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Monday, August 17, 2015

The House of Stuff and Things

I have a lot of shit in my house.  Actually, it’s stuff.  Because according to the late George Carlin, my shit is stuff and everybody else’s stuff is shit.

It’s amazing how much stuff we can acquire over a lifetime.  It’s amazing how many things we gather in life and think, “This is important and therefore I must hold onto it, forever.  I must place it in a box.  I must place that box somewhere in my life where I can find it and look at somewhere down the road.  That box will be in a corner of a room in my house where I will probably not go into and it will stay there for years.”

Why do we do that?  Why do gather so much stuff?

I still have various bits of my life as a wee thing, stuffed in a foot locker in my garage.  They are things from my childhood, my time at college in Myrtle Beach and Pittsburgh, and my life as a 23 year old bachelor.    And they are pretty much useless things but, I keep them around either because I’m too lazy to toss them out or because if I do toss them out, somehow I will forget my life.  The things that make me who I am will slip away and I will have no memory of someday back in 1987 or 1993 that somehow particularly meant something to me at the time when I collected that thing.

These memories, locked away in that foot locker, sit in the back of a garage underneath a bunch of stuff I’ve collected over the years of being a homeowner.  Somehow, at some point, I convinced myself that I needed each and every one of these things in that garage.  A hose, a nut, a bolt, a tie, a length of rope.  It’s more of a list of potential murder weapons from Clue than it is of any real use, and yet they sit there, gathering cobwebs, insect carcasses, and dust.  Each one of these things was put there because they served a purpose they were probably not intended to serve.   My hope was that they would serve a purpose, again, quantifying their existence in a place so full of stuff, it cannot hold a vehicle anymore.

In fact, in every room of my house there is something that is of no use.  Usually, it’s me when I’m standing in the room because I should get rid of these things that serve no purpose.   But, I’m working on that.  Recent changes in my life have allowed me the ability to start weeding through the things I don’t need… or really want, but I have just let sit in a box, on a shelf, behind a bag, in a corner, of a room, I hardly go into.   

At what point do we get like this?  At what juncture do we come to in our lives that we find ourselves needing to gather material items in mass quantity?  We’ve all seen these Facebook and YouTube posts of people living in tiny spaces and a majority of us say we could do that, but could we, really?  Where would all of our stuff go?  Where would we put the appliances that serve one purpose and no other?   That’s what I want to get away from, really, things that serve no purpose.  Now, you could say those memories in my foot locker serve a purpose.  They are a reminder of who I was or still am, in a sense.    And those things will stay.  But everything else in this house of stuff and things is up for grabs.

But when did it start to get this bad?  I remember for the first 10 years of my life, I shared a bedroom with my brother.  My family consisted of my parents and three kids in a three bedroom house.  Now, there’s seven years difference between my brother and me, so for a 16 year old to have to share a bedroom with a nine year old, well that’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it.   In any case, all of my toys fit into a shelving area in the corner of the room, and for the most part of those 10 years, I barely spent any time in that room, except to sleep.  I mostly played outside or in the family room.  And I didn’t have much stuff those first ten years.   Most things were hand me downs from my siblings.  We didn’t have much stuff growing up, and maybe that was the best thing for us.

When my parents decided to upgrade the living quarters, and built a house nearby, I got my own room; and it terrified me.   I was so used to having someone with me at night that it was a scary thought to be in a room all by myself.  But, eventually, I got over it.   Actually, it was quite awesome.  I had my own stuff, now.  It was mine.  No worries about having to ask permission.  No fear that I may break something.   It was all mine.  My existence, my identity, summed up in a room of stuff and things.  So, my new room, that was all mine, accrued more stuff over the next eight years before I went off to college.

My parents’ biggest nightmare was not me going 600 miles away to college, but the idea that I’d have to have all my stuff with me when I went.  I needed all my things to make sure I remembered who I was, back home.   It was silly, I know, but it was me, my identity.    And, while I was at that school for four months, I accrued more stuff; mostly papers, and folders, and books, and a few clothes.  But then I came home and so did all my things.   At Pitt, I managed to keep only the essentials, because I was only an hour away.  All my stuff could stay in my room at home, because I was close enough to come home whenever I needed to.

It’s funny.  Most kids would never spend their entire college experience living in the dorms, but I liked it.   I lived in the same wedge shaped room for four and a half years.  I really only needed my room to sleep, study, entertain myself or another if I was so inclined.   I had a TV, a fridge, a computer, a microwave, and a phone.  I was set.  The rest of campus was my house.  I didn’t have to worry about roaches or overpriced rent or leaky plumbing or bad neighborhoods or utilities.   Why pay an exorbitant amount of money for sub-par housing in an apartment when I would only be in it a fraction of the time? 

Then I graduated, and my small collection of stuff and things, which had grown with more papers, clothes, mementos of college, and such, all came home and joined the rest of the things that made up me. 

Then, I moved out of my parents’ house and lived on my own.  With each residence; an apartment, a townhouse, back to my parents’ house; and then into a home, I managed to gather more things and stuff.  By the time I closed on a home, I had planned out all these new things I would need.   It was called a registry.   A wedding registry is like a license to check your brain and create a wish list of splurge.   Yep, when we get married, we ask other people to fill in the gaps of things and stuff that we want.  And that was probably the point, it got out of control.   A coffee bean grinder, a water filtration device, a set of knives, complete with a block and sharpener.   A lot of things that served one function and therefore, I had to double up on things to perform all the tasks I needed things to perform.  Then, as things got out more of control, I needed things to store my stuff, organized in a room I hardly ever go into.  Knickknacks, tchotchkes, baubles, all these things acquired over years of living on my own, just be displayed for 8 months out of the year, only to be replaced, for the remaining months by the same stuff, only holiday themed.   It’s madness.   Then, those things have to be stored as well.  Now, I have twice as much stuff stored in twice as many totes, in a room I hardly ever go into, and it’s only for display.   

When I got a full time job and ventured out on my own, I wanted a collection of movies I liked.   But that became a flawed concept because my VHS tapes suddenly became outdated, replaced by DVDs.   Then, after replacing most of my collection with DVDs, Blu-Ray came out.  Now, I’ve begun getting Blu-Rays and soon that format will be replaced by something else… probably digital.  Speaking of digital, I’ve amassed a few (like four) multiple terabyte drives for work stuff and things.  These take up less space, but they are vulnerable to being rendered useless if they tip over, apparently.   I’ve now become a digital hoarder, too.

It’s my fault, really.  I wanted these things.  I felt that having a house full of stuff was important.  While I sat in my apartment, which had five rooms, and a townhouse, that had seven rooms, I would daydream about when I would have a house big enough to prove some superficial point about myself making it to that level of materialism.   I would watch shows like Fantasy Open House, with host Claire Berger on HGTV.  (Not sure if it’s sad or hilarious that I remembered that show and host, by name, from over ten years ago.)  These huge homes in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Maui were listed for millions of dollars and I wanted to live there.  Hey, a bigger place for all my stuff.   Frankly, all my stuff would have probably fit in two rooms of these ridiculously sized homes, but I had plenty of room to get more stuff.  

But, now, I finally get it.   I recently had to tear down a pool that hardly worked or was ever used but I had to have it.  It’s a pain in the ass and I cringe at the thought that it will get stuffed into totes and stored somewhere for the next 10 to 15 years.   I have junk rooms that are filled with things I couldn’t care less about and it’s a panic attack of chest crushing magnitude to stand in the room and think, “Where do I even begin?” 

I know what I have to do and I know what I want.  I want to have only things that I either use on a regular basis or that can serve multiple functions.  No more quesadilla makers or coffee bean grinders.  I drink coffee regularly and yet it took me two years to see how pretentious and stupid I was for wanting such a thing.  Also, I have a Foreman grill which can make muffins or skillet items, as well as grills.  That serves three purposes and therefore is useful.   A six small wing capacity deep fryer that takes up counter space and is the size of an old CRT monitor for a computer is not.   I have other things that can accomplish that task.  

Now, I do want to get new things, or more accurately, things that are new to me that accomplish tasks.   I want things that I can enjoy and that serve a function.  I don’t need a lot of stuff.  A few tools that perform all the basics… not as seen on TV, enough dishes and silverware to handle my needs and maybe some folks who stop by, and just the bare essentials that qualify for performing all the tasks I need to do.  It would be nice to have a place to put all my shoes and shoes of guests when they come into my home.  It’d be nice to get those cubbies that you have in roller rinks or bowling alleys; something conversational, re-purposed, and cool.  I also need a place to hang coats, other than the backs of chairs, so why not take an old window, you know the kind with those cross bar things and turn it sideways, add some coat hooks, and then fashion the back to hold pictures. 

I recognize my house of stuff and things as a problem, now, ahead of my impending demise, hopefully many decades away, because I do not want to bequeath to my child the inevitable task of having to sort through my stuff.   My parents, now in their 70s, have a multitude of things in their house, things that are probably of good build and use, just packed in boxes, in the garage rafters.   I do not look forward to the day I will join my siblings in going through their stuff.   Not so much because of the task, but the reason.

Storage seems like such an insane concept.   If it’s not something you are going to use in the next year, why do you have it?  As you get older, that year metric should be reduced.  As you near the end of life, perhaps it’s a weekly thing.   By death, your house is no longer the house of stuff and things, but the house of you, the thing, which will one day be nothing.  And then, you, too, may be packed into something and stored somewhere, and hopefully people will go there to see you on a regular basis.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Things I Don't Understand: A Rant

I am forever late to the party when it comes to what people are doing these days.  I chalk it up to my belief that, in a way, I was born too soon.   I grew up in the 80s and still think it was the last best decade we ever had.  I am solidifying that argument in my own mind after watching NatGeo’s The ‘80s, The ‘90s, and The 2000s documentaries on binge mode.  Maybe it’s generational.  Maybe my dislike or lack of understanding of today is congruent with my parents or other baby boomers lack of understanding of what it was like when I was growing up.  In any case, here’s what I still don’t get.

I don’t get the appeal of today’s music.  Ariana Grande might be a talented singer, but for the life of me, her words are indecipherable and all run together.  Now, that may be because I’ve developed hearing issues over the years.  I know people that can listen to the same song as myself, at the same time, and can pick apart the lyrics while I’m still stuck on the fact that I thought Elton John was singing, “Hold me closer, Tony Danza.”    I could concede that with Grande, but Googling the thought pointed out that a host of other people can’t understand what she’s saying either.  Iggy Azalea?  No clue what she’s about, either.    What’s the issue with her and the public?  I’m still stuck on the fact that I though K-E-Dollar Sign-HA had a career.   I still like music from people who’ve been dead for years… except for Kurt Cobain.  I didn’t care for him in the 90s, and that hasn’t changed in 20 years.  Any kid that comes up to me today and says, “Kurt Cobain is my greatest influence” immediately has a “Get off my lawn” coming to them.   And I don’t like it when someone takes something from the era I like and tries to make it something of their own, today.  Blurred Lines was cool for about a minute before I realized it was a pretty creepy thing and ripped off Marvin Gaye.  However, I do like Postmodern Jukebox and stuff like David Garrett covering a bunch of rock tunes with a cello.  That is kind of cool.  What Kid Rock did with Lynyrd Skynyrd/Warren Zevon a few years ago was not.

I don’t understand that niche of social media like tumblr, reddit, and even Instagram, though I have an account.   How do these things work and how do people get sucked into tumblr?  How does one tumbl...r?  Maybe I should learn so that I can incorporate it into my YouTube or design stuff.  Then again, I get on Tumblr and my head just grinds like a shot clutch in a Ford.  I opened a tumblr account and I just don’t know what to do with it.  Isn’t that what I was doing here?  I’d say I need a teenager to help me figure stuff out but that sounds a little too creepy to openly announce on the Internet.  

What exactly is reddit?   And don’t get me started on subreddits.  Am I even spelling that right?  I know a few YouTube producers who get a lot of conversation going and ideas from reddit, but I don’t know what the hell reddit does.  I know it was partially responsible for hosting all of those leaked photos last year.   I know celebrities go on and do “Ask my anything” posts but seems like a lot of noise and craziness.  And then people vote up or down.  I just don’t get it.  They even have hateful groups like /r/rapingwomen and such.   WTF?!?!

Instagram?  People take pictures, apply some snazzy filters, and voila, they’re… photographers?  Do you mean to tell me we are going to hoist some kid with an iPhone onto the same mantle as Ansel Adams or Annie Leibowitz?  Oh, I just took a photo of a plate of spaghetti… slapped Inkwell filter on it, adjusted the contrast, and BAM, I’m Henri Cartier-Bresson!  And people can make money selling their photos?!?!?  How does that work?  Who would buy an Instagram photo?  Hell, some guy named Richard Prince took people’s Instagram photos and hung them in a gallery and claimed it was transformative and therefore fair use.  Do businesses pay you for taking pictures of their stuff?

I don’t understand SEO.  I don’t understand how it affects websites and why people are always looking to hire people.  Isn’t it just tagging?  And how is that a marketable skill that people rave about on job boards?  I spend a lot of time refining tags on videos and shirt designs and I do not see any difference in the amount of traffic I get from before and after.  And furthermore, the old adage of making money on a blog is crap… I’ve had this blog for almost seven years and have yet to make a dime from just posting content.  Have any posts directed people towards buying something of mine from a shirt site?  Yes.   But the whole point was delivering content, people clicking, profit!   That hasn’t happened and I do not understand how that works.  

The one thing I do understand is the idea of how to get rich and I can share it with you for only five dollars.  :)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Deflated Punishment: Why It Doesn't Matter If Brady Did It

Deflategate.  Interesting that the Wells Report came back with a wonderful non-answer answer about the probability that the Patriots, no wait, Tom Brady is culpable for deflating footballs below regulation air pressure prior to the AFC Championship game against The Indianapolis Colts.  But, even with this not so new information that Brady and two underlings are probably guilty of the act, months after the incident, talking heads will still devote hours to drive time radio analysis of one of the more humorous discussions about balls.

In the end, what does it matter?  Brady and Belichick played through and beat the Colts 45-7 with or without underinflated balls.  Brady and Belichick went on to defeat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24.  Brady and Belichick have four championships.  Brady has Giselle.  Brady poops rainbows and cries dollar bills.   WHO CARES?!?!?

I guess Steelers’ fans do.   They get to play New England to kick off the 2015 season.  They get to play it in Foxborough.  They get to play it without their star Running Back, Le'Veon Bell, who was arrested for marijuana possession, with New England’s LeGarrette Blount during preseason.  (LeGarrette Blount is suspended for the game, too, but he gets to sit at home with his Super Bowl ring to keep him company.)   So, add all that together and sprinkle in the spectre of not being able to beat the Patriots during the post season and you get a tonic of vitriol and ire from Pittsburgh.

But, again, it doesn’t matter what happens to Brady and Belichick in light of the report because any punishment is moot.

“He could be fined.”  
So, what?  I’m sure he’ll be broke in a week, no longer able to wipe his tears with $100 bills or cry softly into Giselle’s bosom.

“He could be suspended for the opener.” 
Ooooh, except it’s the opener and not even against a division rival. 

“His legacy could be tarnished.”
I’m sure he’ll wring his hands with all four Super Bowl rings clacking like crazy.

“The Patriots could lose a draft pick.”
A: Kraft and Belichick were found not "probably" guilty.
B: Draft picks do not equate loss of good players… especially when you pick LAST!

If there were to be a punishment for the Patriots for directly affecting the outcome of a game, regardless of how well they would have done without cheating, it would have been for the next game, The Super Bowl.  Seattle almost beat New England, despite Tom Brady.  An interception at the goal line tanked their chances of overcoming the odds and beating the Pats.   And, quite frankly, it would have been a better story had the Patriots beat Seattle without their golden boy at QB.   That would have at least put to rest some of the controversy surrounding this team’s mounting questionable winning strategy.  After all, this is at least the second time the Patriots have been called on the carpet for cheating.  Remember Spygate?  Barely anyone outside of Pittsburgh does.   Spygate resulted in a $250,000 fine and loss of their first round pick… which was 31st since they lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl.   Surely, they were impacted as they missed out on drafting such greats.  Then again, they could have had Ray Rice in their ranks to compliment Aaron Hernandez.   In the end, they still won their division six out of the next seven years.

Again, my point is, it does nothing for credibility and accountability to suspend Brady the first game of the season or any other punishment.   Look at this perspective.

In 1992, at the age of 17, I had a part time job delivering newspapers.  I made maybe $20 a week delivering 54 papers, six days a week.  My friends and I spent our hard earned money on tickets to a concert.  It would have been my first live concert, ever.   Tickets were a whopping $24.95.   Not sure if that’s the going rate for concerts or the going rate for Def Leppard in 1992.  In any case, it was a week and quarter of pay. 

However, right around Halloween, my friends and I decided to be jackasses and go on a pumpkin smashing and egging tour of the neighborhood.  Well, we managed to egg the one house that everybody egged and they were tired of it.  They chased my friend’s Chevy S-10 until they got the plate and turned us in to the police.   The next weekend, my parents received a call from the police.  My friend had already given all of us up.  I was grounded.   The weekend before the concert and I was grounded.   I pleaded with my parents that I would accept my being grounded but that I had spent $25 of my own money on a concert.  It didn’t matter.  I missed the concert, I was out $25, and I learned a lesson.

Now, how much of a teachable moment would it have been had my parents said, “OK, you did something wrong and you will be punished.  How about a week night in the middle of next January when you have absolutely nothing important or fun going on?”

That’s what suspending Brady is.  It is a hollow action by a hollow commissioner that gets paid for making the owners money, and the owners make money when their top performers are playing in games like the Super Bowl.  Jerseys and ticket sales and concessions and fans with their butts in the seats put money in the pockets of the Kraft’s and that’s what a commissioner does, gets the owners money.  It doesn’t matter what is right, what is moral, or what is a good example for fans.  They don’t care because they’re addicted to the product the NFL is selling.

If you want to make a point suspend Brady for the first game... of the playoffs.

Granted, they can’t be assured a playoff spot, but when you plan on suspending him for a pointless game, anyways, what does it matter if it’s a "maybe" game?  That not only punishes Brady, but it punishes the organization if they fail to win.  Maybe, playing with a suitable handicap is better than a slap on the wrist.  

And just maybe, the real threat of punishment would start to make the rest of the players and teams realize that on Any Given Sunday… they might just be stuck home watching, like I was, while Def Leppard was playing.  I was a little poorer, but I survived.   Now where's my copy of Hysteria?

I probably won't be watching this season as I didn't last year.  It's not that I don't love the Steelers anymore, it's that I refuse to give any more time of my life to this league and this commissioner.  Goodell may be the most profitable commissioner of them all, but he's corrupt, cares only about the money, and has turned this sport into entertainment, like wrestling.

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