50 Braves the Gray

Today the good people of AARP put me in my chronological place by sending a joyful birthday bundle that offered a free sporty tote and an invitation to be old.  Oh sure, there are more subtle reminders that you’re reaching the half century mark, such as the stern recommendation for your first colorectal exam, but there’s something about joining AARP that feels like resigning to your twilight years, like sweatpants after a failed diet.  How did it happen?  How have 50 years already slipped through my hair follicles?  When people joke that aging “beats the alternative”, it’s usually because the “alternative” is a distant notion beyond the consideration of youthful immortality.  Aside from the sad outliers that depress us during fundraisers life has a suggested expiration date.  There is a predictable marching order with generations lined up before you, great grandparents, grandparents, parents and the latest generation bringing up the rear.  Suddenly I find myself near the front row with more generations lined up behind me, leaving an unobstructed view of the “alternative”.

When I was in the 5th grade we did a project about “the future” where we were tasked with looking ahead to the turn of the century; the year 2000.  A year mysteriously sandwiched between “Space: 1999” one of my favorite TV shows of the time and “2001 Space Odyssey” one of my favorite movies.  I had high hopes for the scientific marvels promised by film makers and listed them out with relish.  But in the midst of geeking out on how my future self would be jet-setting like the Jetsons, I was struck by just how old my future self would be… 32.  That was like super old; after high school, after college, after adulthood.  That’s when most people just give up.  Slide into middle age.  Become domesticated.  Fade into obscurity.  Wear sweatpants.  It was hard to even imagine.

When I was 32, about to enter an Apocalypse / Fallout themed New Year’s party for the turn of the century, my 5th grade assignment came to mind.  It was crazy to think about how much time had flown by.  And while I was starting to feel a little past my prime I knew many aspects of my life were just beginning; my career was marching along and expanding in new directions.  I was on the verge of getting married and starting a family.  The idea of turning 40 was still just a distant threat like the tearful revelation in “When Harry Met Sally”;

SALLY: And I’m gonna be 40!

HARRY: When?

SALLY: Someday!

HARRY: In eight years.

SALLY: But it’s there. It’s just sitting there, like this big dead-end.

When the fateful day arrived, and I turned 40 I was pretty content with my life.  I had my career.  I had my family and friends.  I had my domestic routine in the heart of the suburbs.  I could settle in, switch to auto pilot and happily ride out whatever remaining milestones life had instore.  Then, a couple years later, everything changed:  My career stalled; Educational software flat lined; My marriage ended; My routine was shattered; The introvert, content with a steady family life needed help from others, needed to impress loan agents for homes, employers for jobs and single woman for dates.  I wondered if I’d get it all back on track before I hit my 50th birthday.

As the final countdown approaches I’m faced with the constant reminder of my pending age by simple association; the media loves a 50th anniversary, so I get glimpses of other things that happened 50 years ago and how much the world has changed since I’ve been around (for which I take total credit).

In 1968 much of the county was still in chaos, trapped in the quagmire of the Vietnam War, one year out from the contrasting Summer of Love, with social unrest continuing to bubble up across the country.  U.S. Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos made headlines worldwide with their Black Power salutes during the Olympic Games.  Off-Broadway, the provocative play “The Boys in the Band” debuted with a raw look at gay society.  Calls for social change grew louder as two of its strongest advocates, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, were both silenced during the year.

In other sectors lives were saved with the invention of the crash test dummies, the installation of airbags and the founding of the 9-1-1 emergency program.  The first US heart transplant was pioneered at Stanford.  We grew up as Flintstone Kids with the namesake vitamins tasting vaguely like Sweet Tarts’ bitter sibling.

Along with 2001 Space Odyssey we were entertained by the premiers of Funny Girl, Planet of the Apes, and Rosemary’s Baby.  The new MPAA movie rating system was introduced on a voluntary basis in case studios saw fit to warn the public about things like Rosemary’s demonic baby daddy.  At home, we watched the first episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and marveled at how much we could be pacified by creepy hand puppets.  If you were lucky enough to be incarcerated at Folsom State Prison that year you enjoyed Johnny Cash’s live concert, which was recently commemorated with a long trail through Folsom so escaped convicts have a clearly marked route.

You know those celebrities that we seemed to grow up with?  Well, it turns out that’s because we literally did grow up with them; Molly Ringwald and the Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith, were both born 50 years ago.  Also, celebs I would encounter later in life as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Grace (Debra Messing) are all getting their AARP cards this year, along with celebrity cooks Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri.  Apparently even celebrities get old. Who knew?!

I’m aware that time marches on, but it’s the gradual progression that masks the more startling changes, like the frogs in the slowly boiled pot.  That’s how it feels; I just woke up one day to find that I had aged.  The person in the mirror no longer reflects the age I feel.  I’m not alone in that assessment either.  Surveys found that most adults over age 50 feel at least 10 years younger than their biological age.  On average, survey respondents said old age begins at 68. But few people over 65 agreed; they said old age begins at 75.  One of my new pals from AARP summed it up with “Old age is always a bit older than you are.”  Age is simply a state of mind not a survey of wrinkles. If left to our own perception how old would we feel inside?  If it weren’t for those cursed mirrors candid photos of our bald spot could we live comfortably within our youthful delusions?

As I enter the fabulous 50’s, clearly, I don’t “have it all figured out”, but that’s ok. I’ve happily resolved my social situation and foresee great things ahead.  As for my career I’m still wrestling with my choices and seeking the means to take another path, but even that holds a degree positive potential in the years to come.  I am not resigned to ride out my years like my younger self had once feared.  There’s more life yet to be lived.  I will embrace this new age and I will embrace the future me just as I embraced my AARP card… crumpled tightly in a clenched fist of acceptance.

 

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Brain Pan

The air is thick with the stench of decay and the metallic tang of fresh blood which thankfully isn’t yours.  Your back is braced against the battered door, enduring each lazy, persistent blow from the other side.  You can feel as much as hear skin and nail dragging against the wooden surface, scrapping away layers of each.  In one hand you hold a smoking Glock 9mm, its magazine spent.  In the other the bloodied axe you liberated from the abandoned fire engine on Elm Street.  Both hands shake from the conflicting forces of adrenaline and exhaustion.  You close your eyes tight, trying to recapture your focus and sketch out a plan to survive the next few moments.  That’s when you hear the window shatter from the other room, followed by the shambling movement of creatures entering what had been your shelter, your haven, for the past six days.  But now your castle has been breached, your security compromised.  What next? 

We’ve all seen or censored the many incarnations of undead party crashers killing the mood at civilization’s orgy.  For decades the zombie apocalypse has infested every form of media and been flavored with every possible genre; fast swarming zombies, smart child zombies, night stalker zombies, romantic zombies filled with teenage angst.  The zombie craze has even given rise to a counter-culture of YouTube videos and wiki entries, supply lists and exercise routines, all offering insightful methodology for surviving your doom while maintaining a bikini ready bod.  Even the CDC got into the action and published a graphic novel and numerous follow-up blogs to ensure that the citizens of our once great (now mildly functional) nation are properly prepared for the worst.  Preparedness is great in theory, but I bet most of you don’t even have an escape plan for a house fire, much less have a backup plan for the end of the world!  Even here in the heart of earthquake country many people are not stocked with sufficient disaster supplies beyond the crank radio they got from a NPR pledge drive 6 years ago and the box of stale Ritz crackers in the cupboard over the fridge, so I’ll just assume most of you aren’t sitting pretty with a bug-out bag hanging ready by the front door.  You might be quite proud of your fancy new InstaPot and the cornucopia of post-Soccer meal options it offers but when the shit goes down it won’t be any better than foil wrapped roadkill cooking on the engine block as you floor the gas pedal to escape being brain tartare.  Bon appetite!

Now granted, there are those few dedicated individuals who are totally prepared for this (or any) eventuality and we lovingly refer to these people as “bat shit crazy”.  This is the demographic sweet spot that live on “compounds” and stress the importance of a healthy paralegal militia… er, I mean likeminded, proactive citizens embracing an old-world chivalry wrapped in a new-world order.  But despite the televised NRA propaganda that says these are the people that keep the world safe, anyone who’s ever watched Walking Dead knows these are usually the people that end up eating other people or at least pressing them into indentured slavery.  While this seems like very poor manners for god-fearing church goers, I must admit “thou shall not eat your neighbor” did not make the cut in the final draft of the Ten Commandments. Perhaps the editors thought that one was a no-brainer.  Ha, no-brainer, see what I did there… okay, never mind.

For the others out there, who think the zombie apocalypse isn’t plausible for the simple fact that brain sucking undead seem about as likely as rampaging unicorns with a disturbing horn fetish, you need to remember that the zombies (and kinky unicorns) are completely optional.  They’re all just window dressing in this scenario… like the faded floral print window dressing at grandmas that smells of saccharine and fried fish; sure, you could do without them, but they lend a vivid sense of place.  The true nature of the event, be it alien incursion, viral outbreak or dinosaur rampage, is just a single slice of the larger threat pie being served up.  First there is the simple destructive force of Mother Nature and the necessities of life made more elusive by a collapsing society.  Second but perhaps more problematic is “humanity”; not French Literature or Neo Impressionism, but human beings, driven to “Lord of the Flies” type shenanigans. The wackos of the world suddenly given free rein now that society is no longer around to keep them in check.  Sorry to say, but the meek shall not inherit the earth; they will either be forced to serve others or be served with a tangy BBQ sauce… or a bold seasoning rub if you’re caught in Kansas City.

Despite the name of my blog (or the resulting Google search results when trying to find my non-SEO optimized blog) I have only a rudimentary knowledge of actual survival skills. While I grew up with heroic visions of self-sufficiency my most grueling experiences have been things like the Spartan Run, so as long as the road to desolation has a clearly marked route and someone there handing me water every half mile I should be fine.  But even if I manage to survive the basic elements I’m not sure where I’d stand when facing off against bad guys with BBQ sauce.  Sure, I’ve geeked out on blades, owned a hand gun, learned plenty of self-defense but I question the level of violence I’m actually capable of; Hell, my friends still give me grief for my catch and release policy with spiders.

But I think at its heart this is the very question people take pleasure in wrestling with; do I have what it takes to survive?  What would you do to survive?  What would you do to ensure your family survives?    Do you have the intestinal fortitude to slather your body with putrid zombie gore to escape detection?  Could you make the hard choices for the people who rely on you?  Would you sacrifice your own humanity to prevail?

One classic scenario is set in the early days of the fall.  You and the family are fleeing the city in a car well stocked with more than just Ritz crackers and a labor-intensive radio.  You have food, water, fuel, blankets, med-kits.  The works.  The situation outside is already sketchy and while trying to flee to safer ground you come across a stranger on the side of the road begging for assistance, perhaps suffering from something as simple as a flat tire.  Do you pull over to render aid at the potential risk to your loved ones, and if so how much assistance do you provide?  Want to help with repairs?  Share a generous resupply of food and water?  Do you offer a ride?  Would your answer change if the stranger was female?  Had kids?  What if there were 3 adults and 2 kids?  Even if you’re inclined to be generous the realization that you’re now outnumbered becomes a concern… what’s to prevent them from just taking your well-stocked car once you pull over?   What if your own car breaks down further down the road and you find yourself in the reverse situation?  Would you hi-jack a Good Samaritan if it meant protecting your own family from being abandoned roadside?

Fast forward a couple days, you’ve survived the road trip and find yourself at the entry to a gated community that offers the chance for a real level of normalcy.  The catch is that due to limited resources they ask you at the gate “what useful skills do you have to offer the commune?” Keep in mind it needs to be something practical and useful.  Programming skills, worthless; we can’t even power the toaster (since NPR didn’t think to market one of those with a crank!).  Social media phenom with 50,000 followers on Instagram, who cares, most of them are now zombies or zombie chow.  Artist or musician, pointless; post-apocalyptic society has about as much use for the humanities as the Trump administration!  Accounting skills, well maybe, but how much skill is required to count cans of green beans or determine the exchange rate of bullets to toilet paper (it’s 10 to 1 for a roll of single ply and 25 to 1 for double ply quilted, just so you know)?   So, what do you have to offer?

Putting aside the unlikely premise of the zombie apocalypse there is real value in these types of mental exercises.  On the surface they teach us to be good little Boy Scouts and always be prepared. The CDC had it right in assuming that proper preparation starts with an awareness of potential need.  You may live in a zombie-free zone, but you can still be side-swiped by earthquakes, floodwaters, flashfires or Sharknados (hell, there’s been like 5 or 6 of those things already).  Imagining what we might need to survive these situations is more effective than a reminder to replace the smoke alarm batteries at the start and finish of the utterly pointless and completely antiquated Daylight Savings Time (not that I’m bitter).

Another, perhaps more important, benefit from these scenarios is that they allow us to be introspective about an aspect of our psyche that most of us will never have opportunity to explore.  We are confronted daily with heart-wrenching tales of suffering from all around the world that we are powerless to affect.  Thinking about how we’d kick ass and chew bubble gum after the fall of civilization can become a cathartic exercise of empowerment; what is our measure of heroism and the value we place in maintaining our humanity? For many of us this is as close as we’ll ever get to facing real life-threatening choices; would we have the courage to rise from the shelter of a battle-torn trench to charge the machine nest pinning our platoon?   Would we have the conviction to run towards the burning skyscrapers on the verge of collapse to help those trapped inside?  Would we rush into a school on lockdown to face off against a school shooter? We want to believe we’re brave enough.  We want to feel like we have the right stuff to survive in this world against all threats, real or imagined. Since there are no zombies knocking at the door and Bear Gryllus isn’t hovering around challenging us to drink our own pee or sample live scorpions, our assumptions are safe from scrutiny. Hopefully we’ll never have to put up or shut up in the real world so for now we can ravel in thoughts of zombie carnage and celebrate our inner hero… along as he doesn’t step on any spiders.

 

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Dream Girl

“Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream,…”  ~The Chordettes

Dear Dream Girl,

Acknowledging that you may well only exist in my imagination I thought I should at least write a formal invitation to make my intentions clear.  Best not to leave these things to chance, you know, or pretend I’d be happy with anyone like the parental platitudes of “we just want our baby to be healthy”, which sounded like a fabulous starting point, but I probably should have edited out some of the sassy attitude and funky smells.   Was that an option?  Anyway, I could start off by sending you a virtual wink, nod or smile, but historically my success rate with that approach has been less than dismal.  Subdismal perhaps?  Better if I just be open and honest with exactly what I’m looking for and how I can reciprocate.  It might be a random shot in the dark but there’s certainly no harm in trying, unlike randomly shooting in the dark which is never a good idea.

While my wish list might seem exhaustive or oddly specific I can promise a great deal of devotion and loyalty in return.  I would go to prison for you.  Well, not you, I hardly know you, but the idea of you and the future us that we could become.  As long as there are conjugal visits,… too soon? Probably.  Ok maybe the whole “going to prison” thing is over-stepping at this stage, but suffice to say I’d be dedicated to you; I may not help you hide the body, but at the very least I’d give you a solid head start before reporting said body to the authorities and I’d also make you a nice sack lunch so you don’t get hangry while on the lam,… and as I am enjoying some delicious lamb curry (since that totally got me thinking of lamb) and watching the live coverage of your high-speed chase I would absolutely root for you, while inwardly feeling validated that you do, in fact, drive worse than I do, even if you are better at parallel parking.  You know, now that I think about it I should probably just start off by asking that you’ve never been involved in a high-speed pursuit and you have no immediate plans to “end” someone by malicious or illegal means.   And if you have one of those “tear” prison tattoos, we can probably consider that a deal breaker as well.

Maybe I should start with the basics; I’m looking for someone who’s beautiful inside and out.  Not the inevitable sexy skeleton of Jenny Lawson, or the sexy underthings of Victoria’s Secret (though that never hurts) but a radiant soul filled with equal parts passion and compassion.  Your heart is wide open to love but has a discerning palette for kindness.  You have that solid sense of self to guide you; you know how you like your eggs.  You have strong opinions that you’re willing to fight for but listen to others regardless of perspective. You speak about others as if they were standing in the room. You can be a friend to my friends and an example to my kids.  You are a good person when no one else is watching. You love your job and embrace every day for its abundance of possibilities.  Even if one of those possibilities is finding a better job.  You push me to be a better person.  You encourage me to eat less carbs but will still stop for doughnuts.  Some days you will kick my ass to work out when I lack the motivation, and some days I’ll kick your ass to do the same.  Some days we’ll skip the ass kicking and just take a nap. You are consumed by your own interests but are present in the time we share together. I will support you with the things that matter most to you.  Try to do likewise even if my interests seem nerdy or frivolous.  At the very least, don’t piss in my corn flakes; the people and things that matter most to us are a package deal. Unconditional acceptance is the key.  If I can get behind the quality writing of “Sex in the City” then you should be able to sample the quality story telling of “Game of Thrones”, even if it has dragons. You are playful.  We will laugh together often, and sometimes playfully at each other, but never at the expense of another and certainly not each other.  You must enjoy warm hugs, but you don’t have to understand references to Frozen.    You should probably know who Inigo Montoya is though, and the tragic fate of his father.

What about me you ask?  Well, let’s just say, for the duration of this correspondence, that I have long flowing hair, if you’re into that, and large rippling muscles, if you’re into that.   Actually, if you’re into all that (or at least only that), then I’m probably not going to be into you. If you say that humor, honesty and humility are the most important attributes you look for in a man then I hope you mean it.  If all your past boyfriends have been brooding bad boys with a worn collection of Polish jokes or fart noises, then you might want to reconsider the reality of your “type”.   Who knows, maybe you dig “tear” tattoos, those just scream “comedy”.

In reality I can be loosely described as an introverted liberal dad.  I am a creative scatterbrain and a sucker for sap.  My inner voice rambles often but never stops me from listening.  I compensate for hair loss with muscle tone.  I like my eggs over-easy.   What more needs be said?

(cue background music – “Somebody to Love” by Queen as sung by Anne Hathaway in Ella Enchanted,… just because.)

As the music plays me off like one of those audio birthday cards in Target that you open by accident, I want to thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration.  I can just imagine you sitting there, silhouetted against the crescent moon absorbing the significance of each request and taking to heart the sincerity of my impassioned plea which, to summarize, is you should have everything I want and nothing I don’t.   That’s not too much to ask the personification of a fantasy dream girl, is it?

Of course it is.

I mean I get the idea of putting out clear intentions into the Universe, visualizing your goals, making a dream board.  Those are all great exercises to help me explore what I’m looking for, but it all needs to be tempered with the reality of an actual person with actual flaws and unique characteristics that evolved from the amalgamation of that individual’s life experiences.  You may be completely different then how I imagined you.  You may have something to offer that I didn’t even think to ask for and that’s pretty awesome.  So really it doesn’t matter if you like Pina Coladas or getting caught in the rain, as long as there are no dead bodies in the trunk we should be good to go.

(music swells…)

“Can anybody find meeeee,…… somebody to love.”

(roll credits)

Sincerely,

Me

 

BONUS TRIVIA: From what movie does the reference to knowing how you like your eggs come from?

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Fault Lines

We’re all at fault for something.  It might be something huge and deliberate or something small and unavoidable.  No matter how pure our intentions as we navigate through this world we cannot help but disrupt people we care about with collateral damage.  Through the heartache of my messy break-up part of me wanted desperately to remain blameless.  I wanted everyone to know how much I loved her, how much I tried, how much I wanted to make things work.  I wanted my friends and family to know.  I wanted her friends and family to know.  I wanted her to know. Maybe I thought the more people I could convince the more I might make it true.  I wanted to cry out ‘it wasn’t my fault’.  But that’s not true.  Not entirely.

For the most part, accepting no blame in a failed relationship isn’t realistic.  At the very least we make a choice to initiate the relationship and have some part in its conclusion.  I made the hard choice to move out regardless of my feelings for her or for us.  In moving out I put her in a difficult position and no amount of love or good intentions helped to ease her burden.  Her loved ones only saw the suffering she was left with and the bad guy that abandoned her.

In my mind I would rail against her for the blame she piled on me.  I would pour out in print arguments to every point; for how I tried to help and support her and how much of her current situation was based on choices made long before me.  And then I would blame her, for forcing me out and not being more accepting.  I don’t regret the choice I had to make, but I resent having to make it.  I remember telling the therapist that she was my ideal woman except she didn’t accept me, or my kids.  It sounded so right in my head, but so wrong when spoken aloud.  I realized that part of the sadness that overwhelmed me was simply anger.  I was so stuck on whether I quit the relationship prematurely that I dismissed all the times I didn’t.  All the times I tried to make it work.  All the times we fought over the same issues.  All the times we split, knowing there was no resolution.  When she turned around and found someone new I was pissed.  I was pissed that she would never change for me; she would never fully accept me or my kids for who we are.  Never.  There was no more hope that things would turn around.  No more chance at a future together.  There was no more path forward.

I understand there’s a strong case for both sides, I mean how much change is it fair to expect from someone?  Wanting to be accepted for who you are is just the other side of the coin to accepting that some people can’t change.  In the end, she just wouldn’t or couldn’t change for me, so she found someone else, someone who, at least from the start, seems less likely to present with the same limitations we ran in to.  I may not be able to fault her for that, just because we couldn’t find a way doesn’t mean we stop looking, but it breaks my heart that someone else should benefit from all my efforts and enjoy the woman I wanted because I couldn’t make her change.  No amount of love can force someone to be who they are not.  I tried to the point of sacrificing my own sense of self just to hold on to her.  To us.  But it wasn’t enough, just as she must have felt when she tried to plead for me to move back in regardless of whether things had changed between us or not.

I struggle over the memory of love shared.  I convince myself of the purity of that love.  I’m not sure if this is just another defense mechanism, to feel that I loved her more and that this somehow lessens my fault, or if I just want the love itself to be meaningful and significant even if only in memory. I thought again about the Proust quote “It is our imagination that is responsible for love, not the other person” and wonder if this is even more prevalent after the relationship has ended.

In the end none of it matters.  Regardless of fault or blame the fact remains that the relationship is over.  There is no path forward.  Beautiful or flawed as it may be distilled in my heart I cannot affect her narrative of the events that brought us to where we are today. Nor can I alter the opinions of others or their perception for how I left it. I am not blameless.  I can take responsibility for the choices I made and the hurt I caused through my actions while rejecting the minutia I had no control over.  Life is messy.  We make bad choices.  We make mistakes.  And we try to move on, navigating the inevitable fault lines that block our path to happiness.

 

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Write off Refusal

A baker, a lawyer and a gay couple walk into the Supreme Court,… stop me if you’ve heard this one.  If you haven’t it’s about the owner of a cake shop in Colorado citing a conflict between his religious convictions and a request for a slice of his artistic expression in the form of a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.  Since his “expression” is protected by the First Amendment, he argues, he should not be forced to “express” something that he is morally opposed to.  So the question becomes when does a person have the right to refuse service to another?  Does a baker have the freedom of choice to not make a cake against his will?

We’d like to think that, as individuals, we have some free choice and free will remaining in our supposedly free society.  One might argue that while those freedoms are guaranteed to us as individual citizens they may not extend to the businesses we operate.   Does the act of hanging a shingle and starting a business imply you no longer have the choice of who you serve?  Well, yes; there are specific state and federal guidelines to protect against discrimination and while sexual orientation is not covered under the federal guidelines it is covered in Colorado where this case originated.  A restaurant can refuse service if you’re topless or shoeless, but they can’t do it based on your race, gender and, at least in Mile High country, who you want to marry.

Let’s take a step back; consider the movie star who enters the mantel of celebrity by choice of profession.  The simple act of doing what they love finds them in the spotlight, adored by millions of fans.  Does that new star status give strangers the right to disrupt someone’s privacy in the middle of a family dinner just to score an autograph?   Does the celebrity have the right to refuse the request?  Turning the celebrity analogy on its ear, let’s say you are a public shingle hanger and Harvey Weinstein walks into your establishment.  I think it’s fair to say everyone has a clear opinion of this man, so what if you’re not a fan?  How should you handle your new customer?  Regardless of what the local bylaws may state about lecherous power mongers there are likely to be people who would and wouldn’t be willing to sell the man a muffin.  In this context does the freedom to make the choice of service feel any more or less justified?

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Colorado has it right, and federal standards should already have protection for sexual orientation on the books, but I can’t help but feel that something about this idea flies contrary to the freedom of religion and religious beliefs.  While I may believe it’s morally wrong to exclude a group of people based on their gender identity or gender preferences, I can’t force my opinion on others.  It would be hypocritical to support ‘choice’ in all matters except this one.   Is it ok for certain requirements to silence the first amendment rights of one group in support of another?

From my pedestrian understanding of the constitution the First Amendment protects a broad spectrum of expression right up the point of being “personally incendiary or threatening”.  There are books, dissertations and case studies covering all the situations where this protection does and does not apply. The current question is whether it can protect someone from artistically expressing things they don’t agree with and what level of artistic expression a typical business owner can claim.  The judges were looking for a clear demarcation from the attorneys in the Colorado case for how to define professional artistic expression so that every individual does not end up making up their own guidelines.

The ruling on the case will influence how companies are expected to do business in the future, which is great, but a part of me still thinks a business should have the freedom to shoot themselves in the foot if they choose to.  If they want to knowingly alienate a segment of their customer base and consequently suffer bad yelp reviews they should have the opportunity to do so.  Alternatively, they could follow the example of local Freeport Bakery that, a couple of years back, willingly accepted a request to replace their popular Barbie Cake with a flamboyant Ken Cake complete with a finely crafted dress of pink buttercream.  Rather than bend to the initial negative feedback on social media the bakery stood behind their spirit of inclusion and eventually enjoyed more popularity and appreciation for their convictions.  (https://freeportbakery.com/ken-doll-cake/)

Putting legal matters aside, though smart shoppers should also be able to manage their own expectations of the marketplace.  Everyone knows that some stores better cater to specialty needs than others.  You wouldn’t order a taco at Pizza Hut.  You wouldn’t ask for the men’s department at Victoria’s Secret and you wouldn’t expect a Christian bookstore to have an ample section on erotica.  Simply put, a business should know their target audience just as that audience should have some knowledge of the businesses they target.  With a combination of free will and free Google searches we have the ability to find diverse options in all categories.  As much as we might want to support small local businesses there are other resources available out there is our vast, globally connected economy.  Celebrate the individuals doing what they love and find the best match for what you’re looking for.  Chances are a voluntary shop owner will provide you with much better service than one having a sharp square peg shoved up their smooth round hole.

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Sap Sucker

Is it just me or is there an abundance of tear-choked moments stuffed into the holiday season?  That isn’t a rhetorical question, it could very well just be me; I can get choked up by a simple heartfelt thank you for a door held open.  Sometimes even the smallest gestured can work their way into my emotional wiring, but I’m talking about the larger scale sentiment all around us.  There seems to be a global conspiracy to up the sap factor around the holidays.  Maybe its longer nights to fill with romance.  Maybe it’s the hot chocolate and warm layers thawing the chill of apathy.  Maybe it’s the excess of spiked eggnog or the excess of family that drives one to drink spiked eggnog.  Whatever it is, I’m all for it.

I heard a study about how risk-takers gravitate to spicy foods as a way to challenge themselves through controlled physical pain. They literally play with fire.  Similarly some people enjoy watching scary movies as a way to experience risk on an emotional level, toying with the adrenaline rush of jump scares.  For me the thrill is from indulging in the flood of feel-good propaganda that studios and advertisers mainline into our collective psyche.  There are the coffee commercials with a surprise homecoming on Christmas morning.  The hero’s victory against overwhelming odds.   The swell of triumphant music as the underdog confronts his fears.  Hearing Inigo Montoya declare “I want my father back you son of a bitch” before running through the duke.  Forest Gump promising Jenny that he knows what love is.  The five minutes that Allie stirs from Alzheimer’s fog in the Notebook.  90% of Love Actually.  And don’t even get me started on the patriotic reunions with soldiers surprising their kids with an early leave from the military.  It’s relentless.  And wonderful.

Of course all of this stirring emotion is purely hypothetical; certainly a grown man such as myself would have nothing to do with such sappy cinema unless he lost a bet with his girlfriend or the batteries on his remote died.  Men are taught from an early age that nurturing is a feminine trait, and sappy sentiment needs to be abandoned in order to better focus on professional superiority, beer consumption and baseball stats.  My dad knew when and where to find a sporting event on TV at any time, any day of the week,… though this is when there were only 12 channels to choose from.   I don’t remember watching many rom-coms in my youth.  The closest thing to romance I ever saw were the soap operas like General Hospital and One Live to Live.  Originally I was just drawn in by the thin layer of intrigue with Robert Scorpio and the WSB spy agency, but it evolved into a shared experience with my mom, who enjoyed updating me on the story-lines I missed while in school.  This gateway drug grew into an over developed sense of romance, having experienced none of it during my awkward adolescence I settled for living vicariously through John Hughes films and Lionel Richie songs.  Even though I primarily related with the weirdos and loveless, I could get behind any happy ending (even the pretty dude from 16 Candles,… for Samantha’s sake).  That’s all anyone really wants, a happy ending,… errr, not the kind they give you in a sleazy backroom massage parlor, but the ones we experience in the collective darkness that leaves us feeling better than when we first walked in,… ok, that’s not helping.  Moving on.

As I get older, it is increasingly difficult to have the same optimistic view I did as a kid.  When I was younger I could imagine taking on the role of the hapless hero, and winning the girl through gutsy determination and honest empathy.  I had a lifetime of adventures still to play out and any one of those could land me in a comedic situation where an amazing woman falls right into my lap,… face first, after sliding down a muddy hill ahead of pursuing smugglers.   It could happen.  Or so I thought.  These days, with the exception of the 40 Year Old Virgin you don’t see many movies with a nerdy middle age dude scoring a romantic victory for the team.  Instead watching those same movies today I either realize just how old those sexy actors have become, or I ask myself if I could honestly outrun smugglers at my age or find the romance in our predicament after breaking my tailbone off that mud slide.  I look with a more critical eye at the wildly improbable serendipity of these magical movie moments.  Relationships sparking from a chance encounter or an unlikely friendship that blossom into an enduring, meaningful partnership.  They make love look so easy when it’s not.

According to George Strait, and a few others, “love is everything” and if love is “everything”, then what is love worth? What would you give for love?  What would you give up for love?  In the movies the characters make sweeping soulful sacrifices in the name of love.  They perform grand gestures and displays of affection right after a stirring musical montage where they struggle over whether or not love is worth the effort,… and then concur with George’s assertion.  In reality though how does this play out in our day-to-day lives?  What if we don’t have the PTO hours to stage that stunning mid-week surprise?  What if don’t we have enough left in the monthly budget to fly off to Paris or suddenly abort a planned solo trip, rushing back into the arms of our soulmate without regard for our checked luggage?

I consider myself a romantic.  I will go further than most to find a meaningful gift or struggle for days to pen the perfect sentiment that can’t be captured by Hallmark.   Sometimes though that’s not enough.  Sometimes in a relationship it’s simply a matter of “what have you done for me lately” where previous gestures either fade into memory or set an unreasonable precedence towards future expectations.  “Thanks dear for yet another pair of earrings,… now, have you taken out the garbage yet?!” Despite our best intentions sometimes the sentiment alone isn’t enough.  And perhaps it is this very thing that makes the Hollywood fiction so appealing.  The necessities of life and years of practicality may have tarnished the glamour of the fairy tale ending as it applies to me, but I still enjoy reveling in it vicariously; it is the epitome of romantic optimism.

So whether it’s a perpetual viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life, the National Anthem sung in tribute to Boston Strong or 9-11,  Zac Brown singing “for the stars and stripes” while showcasing active soldiers or even a simple toast at the next family feast, enjoy the stirring in your heart and the lump in your throat.  Be thankful we are alive to experience these emotions and carefree enough to embrace them; Grab that happy ending anywhere you can find it.

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Poster Child

While entering a therapy session to discuss the crippling heartbreak from my last love I was greeted by an “inspirational” poster on the wall which said, among other things, “If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love”.  While I appreciated the sentiment, and desperately want to cling to that kernel of optimism, I have some issues with the core concept.  First off, the cheeky little poster also stated in rather simplistic fashion “if you don’t like your job, quit”.  In theory that too has merit, but on a practical side there’s no mention of what’s to be done in the aftermath.  Like how the hell are you going to support yourself after telling off your boss and burning bridges like kindling?  Does this poster realize how competitive job interviews can be?  Is he offering to maintain health benefits for you and your little dependents via Cobra installments?  Is the uppity little poster going to help make your house payments if you can’t find a more fulfilling role in the next month or two or three?  I understand, for the sake of brevity and liability my new friend is keeping it simple, stupid.  Alternately he could have said “if you don’t like your job, consider seeking out vocational training in another career, going back to night-school to learn some valuable new skills or dusting off that resume and exploring your options in the job market.”   While this may be a more appropriate rendition it’s not quite as catchy and wouldn’t leave sufficient space for the bit about finding true love.

Now, getting back to that bit and how doing the things you love will somehow attract your soulmate; does this mean that literally my heart’s desire is already frolicking around doing those things I enjoy so I’m bound to run into her eventually or simply that if I’m knee deep in enjoyment I will radiate magical pixie musk which will drive the love of my life straight into my arms?  Either option does have its appeal, except when you consider that a great many of the activities I enjoy are either individual pursuits or extremely male dominated.  Creative hobbies like writing, drawing or sculpting are generally done while tucked away in one’s fortress of solitude.  Sure, there are groups out there that do those sorts of things but those groups are mostly organized at senior centers for retired folk available to meet at the community center every Monday at 2pm right before hitting the early buffet at the Golden Corral.  Sorry, not quite the demographic I’m going for at the moment.  And then we have gaming which certainly doesn’t exclude woman, but finds them in a severe minority.  Their attendance can have the same effect as dragging a slab of BBQ ribs through a health spa, enticing the assembled flock to descend on the object of their desire with a feral mix of hunger and desperation.  I’m sure this prospect sounds absolutely delightful for the average woman.  I honestly wonder how many women that do attend these events are there on their own accord without having lost a bet or just being lost in general.  A few of those voluntary individuals must be of the serious hardcore variety and even that could be potentially problematic since I’m a moderate in all things; finding someone devoutly passionate in one of these interests could end up being more off-putting than appealing.  This is the reason I’m often attracted to those who have other views and interests outside my safety bubble so I can avoid falling towards extremes.  TEDTalk speaker Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it more directly stating that “it’s the people not like us that make us grow” and that freedom is a key component to a successful relationship.

While I can appreciate the idea that you’ll find love once you stop looking, what are we to do with the here and now?  What about all the motivational speeches of living in the moment and finding your happiness in every ray of freaking sunshine?  I’m not getting any younger here people.  Am I supposed to waste my remaining years and my remaining hair follicles passively sitting back with the expectation that ‘the Universe will provide’?  If I followed Mr. Poster’s advice and quit my job would I stop looking for a new gig assuming one will come my way when the time is right?  Of course not.  As my uncle reminds me, job-hunting is a contact sport; the more contacts you make the better your chances of success.  Shouldn’t that philosophy apply equally to love?  Does finding the perfect woman equate to finding the perfect job? If Mr. Poster is to be believed we shouldn’t be compromising on either decision, but realistically how many of us have perhaps taken an imperfect job over the prospect of having no job at all?  (Am I the only one raising my hand here?) If we extend that attitude to a partner the wrongness of it does scream out, and probably accounts for many a failed rebound relationship.  So, we don’t want to compromise and we don’t want to wait.  What now?

For the time being I can understand that we should find our own happiness and embrace that, regardless of whether we’re singular or plural.  We can make changes to the one person we have power over, ourselves.  Certainly, a happy, fulfilled person will be perceived as more attractive.  We can work on the sex appeal of self-confidence and the serenity of inner-peace, all the while trying to ignore those random pretenders out there that seem to radiate a healthy optimistic vibe regardless of their true state of being… those are the ones you don’t know whether to hug or kick in the shins.  How dare they act so damned chipper while I’m struggling to maintain my happy peaceful aura?  Can’t you see I’m working here… you miserable shin-less vibe-radiating optimist!

But I digress.

Honestly, the only open path right now is towards recalibrating.  Hell, the opening sentence alone is proof enough that I should not be inflicted on another partner; I should probably be able to at least think about my previous relationship without hyperventilating before I consider signing up for another.  That seems reasonable, doesn’t it?  Meanwhile, the dating sites can continue to run on auto-pilot in the background while I work on my “happy” in a non-violent, non-shin-kicking fashion.  This should keep Mr. Poster quiet, not overtly offend the Universe and still leave me some lingering hope that a miracle spark will ignite my pixie musk into a screaming fireball of passion… just so I can quote that last line in our wedding speech.

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Tales from the Mid-point