Category Archives: Humor

In Printed

I may not be a fan of New Years resolutions,  but it is a good time to dust off the ol’ bucket list.  One of the top items on my bucket list is to be credited both as writer and illustrator of my own published piece; likely a children’s book but who knows, illustrated spy dramas may become all the rage.  I’ve always thought that this would be the ultimate creative outlet for me despite what all publishers and submissions guidelines may say to the contrary.  They make it repeatedly clear that writers should steer clear of submitting artwork since they have their own collection of darling in-house artists to choose from.  To which I say “you’re not the boss of me.  I play by my own set of rules.  I write my own rulebook complete with illustrations drawn by yours truly.” To which they reply with resounding silence or a short, mildly polite rejection “Thank you for not following our submission guidelines.  Have a nice day”.

It would seem I need to be more professional in my approach.  I need to prove to them that I can offer value on both sides of the creative playing field.  I often wonder if they initially rejected the Wimpy Kid books because of submission guidelines or suggested Jeff Kinney’s clever stick drawings be redone by an in-house illustrator who previously specialized in cover art for trashy romance novels.  Now eleven books later with Mr. Kinney’s ability to essentially print money any time he needs a new boat, or a house in the Hamptons I’m pretty sure he’s given full creative freedom despite the fact that Greg and the rest of the crew bear no resemblance to Fabio or his bodice bosom counterparts.

Now a secondary bucket list item which is closely tied to the first is to read in print any reference to me or my creations with the phrase “wildly popular”.  There’s just something about that expression that tickles my sensibilities; “wildly popular”.  Not “mildly popular” or “really quite popular” but “wildly popular”.  It’s as if “scathing report” and “inflammatory remark” had a love child from an angry bout of make-up sex resulting in “wildly popular”.   I’m not sure if that’s better than going viral but it sounds a great deal more sanitary.

I am not under the delusion that everything I write or draw is solid gold masterworks worthy of worship.  This is still all a work in progress and the rants and ramblings contained herein are merely an exercise in creative expression.  My 5 views in a week is not “wildly popular” by any metric.  The ice cream man can achieve 5 followers by cruising the park on a mild spring day.  No, I may be just screaming into the void (which is slightly preferable to pissing into the wind and still more sanitary then going viral) but I can dream that one day the numbers will pick up and the small handful of views today will snowball into a wildly popular number,… like maybe 16 for instance.  And then, once I have my “wildly popular” blog to shove in the publishers’ faces they will have no choice but to bow to my demands and happily offer me a three book publishing deal for my series “Clifford the Big Red Spy Dog”.  Until that happens, I resolve for the New Year to either get at least one piece of fiction or two articles published by the end of the year,… or reach 16 followers, whichever comes first.

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Lock Picking Love

When I was young the key to my heart was a crude thing, made with a single rough groove fashioned to unlock an equally rudimentary lock.  In all honesty it was more like a simple deadbolt that anyone interested could open with an easy twist,…   heck, I let a few people in who weren’t even interested.  After a few false starts with that so-called security system I learned to upgrade my lock to something a bit more complex, like one of the those old fashion tube keys with two or three predominant teeth at the end; I had formed a rough idea of who I wanted and what it would take for that mystery person to find more permanent residence within my heart.  I was ready for the big league; dating.

Regardless of whether you’re starting out in your youth or jumping back in well into your adulthood, the predatory nature of dating seems to encourage a different approach to unlocking the hearts and minds of potential mates.  When you put yourself out there you are presenting the perfect package you perceive yourselves to be.  Like a well-padded resume you may inflate some aspects of your personality while compressing some aspects of your physique so tightly into that sexy outfit that your legs fall asleep from lack of circulation.  You navigate the online pre-date banter and the coffee shop small talk in order to better size up your new acquaintance.  In reality the goal of this interaction is to discover how this person ticks.  Does she love kids? Does she love cats?  Does she vote liberal?  Does she watch FOX?  Does she like wine?  Does she chug whiskey?  With every bit of information gathered you get that much closer to learning how to unlock that person’s heart.  You take it on faith that the person you’re sharing your life story with will use that information for good and not for evil.  You have to trust that the baby kissing, dog-owning, liberal wino she is presenting is a true representation of her personality just as she has to accept that your positive reception of her responses are equally truthful and not just a juvenile attempt to lock-pick her heart or shop-lift the pooty.  For me it was this firsthand experience with how to unlock another heart that taught me the most about what it takes to unlock my own.  Over time that rough idea solidified and through trial and error I added, removed and replaced various locking mechanisms with more refined iterations.  And then I got married.

When you find “the one” the lock is discarded, having served its purpose.  There is a certain degree of relief knowing you’ll no longer have to fiddle with your lock or find your missing key.  You accept the love you’ve found as permanent and make concessions to keep your heart happy while keeping it available to your new partner.  While the old lock may grow rusty your heart continues to grow in size and complexity.  Through that long-term relationship the concept of love evolves far beyond those original crude notions.  You grow in directions you hadn’t even considered.  At times you struggle with the concept of self while you try to become who your partner wants or who your children need.  Where does one heart end and the other begin?  How have all of these relationships changed you?

When you lose “the one” the lock snaps back into place without notice.  In addition to that lingering rust of disuse there are the new levels of complexity that have evolved over time; more pins in the tumbler requiring a more complex arrangement of corresponding teeth.  Not only have you continued to learn what you like and dislike in love, but you’ve also quietly learned what it was about yourself that you surrendered or suppressed in order to make those lasting relationships function.  You have a greater sense of self which requires its own measure of security and consideration.  Now a double-sided key is required to perfectly hit every spring just right.

Dating at this point becomes a challenging pursuit.  While we may develop an appreciation for our own sophisticated complexity, we don’t account for the statistical unlikelihood that we’ll be able to find a suitable key-bearer, and even if we do manage that much there’s still the question of being the proud owner of a reciprocal key.  It’s like one of those games at the fair where contestants line up at a locked door and selects a key at random from a bucket hoping to unlock it and win the prize.  You stand in line again and again trying in vain to find the lucky key.  After countless attempts to gain entry you finally have the satisfaction of opening the door, but rather than being met with some glorious prize you find instead a second door, like the adjoining rooms of a hotel, and realize there is an entirely different line of people standing behind that door trying to do the very same thing that you are.  You return to the back of the line increasingly dejected and start the process all over again hoping by some miracle that you and your perfect mate will somehow manage to open the doors at the same time and share your new communal space.

Frustration becomes your new companion.   Dating prospects come and go, leaving only a pile of discarded keys in their wake.   Are the good ones all taken?  Are only the freaks remaining (present company excluded)?  Is it you or it is them?  (It’s you).  You focus overly much on finding someone to unlock what lies within. You primp and polish the lock to a shiny luster, not bothering to go any deeper, since the deep stuff will likely go unseen,… like wearing ugly underwear on the first date as a guarantee that no one will ever see it.

Once the dust settles though you consider a different approach.  What if you unlocked your own heart?  Open it up with the sole purpose of sharing it with others with no expectation of reciprocation.  An open heart is easier to love and more accessible since the lock is no longer in the way.  You do what you love.  You be who you are.  You are open to everything (some limitations and exclusions apply in considerations of introverts; see manual for complete details on proper care and handling).  It would be like opening the door to your hotel reservation to find the adjoining room already wide open for you to spread out in.  No barriers.  No restraints.  At the very least you have more nooks to explore, and more freedom to enjoy yourself.  If you happen to discover your soulmate waiting in that adjoining room, then all the sweeter,… if it’s not your soulmate you should probably call management because that would just be creepy.

The point is there’s no guarantee I will find that perfect match.  I think there’s something to be said about young love.  It seems so simple in retrospect.  There were so many growth experiences personal and professional that became shared experiences, and so many shared experiences both good and bad that became precious memories.   I cannot replace those memories, just as I cannot recapture my youth.  Any relationship now must deal with that complicated heart regardless of how it evolved, and I must accept that any heart I encounter will be equally complicated by its own evolution.  So, for now, I’ll just go back and focus on opening my own heart,… if I can just remember where I left my keys.

 

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK FOR: “Hot-wiring Your Sex Drive”

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Right in the Prom Proms

The question was simple, “do you regret not going to prom?”  The answer is a fluffier bit of self-indulgent nostalgia.  I mean, really, in the grand scheme of things the importance of prom on my current life path matters not at all.  There was no pivotal scene from Back to the Future that would greatly alter my destiny if it played out one way or another, at least not one that comes easily to mind.  There are no lingering doubts or questions that perpetually haunt me to this day.  It’s just another pothole in the bumpy road of adolescence.   But let’s rewind and start with the backstory.

Hard as it may be to believe when you gaze upon my glorious adult form, I was not a child cover model for Teen Beat Magazine.  I was not among the popular crowd or a prized member of any jock-related subculture.  I was a typical nerd who spent the first two years of high school mostly hiding in the science quad to avoid getting my ass kicked.  Those same two years had me trying to free myself of glasses, braces and about 25 extra pounds I’d acquired in middle school.  By my junior year I had succeeded with 2 out of the 3 (the braces stuck around until the bitter end of senior year), but my emerging self-esteem was still making up for lost time.

When the junior prom rolled around my ongoing attempts to attract the opposite sex had remained fruitless. Turned out I was really good at forming solid long-lasting crushes, especially with unattainable girls like ones that already had boyfriends (often boyfriends that I was friends with) but what I wasn’t good at was actually having balls enough to approach any of these said crushes and make my feeling known.  This coincidentally made it very difficult to find a prom date, and the best option I was left with was to join up with a group and be a stand-in date with someone I didn’t really know and who had no interest in me whatsoever.  I pretended to be morally offended by this arrangement, insisting to no one out loud that I’d rather spend the night alone than be a generic token date.  Later, while I spent that night alone cursing my stupid insecurities and wishing I’d been used and degraded in any manner I’d been offered, I did regret the missed opportunity to be involved in the shared memories that were being formed by my less morally minded, or more social capable friends.

When the senior prom rolled around I was in-between girlfriends (literally, I had exactly two girlfriends in high school and this was betwixt the two).  I was however still quite proficient at securing multiple crushes.  The biggest crush at the time was on a freshman from the swim team who I nicknamed ‘Turtle” for reasons that escape me now, but at the time felt painfully adorable.  I had made a couple attempts to be witty and charming through the use of hand-written letters (god forbid I should actually speak to the girl in person), but as hard as it is to imagine, these attempts were vague and not backed up with any decisive action, like say, speaking to the girl in person.  As the prom approached Turtle was unable to read my mind and I took her lack of clairvoyance as a sure sign that she wasn’t interested and certain that if asked her in person she would surely embarrass me ruthlessly by pointing with mock laughter like all the kids do in that recurring dream where I show up at school without pants on, because that’s how I imagined all girls handled those awkward situations.

Remembering my regret from the previous year though I was not daunted by Turtle’s rejections and I instead turned to a friend of mine (and, as it happens, a friend of Turtle’s) to be my date.  She was also on the swim team and so it felt like it would just be an extension of the weekend parties we usually enjoyed together in the company of others.  It seemed like the perfect plan, except for one small detail; her dad.  For some reason dad, a devote Mormon (along with the rest of the family) was not thrilled with the idea of his 14-year-old daughter hanging out all night at Senior Prom, with a senior!  As a dad now, I’m honestly not sure what my response would be in a similar situation, but knowing my mindset at the time (how I valued my friend as a friend and she valued her values over everything) it would have been a pretty safe bet in every sense of the word, but the “no” was final.  This is where I could use a baseball metaphor and say I was down two strikes, and had to make the next one count, but there really wasn’t a next one.  In baseball terms I just sorta tossed the bat and meandered off the playing field.

I later found out that Turtle would have loved to have gone to the prom with me.  I’m pretty sure it was for the same reason as my prospective junior prom date, to tag along with the rest of our friends from swim team, but it would have made for an entertaining night none the less.  Even in this wild scenario though it’s hard to perceive an outcome that would have greatly impacted my future self.  It wasn’t going to be my first kiss, it wasn’t going to be my first sexual encounter, and chances are it wasn’t going to develop into a relationship to stand the test of time (since she still wasn’t clairvoyant).

I have a lot of good memories from high school.  I also have a fair share of bad memories from high school.  And then there are a great many things for which I have no memories from high school as demonstrated on several occasions at my 20 year reunion when stories, involving me, were recounted for which I had no recollection.   The point is high school was a part of my past, but I don’t think it was as pivotal as college or beyond.  I know there are a great many people who cherish their high school days as the best days of their lives.  Some may have held on to high school sweethearts or still live in the old neighborhood surrounding by high school friends.  For me the impact is not so great. So while I do feel I missed out on a rite of passage that is high school prom their absence is not a void I still ache to fill.  Other events since then have been more meaningful and more enjoyable.   I think it’s just as likely though my answer to this question may have been very different when I was still in my 20’s and maybe even my 30’s and the comparative evidence was more lacking.  I think like so many things in our youth this is an evolving perspective.

When I was eleven I recall telling my mom that I loved my then girlfriend.   My mom looked at me like she wanted to pat me on the head as she laughed, “Honey, you’re too young to know what love is.”  This statement still sits on the top 3 list of things I will never say to my children, but the point is at that age love was exactly what I thought love was, until it wasn’t and my perception changed.  By the same token I think the prom can potentially be the most significant event you will attend until it no longer is.  So whatever my experience was or how I may feel about it now, if I ever pat my child on the head and tell them the prom is no big deal they have my written permission to kick me in the prom-proms.

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Less to the Story

There I was, fidgeting on one those folding metal chairs that only plague school gymnasiums and juror waiting rooms. The lights dimmed as the principle welcomed us to the annual Dance Show where proud parents spend $20, and an hour of their life to watch mostly kids they don’t know in an attempt to capture that one blurry picture of their child doing the coffee-grinder so they can post it to Instagram. While I waited for my daughter to grace the stage with “Who Let the Dogs Out”, I amused myself by watching the other children and imaging what was going through their minds as they struggled to keep pace with their classmates.   And then I had a moment that caught me off guard; I noticed a kid with no hair, he looked thin, and maybe a bit pale under the stage lighting. A scene played out in my head, of how he struggled against illness and bravely fought to take the stage with the rest of his class. I was moved by his courage and resilience in the face of adversity, wanting that one chance to shine and find a small slice of happiness amidst all his suffering. As I sat there, awash in emotions and trying to fight back tears, he fell out of step and began vigorously scratching his head. And then I thought “maybe he just has lice”.

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Planning to Death

I like to plan ahead. I’m a planner, an over-thinker. I like to know life has in store, and I do my best to be one step ahead of whatever it has to offer. There is however this one nagging detail that I haven’t been able to get in front of. Death. Mortality. The final exclamation point. The big send off. How does one really prepare for the end?

Now this isn’t meant as a somber walk down a dark morbid trail. I’m blessed to be healthy and have no immediate plans to attend any funerals. I’m talking about high level stuff; as an ongoing preoccupation that resurfaces when life’s other minutia settles down to a dull hum. It comes down to a question of what comes next after this great journey we call life. Is there life after death? Do we take a stairway to heaven and enter the pearly gates? Do we come back for another go around as a monarch butterfly in Mexico or a future sheep herder in France? Do we stumble through the afterlife as a restless spirit haunting the family home and animating creepy clown dolls? Does our energy transition into another form, contributing to a universal stockpile to be tapped for future creation? Or is it all just lost to entropy?

We are indoctrinated about these concerns from an early age. The simple bedtime prayer for kids starts right off with mention of death;

“If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

This was the sort of thing that scared the crap out of me as a child. Surrendering to even that brief bit of oblivion was difficult enough, acknowledging that we may not even make it to sunrise was simply terrifying. I sided with Edgar Allan Poe on this one;

“Sleep, those little slices of death — how I loathe them.”

As we grow up our understanding of death and dying becomes an integral part of our early development. We experience the death of a goldfish, a family dog, a grandparent.   These are defining moments in our childhood. We try to come to terms with death without fully realizing the implications on our own lives; we are wrapped in the perceived immortality of youth with little thought of confronting the inevitable.

I imagine kids growing up on a farm might have a different perspective on the whole “circle of life” thing. They collect the unfertilized chicken eggs in the morning for breakfast and then break the infertile chicken’s neck in the evening for dinner. Farm to fork. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. They witness life coming into the world in spring and life passing from the world in winter. Everything has a natural ebb and flow, all in its own time.

Then there are the less fortunate kids; the ones who grow up facing atrocities in war-torn nations or battling a serious diseases in children’s hospitals. For them death and dying is a harsh reality that they cannot be sheltered from. They cannot escape it, and often cannot justify it, trying to make sense of life’s wild injustice and trying to find gods hand in some universal order. For them more than any I pray there is a perpetual circuit of souls that, with each trip through life, is meant to teach us an essential lesson. If that could by any hope be true then those brave kids at least can look forward to a full, rich, life in their next go-around.

I remember back when I was a teenager I found a book of questions that were meant to inspire soul-searching and generate lively discussions among friends and family. The one that stuck out most in my mind asked “would you risk being diagnosed with cancer if it would give you a better appreciation of life?” My immediate gut reaction had been “absolutely!” before considering the implication that this newly found perception of life may not be long-lasting.   I imagine that bit of uncertainty is exactly what precipitates the change in the first place. We’re told all the time to make every moment count, treat each day like it’s our last, live like you were dying, but without a real end in sight it’s hard to stray from the safe and narrow. If faith is believing without being able to know, facing death is knowing without being able to believe.

Speaking of faith, though, this had always struck me as one of the greatest gifts one could have; the unquestioning certainty that the afterlife offers every abundance of love and acceptance without a trace of suffering or hardship. I had a close friend back in high school who was a devote Mormon and carried with her such a sense of peace even at that early age. There was an underlying confidence that everything would work out in this world or the next. Jesus will provide. Jesus will protect. Jesus will welcome you when you close your eyes on this life and join him in the next. You are covered, baby! I was raised in the Jewish faith where the focus was on living a good life without consideration for what comes next. I don’t recall any talk of heaven or salvation. We would watch grim footage from the holocaust; newsreels of bodies and bulldozers with no talk of those poor souls going to a better place or assurances that they now sat at the hand of god.   So without faith what should we be preparing for?

Just before my son was born I was having a difficult time with this very topic. It was a few years after my father had passed away and it struck me that I was about to welcome the birth of the generation that would one day outlive me. You think about all the generations that came before you were born and all the ones that are yet to come after you pass away and one’s lifetime starts to feel all the more fleeting. It was in this context that I sought out a counselor to speak with. After a couple of sessions speaking about my dad we got down to the mortality issue. Turns out the counselor I had selected at random had advanced prostate cancer and was facing some of the same questions. I tried to ask if he’d found any answers, but being true to his profession he ducked most of my questions with related questions redirected back at me. What he did offer though was something like this;

“Think back to your childhood and the things you remember. Think back further to your oldest earliest memory. Think back to when you were born. Now think back before then to when you didn’t yet exist. How did it feel? What was it like? Think to that and perhaps that is what you will return to.”

What I did take away from those meetings was not about what will happen to me, but what will happen after me. Knowing my children remain behind to grow and prosper does offer a touch of immortality. Knowing that I will be remembered and in some way have made an impact on the people who continue after me is some small sense of comfort. I guess in the end that’s all we can hope for. Benjamin Franklin said the only two things that are certain are death and taxes and while I can save all of my receipts and organize my statements each year, there’s really not much prep I can do on the death front.   Not like I’ll get audited for being unprepared.

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Christmas Passed

My first experience with Christmas wasn’t until I was in high school. Sure, I knew what it was and it was hard to deny its presence once the pumpkin patches turned to tree lots, but I only had a high level concept of the event gleaned from beloved TV specials and movie classics like A Christmas Story. I imagined it was something like a combination of a Thanksgiving Day feast, a well-stocked birthday party and a ride on “It’s a Small World” (with slightly less repetitious music). Whatever it was, it sounded awesome and I wanted a piece of it.

I realized I was on a different life path when my mother would make her annual trip to our elementary school to embarrass the crap out of me and my sister,… or, from my mom’s perspective, “to share ethnic diversity” in the form of potato latkes with our Christian / Catholic counterparts. Turned out we were the only Jews in the entire district so my mother saw it as her duty to spread the word of God and try to make Hanukkah sound cool. Not an easy sell down on the school yard.

Historically Hanukkah was more of a minor festival, somewhere between Easter and Groundhogs Day. It was meant to celebrate the miracle of a deep fryer that kept the home fries cooking for over a week while the chosen people hid under their table trying to wait out some particularly persistent Mormon missionaries that came knocking at the door. Ok so maybe the fryer was an oil lamp, the table was a temple and the Mormon’s were Maccabees, but you get the idea. The telling of this tale is not nearly as catchy as “the birth of our lord and savior”. The first Christmas would become such a defining moment that we would change our very measure of time from that point forward. The first Hanukkah,… they may have invented shadow puppets, who knows, I wasn’t there, but you see the disparity; Hanukkah is like the Coors Lite to the rich thick Guinness of Christmas.

My parents tried to up the game and keep up with the gentiles. We got some blue string lights and decorated a Hanukkah bush. My dad, being the handy electrician, made a 3 foot wide menorah with light up candles that we would set in the front window, just in case people were wondering where that one crazy Jewish family lived. Like all Jewish (American) parents they would try to play up the fact that we got eight nights of presents while our friends only got one.   That might sound great in theory, but think about Christmas morning when you’re faced with a pile of presents and then have to wait so everyone can take turns opening one present at a time. Imagine the torment of waiting your turn,… now imagine opening just one single present and then being asked to wait entire day before you can open another; That would be Hanukkah. To make matters worse a lot of those early presents were nothing to write Santa about, they were either necessities such as socks and underwear, or just plain sucky gifts like coloring books with some B-list cartoon characters like “Dastardly and Muttley”. I can remember waiting all day for the sun to go down so my mom could light the candles and then waiting again after dinner for the candles to finally burn out. Then, and only then, were we ready for the big event. We’d retire to the family room as my mom dug around in the closet for a suitable present du jour. The day long torment and anticipation culminated in this one exciting moment; “Yay, my very own Hot Wheel! I’m going to sleep. Wake me at sundown”.

Don’t get me wrong I do have many fond memories of Hanukkah as well. The Sunday brunch that my mom would host with fresh bagels and an assortment of weird salads and Jell-O concoctions that were all amazing together. Teaching my friends how to gamble with the dreidel and eating the chocolate gelt (coins) as we played. The few times when the final big present was a trip to King Norman’s Toy Store at the mall and we got to pick out our own present.

But still I always wondered what lay behind the curtain, how did the other half,… or the other seven-eighths live? I got to see the aftermath growing up, going over to my friends’ houses following the big day while still on Christmas break (before schools changed the name to “Winter Break” so as not to offend). They all had amazing piles of loot to show off, not to mention a healthy dose of candy and other random leftovers that still littered the living room days after the tree had been pillaged. Everyone was happy in the post-holiday glow. Everything about it seemed magical, and a night much better spent then our traditional Christmas Eve of Chinese food and a movie. “Wanna see my Hot Wheel?”

When I was in high school, one of my friends, Pat invited me over to experience their family ritual. Pat was the youngest of four kids, and each of his siblings was married or engaged by this time. Combine that with a couple of grandkids and a few other friends and relatives and you got one very full house. For them Christmas Eve brought the sentimental exchange of gifts between family members, opening all of the presents under the tree. On Christmas morning Santa would leave a fresh batch of special bonus presents to round out the holiday.   It was a warm, cozy, boisterous night filled with love and laughter. It was everything I’d ever dreamed off, with one small exception; as welcome as they made me feel it still wasn’t really “mine”.

I celebrated my first Christmas about five years later when I’d turned 21. Appropriately it was spent with my first real girlfriend. We went out on a blustery morning to pick out a tree of our own. We decorated our tree together (something I’d never done before) as we drank hot cocoa in holiday mugs. I put presents under the tree. I listened to Christmas carols freely. I embraced the holiday.

After I was married there was no turning back. Christmas would explode all over the house on the first of December. I happily hung lights from the roof (at least as much as I could reach with a ladder), lined the windows and sprung for some festive lawn ornaments.   When kids came along they enjoyed both holidays; a sampling of Hanukkah throughout the week, including a traditional first night dinner of brisket and latkes with doughnuts for dessert and then a full Christmas experience with all the trimmings.

At this point I can’t imagine a year without Xmas. Even after the divorce, with some of the established customs disrupted and kids only appearing on alternate years, I still enjoy all the moments leading up to the big day. For me it’s not about religion; I celebrate the spirit of Christmas; peace on earth, goodwill towards man, all that sappy stuff. I don’t go to Midnight mass and I don’t have to trade in my mezuzah for a crucifix. I still love and respect my heritage and all that comes with it. But there are only so many times I can listen to the one Hanukkah song by Adam Sandler on the radio while I could play A Charlie Brown Christmas on a continuous loop. It warms my heart, and this is a time of year to share your heart with your friends and family in whatever way feels best to you. So Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night,… l’chaim.

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Motivation

Someone asked me what my primary motivation in life was. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that directly. I know for some it’s as simple as faith. For others it can come from inspiration born of tragedy; an inner artistic voice that cries out to be free; a drive to be better than a sibling or to rise above the means of your parents. I don’t ththrowback_thursday1_largeink any of these really apply to me. It’s like I’m missing a compelling back story that would account for where I am today and lay out everything I have yet to accomplish.   The answer that I came up with is something more indirect. I love watching kids playing the games I’ve made or see people read comic strips I’ve drawn. At home this extends to just watching my kids thrive and be happy. Knowing that something I do can positively affect someone is the most satisfying motivation for me. Then I wonder, as I do about everything, is that enough? Is that a real motivation? How does that help me when I have no timelines or deadlines? I think I have trouble inspiring myself with the indirect motivation that maybe someone will someday see this something I’m spending hours on and appreciate my creation. It should be more internal shouldn’t it? Or maybe more transcendent? More inspired? More soulful? Like others with an artistic voice I should want to create simply for the sake of creating. The mere act of creation should bring me peace and joy. Nirvana. Lacking that how does one change their primary motivation,… or improve upon an existing one? Maybe I need to focus on the “positive affect” and keep that as a mantra whenever it comes time to draw. Maybe I need to find motivation to find a better motivation.

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Patient Be Where

So let’s say you do happen to wake up in that seedy hotel bathroom in an ice filled tub with a throbbing pain where your kidney should be; what’s a guy to do? Well naturally your first thought would be to travel with all haste to the nearest purveyor of compassionate health care; the town doctor, nestled behind his white picket fence in the heart of the community, waiting diligently to tend to the needs of his flock with swift alacrity.   The wise doctor who brought you into this world and has seen you through all the trials and tribulation of life like he were a member of the family. The noble doctor who has only your best interests at heart.

Of course such a doctor no longer exists so instead you direct the GPS towards the nearest emergency room and hope for the best.   The welcoming glow of the ER signs (along with the commercial marketing campaign funded by the conglomerate that owns the hospital) promises a blissful resolution to whatever ails you and beckons you into its safe harbor just behind the sliding doors. Take that first step beyond the threshold however and all of your expectations come to a screeching halt along with your concept of space and time; in your mind you try and make conservative estimates on how much of your life you will be sacrificing to this visit but in this at least the hospital will certainly exceed your expectations.

You shuffle forward to the admissions desk where you are greeted with all the warmth of a frozen pizza. Trained by the palace guards at Buckingham Palace the job of this receiving nurse is to respond to your symptoms with poker-faced neutrality. You could report that an alien probe has dislodged your spleen and get the same regard as if you’d just shown her a shallow paper cut. She calmly takes your information, tags you like a wild seal and then sends you out into the vast ocean of the waiting room where everyone idles about, attempting to make limited contact with people, furniture and door knobs.   You navigate the germ encrusted surfaces, tune out the sounds of intestinal distress and take a seat until called by the triage nurse.

Triage is an important concept in the ER. This is where the nurses try sort the priority of your treatment based on your likeness to croak or to generate a lawsuit before your name can be called. If you have anything about to fall off your body or shoot out of your body you’ve got a better chance of being elevated to the top of the stack. Anything short of that and you get sorted into amorphous categories along with the rest of the wannabe patients. In general the healthier you are (or should I say ‘the less sick you are’), the longer you’re gonna have to wait. One would assume then if you walked into the ER completely healthy you’d never leave.

Put another way, there is a math concept called Zeno’s Paradox that basically says if you needed to reach a destination you’d first have to travel half way across the total distance, and to reach that half way mark you’d first have to travel half of that distance and so on. So if you always had to cross half the remaining distance you’d never reach your final destination since there are infinite ways to repeatedly divide the remaining distance in half. This is what the triage system brings to mind as you endlessly inch ever closer to being “next” without ever actually being called.

Once in this situation, I repeatedly asked the nurse for a status. She informed me that we were “next up in our category”. Apparently this category was “people we’ll call when hell freezes over”. It’s like the waiting room in the DMV or the courthouse where they do the similarly mysterious break down by category; you stare at your ticket with H112 on it feeling pretty good that they are now serving H110. After you see H111 called to the window you breathe a little easier with the knowledge that you’ll be the next one called. And then comes the parade of random tickets from every other possible category; X102, X103, F242, D117, X104, B001, D118,… on and on with no further mention of our precious H group. And so it goes in the ER as time stretches onward.

After several long hours of waiting to be next, you finally get called up to the big league. They announce your name and the thick double doors to the inner sanctum part with an internal glow of healthy radiance. Overwhelmed by the sheer sense of relief to finally be called you forget all about the pain that brought you here in the first place. You rise to your feet triumphantly wanting to pump your fist in the air or thank the academy, or some other display of wild exuberance. Instead you just shuffle on through to the other side and take a seat in a smaller room where you can continue your wait.

Having arrive in your new waiting place, the ER nurse now directs you to strip down and put on one of their swanky hospital gowns. It does not matter what you’re being seen for they just want you to get naked and experience the ass-numbing draft from their rear-opening apparel. Actually there’s an ulterior motive; without the gown they would have no way of knowing who was a patient, who was a visitor and who was doctor or nurse. Uniforms are very important in a hospital and you’re just being asked to play your part.

Another hour goes by. An entire shift of nurses has come and gone since you entered the building. You’ve been poked and probed (though leaving your spleen in place) and shuffled about to get you where you are right now. It’s all built up to this moment when you finally get to see an actual doctor. The selfless doctor that will care for you, empathize with you and cure you with his gentle healing hands. Instead you get the speedy doctor that flies in, assails you faster than a pick pocket groping for loose change, and then flies off again through the curtain like a ripple in the wind.   If you made a pie chart of the time you spent in the ER with the wedge of time you spent with the doctor you would have one very sad and very small slice of pie and the same sense of the lingering disappointment that the doctor leaves in his wake. His parting words are something about waiting for discharge (a horrible choice of words considering the context of your current situation) and the final paperwork from the dismissive nurse (not to be confused with the naughty submissive nurse from the Halloween store). When you have the stack of papers in hand they officially set you free by cutting off your bracelet and shuffling you back towards the big double doors.

The last thing you see as you head out for the parking lot is the collection of poor souls still stuck in the waiting room; some still waiting for relatives that went in before you, some just starting their own long adventures in waiting. You’re struck with mixed emotions, not sure if you should wave a flippant “so long suckers” or pat someone sympathetically on the shoulder. The ER is misery without the courtesy of dignity. Surviving it and the ailment that brought you here fills you with a sense of euphoria. In the big picture everything feels a little better and easier to endure. Maybe living with just one kidney isn’t so bad after all,… beats sitting in the ER.

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Buy or Be Where?

Car shopping. Is there a more peaceful, relaxing way to spend the entirety of your long-awaited weekend? Well, yes, yes there is. Ranking up there with root canals, food poisoning and IRS tax audits, car shopping is one of those activities we love to hate, and try hard to avoid. It is one of those activities that puts you in direct contact with the sort of creepy person whom you’d otherwise avoid like the plague, unless you typically enjoy hanging out with hitchhikers. Once you set foot on the car lot a charming flock of “helpful” sales staff lumber forward beneath a haze of aftershave and cigarette smoke. These individuals will work to become your best friends in the span of a few sentences and begin sharing bits of personal trivia in an attempt to imprint upon you like a regurgitating seagull. If this dynamic wasn’t creepy enough the salesperson will then invite his sales manager over for some twisted role-playing; this sales manager acts as a creepy dad to the already creepy salesperson who now needs your help passing some creepy rite of passage with his old man. “He drinks because I haven’t made a sale today”.

Ignoring our creepy companions and holding our breath against the aftershave we return our focus to the task at hand; finding an affordable family car. Unfortunately, this self-inflicted trip to the auto mall wasn’t even to get a new sexy set of wheels, in fact, on the contrary we were actually bringing in a new sexy set of wheels to trade in for that affordable family car after realizing that the other was way out of our monthly budget and also remembering that we still had kids, and making some of them ride in the truck-bed is still illegal in 30 states (silly safety regulations).   This was definitely a blow to our automotive moral.

There’s a HGTV show called Property Brothers where a nice young couple is asked to list out all of their hearts desires in describing their perfect house. The first stop is then to a move-in ready house that fits them to a T and makes the young couple giddy with anticipation and eager to sign the papers. At that point the Property Brothers casually reveal that the house is completely out of reach; being $100k over their budget, and not even currently on the market. They then inform the young couple that they’ll instead need to find a rundown piece of crap that they’ll fix up and be forced to accept as a decent compromise. This is exactly the experience we had going from a beautiful truck that we loved to being forced to accept a decent compromise. Which brings us back to the dealership.

After they efficiently undervalued our aforementioned beautiful truck in three simple steps (1)take your keys, 2)go for a smoke, 3)make up a number), it was time to begin the real dance; tactical sales. This is the tried and true process of selling a car that dealers preach like a Tony Robbins self-help presentation. The first step, “create a sense of ownership”. This is where they encourage you to sit in the driver’s seat, picture yourself driving, fondle the car keys and eventually pee on the rear tire to mark your territory. “See that couple across the street there walking their dog,… they were just looking at this car, not five minutes before you arrived, and I think they’re ready to make an offer. No pressure but you really should pee on the other tire too if you’re serious about this car. More coffee?”

Step two, “create a fog of war”. This is where any requested information is presented in as much mixed and muddled terms as possible. If you ask to compare apples to apples you are presented with fruit salad. Features and options are intentionally shuffled so that inexplicable price fluctuations seem to be completely justified. “This one doesn’t have the seat warmers but it does come with a Flux Capacitor, which accounts for the extra $5999 on the bottom line, and colder seats on your bottom line,… ha, get it,… your ‘bottom’ line?! More coffee?”

Now the fun begins, with step three, “the numbers game”, or more accurately “the shell game”. This is when they start throwing out a collection of numbers, shuffle them all up under the empty coffee cups and then ask you to try and find the one that holds to your original budget. They begin by intentionally showing unrealistic numbers to make the real ones look better moments later. “If you were a homeless street junkie with single digit credit scores you’d need to provide one kidney and a pinkie toe to get the numbers below $3000 a month. But you and I, my friend, go way back, a good 20 minutes and I can tell you are better than that so let’s see what we can do.” From here interest rates are slowly massaged, loan terms and trade in values are adjusted on a whim and all of this is done in a painfully slow motion barter system between the salesman, the sales manager and I assume the Great and Powerful Oz positioned just off behind the curtain. After a few rounds of this you notice that while the monthly payments have magically declined from the original ludicrous amounts they haven’t even begun to address the actual over-inflated price of the car.   The real action hasn’t even begun.

And so begins the fourth, and supposedly final step, “breaking down the buyer”. This is where your dream team of creepiness attempts to wear you down until you’ve lost your will to live much less your ability to barter effectively. They rely on mental fatigue, coffee bladder and low blood sugar to motivate you to sign anything they shove in front of you. The greatest testament to the amount of manipulation they’re dishing out is to see how adamant they are about making sure you don’t leave.   They know that once you step foot out that door those webs of manipulation melt away, and you will come to your senses faster than spotting a cop car in your rear view mirror. Armed with this knowledge the final dance becomes the attempt to try and maintain your target payment while trying to pretend that you’re ready to walk away from the deal at any moment (as if you’d want to do this all over again). Suddenly the thrill of the deal begins to course through you. You become empowered by this new sense of control over the negotiations. You now have a bargaining chip which you can use to back them into a corner and bend them to your will. At least these are the types of deluded thoughts that flit through your mind as the dealer does his best to contain fits of laughter over your gullibility.

After you’ve bartered your little heart out and settled on the final payment that is over your monthly budget but not painfully so, you feel a sense of pride for sticking to your numbers (or what you think were your numbers). And just when you think it’s all over and it’s time to drive away they stick you in the room with one last creepy vulture wanting to sell you gap insurance and vinyl siding for your barn. As he begins to explain the necessity of gap insurance you pass out from low blood sugar only to wake up six hours later in seedy hotel bathroom in an ice filled tub with a throbbing pain where your kidney should be. Luckily your affordable new family car came equipped with a nifty navigational system that can direct you to the nearest hospital.

 

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Spam-spam-spam-spam

With a heavy heart we bow our heads and mourn the passing of another beloved email address. Ever the faithful, digital postman my dear address kept me connected through its long life, stayed not by snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night,… and only occasionally crippled by crappy IP outages. I’ll cut short the touching eulogy since that may be overstating its condition a bit. Perhaps the more appropriate description would be say that my email address has finally “jumped the shark”. Not in the literal sense as when the 50’s sitcom character actually jumped a shark with water skis and a ridiculous outfit but in the figurative sense that has evolved from that very piece of syndication suicide. In this case the ridiculous event in question was the day the methodical and menacing invasion of spam finally got the death grip on my innocent email address. What started as a slow trickle of pesky emails littering my junk folder became a deluge of annoying and repetitive crap that side-stepped my spam filters and overwhelmed the account. Unless you’re a frequent consumer of penis enlargement drugs, fraudulent credit reports or mail-order brides from Ukraine you are forced to tread lightly and cautiously collect any legitimate mail least you delete in bulk and miss that Facebook alert from Uncle Jimmy who is in desperate need of extra lives in Candy Crush. “Fear not, Uncle Jimmy I’m here for you. This time.”

Like a digital cancer, you never know where the malignancy originated and which cases will be terminal. You may be extremely diligent with your online footprint, taking care to avoid trading your personal information for a free trial subscription to the “International Bacon Club” and making sure to research ‘Top 10 Sex Toys of 50 Shades of Gray” from someone else’s work computer, only to slip up and forget to check the opt-out box for the HGTV newsletter while entering to win yet another Dream Home sweepstakes. After a moment of panic you pray that perhaps that won’t be the harbinger of doom, and the resulting emails from that transgression will be easily laundered through your trusty junk-box. After all it’s hard to imagine an association between a DYI home improvement site and wannabe Ukrainian housewives. It’s not like an Amazon.com cross product promotion “Customers who bought the Shark Steam Mop also enjoyed Ukrainian mail order brides.” On the other hand, I honestly can’t imagine the peddlers of this crap are all that sophisticated. The overall quality of spammy emails is nothing to write home about even if you’re an Ethiopian prince with a winning lottery ticket. Most have potentially meaningful titles filtered through a third-rate translation app or non-native speakers and then littered with suspicious links connected to even more suspicious addresses that have absolutely no relation to the original meaningful title. Why exactly does the Internal Revenue Service site have Asian characters and no .gov extension?  Whatever the reason I’m sure they’ll make good use of my social security number.

Now as my beloved email enters its final death throes I’ll take a page from the Donner Party playbook and offer it up body and soul as sacrifice for the greater good of those left behind (namely my other email addresses). So now when it comes time to apply at another job board, dabble with a free online game trial or renew my subscription to the “International Bacon Club” the doomed address will bravely take the bullet, knowing his sacrifice will keep us all a little safer from the future threats of Steamy Korean Girls offering free Equifax Credit Reports.

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