them through life with authority and conviction but the truth is that everyday there is some situation that arises that is too complex and too life changing to just make on the basis of “cause I said so.” Not that I want to be my kids’ buddy, but I want them to understand that I am just as imperfect as they are and if I make a wrong decision that I need the same kind of forgiveness that they get when they make a mistake.

This complexity is not constant. I do have a defined sense of what is right and wrong, what works in our house and what doesn’t and how the decisions that everyone makes defines ,not only who they become, but also has a lasting effect on all the people in their lives. I don’t accept disrespect from my kids. I don’t allow my kids to harm themselves or others. My kids will not be “fighters” nor “bullies”. They will do and say the right things regardless of the popularity of it. I am in control and I give my kids guidelines but it is just so hard to see myself in the classic dad role that to me should be reserved for my and my friends’ fathers and the dad on any sitcom filmed in black-and-white.  This continually bouncing between the two roles of friend and parent seem to be just a natural progression of how my ideas and ideals have changed throughout the years. If life is a football game, then I unfortunately go to the replay every chance I get to make sure I made the right call and all too often,” After further review, the play on the field is overturned and Tearle will be charged with a time out.”

My constant reevaluations are most pronounced in the way I view myself as a parent. My wife and I started dating at age 18 and even after we became serious we swore that we would never get married but we did. We swore that we would never have kids but we did. Once we found out that we were to be parents we talked seriously about how we were going to raise them. We decided we were not going to be the authoritarian parents both of us had. We were going to be the cool parents. No rules. Just do what feels right. Give the kids all the freedom they want and they will be happy and never have a single care. We were going to let our kids drink at the house(just no driving, OK?) let them smoke weed if the wanted to( its no worse than tobacco right?) date whoever they want and if they wanted to have sex, no problem just do it at home so at least we would know they were safe. This was a solid plan and we were quite proud of how open-minded our plan was. Then one tiny event happened that side tracked the whole affair. It was called my eldest child’s birth. From the moment we saw how fragile this wonderful human being could be , and likewise her brother who came a few years later, our open-minded plan was treated like that sixth grade photo of me in the clogging club outfit, it was buried behind the garage and never mentioned again.

It’s not that we became those typical straight-laced ’cause I said so ‘ parents but just that we understood the value of having guidelines to keep the kids safe and freedoms to keep the kids happy. I have never quite understood why the whole parent or friend thing has to be so black and white. We make the rules in our house, but we do so with the understanding that kids need to have the room to grow and live and experience life without unnecessary limitations. That is the principle difference. My parents and other strict parents wanted their kids to fear doing wrong but we want our kids to love doing right. Every holier than thou parent that tells you about “spare the rod” also needs to remember the verse about “fathers not provoking their children to anger”. It’s a slippery slope but one we as parents must ascend every day.

Some people of a more conservative nature may wonder why just being a parent isn’t enough. The question is simple but the feelings involved are complex. The way I see it, we are raising our kids to be free thinking human beings who use rational thought and reasoning to guide their lives. When I  tell my kid to look both ways before crossing the street because I have the experience of knowing what could happen when they don’t,  they need to trust my authority as their parent. However when I recommend pursuing a certain crush they have or guide them into an experience they are nervous about I want them t0 realize that as their friend I want them to be happy. That balance between keeping them safe and keeping them happy is why I have such a hard time figuring out which role I actually am.There are two more reasons to let your kids know you like them. First of all, they are the ones that will be picking out your nursing home when you get old, so you might want to make sure they don’t have any axes to grind from the time you wouldn’t buy them the My Little Pony they wanted when they were 6. Secondly, and most importantly, if your kids know that you love them not because you gave birth to them but rather because you value the type of person that they are and honor their interests and personal likes and dislikes, you will open yourself up to sharing a world of experiences which is better than any dream you could have.

So which is it? Am I their friend or am I their parent? Can I like my kids even when they disappoint me? Can I have fun with them even though I have to be the responsible one? Does my experience make me their ally or their authority? I guess the answer is that I am not really sure and it would take years to actually reason the correct answer out. Unfortunately it’s almost 3 o’clock……..

And I have to go pick up “my friends” from school.

 

You’re doing it wrong

It’s all Michael Keaton‘s fault.

I never really learned that much in school. By the time I actually started elementary school, I pretty much already knew most of the things that I needed to know. My parents had taught me my ABC’s and 123s by the time I was three years old. From my pre-school age trips to the local market, I learned all about addition and subtraction and thanks to Florida’s Byzantine sales tax structure I was forced to learn multiplication. I used our cross country road trips to my dad’s construction jobs to learn geography and about the governmental system of our great nation. And after learning to read out of the King James bible, I was thoroughly over-prepared for Curious George and his literary counterparts. The conspicuous absence of “thy” and “thou” in those books made it all so very simple to read.

Still, school was able to teach me a few lessons. I learned not to insult children larger than myself. I also learned how to dissect a frog, because there is SUCH a high demand for amphibian butchers, and I learned to loathe Pythagoras and his damn theorem, more useless information. Since school had a limited amount of useful information to impart to me, I had to find other avenues of education to pursue. And what a great one did I find.

I discovered a wonderful palace of learning. It was a carpeted temple of thought and reflection. It was frequented by all types of deep thinkers, regardless of their age. This holy library of information must have invested heavily in its pursuit of knowledge  based on the fact that a small popcorn and a box of raisinettes cost me an entire month’s allowance. The school for me was the movie theater, and class was always in session.

It is impossible to recount all of the great lessons I learned within its darkened halls. But, here is but a sample of that which I had learned.

  • From Star Wars, I learned that the solitary old man that lives on the outskirts of town can teach a young man many lessons. Lessons like avoiding creepy old men that live on the outskirts of towns.
  • The martial arts films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan taught me that you should never be afraid if the bad guys outnumber you because only one of the villians attacks at a time.
  • The Color Purple taught me that “she has that nasty woman disease”
  • A young Tom Cruise taught me that if your parents go out of town, its Ferrari and hooker time.
  • Indiana Jones taught me that Archeologists are good and Nazis are bad. Where else could I learn that lesson?
  • Better off Dead and the Karate Kid taught me that blonde kids are evil.
  • Die Hard taught me not to mess with John McClain. It also taught me that if Karl would have killed that  desk cop when he came out of Nakatomi Plaza, we never would have heard of Urkel.

These lessons and many other I accepted as gospel truths and even though the people that portrayed these characters may have fallen on hard times, I looking at you pedophile actor that played Mr. Rooney, there was nothing that they could do to invalidate my beliefs in what I was taught from the silver screen.

The 1980s were a haven for quality actors and incredible movies from which to learn. It was the hay-day of actors like Nicholson, Streep, and Hackman. And while the great dramas of the day were no doubt of great benefit to me, it was the light hearted comedies of the day that really spoke to me. These did more that just impact basic facts and figures, they also helped me to develop my ideas as to they what was acceptable roles for men and women and their relationships that this always entails. It was more than just lessons, it was the mores that I hold to this day. Of the actors at whose feet I learned at, no one seemed to be more prevalent in my young formative years than Michael Keaton. He was prolific and in every role he played that wise cracking every man that I so wanted  wanted to be.   From the city morgue worker turned pimp in Night Shift to the rock star turned snowman in Jack Frost, he exemplified the ideal that people can change there roles in life and find the inner strength to be a success. From his roles in movies like Pacific Heights and Desperate Measures he showed that even the nicest guys have that dark matter that can make us… I mean them…. homicidal maniacs, I would say that this is probably not the best lesson for an eleven year old to learn but then again maybe it is. Most of all his roles taught me about family, Whether it was Beetlejuice or Johnny Dangerously, there was always this lesson that no matter how unconventional your family might me, it is the love and care you have for each other that defines what being in a family really means(Put that in your pipe and smoke it Chick-fil-a).

Of all these films that affected me, one of the most memorable was Mr. Mom. First let me tell you about the world I come from. I grew up in a traditional family in a neighborhood full of  traditional families. The gender roles were specific and unchanging. The mother stayed at home and cared for the house and children while the fathers went off into the world as the breadwinner and their sole responsibility was to provide economic support through working. Moms were the ones that were emotionally connected to the kids, and the dads just had to bring home a paycheck and man the barbecue grill on holidays. These were the roles that we saw and these were the roles that we accepted. Then in 1982, when I was 9, along came this movie that would affect me in ways it would take years to understand. The basic premise is that during the early 80s recession, a husband and father loses his job and when his wife gets hired by an ad agency, he is forced to perform the duties that the woman of the house always has, an oh how the hi-jinks ensue. The way the man  is so woefully unprepared for all that managing the household entails makes for an endless assortment of sight gags and one liners. And in the end, the man gets rehired and although the wife also continues her career everything seems back to normal. The man learns how to be the caregiver and the wife learns how to be the bread winner, but as a young child, it was the buffoonish portrayal of the father’s early forays into domestic chores that really stuck with me. My childish mind told me,”OH. That’s why mom does the housework and dad leaves every morning. Cause dad is too stupid to know how to do laundry.” Although I realize that this may not have been a complete truth, it was the lesson that I had learned.

Fast forward 30 years. After resigning my position with my company due to taking a new position with an international finance firm, I  found I would have a two month window of unemployment before my new job began. I would be the caregiver in my home as my wife continues to work. I would be Mr. Mom. And after the first week one thing became abundantly clear, Michael Keaton is full of crap. I know he’s just an actor, but I believed him and it was all one big pile of lies. I know one might say that due to the fact that my kids are considerably older that the ones belonging to the  character Keaton played , my experience is not completely comparable, but it is close enough for me to make the finding that just because you have a y-chromosome doesn’t make you unqualified to care for the home.

Not that there weren’t some adjustments. Due to the fact that I had not had any real time off from work in the past 6 years, it took a couple of days off before I really got into the swing of things. However once I did I am glad to say that I make one kick ass housewife. Perhaps if I had never worked outside the home, I would probably feel differently. However, after working for years in the pouring rain and the stifling Florida heat for people that aren’t smart enough to manage their way out of a wet paper bag it’s hard for me to get stressed out because I have to clean the toilet or take the kids to buy clothes.  When you are expected to make deliveries on the same day that a tropical storm is coming through town, doing laundry is really not that big a deal. Unlike Keaton’s character, I never fed a baby chili nor ruined the stove because I didn’t know how to boil water. I may not be Martha Stewart but I can cook well enough that none of my kids starved and the house was just clean enough to keep the DCF from making a visit.

It does however take a bit of adjustment to get used to the  domestic chores involved, especially those that take place outside the home. The simple difference in experience between grocery shopping at 9 in the morning and 7 in the evening are amazing. In the morning, the stores are fully stocked while delivery people service the shelves ensuring only the freshest product is available for purchase.  In the evening, the shelves have more exposed metal than a decommissioned aircraft carrier. The products that are available during the evening are also far worse. Let’s just say that the produce is of a  far more mahogany hue than it is during the morning hours. Additionally in the evening, the sandwich bread has a greater resemblance to croutons than you would like.  The are other grocery related differences are how during the daytime hours there are far fewer customers at the regular magazine rack and far more at the Large Print  Book and prune displays, but that is to be expected considering how I witnessed a three way octogenarian fight over the sole remaining handicapped parking space . Also, they have to do regular traffic reports within the store just to accommodate the vast numbers of Hoveround Power Chairs and Rascals filling the aisles. And while this may be a bit of an inconvenience, the ability to shop without running into co-workers and former bosses is definitely worth the trouble.

There is also the benefit of being able to help out at the kids school. Because when it comes to just pure entertainment value nothing beats a public school. Of course I find ways to ratchet up the fun. While I would never drink alcohol even the night before I am scheduled to volunteer at the school, I love the uncomfortable silences and dirty looks that one gets if they dab just a splash of whiskey on their shirt and refer to the Crown Royal bag that you put your money in as your “wallet”. And despite what those Cinemax after Dark movies tell ya,  there is absolutely nothing in the world as unsexy as a middle aged school teacher. I am sorry but the smell of Elmer’s paste does not have any aphrodisiac qualities.

And while I will be going back to work soon, I will never forget my months I spent as Mr. Mom. The kids, the chores, the dinners were all so enjoyable. So I guess it is true what they say about the best part of being unemployed is:

When you wake up, you are already on the job.

Hey Kids: Time to get yer learn on

It must be the holiday.

I have noticed something very peculiar about today. There is a almost reverent silence enveloping the neighborhood. Every adult , and especially parents, seem to have a smile on their faces and a skip to their step. The traffic is far worse than it was last Monday and yet I don’t hear anyone complaining. It can’t be the weather, it’s a humid rainy day. There was hardly a line at the Starbucks this morning and I have yet to run into a single insolent teenager all day. The incompetent employees at the local grocery store that I have seen since June, are no longer there. Maybe it’s because it’s National Lemonade Day. That must be it. That would explain the sour faces on all the kids I saw hanging out on the corner this morning. Yes that’s definitely it……..unless………It just might have something to do with today being the first day of school. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it is probably not the lemonade.

I used to love the first day of school and now even though I haven’t been to school in over a decade and a half, I am not counting Driving School and that Anger Management class, I still love the first day of school. The first day of school used to mean that I had on new school clothes and some kicking shoes. I usually had a brand new haircut and a feeling of superiority that came from the piles of clean notebook paper as of yet unchewed pencils. But I have to admit that now that I have kids, I love the first day of school even more. For those kids out there: #1 why aren’t you in school and #2 I must inform you something that your parents probably never told you.

Your parents don’t like you during the summer. Yes they love you year round and they provide for you in the month of July as well as they do in October but the truth of the matter is that you are very unlikeable creatures during the Summer months. When a parent has to leave for work at 6 am and sees you in your room snoring away, they don’t like you. When you tell them how you spent all day playing video games and texting your friends while they were busting their butts working for some a*hole boss so they could pay for the electricity that you are sucking up at an alarming rate, they don’t like you. When you tell them how bored you are, they don’t like you. When you are still wearing your pajamas at 4 in the afternoon, they don’t like you. Most of all, when the living room is a wasteland of opened video game disk containers, crumpled chip bags and half-drunken soda cans, they really don’t like you. And when they come home and they first words out of your mouth are, “I am glad you are home because I am hungry”, they are dangerously close to telling you how much they don’t  like you. But they suddenly it happens, they look at the calendar and realize it is time for school to start and the parents know that all is going to be o.k.

I know that some kids don’t believe that their parents like them more when they are at school than during the summer. However, consider the following:

  • When do you get new shoes, when school lets out or when it starts?
  • When during the Summer did your parents insist on taking you to buy you new clothes? Just a guess, it wasn’t July 4th.
  • Do your parents buy you new backpacks, lunchboxes and calculators in June or in August?
  • If your birthday is at the end of summer, why do your parents have a party? Because they have gone the entire Summer without killing you.

Kids need to understand the complex sociological reasoning behind why they send you to school. Yes, they do want you to learn and be active participators in our democracy. They also want you to use your bedroom at some point in their lives and if your illiterate ass is still living there at age 42, that makes this highly unlikely. But, it’s much more than that. You see, having kids is not that different than having a dog. You are both are helpless when little, make a mess everywhere you go, and are far too noisy for our liking. The principle difference is that if the raising of a dog goes awry, almost anyone will step in to take them off your hands and take care of them whereas with a child it is basically a “no refund or exchanges” situation. So knowing this you have to understand that school is basically a sort of Westminster Dog Show for human beings. We take the kids. Give them the best bloodline we can. Get them clean and presentable. Teach them a trick or two and just hope to God that they don’t humiliate themselves or us. Saying your kid is an honor student and well-liked by his peers is pretty much saying he won “Best in Show”.

So we send the kids off to be with other people. We have taught them to close their mouths when they eat, to say “please” and “thank you” and just hope that they have listened at least once out of the thousand of times that we have told them that we love them and hope they make good decisions. The hardest part of kids growing older is that we are forced to abdicate so much of the control we had on the first day of school when they were younger. We used to be able to walk them to their class on that first day, scope out which of the paste eating nose pickers we wanted our child to avoid and care fully introduce our kid to their teacher as we silently gave the teacher a look that says,”This little human being is the most important thing in my world. Because of him, I went through 28 hours of labor, have cleaned up vomit and other assorted messes at 2 in the morning and have not had a good night’s sleep since George W. Bush’s first term. If you make him cry, I will kill you.” But as the kids get older, you are basically a money dispensing taxi driver. You role is to deliver the child to school and avoid being seen by any one under the age of 18.

So, the first day comes and it always brings such excitement. That afternoon the kids are a bubbling fountain of how great the teachers are and how weird all the other kids are. They tell you how this year is going to be the greatest ever and how they can’t wait to go back tomorrow. Quietly you chuckle to yourself how this story will change once actual schoolwork begins but for now you let them enjoy your day. Their first day is happy and so is yours but then……somewhere in the back of your mind you feel it. That ominous sense that this won’t last forever. The time will come when there will be no more first days of school for you. A time when they will drive themselves to school or the morning when that breakfast on the first day will be in a dorm in some faraway city. Today was my twelfth first day of school as a parent and I know that I don’t have too many more left. But, I will keep enjoying them while they last. And even when there are no more first days of school with my kids……..

I am going to buy them new pencils anyway.

Spellcheck is good enough for me

I have been thinking a lot lately about my passions.

I could  never be one of those people that just goes through life in a general malaise. To just go through the hum drum style of life that some people choose seems like a true hell on earth. I don’t want to just survive life, and this is obvious by some of the decisions I make, I want to live it. I want to live with passion. I want to test the best this buffet of life has to offer and occasionally go back for seconds. I enjoy the experiences that define who I am, even if nobody else gets it.

That is a great thesis statement but defining that general concept is really rather tricky. To do so, one must clearly identify what our passions are. This is about the things that we love. No, not the whole family, friends, and religion thing. If you actually have to put that part of your passions into words in order to validate it then you are just a pathetic and sad human being. I am talking about those little inconsequential, as  they may seem, details that transform existence into actual life. For me, my loves are simple. I love words.

No, not that crappy Facebook version of scrabble. I am talking about the way that you can paint a picture with nothing more than language. I love the nuance of a really great phrase. I love how you can even draw tears with a cutting remark. Sticks and stones….I don’t need no sticks. I also love the way the English language is such a living language. I know that the ancient Romans are seen as the high point in civilization, but I could never take Latin serious as a language. All those “ium”s and “ius”s just drive me crazy. No, English is my lady and I love here very much.

One of the great things about English is the way it is such a living language. I love the way that English has borrowed parts of all the languages in the world and used those formerly foreign words to create something new and alive. Let’s face it. English is the P. Diddy of the linguistic world.

I guess it is a big egotistical to refer to it as a living language. I believe a more proper way to frame it is as a zombie language. As any one who has had the misfortune to take public transportation recently can attest to, just when you think the language has died, there is always some little glimmer of life that keeps it going. The language is fortunate that it is not a zombie because if any thing in this neighborhood had to feed on brains, it would definitely starve. Additionally, the language has survived decades of its so called “protectors”, English teachers, doing their best to kill it with forced lessons about things like diagramming sentences and rhyme scheme.

Further proof of the uniqueness of the English language is the way that its holy book, The Dictionary, is forced to add new words on a yearly basis. However after reviewing the words added in the last two years, maybe its time to cease  this exercise.  Here is just a few of the words that have been added recently and their definitions that I just made up. Yeah, like I am going to go buy a new dictionary each year. If Wikipedia can’t define it, then neither can I .

  • “f-bomb” – polite way of referring to the word “fuck”. Only used by people on broadcast television and those who have never heard me talk…ever.
  • “aha moment”- that point in time during the trivia game at the local wing place where you remember the name of the Norwegian band that sang “Take on Me
  • “bucket list”- those plumbing items at Home Depot that you send your wife to buy because she said that there is no way in hell she is going to dig through every container in that disgusting garage for one $1.07 piece of PVC
  • “craft beer”-beer. Not to be confused with “crap beer” which is just another word for Miller Lite
  • “earworm”- Eewwwwww! Grosss!
  • “tipping point”- that defined moment it changes from a waiter providing quality customer service to him just basically kissing your ass
  • “game changer”- your wedding night. And by the way the game was Life and you just lost.
  • “boomerang child”- a kid born in Australia. See also bandicoot baby, Tasmanian toddler and  didgeridoo daughter
  • “robocall”- the worst Robocop sequel of the all or any telephone conversation with Kristen Stewart
  • “sexting”- the act of being a perve on the phone as well as in real life. Usually reserved for lone men pretending to be teenagers and for members of Congress
  • “Cyberbullying”- taking your douchbaggery to the internet
  • vuvuzela“- reason number 235,685 that I hate soccer
  • “jeggings”- Funny, they were jeans when you bought them.
  • “cougar”- Sad, older woman that seeks sexual congress with younger men. Male version is referred to as a pedophile
  • “retweet”- Oh goody. Now you can repeat the things that I didn’t care about when other people told me.

And finally, there is “walk-off”- what you should have done when you saw this post.

 

Bad Boys. Bad Boys. Watcha gonna do

This is not all what I expected.

I was inside the house in our lovely little lower middle class neighborhood this morning when I first heard it. It sounded vaguely like knocking. It was too muffled to have been on our door but far too loud to be the usually knocking of husbands whose hands were too full to open the door from walking their dogs while holding their coffee cups. It also was clearly not the horn honk of car pools picking up people for work that we are accustomed to. As the knocking continued I began to make out the voices that accompanied them. I reached into the fridge for the half-and-half for my coffee, because powdered creamer has no place in my home, and the voices seemed to say what sounded like,”please” and “sir something”.

It wasn’t until  my groggy eyes peered through the curtains that it became clear. The street was lined with cars. While on street parking has always been a problem on our street, this was way beyond what we normally see. Then I saw him. He was dressed the distinct blue uniform of our local  law enforcement officers except he had a kevlar vest on. He was crossing the yard belonging to the rental house across the street. He was  carrying what appeared to be an AR15. I am amazed at how proficient I have become at identifying assault rifles but that’s what you get for having a son who spends the majority of his waking hours killing digitally rendered zombies.

The remarkable part of the scene wasn’t the officer crossing the yard, it was that he didn’t stand out. He didn’t stand out because there were at least 15 of his brethren in the yard with him. They were advancing on the house and that’s when I learned that  the voice I had heard actually belonged to the man at the front door with the battering ram. He was yelling out, “Police” and “Search Warrant” and “We are coming in”, and they did. I stood there at the front door in absolute shock. It was all too surreal. While my neighborhood may not be perfect, it is remarkably crime free. I don’t lock my garage most nights and on occasion have had my house keys left for me in my mailbox without event. This couldn’t be happening. The neighbors across the way had always been relatively quiet. They kept their grass cut and despite the fact that no one in the home had jobs they never bothered anyone. Hell, my kids even played basketball in their yard.

Slowly, thanks to a particularly verbose city police officer, the story became clear. Our lovely neighbors were actually cocaine dealers. Wow! No wonder they always had such nice stuff at their yard sales. And those teenagers who roam the neighborhood with their plastic tubes selling candy to help pay for college must have made out like bandits at that house.

Now, even despite my “wild child” years when I was younger, I have never actually seen cocaine in person and the only thing I know about it is what Miami Vice and Dr. Drew have taught me. So, I was most unsettled to know that I was sleepy within yards of a crap ton of Bolivia’s finest. I was so shocked that I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around this concept of a neighbor using his house as an illegal version of the Walgreen’s pharmacy. As I heard my son start to wake, I realize that I had to explain to him why there was a fairly good chance he would not be playing basketball with the neighbor’s kid for the foreseeable future.

As I started to recount the activities of the morning in our own little version of Law&Order: West side Jacksonville, the true shock hit me. When I told him about my neighbor’s pharmaceutical endeavors, he responded that he really wasn’t that surprised  WHAT? Here is a kid that turns his head when a kissing scene takes place in a movie and won’t watch any movie that is even remotely scary, and yet the fact that we were living across the street from Mr. and Mrs. Scarface really wasn’t that big of a deal. He started to elaborate on the details as I listened with slack jawed awe. He told me of the numerous time that he had stepped into the doorway of the home waiting for their kids to come out and play and he saw the kitchen table so full of stacks of hundred dollar bills that they had to move the AK47 that sat there. As he told me this my body started to convulse with spasms of shock and belated fear. He told me that the kid had told him that the man of the house was his step-dad who had recently gotten out of jail for , here’s a shocker, dealing drugs. Now my son is the most anti-smoking, anti-drug kids that I have ever met. Hell, he gives me dirty looks when I have more than two beers on a Friday night. I asked him if he knew they were performing illegal acts and he said no. He told me that he had learned from me that you should always give someone the benefit of the doubt unless you can prove they were doing wrong. So he has been listening to me. I asked why he never told me of the things he had seen over there and he gave me a look that he probably had been saving for the past eleven years of his life to deliver and said,”You didn’t ask”.

Our cocaine cowboy neighbors were toted off to jail and the kids are staying with their grandmother. I asked my son if he would change anything that has happened in this whole affair and he said no. I asked him why and he reported to me that he really liked playing basketball with those kids. Through this all, one thing has become abundantly clear:

I have got to get that kid his own basketball hoop.

Gimme bears on bicycles

I must be getting old.

It’s funny how things looked so different when I was a child. The house and neighborhood that I grew up in always seemed so vast and spacious, but now it feels tiny and cramped. The photos of that first girlfriend who I thought had supermodel  looks now reveal a face that only a mother could love.The t.v.show that seemed so hilarious as a child now is more embarrassing that anything else. I don’t know what accounts for this but maybe the years that pass serve to change our tastes. This is true of not only people or events but also of places as well. Those childhood locales that once seemed so magical tend to lose that magic as we get older. While places like Disney World still hold sway over me, other places have lost their allure.

I recall as a school boy that no school field trip or family outing caused me more excitement than a trip to the zoo. Yesterday being a great day for getting out and about, I picked up the wife and and my son and his friend and we headed out for a lovely day at the local zoological gardens. Wait a minute. I guess I need to be honest here. The real reason that we went to the zoo yesterday was because it was the annual $2.00 admission day. And since thanks to the nationwide drought(no global warming my ass) , it looks like the price on everything is about to go up so we decided to take advantage of the deal.

I love it when my wife and younger child are able to accompany me on an outing. However, I have a confession to make, a dirty little secret that I must share. Don’t tell anyone but…..the zoo sucks. That is it. I said it and now I feel really guilty about it. I don’t know what happened. I used to love the zoo and now I find it excruciatingly painful.  It’s like  sweet potato pie. It is something that I should enjoy, but frankly just makes me nauseous.

Maybe it is my zoo’s fault. The zoo here in Jacksonville, Florida used to be pathetic. Due to the prominence of concrete and steel in the cage construction, our zoo used to be more urban that our downtown. The animals on display were awful too. They were not the noble creatures that Jim Fowler likes to go on the Leno show and brag about. Rather, they more closely resembled the rejects from some kind of animal Half-way House. Not that I blame them. The weather here in North Florida can be less than hospitable so I guess like good government, good animals stay the hell out of our area.

But, oh what a menagerie it was. There was Leo the lion that just didn’t care. Sorry, but  this king of beast had long since abdicated anything that  resembled a regal presence. Unfortunately, his apathy toward anything other than his food trough would soon infect all aspects of the zoo. There were lazy ostriches which would just lie there resembling the world’s largest and ugliest feather dusters. There were the gross little monkeys who would happily spend the day snacking on discarded cigarette butts. I am quite sure that Darwin never foresaw our primate cousins evolving into some kind of degenerate miniature  Malboro Men. There were the water buffalo who seemed intent on maintaining their title as the randiest of all of God’s creatures. I grew up in city devoid of alcohol sales on Sunday and where a man could not buy a beer inside a topless bar. However, any Church youth group unlucky enough to visit our zoo would be exposed to hours and hours of bovine coitus. Nevertheless, the star of our unfortunate animal refuge was the polar bear, correction, the green polar bear. This poor creature was caged outside in the Florida heat, a situation even our native animals try their best to avoid.He was not provided any kind of air conditioned shelter so his only means of cooling himself was by continually immersing himself in the swimming pool in his enclosure. And thanks to the algae in this pool, the bear turned lime green. Now having a green polar bear may be great for winning bar bets with out-of-towners, but it destroys your faith in the people running your zoo.

The zoo’s general malaise was also reflected in the laziness of the zoo’s design. The bears of the non-green variety were housed in concrete pits. Sorry Mr. Grizzly, but nothing says that you ain’t in Yellowstone like being surrounded by hardened stone. Even the signs labeling the animals were haphazardly done. I guess the theory being that in 95 degree heat, nobody is going to notice whether you are staring at a gazelle or an impala. As you moved to the back of the zoo, most of the signs just said,”animal” on them.

The zoo went through a renovation in the early 1990s and is now a great home for animals. The  habitats are open and seemingly barrier free. They do a good job of emulating the natural environment of the respective creatures. So this  means I should like it more not less, right? But something just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s the admission prices. A non-discounted admission costs $20. $20? When you are questioning then girls in the box office, and for some reason its always girls, they give some song and dance about the funds being necessary for the feeding of the animals. Where the hell are they buying this food, a convenience store? Maybe the zoo needs to find some unique ways to cut costs. I, of course have a few suggestions.

First of all, cut down on the number of animals. Do we really need 26 varieties of parrots? When I was growing up I knew there was only one type of bird worth having. It drank beer and hung out with Baretta. The rest of these birds do have a place in the universe and that is either

sticking out of women’s hats or underneath a sticker that reads, “Cornish game hens”. There are other ways to trim the fat at the zoo too. I know the zoo keepers and all the other animal experts have these complex thoeries about animal management, but I got one too. I think it’

s time for some good old fashioned survival of the fittest. I say we tear down some walls literally between the species. It would be like a March Madness for animals. We could do the seeding based on animal populatity. Sorry Mr. Wormheaded Slimeweasel you just drew the 16th seed and are facing off against the Cheetah. Good luck. The animals would get at least a fighting chance as long as they could fight and we would get a show. Just imagine the fun of filling out your bracket at the office. And this time, a Cinderella story might actually include mice.

Another zoo issue that needs addressing is the smell.  No, I am not talking anout the odors that the animals naturally produce, I am talking about the paying customers. I find it ironic that there is a strict No Shoes No Shirt No Service policy but deodorant use remains completely voluntary. Listen up. If I am going to brave temperatures that rival those on Venus, I should not have to endure the offending odors of those who  missed the memo about the invention of Speed Stick. We just left the petting zoo, and the goats smell better than you.

Speaking of the petting zoo, I like the direction of making the animals more assertive in the entertainment. But why stop there? Why should the goats have to carry the load alone. Do you know you much people pay to dive with sharks in Australia? I have a blank check for the zoo and a list of people that I would love to see locked up with any carnivore you got. But, it doesn’t end there. As anyone who was seen Mary Poppins can confirm, penguins make great waiters.Why not let other animals earn their keep as well? If I am going to have to park at the far end of the parking lot in order to visit the zoo. Then, dammit, there better be a rickshaw pulled by zebras to pick me up. And can we please stop celebrating every time an animal gives birth. I, for one, am tired of feeling obligated to applaud these creatures for having a sex life. This is a zoo, not a brothel. Ironically, the only animals not doing it like rabbits…are the rabbits. So how about the next trick we teach them is abstinence. All I need to figure out is how to buy a promise ring that fits a three-toed sloth.

O.k., zoo keepers the ball is in your court. And, if you can’t fix the zoo, at least answer me one question:

What kind of wine do you serve with wildebeest?