Category Archives: Humor

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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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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Harmonic Cupid Matching

From the male perspective, online dating is a completely different game.  In the predatory barroom setting typically the male has the dominant role of hunter,… or so I’ve heard.  In my lifetime I’ve probably engaged in this sort of bar scene drama less than a dozen times back in college and even that was under duress because friends and roommates, driven by alcoholic delusion, were convinced that their boyish charm would score them some dance floor groping if not a full-fledged one night stand.  And since misery loves company I came along for the ride and was therefore blessed with the opportunity to bear witness to their drunken failure and inevitable shame.  But despite me and my friends’ lack of success I was able to observe how the game should play out by individuals more dedicated to the craft. The perfectly puffed up male swaggers confidently over to well-positioned and well-manicured female and engages in some level of inane small talk for the sole purpose of stalling for time while they mutually assess their sexual attraction; the woman evaluates his potential as a lover, a provider, and his ability to make her friends jealous while the man evaluates if she’s at that alcoholic sweet spot safely between “willing” and “passed out”.

Ok honestly, what do I know?  I just admitted very little experience with this whole process so maybe I’m just jaded and there really is some soul-searching being exchanged out on the floor.  My point, though, is that the role of the male in these situations is still very clear, regardless of the depth of conversation or the sexual end game.  When this moved into the online dating realm the gender roles remained the same.  Everyone fills out the same profile information, posts the same self-portraits in the bathroom, and pads their preferences with the same white lies – guys pretend to not be couch potatoes, gals pretend to be really in to sports, and everyone pretends to enjoy marathons.   But after all that it’s typically the guy that initiates the first contact.  For the woman this plays out with them receiving a stack of invitations from a variety of suitors from which she can choose one or simply ignore the lot.  For the man this plays out with them firing off introductions in a shotgun pattern hoping that something will hit and trigger a random spark.  Sure you can spend all your time combing through profiles hunting for your perfect woman, but chances are a dozen other Romeo’s before you have already filled up her inbox with the same attempts at witty banter and romantic propositions that you were so proud of just moments before.  After a week of the virtual cobwebs you realize that your perfect woman, who the site promised was a 92% match with you, is not going to be writing you back much less bear your children or share matching rocking chairs on the porch of the retirement facility.  “Ok”, you think, “how about this one, she’s an 88% match?!”  This process continues until you find yourself, late one Saturday night, after one too many rum and cokes, writing to a 65% match that is 10 years, 80 pounds and 120 miles outside of your acceptable range, then waking up the next morning with a hangover and a vague recollection of the romantic promises you made to this mystery woman only to reach the sad realization that she too has chosen not to respond.

Having exhausted my pool of prospects in this manner I start to consider perhaps it’s not me (of course, how could it be); perhaps I’m just not on the right site!  In this age of online dating the variety of sites that has cropped up is staggering.  Now days I can sign up for a specific site based on my age, race, religion, occupation (at least if I’m a farmer) or even my chemical composition.  This all sounds like a fantastic idea until you consider that any restrictive classification only further limits the pool of available prospects.  Think about it; you can fill out as many questionnaires as you like detailing your preferences and ideal qualities but if there are only three 40+ year old, Jewish farmers in the Sacramento area how meaningful is any of that amassed information really going to be?  It’d be like if I walked up to a vending machine looking to score a package of peanut M&M’s only to have it spit out a bag of stale trail mix with carob chips because that was the closet match.  Did I benefit any from finding my own personal vending machine?  I could have stepped into Costco and ended up with the same bag of trail mix but at least I would have had more options for substitution.  I could have settled for a jumbo bag of Goobers,… like that night I had one too many rum and cokes.

So am I bitter because the online dating world isn’t magically dispensing the girl of my dreams?  Wasn’t that subliminal marketing promise?  Isn’t it written somewhere in the cosmic small print that your efforts will be rewarded?   Ok, so maybe it is just me.  Maybe if Gerald Butler felt he needed online dating to meet the perfect woman he too would find a flooded inbox filled with provocative propositions.  Maybe that’s the part I’m bitter about.  Why can’t I lie down and be the proverbial prey for a while?  I want the woman to abandon the old fashion traditions and take some initiative damn it.  I did find one site that was basically the online equivalent of a Sadie Hawkins dance; it’s all about the woman being in control and initiating the selection process.   This sounds great in theory but doesn’t it come down to the same principle; woman having the ultimate power of selection over multiple suitors.  I guess the only real difference is I enter into the process accepting my passive role as the bag of Gooblers.

Either way I’m getting the impression that online dating is not the magical panacea I once thought it to be.  Just because we’ve transitioned to a virtual bar scene doesn’t make it any more glamorous or me any better suited to navigate it.

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My Bedeviled Angel

A lot of people persistently struggle when it comes to personal fitness, and in recent days I count myself among their ranks.   On one shoulder I have the ripped Angel with the 6-pack abs sipping the kale smoothie and on the other shoulder I have the pot-bellied Devil chugging malt liquor.  In my world Angel typically wins out in the war on workouts; Devil has a better chance asking me to not shower then asking me not to work out, so instead he contents himself with sabotaging my shopping list and convincing me that the 2g of protein in the Peanut Butter Crunch, twice that of most breakfast cereals I’ll have you know, is a healthy source of protein for growing muscles, so thank you captain.    Angel, satisfied that I’m at least eating my vegetables, settles for a palm slap and a guilt inducing head shake whenever I have a chocolate chip cookie to “cleanse my palate” after dinner.  Left to my own devices I manage to keep them both in check and come out on the healthier side of the scale.  It is, however, a fragile balance easily disrupted by outside influences.  I once dated a girl that newly discovered you could order French fries with a side of gravy, providing a slice of Thanksgiving any day of the week.  Needless to say Devil was giddy with delight and Angel almost passed out while frantically Googling cardiologists.

One of the more serious external threats comes from the wee folk,… not the leprechauns pushing brownie bits samples at Costco but my precious offspring with narrow diets and youthfully unclogged arteries.  These little Devils have no problem feasting on the “bacon platter” for breakfast (that would be a platter stacked with only bacon).  They suck through Otter pops faster than a chain smoker.  They refuse to touch any food tainted with the smallest fleck of green down to trace amounts of dehydrated parsley found on the wildly unhealthy garlic bread.   They are the demon spawn of Domino’s pizza forsaking colorful vegetables and unprocessed proteins.  Worst of all is the fact that the little Devils require so much nit-picky care for the preparation of an acceptable meal that it leaves little time for alternative arrangements and just a bitter choice between choking down dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets with everyone else or working on a healthier alternative through dinnertime and scarfing it down between doing the dishes and chasing down little Devils for bath time.

Parental time management takes the greatest toll on the Great Expectations that is self-improvement.   Most successful workout routines fall into the time range of 45-90 minutes.  Trying to ease your P90X fitness guilt with a handful of sit-ups and a vigorous dash to the mailbox doesn’t fill the void.  I need extended activity; A prolonged cardio burn like running the bleachers at a football stadium which is problematic in the limited circumference of my current dwelling.  Inside this apartment everything is literally a 10ft radius from my desk.  When I had my Fitbit functioning in the previous house I could easily hit my goal of 10,000 steps just from multiple round trips up and down the stairs and delivering laundry to the four corners of the homestead.  It’s hard to make up that difference when time and space are so limited.  I need to either fill all free time with additional gym trips or multi-task when little ones are around, doing speed rounds of sprint tag with alternating pull-ups on the money bars between pursuits as lava monster.  Maybe I can install a giant hamster wheel out on the balcony.

I know some of it is inevitable; we grow up and then we grow out.  Our metabolism naturally slows down over time regardless of how much spice we spike our foods with.  Diets have to adjust to accommodate changes in our aging body and our fading activity levels.  At some point we have to realize our food intake no longer aligns with our daily calorie burn.  Continuing to eat like we’re teenage athletes makes as much sense as keeping those size 30 jeans believing that one day we’ll once again have the waist of a 20-year-old.

By this point my personal Angel, who was meant to be the model of health and virtue, is on the verge of surrendering.  When the Devil upends Angel’s kale smoothie and pokes him the belly like the Pillsbury Doughboy he no longer seems to mind.  I suspect his becoming a little too chummy with his devilish counterpart and the temptations being whispered in his ear.  It’s only a matter of time before he’s stretched out on a recliner during 8oz curls and using the devil as his serving wench.  Time for more stretchy pants.

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Market Placed

Nothing makes you question your ranking in this game we call Life more than a hefty dose of judgement.  Not the simple parental judgement like you never measured up to your sister or you never fully committed to the clarinet but the self-imposed judgement that comes with putting yourself on the market.  Be it the job market or the dating market we open ourselves up to a level of critique that is tough not to internalize and impossible to ignore.  I’d like to think that I have a fairly solid sense of self, with a complete awareness of all my strengths and weaknesses, but then people keep telling me otherwise, so who’s a guy to believe?

While I’m certainly not in a good space to start dating again my return to the job market got me thinking about both pursuits with a classic exercise in “compare and contrast”.  With that in mind here are a few random thoughts about hunting for love vs hunting for jobs;

  1. When hunting for jobs you can proffer an impressive assortment of references and recommendations. When hunting for love it’s typically best to keep a separation between past and present partners.  Not to say all relationships end badly but few leave with a burning desire to fluff you with flattery in front of your next potential mate.  Likely any offered “constructive criticism” would be light on constructive and heavy on criticism.
  2. I’ve never been fired from a job, but I’ve certainly been “let go” of a few relationships. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if there was a corresponding concept of “collecting unemployment”; some form of lesser relationship provided temporarily to tide you over until a full-time position could be secured.  You did your time, you paid your dues, why feel guilty about getting back from the system?  Sure now that I write it down it sounds like state-sponsored prostitution but it started off as an inspired concept,… kinda like the Shake Weight commercials.
  3. There’s no negotiation for better benefits at the start of a relationship; Terms are typically vague or left unspoken. Benefits are offered spontaneously and generously during the initial vetting period… then drop off gradually with each subsequent anniversary.
  4. Relationships typically don’t require relocation and any required travel is usually a good thing. Invasive TSA screenings are more easily tolerated when you’re just hours away from umbrella drinks at a beach-side all-inclusive.
  5. Both markets offer convenient shopping sites online to assist with finding a good match. These sites help facilitate the connection starting with an email inquiry, moving to a phone screen and then finally to an initial meet and greet with the team.  Luckily neither one scores you with a Netflix rating system after the relationship is terminated.
  6. There is no “technical challenge” or “white board coding question” in a relationship, though you have to wonder if woman would approach prospects differently if there were; “you did a solid job in the cuddling and listening portions of the exam but we felt you lacked the depth of experience we’re looking for in the bedroom, so we’ve decided not to go forward with this relationship.” To which you’d think, with smug satisfaction, that it’s probably just as well since she had an annoying habit of speaking in the third person.
  7. When hunting for jobs working with a recruiter is a perfectly acceptable shortcut for finding the right position. When hunting for love though the idea of matchmaker feels old fashion and typically ineffectual in the long run, desperately misplacing you with only the small handful of leads they have at hand regardless of compatibility… ok, maybe they are exactly the same as recruiters.
  8. When hunting for jobs I feel I’m often competing against a much younger generation. When hunting for love at least you can target woman of the same age range. You’ll still be competing against a younger generation but woman will either be more subtle about their preferences, won’t show up in your search criteria or will be listed on a cougar-centric site that you’re too old to register for.
  9. Taking it a step further, when hunting for love we can be specific about not only age, but social class, faith, race and sexual preference. When hunting for jobs, all that crap would be illegal, at least on the employers’ side.  I do still have every right to steer clear of the faith-based radio stations and health care providers however, not because I have anything against them as an organization but because my digital resume would likely be blocked by blasphemy filters.
  10. When saturating the singles scene you very much want to find the perfect harmonic match. You want to be the “one”, without question.  When trolling the job market I’m not so hung up on such minutia; if we both compromise our idealistic views and settle in for a complacent yet mutually beneficial relationship,… I’m ok with that.

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Halos and Mickey Eyes

It was a typically beautiful spring day in Southern California; the skies were a clear, deep, blue and the soft morning breeze kept the heat at bay.   We had just entered the happiest place on earth, Disneyland, and paused to take our iconic picture in front of the Mickey flowers with the train depot backdrop.  I was filled with a sense of joy and nostalgia to be back on the sacred ground that held so many cherished childhood memories.  I turned around to share this joyous moment with my beloved children only find my six-year-old blubbering in tears.  She had been excited about the park in the days leading up to the trip and even moments before but apparently something had gone terribly wrong in the time it took to walk the 100ft from ticket booth to photo opp.  I leaned down to try and make out the soft mumbles between pitiful sobs. My sad little princess proceeded to tell me “there are no rides here, I want to go home”.  And thus our adventure began.

It was at the moment that I realized vacations are a lot like past relationships; regardless of the amount of grief you may have experienced at the time, it all falls away when you look back through the tinted glasses of nostalgia.   I read that for woman they describe a similar “halo effect” after giving birth.  Moms don’t actually forget the pain of delivery despite urban tales, but rather all the positive sensations that flood in following birth leaves a predominantly positive impression of the experience as a whole.  That, to a far lesser extent, is what happens on vacation.  Inching along perpetually winding lines in the heat of the afternoon sun for 60 minutes at a stretch feels downright torturous at the time, but once you finally board the boat and enter the swampy preamble of the Pirates of the Caribbean all that melts away and you’re left with the distilled thrill of Imagineering magic.

Of course when small children are involved the long lines become the least of your concerns.  I think I spent half of my time walking through the park backwards trying to wave my daughter along at a forced march; “Come on, keep walking. Yes, it’s a pretty butterfly.  No, you just had cotton candy.  Yes, there’s another bathroom just up ahead.  No, we’re not shopping for a toy.”  Though I must admit for all my impatience with her slothful speed she was the model of patience through those torturous long lines.  The questions “are we there yet?” and “how much longer?” were not uttered a single time in the park.  Lyft rides, yes, but park, no.

The requests that were ever-present were standard trio of hunger, thirst and fatigue.  Hunger was easily squelched with a backpack stuffed with store-bought staples, and thirst was managed by selling a kidney and investing a small fortune in bottled water.  But it was the fatigue that was hardest to deal with.  As an adult I’m thinking of vacation as an investment in fun and I had planned to suck every last once of fun out of the experience.  Wait, that doesn’t sound right.  What I’m saying is if it was up to me we’d be scurrying about the park from the minute it opened to ten minutes after it closed, having selected the most remote attraction as the final ride of the evening with a fleeting hope that we’d get locked in.  We’d stagger home, collapse into a dreamless stupor and wake up bright and early the next day to do it all over again.  With kids though I have to demonstrate a bit more restraint, lest my slothful rearguard become an unconsciously sack of potatoes.  Not only do we need to take breaks between rides but we also take mid-day breaks where there’s no expectations of movement or agenda and they can just veg quietly by poolside or bedside.  Once I see how much this recharging helps I realize how much we are taxing those little legs with an average of 25,000 steps each day; unless I want to do over a third of those steps with an unconscious sack of potatoes riding on my shoulders the down time is a minor concession.

Even with the rest stops we manage to rack up sufficient park time and all in all it turned out to be a really great trip; Ethan had memories of visits past and so got to enjoy the parks from a fresh teenage perspective while Emma had the height and the spirit to try every ride on our list, many for the first time.  After trying a warm up coaster in ToonTown we even tried her on Thunder Mountain.  This was quite a step up in intensity and I was worried it might be too much for her.  I needn’t have worried though; about half way through the ride I looked back to make sure she was doing ok and found her with arms waving in the air and a fierce smile shining on her lips.  The only hitch in the ride selection turned out to be the Matterhorn and the upgraded animatronics of the yeti; the previously laughable fuzzy dude originally only made a couple of appearances shifting stiffly from side to side.  Yeti 2.0 was transformed into a more terrifying threat jump-scaring around every turn.  Emma did not appreciate that one bit, and even Ethan thought it distracted from what was already not a thrilling ride.  I still liked it and one miss wasn’t such a bad thing.

We spent the final day exploring California Adventure.  At the suggestion of seasoned park goers we made our first stop at Fast Pass kiosk for the new Cars Ride (Radiator Springs Racer).  At the time we arrived, about an hour after the park’s initial opening, the Fast Pass reservations were already backed up to 6pm that evening.  Since we all had flights out later that night this was to be the last ride of the day.  Making good use of the Fast Pass system is key to optimizing your time in the parks, allowing you to alternate waits in the traditional lines with guaranteed slots in the express lines.  Even with the unexpected crowds filling the park on those non-peak Monday and Tuesday we still managed to hit most of the rides on our wish list, including two trips on the new and improved Space Mountain (now Hyperspace Mountain).  As the day wound to a close the only hold outs on our list were Peter Pan’s Flight and Toy Story Midway Mania.  What we did have though was a final golden ticket to one of the most popular new attractions in the park.  We returned to Cars Land a little early which was good because even the Fast Track lane was backed up beyond the ride entrance.   Progress was slow going and time ticked onward at a pucker-inducing rate; we still had to get out to the shuttle, back to the hotel, get a ride to LAX and catch the last flight for Sacramento.  As panic started to creep up the line finally surged forward and at last we were sitting in one of the shiny Car characters, looking around at the beautiful set design and anxiously awaiting the green light to race off into the desert scene.  Then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Until finally the announcement was made; the ride was out of service with no estimated repair time.  The lights dimmed, the musical score silenced and the power flickered as they rebooted the Disney magic.  We filed out with the rest of the stunned crowd with a palpable sense of disappointment.

The chaotic ending made for a fitting bookend to the opening drama, since everything in between was filled with a wonderful collection of new memories.   We didn’t get that final thrilling new experience to instill a lasting halo effect, but all the bumps along the road way will still melt away with nostalgia to leave vacation memories I hope my kids will cherish for a long time,… until they can bring their kids and have them burst into tears in front of the happiest place on Earth.  Seriously?!

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Open Door Closes

When one door opens another closes.  That’s how the saying goes, right?  Right?  No, it’s not.  Sorry, were you still thinking about it?  Anyway, the actual optimistic quote attributed to Alexander Graham Bell goes: “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” It’s meant to give us a warm fuzzy about the hope and opportunity always sitting just out of view.  Lately I’m starting to feel like the reverse statement is more fitting.  Every time I seem to approach an even keel with good fortune opening before me, a random door or two seem to close behind me.  Sure, in the spirit of optimism, I should probably keep my eyes front and center and continue focusing on the open door, but it becomes hard to ignore the nagging slams behind you, not knowing which ones have closed and what implications they will have going forward.  I might turn around to address a new issue and after some struggle find a way to open it again, only to have another slam shut behind me, perhaps the one I was just happily gazing through just moments before.

Recently the company I’ve been working for was acquired by a larger conglomeration.  The particular division that I work for was deemed to be too costly and ultimately redundant next to one of the existing organizations.  So this week we were told during a rather jarring conference call that they were generously offering 6 available positions at said existing organizations to the 9 employees who remained.  In my mind this played out like the scene in The Dark Knight, when Heath Ledger’s Joker proclaims that he has a job opening in his organization but “there is only one spot open right now, so <snap> we’re gonna have try outs” as he tosses the two unfortunate applicants jagged halves of a pool cue.  When the announcement was made everyone exchanged an awkward glance, knowing that our former colleagues were now our competition against future employment.

As of this writing I’m not sure how this will all play out but suddenly I find myself potentially back in the job market.  Like my previous hiring ventures I have growing concerns over my growing age.  Not to say there is a prevalence of ageism in the workplace, but there are some factors that certainly work against you in the young hip world of small software startups.  Even if I was the same pizza gobbling video game addict I was at the age of the office population, I’m simply not that same person now.  I can no longer hold my own in a FPS blood match and pepperoni gives me heartburn,… and it has nitrates, a fact I’m sure the gathered youngsters would love having me point out.   As much as I might want to consider myself hip or cool, I don’t even know the right words for hip or cool these days and when I watch fast food commercials I don’t even know if the pitch person is an athlete or a rap star, having practically no exposure to either.

And then we come to the education vs experience factor. The software engineers coming out of college these days have state of the art equipment and applications at their disposal.  They have industry professionals as mentors encouraging them to push the technical boundaries of computer science. You end up with a mini-me genius willing to work for free pizza and FPS couch time, running against me who has actual dependents, a private living space and more than six items in the refrigerator that are not connected by plastic rings.  While I could safely say to the other candidates that I’ve forgotten more coding knowledge as a programmer then you will ever learn, I not sure if that speaks to the wealth of my knowledge and more to my sketchy Etch-A-Sketch memory.  On the other hand I do still know all the words to “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon, but if I mentioned that in my defense during an interview they would just look at me funny, having no idea who Paul Simon is.

Another consideration is the possibility of returning to an actual office environment.  I’ve gotten much accustomed to my current commute to the home office.  I can go the duration of days without seeing another living soul or finding proper motivation to put on a pair of pants.  And that’s not in the same glamorous way I may have done it as a bachelor with those pizza fueled gaming marathons.  This is work, followed by more work, uninterrupted by any reality check or social contact.  Okay, there are still distractions; Distractions of cleaning and laundry and children and pets and shopping and napping and,… well okay maybe that last one is non-essential but it’s still an occasional distraction.  What will I do if I have to put pants on and stay somewhere other than home for 8-10 hours a day?  Who will do my laundry?  When will I have time to clean?  Where do I keep my wallet?

I’m taking it all in stride though.  Perpetual change makes for a youthful mind, right?  I don’t know, I just made that up.  But regardless of the current state of my “doors” (or my youthful mind), I need to appreciate all the opened ones and consider all the closed ones as potential for more openings.  I will step right up this closed door of employment, open it with bold certainty and declare to the hiring millennials on the other side “I’m not old, I’m prepackaged with experience!”

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